Rory McIlroy opened with a three under par 69 at the Masters Tournament, leaving the Grand Slam-chasing Irishman three shots off the lead of Augusta National specialist Jordan Spieth.
The four-time Major winner McIlroy would join an elite list of players to have claimed all four of the Major Championships if he were to win a Green Jacket this week and, having won a first title in 18 months two weeks ago on the US PGA Tour, entered the week full of confidence.
Opening with a birdie, the 28 year old from Holywood had a steady front nine before birdies at the 13th and 15th, along with three crucial par saves in the final three holes, moved him into a share of fourth position.
He was joined by fellow European Tour Members Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain, Haotong Li of China, American Patrick Reed and Swede Henrik Stenson, among others, as 2015 Masters Champion Spieth put on a masterful display at the Georgia venue to move two strokes clear on six under par.
The performance of the day from a European Tour Member came from Matt Kuchar, who was just two shots off the pace on four under par alongside American Tony Finau after a stunning back nine which included five birdies.
Commenting on his opening round, McIlroy said:
“I made one mistake, the bogey on seven. But apart from that, I missed a couple of birdie chances early on, and I just told myself to stay patient out there. I think anything around 60 out there is a pretty good score.
“You look at it and not anyone is really getting away. Jordan had a pretty strong finish there. But this is my best start in a few years and it’s such a hard golf course to play catch up on. If you start to chase it around here, that’s when you start to make mistakes.
“But to be right up there and have the ability to stay patient, because of the position I’m in, that’s a nice luxury I have over the next few days.”