McIlroy at par after 4 bogeys on back nine

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, chips to the 15th green during the first round of the Masters.

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, chips to the 15th green during the first round of the Masters.

— Forget all of his early-season struggles, which included a badly missed cut in Abu Dhabi and an early walk-off at the Honda Classic. Rory McIlroy stepped onto the grounds at Augusta National Golf Club this week and proclaimed that the “real” golf season had started – the major season that runs from the start of April to the end of August.

If that’s true, unfortunately, his Opening Day at the Masters was something of a wash. Playing in Thursday’s penultimate group, he got off to the start he needed (nearly holing a chip for eagle at No. 2), and he struck the ball well enough to stay into red numbers. But two three-putts on the back nine hampered him, and five bogeys proved way too many in a sloppy effort that only netted him a round of level-par 72.

“I gave myself plenty of opportunities,” said McIlroy, who hit nine fairways and 14 greens – one more green than Tiger Woods would hit – but took two extra shots to get to the clubhouse. Tee to green, his game appeared to be pretty solid; he took care of the par 5s, which one has to do at Augusta, making birdies at three of them. But overall, he didn’t get very much out of a round that should have been better.

His three-putt bogey at the par-4 17th was his fourth bogey in his final nine holes, and it led him to toss his putter at his bag in disgust. Usually, an opening 72 wouldn’t harm a player so much at the Masters, but McIlroy’s number came on a day when 33 players broke par.

“I was 2 under and everything felt good,” said McIlroy, who was looking to capitalize better on his runner-up finish at last week’s Valero Texas Open. “(But) every time I got a bit of momentum, I took a step back. . . . I hit the ball very well. It’s just a matter of taking the opportunities and limiting the mistakes.”

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