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AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy used a fast start and a strong finish to charge into contention for the Masters on Friday, but was doing his best to shut out any thoughts of completing a career grand slam of the majors.
Should the world number three, standing just one behind leader Jordan Spieth, triumph on Sunday, he would become only the sixth man to win all four of golf's blue riband events, joining Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.
"Look, I'm really trying to block that out," four-times major champion McIlroy said of his bid to join one of the sport's most exclusive lists. "It's another golf tournament I'm trying to win.
"I'm trying to beat guys on this leaderboard that I've beaten before, so I need to take confidence from that and know that I've been in this position before.
"Maybe not on this golf course, but I've been in this position before in big tournaments and been able to get the job done. So that's the way I need to approach it."
McIlroy came agonizingly close to winning the coveted Green Jacket in 2011 when he led by one stroke with nine holes to play before snap-hooking his drive out-of-bounds at the 10th hole to run up a triple bogey.
He went on to shoot an eight-over 80 as he tumbled back into a tie for 15th.
"I know it's a very big weekend for me," said McIlroy, who birdied two of his first three holes on Friday before double-bogeying the fourth and dropping another shot at the fifth.
"But when I'm out there on the golf course, I just have to be completely 100 percent focused on the task at hand.
"And if I can do that and stay in the moment and be completely focused over every golf shot I hit from now until Sunday night, then hopefully everything will work out the way I want it to."
McIlroy also bogeyed the 11th hole on Friday to briefly trail pacesetter Spieth by eight shots but he stormed back with birdies at the 13th, 15th and 16th as most of his rivals struggled in gusting winds.
"Going into the back nine, I knew I just needed to stay patient and make pars, try to birdie the par-fives, and I was able to do that. The putt on 16 was obviously a bonus," McIlroy said of his curling 40-footer on the par-three hole.
"I'm very happy. I think getting anything under par today with the conditions and some of the pin positions, I'm really happy with that and in a good position going into the weekend."
Editing by Larry Fine