Masters 2015: Tiger Woods hopeful, Rory McIlroy 'solid'
Tiger Woods believes he can win a 15th major this week despite trailing leader Jordan Spieth by nine shots after day one of the Masters at Augusta.
The 39-year-old, who last won a major in 2008 and took a break from the sport to work on his game earlier this year ended his opening round one over par.
"I'm still in it. I'm only nine back. We have a long way to go," the four-time Masters champion said.
"I felt good out there. I hit the ball well enough to shoot three under par."
In a poll of 103 Tour professionals before the tournament, 68 stated Woods would not add to his haul of majors and the volatility of his bogey-birdie-par-bogey start through four holes offered little confidence.
But despite one three-putt, he scrambled well around the greens to offer at least some response to scrutiny of his chipping prior to his 64-day break from competitive play.
"It's my strength again," said Woods, who won the last of his Masters titles in 2005. "That's why I've busted my butt. That's why I took time off. That's why I hit thousands and thousands of shots to make sure that it's back to being my strength."
The winner of the tournament in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005 drove the ball 261 yards on average, below the 283 averaged by other players in the opening round.
The Rory story
Rory McIlroy is aiming to emulate Woods - one of six men to win a career Grand Slam - by claiming a first Masters title.
The world number one said he was "satisfied" with his "solid" first round of one under par at Augusta as he ended the day seven shots adrift of leader Jordan Spieth.
"Anything under par, I felt, was a pretty good score," said the reigning Open and US PGA champion.
"If I can hit a few iron shots closer and convert on a few of those opportunities, I'll be right there."
McIlroy has described Augusta National as a "second shot golf course" and though the Northern Irishman hit 13 of 14 accessible fairways in his opening round, he could not capitalise and made just three birdies.
"I just kept telling myself to be patient. It was a tricky day," added McIlroy. "The wind was swirling a little bit. Pin positions were tough."
Having won the US Open, Open and two US PGA titles, McIlroy will join Jack Nicklaus, Woods, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen on the list of golfers to win a Grand Slam with victory on Sunday.
|Masters day one saints and sinners|
|Biggest driver||Dustin Johnson - 316 yards|
|Best putter||Matt Kuchar- 1.33 putts average|
|Worst putter||Kevin Stadler- 2.11 putts average|
|Most accurate off tee||Billy Horschel, Rory McIlroy, Zach Johnson, Justin Rose, Kevin Streelman- 13 of 14 fairways|
|Least accurate off tee||Jose Maria Olazabal, Bradley Neil, Robert Streb- five of 14 fairways|
Day one headline makers
Spieth, 21, is yet to win a major but arrived in Georgia in fine form, with a win and two runners-up places in his last three PGA Tour events.
The runner-up from last year's tournament became the first man since Tiger Woods in 2011 to record nine birdies in a round, with six arriving in seven holes around the turn as he finished on eight under par.
"That was very special," said Spieth. "The greens were softer and a little slower than they will be the rest of the week which allowed me to fire shots into the greens. Last year I was tentative but this year I was a little more ready to fire at the pins, knowing I had receptive greens."
Ernie Els, 24 years Spieth's senior and playing in his 20th Masters, has also yet to win a green jacket but kept pace with the young American for large parts of his round and said it was a "fantastic feeling" to end on five under.
"I always seem to struggle here first couple of rounds and have to play catch up but today I got off to a decent start and the putter felt great," said the South African, a four-time major winner.
"Experience always helps, being patient helps, like I was today, waiting for the rounds to develop. But the course can bite you. I have had great experiences here and some bad ones but today was a great one."
The British charge
Justin Rose, 34, led on five under par as he found consistency from his early tee time by hitting 16 from 18 greens in regulation - only American Billy Horschel found more.
"The second round is key, as are all rounds, but it doesn't have to be about leading from the front this week, just good solid golf," said the 2013 US Open champion.
Rose was joined by Paul Casey as the only Britons to shoot under 70 on day one.
Fellow Englishman Casey, 34, recently lost in a play-off at the Northern Trust Open and was consistent on his ninth appearance at Augusta, dropping just one shot on the final hole to end on three under.
"I am very excited," said Casey. "I have a different outlook on this, wanting to embrace the week and enjoy it. No matter how I play it is not the biggest thing in my life.
"There were a couple of interesting tee shots out there but I did not feel bothered about them, I was very much relaxed and played with what I was given."
Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell admitted he "hung in there" for a "pleasing" round of one under, while England's Ian Poulter tweeted an expletive to sum up his frustration as he slipped from two under at the turn to one over for the day.
Scotland's Stephen Gallacher said the hills and heat at the venue were "mentally and physically" challenging as he carded a 71.
"Any time you shoot under par round here, it's a good score," said Gallacher, 40.