McIlroy, Quiros share early Masters’ lead
The Associated Press
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Rory McIlroy teed off in the morning and put up a score for everyone to chase at the Masters. Then, after grabbing some lunch, he plopped down in front of the television to see if anyone could catch him.
No one did — until a long-hitting Spaniard in the last group of the day.
Alvaro Quiros, who had never shot better than 75 in two previous Masters, birdied the final two holes under darkening skies to match McIlroy with a 7-under 65 on Thursday.
There were plenty of red numbers on the board, the golfers able to attack the venerable course on a warm, sunny day with only a slight hint of a breeze.
South Koreans Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi were two shots back at 67. Nine other players were in the 60s. Defending champ Phil Mickelson scrambled for a 70, and Tiger Woods was within striking distance at 71.
McIlroy, a 21-year-old from Northern Ireland, is used to contending in the majors, finishing third at last year’s British Open and PGA Championship. He also helped Europe reclaim the Ryder Cup. Now, he’s the youngest first-round leader in Masters history after a bogey-free round.
“I trusted everything,” McIlroy said. “I trusted where I wanted to hit the ball. That’s the key around here. With some of these pins, you can get tentative and try to guide it in there. You just have to pick your targets and trust your swing. I was very happy with the way I did that.”
McIlroy nearly duplicated his dynamic start at last year’s British Open, where he started with a 63. The next day at St. Andrews, in a howling wind that actually forced a brief delay, he slumped to an 80.
He shouldn’t face those conditions in Georgia, where the forecast calls for warm, sunny weather through the weekend. Whatever happens, he feels better prepared to deal with any adversity.
“At the time, it was very disappointing,” McIlroy said, referring to his second-round collapse at St. Andrews. “But looking back, it was probably very valuable in my progression as a golfer.”
Quiros was able to overpower Augusta National with his strength off the tee, but it was the putter that kept him in the game. After driving behind some trees at No. 14, and going even deeper when his next shot struck a limb, he rolled in a 20-foot putt to salvage bogey.
He made a 25-footer for birdie at the 17th, then made things a bit easier at the final hole by sticking his approach shot right behind the flag. He rolled in the short birdie putt and was tied for the lead at a place where he’s never even made it to the weekend.
“It’s time to do it, isn’t it?” Quiros joked. “Finally, I played well.”
Even though he’s known for his booming drives, the Spaniard knew which club deserved most of the credit.
“I holed putts,” he said. “Obviously, the best club in my bag was the putter.”
One of golf’s rising stars, McIlroy began attacking at the par-5 second with the first of three straight birdies, and he never let up.
Now, he’s got to avoid a British Open-like meltdown.
“I have that experience to draw on,” he said, “especially being in a similar position to last year at St. Andrews. I feel like I’m better prepared to tee off in the second round of a major with the lead.”
Woods was six shots back, but at least he wasn’t totally out of it. Mired in the longest winless streak of his career, he considered it a promising, if plodding, start.
“Hey, there’s a long way to go,” Woods said. “I’m very pleased. I’m right there in the ballgame.”
While Woods has gone 20 tournaments over 17 months without a win, he’s always a contender at Augusta National. He’s captured four green jackets and finished fourth a year ago, coming back from a long layoff caused by the sex scandal that ruined his marriage and tarnished his image.
Mickelson, coming off a win at Houston and playing in the next-to-last group, pushed his opening tee shot into the trees left of the fairway. He scrambled to save the first of seven straight pars, a sign of things to come.
Lefty drove under an azalea bush at the 13th and had to work hard to make par. He finally stumbled at the 18th, failing to get down from behind the green for his lone bogey of the day, pushing his score out of the 60s.
He headed straight to the practice range to work on his balky swing before sundown.
“It was just OK,” Lefty said. “I didn’t shoot myself out of it. But I didn’t make up ground on the field like I wanted to. So I’ve got to go do it tomorrow.”
Yang made an eagle at the 13th and briefly pulled into a tie for the lead with consecutive birdies on 15 and 16. But a wild drive behind the trees led to a bogey at the 17th, and he made another at the final hole after knocking his approach shot over the green and failing to pull off a tricky up and down.
His countryman took a different tact. Choi birdied five of his last six holes, capped off by a brilliant putt at 18 from the front of the green to the pin, tucked in the back.
Matt Kuchar and Ricky Barnes were the top Americans at 68, while seven others were in at 69: Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Ross Fisher, Geoff Ogilvy, Gary Woodland and 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman.
Two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen had the early lead after holing out an eagle from the fairway on the first hole. But the South African limped to the finish with three straight bogeys for a 70 that felt much worse.
PGA champion Martin Kaymer came in as the world’s top-ranked player, but he’s never made it to the weekend at Augusta. Looks as if the German will be going home early for the fourth year in a row, opening with a dismal 78 — his worst score yet in the Masters.
“For me, it was very difficult,” Kaymer said. “There’s some golf courses that suit you and some, they just don’t.”