Rory McIlroy is well placed in the chase for the green jacket – as the green, green grass of Augusta gave him plenty of food for thought on day one of the Masters.
The tricky greens and awkward flag positions saw McIlroy three-putt three times on his way to a one under par 71, three shots behind first round leader Bill Haas, who is at four under.
Defending champion Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen are a shot off the pace at three under.
McIlroy three-putted the 18th, a feat that summed up a difficult day on the greens for the 24-year-old from Holywood, Co Down.
He said, “It was a good day at the office; anything in red figures was a good effort out there.
“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.”
He added, “There’s putts you hit that look like they’re going in and just hit the edge and all of a sudden they’re four or five feet by.
“And you really grind on those coming back, 18 was a prime example for me.
“I hit a really good shot actually just to the bottom tier, hit my first putt up and it just slid by the right side and just kept going a little bit. It got a little low and I had like a five or six-footer coming back.
“It just didn’t turn as much as I thought it would and it caught the side of the hole. I still had a good three, or four-footer coming back for a three-putt.”
The firm greens and the improving weather conditions will widen the field of contenders for that green jacket, according to the former world number one.
“It’s not just about power then, it’s about precision,” said McIlroy. “It’s about putting your ball in the right place and it becomes more of a mental challenge than anything else, just playing to your spots.
“It almost becomes like chess, where you’re just making these moves. That hasn’t been my forte in the past, but I’ll learn to love it this week.”
Fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell will welcome the firmer and faster greens after describing them as ‘marble staircase greens’ as he began his Masters with a level par 72.
Like McIlroy, McDowell three-putted three times. He said, “I think we are in for a firm, fast weekend, but it’s going to be a lot of fun. The tougher, the better, I hope, for me.
“It has to be firm and fast for me to have a chance to compete. I don’t feel like it’s been like that the last three or four years since this golf course has got longer.
“If I was to design a golf course for me to win a major championship, it probably would not look like this, but who knows?
“With a little firmness and a little fastness this weekend, if I can get hot with my iron play, I think I can compete.”
Darren Clarke maintains he can make the cut despite a battling two-over-par first round of 74.
The 2011 British Open champion said, “Whoever plays it the most intelligently is going to win this. With Augusta firming up the way it is, the winner is going to be someone who plays very smart.
“There are all types of guys up there on the leaderboard and anyone who makes the cut is not going to be far away – if he uses his head.
“It was tough to score but made nothing out there apart from an eight footer for par on the third. I missed it from about two-foot at the first and three-putted the second for a par five after hitting two lovely shot onto the green
“You just can’t compete doing that, especially on a course as tough as this. I gave myself lots of chances but I only missed two shots all day so I actually played quite nicely.
“Yes, I can make the cut and there’s a chance for anyone who is in the top 44 and ties, but it’s never easy around here because the course is so good and so difficult.”