Rory McIlroy: It's good to get into red numbers but I can do better
Rory McIlroy made a solid start to his bid to complete the career grand slam on Thursday, as Ryder Cup team-mate Justin Rose occupied a familiar position at Augusta National.
McIlroy is looking to join Gene Sarazan, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in winning all four major titles by claiming a first green jacket on Sunday.
And the world number one kept the leaders in his sights thanks to an opening 71 which left him four shots behind Rose - who has led three times after the first round - and American Charley Hoffman.
Woods, playing just his third tournament of 2015 after shooting a career-worst 82 in the first and withdrawing after 11 holes of the second, was one over par after nine holes.
McIlroy hit a perfect opening drive of more than 320 yards and an excellent approach to 10 feet, but the 25-year-old missed out on a maiden birdie on the first at the 23rd attempt.
The four-time major winner then hooked his drive on the second into the trees and ended up in a narrow creek, but after taking a penalty drop was able to pitch out to the fairway and hit a superb approach to save par.
McIlroy bogeyed the sixth after his chip from short of the green rolled back down a slope to his feet, but responded with a superb approach to seven feet to birdie the seventh.
Another birdie chance went begging from 15 feet on the eighth - McIlroy played the par fives in level par last year compared to eight under by champion Bubba Watson - and the Northern Irishman had to scramble a par on the ninth after his approach span back off the green.
A bogey on the 11th after a poor chip dropped McIlroy over par, but he birdied the 13th and 15th to complete a satisfactory opening round.
"I just wanted to get going and once I got the first hole out of the way I felt I could relax," McIlroy said. "It was not quite what I wanted off the second tee but made a great five which was important.
"I just kept telling myself to be patient out there. It was a tricky day, the wind was swirling and anything under par was a pretty good score. It was nice to pick up a couple of shots on the back nine on the par fives and I am pretty satisfied.
"It was a round that could have got away from me. I just stayed patient, realising it's a 72-hole tournament and not having to press too much. It's good to get into red numbers.
"I obviously know what I can achieve this week but I am not letting myself think about it too much. Today was pretty good and I feel I can do better."
Rose, who was fifth here in 2007 and has led at some point in every round, carded six birdies and one bogey to match the 67 of Hoffman, who had been one under par with four holes to play, but holed from 10 feet for an eagle on the 15th and birdied the 16th and 18th to finish five under par, one shot ahead of fellow American Russell Henley.
Asked what he had learned from his previous good starts here, Rose said: "(Not to) get ahead of yourself. So much can happen around this golf course, and by no means am I worried about going wire-to-wire or anything like that.
"I think it's just about playing good, solid golf, executing my game plan and giving myself a chance on Sunday. There's so many shots out there, especially around Amen Corner, that can ruin a scorecard. So there's really no point in getting ahead of yourself.
"One thing I've learned on this golf course is that if you do make a bogey or two, when you start to chase around here to make up for it, it's not always the best decision.
"I've definitely learned the hard way a couple of times, which was obviously a good experience."
Last year's runner-up Jordan Spieth was five under par after just 10 holes of his round, with Henley carding a four-under 68 and England's Paul Casey alongside Bill Haas and Webb Simpson on three under.