MASTERS GOLF: Rory McIlroy stays in the hunt at Augusta after strong finish

Rory McIlroy  watches his shot on the fourth hole during the first round
Rory McIlroy watches his shot on the fourth hole during the first round

Rory McIlroy was a relieved man after fighting back from a poor front nine to shot a level par 72 during the first round of the Masters at Augusta yesterday.

McIlroy had been three over with six holes remaining but birdied the 13th, 15th and 16th to pull himself towards inspired leader Charley Hoffman.

Hoffman defied swirling winds which gusted up to 35mph at Augusta National to card nine birdies and two bogeys in a stunning 65 - 10 shots better than the field average.

And McIlroy said: “I’m really pleased. After nine holes if someone had said I would shoot even par I would have ripped their hand off.

“I had some good up and downs at 10, 11, 12 and then I had the chance on some scoreable holes.

“I’m pleased with my day’s work, I didn’t have my best stuff but even par is a good score.

“I hit some suspect chips on the front nine but the more greens I missed the more I got into it.

“My chips on 11 and 12 were really good shots and give me confidence going into the next few days. I hope I can go and make some more birdies.”

Lee Westwood - who finished runner-up to Dannty Willett last year - led a strong European challenge on two under after five birdies in a row from the 13th in his 70, with compatriots Andy Sullivan, Matt Fitzpatrick and Justin Rose all one under. Paul Casey and Shane Lowry finished on level par.