AUGUSTA, Ga.—Rory McIlroy's Grand Slam pursuit was the featured storyline heading into the 2019 Masters. For McIlroy to win that elusive green jacket, he'll need to do something that's never been done before at Augusta National.
McIlroy appeared to be in relative good standing throughout his first round, and three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the back placed the 29-year-old just two from the lead. Unfortunately for the Ulsterman, he stumbled on his way in with bogeys and the 17th and 18th, misfires that led to a one-over 73. Coupled with a stout push from the afternoon wave, McIlroy will start the second round seven shots out of the lead in T-41.
Those two figures are of special consequence, for they paint a dour outlook on McIlroy's title aspirations.
Only two players have overcome deficits of seven shots after the first round in tournament history. The first was Nick Faldo in 1990 (shooting 71 to Mike Donald's 64), the other Tiger Woods in 2005 (a 74 against Chris DiMarco's 67). Faldo answered with a 72 on Friday but made his real move on Saturday with a 66, finishing at 10 under and defeating Raymond Floyd in a playoff. As for Woods, his response was immediate, turning in a second-round 66. Like Faldo, Woods found himself in sudden death, defeating DiMarco with a birdie on the first playoff hole. So in that regard, there is slim hope for McIlroy.
But where Rory will need to buck history is with his standing. The highest any winner has been on the scoreboard after Day 1 was Woods in 2005 at T-33. Mentioned above, McIlroy is currently T-41. Meaning the obstacles ahead are not just the deficit, but the volume of players that fill the space between.
If that wasn't enough, McIlroy's over-par score does not bode well. Though 11 players have shot 73 or worse in their opening round and won, just one—Woods in '05—has come in the past two decades.
Perhaps the final dagger? The first round has historically been McIlroy's time to shine. In his 10 previous Masters appearances, McIlroy's been 1.4 shots better on Thursday (70.70) than on Friday (72.11) and Saturday (72.11).
For what it's worth, McIlroy remained sanguine about his weekend prospects.
"I think I've sort of been through it all here at this golf course," McIlroy said. "So it's sort of—it's fine. You know you're going to have chances. There's birdie opportunities. I can accept mistakes if I'm trying and it's not a mental error or I haven't got into places, so I can accept some mistakes...I'm just going to need to tidy that up over the next few days."
This tournament is known for producing the highest drama come the weekend. For McIlroy to become a part of it, he'll need to create some theatrics of his own.