McIlroy on form but Hoffman goes clear
Rory McIlroy hasn't always been successful in grinding out good rounds at the US Masters but he scrapped and battled his way around Augusta National to keep himself in contention of ending his wait for a Green Jacket.
The world No 2 - the highest-ranked player in the tournament after Dustin Johnson's late, late withdrawal - struggled for much of his opening nine holes with bogeys at one, three and eight to turn in three over.
However, a clutch of scrambled par saves kept his round together on a difficult day for scoring and when his big break came, he took full advantage.
The momentum shift arrived on the par-five 13th when, attempting to get on the green in two, his ball looked certain to be in the water, but it held on the edge of the creek.
From there, the Holywood star got up and down for his first birdie of the day, and another impressive up and down on the par-five 15th got him motoring.
Riding the crest of a wave, McIlroy nearly nailed a hole-in-one on the short 16th but a tap-in birdie brought him back to level par.
He narrowly missed another birdie putt on 17 before an excellent up and down secured a 72, seven shots behind leader Charley Hoffman.
The American looked like he was playing a different course to the rest with a run of four birdies in a row on the back nine to finish on seven-under par and a lead of four shots. Hoffman was inches away from a fifth straight birdie at the final hole, but had to settle for par, and a round of 65.
As McIlroy gained momentum on the back nine, Shane Lowry lost some of his with bogeys on 15 and 16, before two pars left him signing for a level-par 72 alongside McIlroy.
Lowry did, at least, stop the bleeding on 15 quicker than Jordan Spieth, who signed for an ugly quadruple-bogey nine on the par five which brought back painful memories of last year's collapse. The 2015 champion signed for a three-over par 75.
The day started in dramatic fashion when Johnson pulled out of the tournament after walking to the first tee, having injured his back falling down stairs on Wednesday. "I just can't swing," he said. "There's no chance I can compete."