Rory McIlroy gets off to a good start

Rory McIlroy gets off to a good start on day three at Augusta

World number two Rory McIlroy produced the fast start he was looking for as the third round of the Masters quickly lived up to expectations at Augusta National.

McIlroy was determined to erase the memory of a costly stroke of bad luck on day two, when his approach to the 18th clattered into the pin and rebounded 20 yards off the green.
The four-time major winner, who needs to win the Masters to complete the career grand slam, hit a superb pitch to three feet but missed the par putt to leave himself five shots off the lead.

However, McIlroy wasted no time in getting that shot back when play resumed on Saturday in far calmer and warmer conditions that had prevailed on the first two days.

A par on the opening hole was his first of the week, albeit slightly disappointing after a drive of 348 yards was followed by a mediocre approach, but the 27-year-old then reached the par-five second in two and recorded a straightforward birdie.

McIlroy then drove just short of the green on the short par-four third and chipped to two feet for another birdie, before leaving his hat-trick attempt short from 18 feet on the next.

Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson had also made a flying start with birdies on the first two holes, but then ran up a double bogey six on the third after finding sand off the tee.

At one under par, McIlroy was in red figures for just the second time this week and three off the lead shared by Sergio Garcia, Charley Hoffman, Thomas Pieters and Rickie Fowler.

All four players were seeking a first major title and knew the importance of staying close to the lead, with every Masters champion since 1990 being inside the top five after 54 holes.

Garcia, who has recorded 22 top-10 finishes in majors, had the added incentive of being able to claim a first title on Sunday, which would have been the 60th birthday of two-time champion and fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros.

However, the 37-year-old would need a vast improvement on his third round scoring average of 74.92, which includes an 81 last year and no scores in the 60s.

After finishing 12th here in 2012, Garcia famously claimed he was not good enough to win a major, but said on Friday: "'I was frustrated then but I probably didn't accept things as well as I should have.

''I've shown myself many times after that I can contend and I truly feel I can not only win one (major) but more than one."

Pieters turned in a record performance as a rookie in Europe's Ryder Cup defeat last year and is certainly not phased about trying to become the first player to win on their Masters debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

"It's just a stat," said the 25-year-old Belgian, who won four of his five matches at Hazeltine. "It's just like as the best rookie on the Ryder Cup team. We lost. So I don't really care about that stat.

"As in any tournament, I just like to get within three or four shots on a Sunday afternoon. Then you really give yourself a chance. It's a bit bold to say that you want to come here and win and then you don't do it, and you know, you look like a fool.

"If I just get in contention on Sunday afternoon, that's all I want."

Fowler finished in the top five in all four majors in 2014 but was sharing an overnight lead in one for the first time, while Hoffman was ninth at Augusta in 2015 after lying second at halfway.

McIlroy's charge came to a halt with a three-putt bogey on the fifth and a double bogey on the seventh, where his drive took a bad bounce into the trees.

More bad luck was to follow when McIlroy's approach plugged in a greenside bunker and after splashing out to 60 feet, he three-putted to drop back to two over.

A birdie on the eighth repaired some of the damage but still left McIlroy seven shots off the pace being set by Hoffman, who had birdied the second and fourth.