The Masters 2015
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Rory McIlroy scrambled to a 71 that keeps him in the hunt, but he needs to raise his game. Photo: AFP

Rory McIlroy content after battling to 71

'Round could have got away from me' says grand slam-chasing star

Rory McIlroy’s career grand slam bid got off to a solid but unspectacular start on Thursday as the world number one battled to one-under 71 on a steamy afternoon at Augusta National.

McIlroy, who has one top-10 finish in six previous Masters appearances, has never found his comfort level on the iconic layout and once again needed to rely on a workmanlike effort to move into contention.

"It could have been a round that got away from me," said a relieved McIlroy. "I just stayed patient, realising that it’s a 72-hole golf tournament and not having to press too much.

"It was good to get into red numbers after day one and I feel with the way I’m driving the ball, if I can keep doing that and just be a little more patient with my iron play and give myself more opportunities, I’ll hope to be right there at the end of the week."

The Northern Irishman opened his round with five straight pars before taking a bogey and hitting right back with a birdie at the seventh.

His up-and-down play followed the 25-year-old into the turn where he picked up his second bogey of the day at the 11th and again answered quickly with a birdie at the par-five 13th.

McIlroy’s patience and grit were finally rewarded with another birdie at the par-five 15th to get below par for the first time on the day and leave him in the hunt.

"It was a tricky day," said McIlroy. "Anything under par I felt was a pretty good score."

With the eyes of the golfing world on McIlroy and his quest the scrutiny has been unrelenting.

Only five men have a complete set of four majors to their name and if McIlroy can slip into a green jacket on Sunday he will add his name to that celebrated list alongside Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.

"I haven’t put too much pressure on myself," said McIlroy. "I obviously know what I can achieve this week, but I’m not letting myself think about it too much.

"Just trying to play it one round at a time."