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Rory McIlroy shoots 71, calls it 'a pretty good day'

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The Masters and what it means has been a nearly daily source of conversation for Rory McIlroy since he won the Open Championship last summer and perhaps even more so after capturing the PGA Championship as well.

The chance to complete a career Grand Slam and with a third straight major championship could have been derailed early Thursday as McIlroy struggled through the first 11 holes at Augusta National.

But he got into red numbers at the 15th hole and managed to finish off a 1-under-par 71, perhaps not as good as he would have liked but still leaving him in position to chase history.

"It could have been a round that got away from me," said McIlroy, 25, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, who trails on-course leader Jordan Spieth. "I made bogey on 11 and I just stayed patient, realizing that it's a 72-hole golf tournament and not having to press too much. That's what I did.

"It was good to get into red numbers after Day 1, and I feel with the way I'm driving the ball, if I can keep doing that and just be a little more patient with my iron play and give myself more opportunities, I'll hope to be right there at the end of the week."

McIlroy hit 12 of 18 greens but failed to birdie either of the front-nine par-5s, something of a nemesis for him in the past.

At the second, he found a tiny water hazard but managed to save par when his approach from 148 yards came up 4 feet from the cup.

McIlroy played with three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who shot 70.

The 71 was McIlroy's ninth in a row under par in major championships, dating to his run that started at Royal Liverpool, site of the Open Championship. He continued it through 72 holes there and again at Valhalla for the PGA Championship. McIlroy is 34 under par in that span, with a scoring average of 67.8.

It is the fourth straight year McIlroy has opened with 71 or 72 here. Last year was his first top-10 finish in six appearances, a tie for eighth.

"I haven't put too much pressure on myself,'' McIlroy said. "Look, I obviously know what I can achieve this week, but I'm not letting myself think about it too much. Just trying to play it one round at a time.

"Today was a pretty good day. I feel like I can do better. But happy after day one and go out and just try and do a little bit better tomorrow."

A victory would put McIlroy in an elite group along with Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods -- players who have achieved the Grand Slam. Only Hogan (1953) and Woods (2000-01) have won three consecutive majors in the modern era.