Opinion: Numbers prove Rory McIlroy has room for improvement at Masters - but rule him out if you dare

Rory McIlroy’s untidy start to this year’s Masters leaves him playing catch-up after just one day at Augusta National.
Rory McIlroy reacts to his shot from the bunker on the 13th hole during the first round of the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club   Picture: Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesRory McIlroy reacts to his shot from the bunker on the 13th hole during the first round of the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club   Picture: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy reacts to his shot from the bunker on the 13th hole during the first round of the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club Picture: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

While a star-studded top of the leaderboard has Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Brooks Koepka all joint-top of seven under par going into day two, with the likes of Jason Day, Shane Lowery, Xander Schauffele and Scottie Schefller making up the current top 10, the Ulsterman needs a good day at the office get himself right back into contention.

He’s capable of it, of course, with his 64 on the final day of the 2022 tournament the third lowest score in Masters history.

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McIlroy also has top-10 finishes in seven of his past nine visits to the breathtaking Georgia venue, including his runners-up spot 12 months ago.

And make no mistake about it, no-one, absolutely no-one, will be ruling him out despite an opening round 72 that leaves his seven shots off the lead.

Five birdies on Thursday backs that up. Unfortunately, three bogeys and a double bogey on seven showed that day one of the 2023 Masters was simply not his day.

There’s clearly room for improvement for the world No2 - and some key stats from his opening round should be his focus before heading out today at 3.18pm UK time - a tee time brought forward 30 minutes due to weather conditions at Augusta.

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McIlroy spoke of the need to be disciplined heading into his opening round. Yet that didn’t translate into accurate driving figures. The 33-year-old hit just 64 percent of fairways. That’s well short of the standard set by Rahm, who hit all 14 for a 100-percent record.

Rory sat 70th in the field for this key discipline on day one at Augusta National, which will not sit easy.

It’s a similar story for the number of greens hit by the popular Northern Irishman.

Only 61 percent were found in regulation, placing him 55th in the opening-round standings.

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The field average is 66 per cent, with Rahm once again leading the way with figures of 94.44 per cent.

McIlroy’s fine final putt on 18 saved him from posting a fifth consecutive opening day score north of level par.

It’s an area of his game that has seen vast improvements in recent years. Yet, once more, he needs to see the ball drop into the hole much quicker if he’s to make a move up the leaderboard.

He averaged 1.67 putts on day one. That placed him 42nd in the putting standings and well below countryman Matt McClean, who is in the top 10 for putts (1.56) despite an opening round 77.

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McIlroy heads into day two tied for 37th place. His below-par stats for day one back that up.

Yet his reputation and Augusta pedigree backs up the belief that he must not be ruled out for slipping into a famous green jacket on Sunday.