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April 11 2013

7:45 PM

McIlroy struggles to round of even par

McIlroy trails by six shots after Thursday's opening round at Augusta National. (Redington/Getty Images)

By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- As far as Rory McIlroy has come since his early-season struggles that included a missed cut, a first-round loss in the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championships and a walk-off midway through his second round at The Honda Classic, he still as a long way to go.

"I just made some silly mistakes," a frustrated McIlroy said after an even-par 72 Thursday at the Masters. "I felt like I played well and gave myself plenty of opportunities.

"It could have been better."

Whatever splendor was missing on an overcast day at Augusta National, McIlroy made up for with a colorful scorecard, especially on the back nine.

After making the turn in a respectable 1 under, McIlroy racked up more bogeys (four) than birdies (three) to also go with just three pars.

McIlroy's putter deserved most of the blame. He had a couple of three-putts on the closing nine and finished with 32 putts overall.

Even when things did go right, they went the other direction just as quickly.

A birdie on No. 9 was followed by bogeys on two of the next three holes. McIlroy birdied the par-5 13th and 15th, but sandwiched in between was another bogey.

By the time he made his final bogey of the day, on No. 17, the frustration boiled over for the 23-year-old former No. 1 and he tossed his putter in disgust.

"That was the story of the day," said McIlroy, who is six shots off the lead of Sergio Garcia and Marc Leishman. "Any time I got a bit of momentum I gave it straight back. Around this course you really can't do that."

With 33 players breaking par in a windless, benign opening round, the disappointment was understandable.

At the outset, it looked like McIlroy would be one of those under par.

With his parents and girlfriend, tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, looking on, McIlroy split the fairway with his opening tee shot.

He missed a 20-footer for birdie but would make one on the next hole after nearly chipping in on the par-5 second to set up a tap-in.

McIlroy added another birdie four holes later but gave it right back with a bogey on No. 7 before another birdie on the ninth.

"I feel like the game is there," McIlroy said. "As long as I keep giving myself birdie opportunities like that and take a few of them, hopefully I can go out and post a good one (Friday)."

Mistakes are something McIlroy rarely made last year when he ascended to No. 1 in the world, winning five times, including the PGA Championship by eight shots.

In the offseason, however, he switched equipment, signed a multi-million dollar deal with Nike, struggled to regain his form, was thrust into an unfamiliar spotlight and finally felt the crush of it all.

There have been signs of progress, however.

McIlroy shot 65 in the final round at Doral, which is where he says he "turned the corner" with his swing. He also finished second last week in San Antonio.

How close is he to returning to the player he was a year ago?

"I am getting there," McIlroy said. "I think I am hitting the ball just as well. It is just a matter of taking the opportunities and limiting the mistakes."

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