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As starts go, a one-under 71 is a considerable improvement to what we’ve come to expect from Rory McIlroy in The Masters.

Only three times in his previous 15 visits has the Irishman made a better start to the first men’s major of the year.

Coming in, his first round stroke average was 71.73 total, 72.2 over the last ten years, and 73.6 over the last five.

Clearly, this is a step in the right direction and, though he trails early pacesetter Bryson DeChambeau by six, the career grand slam-chasing McIlroy is encouraged by the start he made in blustery conditions.

“It was okay,” he admitted. “I held it together well. It was a little scrappy. The conditions are tricky. It was hard to commit to where the wind direction was at times.

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“But yeah, after a slow start, making a few birdies around the turn was good. A little wasteful coming in. I had a good chance for birdie on 15 in the middle of the fairway and didn’t take that. Missed a shortish one on 16 and then a bogey on 17. Probably turned a three-under into a one-under there at the end.

“But overall, still not a bad score, and obviously a lot of golf left to play.”

McIlroy was coy when asked what target he is setting himself for tomorrow’s second round.

“It depends on the conditions,” he added. “It depends how the course is playing. I’m not sure right now.

“I’d like to think that I can shoot a better score than I did today.”

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The world No.2 was reportedly followed for some of his round by LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman but insisted he didn’t see the Aussie amongst the galleries. His focus, quite rightly, was on the inside of the ropes.

The trick now is to sustain and build upon his early momentum. Historically, McIlroy plays better the deeper the tournament goes, so there’s definite cause for optimism amongst his legion of fans.

The man himself, though, is refusing to get carried away.

“I kept it together. I stuck to my game plan. I didn’t birdie two of the par-5s on the back, which was a little disappointing.

“But getting in in red numbers was decent.”

And certainly more ‘decent’ than he’s used to.

The chase is on. The dream is very much alive.

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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