Published Friday, 11 April 2014
McIlroy watches his tee shot on the fourth hole in the first round. (© Getty)
McIlroy was satisfied with his opening 71 which left him three places behind leader American Bill Haas and two adrift of defending champion Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen.
Graeme McDowell is just one shot behind his fellow Northern Irishman after a level-72 while Dungannon-born Darren Clarke posted a round of two over par.
But the 24-year-old Holywood man was anticipating a tough course to get even tougher by the time he resumed his bid for a third major title in the final group of the day at 13.59 local time.
"It was a good day at the office, anything in red figures was a good effort out there," said McIlroy, whose best finish in five previous Masters is a tie for 15th in 2011, when he led by four going into the final round but collapsed to a closing 80.
"When I saw the pin positions in the morning I thought they didn't want people to get too many under par. The set up was much more difficult than it has been in the past.
"Going out Friday afternoon the greens are going to be firmer. I wouldn't mind if they were a little softer. They're fast already. By Sunday they're going to be pretty dicey."
Watson carded the only bogey-free round of the day to finish three under alongside Oosthuizen, the man he beat in a play-off to win the green jacket in 2012.
But Scott's form was equally ominous, the Australian matching his opening 69 from 12 months ago despite a double-bogey five on the 12th, where he dumped his tee shot into Rae's Creek in front of the green.
Seven players shared fifth place on two under par, with another eight on one under including 54-year-old former champion Fred Couples, 50-year-old Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, 20-year-old duo Matteo Manassero and Jordan Spieth and Scotland's Stephen Gallacher.
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