AUGUSTA, Georgia — As Rory McIlroy stood under the tall pines down the left side of the No. 7 fairway at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday, he lasered in on a safe spot to land his second shot.
McIlroy found what he thought was the perfect target — an older man in a white golf shirt and blue shorts.
Unfortunately for McIlroy’s father, Gerry, he hit the ball right where he wanted — but just a little too far. The wayward shot struck his father in the back of his leg as he walked to the green.
“In fairness, it was where I was trying to turn it off,” McIlroy said. “It was a perfect shot — it was dead straight. I think he was OK. He didn’t limp away, he walked away pretty swiftly.”
It was one of quite a few errant shots for McIlroy, who shot a 4-over 76 in the first round of the 85th edition of the Masters and trails leader Justin Rose by 11 shots. It was his third straight opening round over par at Augusta National, where he’s trying to become only the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam.
“My goal is to play well and at least give myself a chance,” McIlroy said. “I mean, honestly I’m quite encouraged with how I hit it on the way in. I hit some loose shots out there, but after hitting the 6-iron in the water on 13, I hit some really good shots coming in, so I’m encouraged by that.”
After hitting his second shot into Rae’s Creek in front of the green on No. 13, McIlroy carded his sixth bogey of the round to fall to 5 over. He birdied the par-5 15th and then made par on the last three holes.
McIlroy, a former world No. 1, hasn’t won on tour in more than 17 months. His last major championship win came at the 2014 PGA Championship. He recently brought on renowned swing coach Pete Cowen to help him turn things around. He admitted after his opening round that he’s still not completely comfortable.
“I think any time you’re working on things with your swing, it’s going to feel very different, but it’s not as if I haven’t done these things before,” he said. “I think that’s the thing. It’s like you get into these bad habits and that feels normal, and then you get it back into position where I’ve been a million times before and it just feels a little different.”
The good news for McIlroy is that he was in a similar position in November, when he opened with a 3-over 75. He went 14 under over the final 54 holes and finished in a tie for fifth, his sixth top-10 in his past seven Masters starts.
Thankfully, his father was fine, too. Gerry McIlroy joked to reporters that he might ask for an autographed glove after taking one for the team. His son’s ball would have wound up in a much worse position if it hadn’t hit his leg.
“He’s seen me sign plenty of stuff over the years, so I think that’s the least of his worries,” McIlroy said. “I think he just needs to go and put some ice on — maybe I’ll autograph a bag of frozen peas for him.”