Rory McIlroy was frustrated by an "untidy" opening round to the Masters but is hopeful his chances of landing the title for the first time are not over just yet.

The world number two, whose best finish at the tournament was as runner-up last year, is left playing catch up after an even-par 72 on day one at Augusta National.

McIlroy carded five birdies, but he double-bogeyed the seventh and dropped shots at three further holes to leave himself in a tie for 37th.

Despite being seven shots behind overnight leaders Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka and Viktor Hovland, McIlroy is focused on dragging himself into contention on Friday.

"It felt like a bit of a scramble all day, to be honest," he told Sky Sports when reflecting on his first round.

"I missed a couple of tee shots left and paid the price for that on seven and 17. I was just a little bit untidy in some other areas as well.

"I made enough birdies – it's just about keeping mistakes off the card. I salvaged an even-par round and there's still 54 holes of golf left – a lot of things can happen.

"I didn't feel like I was too far away today. I'm probably two or three shots behind how I'd like to be, but nothing that's insurmountable.

"I've got a quick turnaround overnight, and I'm looking forward to getting back on the course pretty quickly and obviously trying to get myself back in the thick of things.

"Hopefully we get some decent conditions in the morning and I can shoot something in the mid-60s and get myself back in the tournament."

Reigning champion and world number one Scottie Scheffler carded a four-under 68 on Thursday and is three shots off the lead.

Scheffler, who made an eagle on the second hole and dropped just one shot, did not feel any additional pressure entering the opening major of the year as defending champion.

"I didn't think about it really at all today," he said. "The only reason I would think of being the defending champion is because I was playing with [amateur] Sam Bennett.

"Just because I'm defending doesn't mean I start under par. Starting at even, it was just about going out there and getting settled into the round, which I did a good job of.

"I got a lot of looks early, made some nice par putts there on six and seven, but didn't see much go in the rest of the day. But four under is a solid start to the week."

Brooks Koepka feels he is finally back to full health following a serious knee injury that had crippled him over the past two years, claiming a share of the lead after Thursday's opening round at the Masters.

Koepka, a four-time major champion, shot four birdies on his front-nine and four more on his back-nine to go with a solitary bogey in an impressive seven-under 65.

There were warning signs that the 32-year-old may be in for a good week, coming off a victory at LIV Golf Orlando where Koepka became the new tour's first ever two-time winner.

His performance this time was in stark contrast to his efforts at the last two editions of the Masters, where Koepka missed the cut both times, but he told the media after his round that his health made those years complete write-offs.

He shared details of the darkest moments from his recovery, where he could barely get out of bed, and would be in tears while biting down on a towel as his physical therapist tried to bend his knee.

"I just wrote the last two years [at the Masters] off," he said. "I came here three weeks after surgery [in 2021], and last year I wasn't anywhere near it, but I'm healthy now, I've put that behind me, and I'm not too worried about the last two years.

"It's all injury-based. Any athlete, anybody that's going through something where you can't even bend your knee. 

"I'll spare everybody the details of what actually happened – it was pretty gruesome, right – and they told me I could have a surgery that would be pretty much a year and a half [recovery time].

"Then you create bad habits, and there's frustration, and you just feel like you're never going to be healthy.

"I wish I had celebrated the kind of little milestones along the way, instead of thinking I could just power through it… so yeah, it was definitely frustrating, but once you feel good, everything changes."

He said he realised early that he was in for a great day after making a sharp start on a course that was "quite gettable".

"Honestly I think it was just the start," he said. "I got off to a good start – any time you're two under through three it's a good start – so I felt good, and I just kind of piggybacked off that momentum.

"I'm very happy with the way I played. I drove the ball nicely, left it in some good spots, and even missed quite a few putts… it could've been really low, but I'll take it. Seven's pretty good."

Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka and Viktor Hovland are tied for lead at seven under after Thursday's opening round at the Masters.

It was a shaky start for world number three Rahm as he stumbled to a double-bogey on the first hole, but he birdied the next two to quickly even out his card, before rattling off another five birdies and an eagle the rest of the way.

Koepka, a four-time major champion, is riding high after emerging victorious in last week's LIV Golf Orlando to become the breakaway tour's first ever two-time winner, and he looked terrific with eight birdies and one bogey.

Hovland was the only of the trio to go bogey-free, with the 25-year-old Norwegian now in a great position to make a run at his first major title.

They have a two-stroke lead on the chasing pack, with Australia's former world number one Jason Day shooting a bogey-free, five-under 67, and he is joined in a tie for fourth by Cameron Young.

Tiger Woods carded back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th holes to salvage a disappointing two-over 74, leaving him with work to do on Friday if he is to make the cut.

World number one Scottie Scheffler is part of a loaded logjam tied for sixth at four under, which also includes world number seven Xander Schauffele, former Masters champion Adam Scott, WGC Match Play winner Sam Burns, and surprising rookie Sam Bennett.

Three-time major champion Jordan Spieth is at three under with two-time major champion Collin Morikawa, reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith is at two under with reigning PGA Championship victor Justin Thomas, and Phil Mickelson is joined at one under by fellow Masters champions Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson.

Shot of the day

While Bennett's eagle chip-in, or Rahm's long iron setting up a five-foot eagle putt were worthy contenders, neither had the degree of difficulty of Hovland's par save on the 10th hole.

Landing in a horrible spot in the rough behind a bunker, with almost no green to work with, Hovland played a feathery flop into the fringe and allowed it to trickle next to the hole for an unlikely par.

A little birdie told me… 

It was a memorable day for Bennett, as the 23-year-old amateur began his first round at the Masters with a birdie on the first, an eagle on the second and another birdie on the sixth to tie the best front-nine score by an amateur at Augusta (32).

Meanwhile, after his best major finish last season with a T4 at The Open, Hovland tied his best round at a major, and set a new personal best around Augusta with his seven-under 65.

Joining him at the top of the leaderboard, Rahm will be trying to make history as the first player to ever win the Masters after double-bogeying their opening hole.

Tiger Woods was in "constant" pain during a first round of the Masters that left him facing a battle to make the cut.

Woods has won a third of his 15 major titles at Augusta National, but the legendary American may not be in Georgia for the weekend after a disappointing start.

The 47-year-old signed for a two-over 74 after a fifth bogey of the day at the 18th in Georgia, where Viktor Hovland, Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka capitalised on great conditions to lead at seven under.

Woods defied the odds to resume his career after suffering serious leg injuries in a car accident two years ago.

One of the all-time great revealed he felt "sore" and was troubled throughout his opening round of the first major of 2023 on Thursday.

Reflecting on his round, he said: "Most of the guys are going low today. This was the day to do it.

"Hopefully tomorrow I'll be a little bit better, a little bit sharper, and kind of inch my way through it.

"This is going to be an interesting finish to the tournament with the weather coming in. If I can just kind of hang in there, maybe kind of inch my way back, hopefully it will be positive towards the end."

Cameron Young and Jason Day were two shots behind the leading trio, while defending champion Scottie Scheffler was three under through 14 holes.

Shane Lowry, Xander Schauffele, Adam Scott and amateur Sam Bennett are among a host of players well poised on four under, while Rory McIlroy has work to do at one over through 14.

Jon Rahm birdied the last hole of his first round to join Viktor Hovland in a share of the Masters lead.

Hovland held a three-shot advantage at one stage as he started the first major of the year with a magnificent seven-under 65 on Thursday.

Rahm matched the Norwegian's round to become the co-leader at Augusta National after starting with a double bogey.

The 2021 U.S. Open champion eagled the par-five eighth to go three under and fire a warning to the rest of the field.

Rahm birdied the 13th, 15th and 16th before rolling in a short putt for another gain at 18 following a brilliant approach shot.

Hovland had earlier signed for his lowest Masters round and his joint-best in a major, ending his day without a solitary bogey in great conditions.

Cameron Young and Brooks Koepka are just two shots behind the leading duo, with fellow American Sam Burns also five under through only eight holes.

Jordan Spieth, Shane Lowry, Xander Schauffele, Adam Scott, Joaquin Niemann and Sam Bennett are well poised on four under.

Bennett matched the record for the best front nine by an amateur in the Masters, hitting the turn in 32.

Defending champion Scottie Scheffler was two under approaching the turn, while Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are one over and two over respectively in Georgia.

Will Zalatoris withdrew from the prestigious event due to injury.

Will Zalatoris has withdrawn from the Masters ahead of his first round with a reported back injury, ruling the 2021 runner-up out at Augusta National.

The 26-year-old had been due to take to the tee with Matt Fitzpatrick and Collin Morikawa on Thursday's opening day in Georgia.

A one-time PGA Tour winner, having claimed his maiden crown at the FedEx St. Jude Championship last August, Zalatoris would have been chasing a first major.

He previously finished second in 2021 at the Masters, and was the runner-up at last year's PGA Championship and US Open.

Viktor Hovland surged into a three-shot lead as Tiger Woods struggled early in his first round of the Masters on Thursday.

Hovland has five top-20 finishes in seven starts this year and the Norwegian hit the ground running at Augusta National.

The 25-year-old made an eagle at the par-five second hole following a mammoth tee shot and held a two-shot advantage at the turn on five under.

Birdies at sixth, eighth and ninth holes put Hovland at the top of the leaderboard, with a long putt at 11 giving him further breathing space.

Jon Rahm moved into second place following a nightmare start to the first major of the year.

Rahm recovered from a double-bogey at the first by making a birdie at the second and an eagle at the eighth moved the Spaniard to three under.

Scott Stallings, the world number 66, signed for a two-under 70, while the veteran Fred Couples was also flying high on two under.

Shane Lowry, Xander Schauffele, Adam Scott, Cameron Young and Brooks Koepka were also three shots off the lead.

Woods was two over at the turn, having dropped shots at the third, fifth and seventh hole before making his first birdie at hole number eight.

Defending champion Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy are among the late starters in Georgia, where the weather is forecast to deteriorate.

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman was not invited to this year's Masters to ensure the focus remained on the competition, according to the chairman of Augusta National.

Norman has been the CEO of the controversial Saudi-backed golf league since its inception and has been an outspoken critic of the PGA Tour on numerous occasions

The Australian finished runner-up at the tournament on three separate occasions, but Augusta National chief Fred Ridley confirmed that they did not invite him to this year's tournament to avoid distraction from the on-course spectacle. 

"We did not extend an invitation to Mr Norman," Ridley said at a press conference on Wednesday.

"The primary issue is that I want the focus to be on The Masters competition and the great players that are participating – the greatest players in the world.

"Our decision in December ensured we honoured and were consistent with our invitation criteria for players.

"I would also add that in the last 10 years, Greg Norman has only been here twice and I believe one of those was as a commentator for Sirius Radio. It really was to keep the focus on the competition."

Earlier in the week, the Australian confirmed that he would not be on site for the first major of the year, in a move he described as "petty".

"As a major winner I was always invited before, but they only sent me a grounds pass last year and nothing, zilch, this time around," he told The Telegraph.

"I'm disappointed because it's so petty but of course I'll still be watching."

Despite the 68-year-old's absence, players from LIV Golf have still been invited to compete at this year's tournament, including current Open champion Cameron Smith and 2020 Masters champion Dustin Johnson. 

Justin Thomas is prepared for business as usual at The Masters with little interest in the contentious inclusion of LIV Golf International Series players in Augusta.

The world number 10 will be joined by 17 LIV Golf stars at the Augusta National Golf Course, with six of those rebel golfers automatically qualifying via a lifetime exemption after winning the tournament.

Majors are the only tournaments the two sets of golfers can feature in after the PGA Tour banned those who joined the Saudi-backed rebel series for record purses and 54-hole events.

The DP World Tour also acted to punish the breakaway stars, with £100,000 fines and potential suspensions for those playing in LIV events and opting out of the European competition.

A report from The Times on Tuesday claimed the DP World Tour will win its ongoing court case against the 13 LIV golfers appealing those sanctions, but Thomas is focused on his own matters in Georgia.

"I haven't really talked to any of them," Thomas said at a pre-tournament press conference.

"I don't know if it's just been coincidence or I've had the blinders on, but it's just been business. I'm just trying to take care of myself and I'm not worried about what they're doing."

Thomas' best Masters finish came when he battled to fourth in 2020, while the American tied for eighth in his most recent appearance last year.

Ahead of the start of the tournament on Thursday, Thomas is aiming to take a more casual approach in search of his third major title – having won the PGA Championship in 2017 and 2022.

"I can definitely want something too much," he continued. "I've wanted to win this tournament too much in the past.

"I've wanted to be world number one too badly, I've wanted to win golf tournaments too badly – it's a fine line.

"It's a learning process and I'm starting to learn a bit more. I'd love to be world number one and win tournaments, and not have to figure it out the tough way.

"But there is a lot of good that can come out of some negative experiences if you choose to look at it that way."

Thomas will play with Jon Rahm and Cameron Young in his first round, with that three-ball line-up teeing off at 10:42am local time.

Tiger Woods believes it is simply "a matter of time" before Rory McIlroy wins the Masters, backing him to complete a career grand slam in due course.

The Northern Irishman is a four-time major winner, and has claimed all three of golf's other key honours in his career.

But the nearest he has come to success at Augusta National was last year, when he finished second, three strokes off victor Scottie Scheffler.

Woods, a five-time champion in Georgia, thinks it is just a waiting game for McIlroy now, and is confident he will claim the green jacket before long.

"He will [win it]," he said. "It's a matter of time. He has the talent, he has the game, he has all the tools to be able to win here.

"It's a matter of time. A lot of things have to happen to win at this golf course, a lot has to go right. You have to know how to play the course.

"Last year he had a great run and put himself [in] there. Whether it's this year, next year or whatever, he will do it, and he will have a career grand slam."

Woods also weighed in on the anticipated revamp to several key events on the PGA Tour, with plans for no-cut tournaments in response to LIV Golf.

The 15-time major winner feels it has potential, suggesting it will not penalise players for poor performance, but stressed no firm calls had been made yet.

"There [are] still some discussions about some of the designated events and whether we're going to have cuts," he added.

"I'm certainly pushing for my event to have a cut. Maybe the player-hosted events will have cuts. There does need to be a penalty for not playing well.

"Every event shouldn't be a guaranteed 72 holes. We're trying to figure that out, to see where those designated events will be and how many there will be."

Tiger Woods plans to relish every moment when he makes his 25th start at the Masters this week, admitting he is uncertain how many more majors he will be able to play.

Having suffered serious leg injuries in a car crash in 2021, Woods made a stirring return to competitive golf at last year's edition of the Masters.

Five-time champion Woods finished 47th at Augusta National Golf Club last year, making the cut before carding back-to-back 78s across the final two rounds.

While playing his first non-major PGA Tour event since 2020 at February's Genesis Invitational, Woods confirmed he planned to appear at all four majors this year – but the 47-year-old knows that aim is dependent on his fitness.

Asked if the possibility this could be his final major had crossed his mind, Woods told reporters: "Yeah, it has. Last year, I didn't know if I was going to play again at that time. 

"For some reason, everything came together, I pushed a bit and was able to make the cut, which was nice.

"I don't know how many more I have in me, so I just have to be able to appreciate the time I have here and cherish the memories. 

"So much of my life has been here at Augusta National. I'm just so excited to be able to come back here and play."

Woods ended an 11-year major title drought at the 2019 Masters, and while he is not being discussed as a leading contender this time around, he has not given up hope of a repeat performance.  

"Whether I'm a threat, who knows," Woods said. "People probably didn't think I was a threat in 2019 either, but that turned out okay!

"If there's any one golf course I can come back at like I did last year, it's here.

"I think my game is better than it was at this particular time last year. My endurance is better, but it aches a little more than it did last year.

"I just have to be conscious of how much I can push it. I can hit a lot of shots, but the difficulty for me is going to be walking, going forwards. That's how it is.

"It has been tough, and it will always be tough. It will never be the same, I understand that; it's one of the reasons why I can't prepare and play as many tournaments as I would like. That's my future, and I'm okay with that."

Rory McIlroy claims he is more relaxed than ever ahead of this year's Masters, after shedding "scar tissue" last time out.

The world number two returns to Augusta National a year on from a second-place finish, where he finished three strokes behind Scottie Scheffler.

McIlroy's result marked his best-ever return at the Masters, the only one of golf's four majors to elude him across his professional career.

With that performance in 2022 still in his mind, the Northern Irishman feels he can put the ghosts of past Masters to rest for good this time around.

"Not every experience is going to be a good experience," he said ahead of Thursday's first round. "I think that would lead to a pretty boring life.

"You have to learn from those challenges, and [the] scar tissue that has built up. Last year, I maybe shed some of that scar tissue and made a breakthrough.

"I feel like my game is in a pretty good place and I know [Augusta] just about as well as anyone. It's always great to be back at the Masters.

"The whole field has been building up to this point, [so it is] good to be back. I've been up here quite a bit in recent weeks.

"I've played 81 holes, so I've very familiar with the place again. I'm feeling as relaxed as I ever have coming in here."

McIlroy's performance in 2022, where he posted a sensational eight-under final round, saw him bounce back after he failed to make the cut in 2021.

Since then, the Northern Irishman reclaimed top spot on the PGA Tour rankings, though he has been displaced at the summit by Scheffler.

Jordan Spieth is looking to add a second green jacket to his collection, revealing the Masters inspired him to focus on golf.

A winner at Augusta in 2015, aged just 21, Spieth has been unable to secure a second victory at the event and is now braced for his 10th appearance there.

Having secured a triumph at that young age, a second Masters win seemed to be inevitable for Spieth, especially after he won the US Open in the same year, but he has so far fallen short.

In 2016, Spieth finished second and, since then, has had two third-place finishes, the most recent in 2021, all of which put Spieth within touching distance of the title he is desperate to get his hands on again.

It is not just the green jacket that drives Spieth, however, as he shared the personal significance the event has.

"I really fell in love with the game because of this tournament, back to Tiger [Woods'] chip-in to Phil [Mickelson's] first win," he said.

"These were kind of heroic moments when I was at an age where I was playing some other sports and loving golf, and it inspired me to really take up the game and see what kind of moments you can create, because the ball is always in your hands.

"Few things are as electric as those moments they had in sports. I wanted to create my own. From the moment I got here I was always very excited, and I wanted to learn it and fall in love with it. Just a lot of positivity.

"I didn't know what to expect and got off to a nice start my first year and tried to carry it on every year. Yeah, 10th appearance now feels crazy, and I hopefully can match some of those greats that played in how many over the years, I don't know what the record is.

"You guys probably know. It would be pretty special, but at the same time when you get opportunities at a young age and you feel good about your chances, I want to win it again.

"That's the goal. And was able to get a round in yesterday with my brother, which was really fun, and get to work today."

Cameron Smith believes it is crucial for the LIV Golf Invitational Series to have players capable of competing for the title at Augusta.

The Masters starts on Thursday, with the world's best players flocking to Georgia for the first major of the year.

That includes those still registered with the PGA Tour, and the LIV Golf rebels who joined the Saudi Arabia-backed breakaway tournament.

Smith, who won The Open in 2022, was among them. The Australian heads into the Masters in sixth in the world rankings, making him the highest-ranked LIV Golf player.

But having any LIV Golf representative battling it out for the green jacket will mark a success for the tour, according to Smith.

"I think it's just important for LIV guys to be up there because I think we need to be up there," he told reporters while acknowledging the competition in the LIV events is not always as strong as those on the PGA Tour.

"I think there's a lot of chatter about 'these guys don't play real golf; these guys don't play real golf courses'.

"For sure, I'll be the first one to say, the fields aren't as strong. I'm the first one to say that.

"But we've still got a lot of guys up there that can play some really serious golf, and we compete against each other hard week-in and week-out and we're trying to do the same things that we did six months ago.

"It's nice. It's a good feeling to have that competition. I think we just need a good, strong finish."

Tiger Woods should be commended by every player on the PGA Tour for his efforts in fighting the LIV Golf Invitational Series, says Rory McIlroy.

World number two McIlroy has become the PGA Tour's de facto spokesperson over the past year, leading the charge against the Saudi-backed breakaway competition, which has lured some of golf's biggest names.

Woods, too, has stood by the PGA Tour.

Both McIlroy and Woods will be competing alongside some of the LIV Golf rebels at the Masters this week, with the latter back in action where he won the most recent of his 15 major titles back in 2019.

The pair have entered into a business venture – the TGL; the competition will feature 18 players, divided into six teams, competing over 18 holes on a virtual course. It will launch in 2024. 

For McIlroy, the experiences of the past 12 months have only strengthened his bond with Woods.

"I talk to him every day. That's the thing to me. I can remember the first time I met him, and how I felt," McIlroy told BBC Northern Ireland.

"To forge that relationship with him, and for him to really take an interest in what I do and take an interest in my game, my family and all that side of things.

"I'm unbelievably grateful for his friendship and his guidance but also his leadership through everything that's happened in the last 18 months as well.

"If anyone didn't need to do anything, it's Tiger Woods. But he stood up and tried to do what’s right for the game of golf and every single player on the PGA Tour needs to commend him on that."

McIlroy is confident TGL can be a hit with fans and players.

He added: "The business side of things with Tiger and I is amazing. I think TGL is a cool concept and hopefully we'll turn it into not just a cool concept but a cool entertainment project that people can get behind and really enjoy."

For now, the focus for McIlroy is on ending his nine-year wait for a fifth major title.

The 33-year-old has never won at Augusta, with his best finish coming in 2022, when he placed second behind Scottie Scheffler. 

Reflecting on what he could learn from Woods' approach at the Masters, McIlroy said: "The one thing he did really well at Augusta is just discipline.

"It [the course] can really goad you into taking in shots you don't need to take on. If you look at the two most successful players at Augusta, it's Tiger and Jack [Nicklaus].

"They're the two most successful players in the history of our game, so discipline, not taking on too much risk."

Woods has won the Masters five times in his storied career.

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