Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry nicely positioned at US Masters as Charley Hoffman leads after a stunning 65

Rory McIlroy hits from a bunker on the second hole at the Masters in Augusta
Rory McIlroy hits from a bunker on the second hole at the Masters in Augusta Rory McIlroy hits from a bunker on the second hole at the Masters in Augusta

RORY McIlroy and Shane Lowry are perfectly positioned after day one of the US Masters at Augusta. Both men shot level par rounds of 72 and although that leaves them seven shots behind first round leader Charley Hoffman – whose 65 gave him the biggest first round lead at the event since 1941 – they are only three shots behind the second-placed player, William McGirt.

McIlroy had to hang on in the early part of his round and did well on several occasions not to add to bogeys at the first, third and eighth holes.

He was still three-over standing on the 13th tee but birdies at the two par fives – the 13th and 15th – were followed by another at 16 to bring him back to level par.

Lowry started his round bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie-birdie-bogey before further birdies at the eighth and 13th got him to two-under par. However, back-to-back bogeys at 15 and 16 put the brakes on him and he was forced to hole a tricky eight-footer to avoid another at 17, before parring the last to finish level par.

Lee Westwood is third on his own after five consecutive birdies between the 13th and 17th brought him from three-over par to two-under par, while eight players share fourth on one-under par – Last week's Houston Open winner, Russell Henley; Kevin Chappell; Andy Sullivan; Matthew Fitzpatrick; Phil Mickelson; Justin Rose; Jason Dufner and Sergio Garcia.

Defending champion Danny Willett produced a battling performance to save his first round.

After world number one Dustin Johnson was forced out by a back injury just moments before he was due to tee off, Willett recovered from being three over par after two holes to card a first round of 73 at a windswept Augusta National.

Willett had fought back to level par thanks to an eagle on the 13th before a disappointing three-putt bogey on the 18th, where Fitzpatrick had earlier taken an unfortunate six.

"I just didn't really feel comfortable over the tee shot," Fitzpatrick said after a pulled drive which travelled just 166 yards. "My low one's lower than everyone else's, so I can actually kill someone at head high, so I didn't feel comfortable with people sort of poking their head round.

"I should have backed off it and got everyone to move. So I'll do that the rest of the week."

With winds gusting up to 35mph moving balls on greens and causing havoc around Amen Corner in particular, even 2015 champion Jordan Spieth was not out of contention despite running up a quadruple-bogey nine on the 15th in a 75.

Willett, who has struggled for consistent form since claiming his first major title 12 months ago, hit a wild opening drive into the trees to the right of the first fairway and needed two shots to escape.

The 29-year-old found the green with his fourth shot and two-putted for a six, making him the first defending champion to start with a double bogey since hole-by-hole records began being collected in 1983.

A similarly wayward drive on the par-five second, which played the easiest hole on the course in 2016, cost Willett another shot and, although he birdied the third and 10th, a bogey on the 11th left him two over par before the welcome eagle on the 13th.