Rory McIlroy said he was relaxed and having fun playing alongside fellow young guns Rickie Fowler and Jason Day at golf’s Masters Tournament. It showed.
The 21-year-old McIlroy fired a 7-under-par 65 to become the youngest player to hold a share of the lead after the first round in the championship’s 75-year history. McIlroy had seven birdies and no bogies yesterday at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, and is tied atop the leader board with Spain’s long-hitting Alvaro Quiros.
McIlroy, who’s from Northern Ireland, said the on-course banter with the 22-year-old Fowler and 23-year-old Day revolved around cars, boats and “anything but golf.” McIlroy, who turns 22 on May 4, is seeking to become the youngest Masters winner since Tiger Woods claimed the first of his four titles at the age of 21 in 1997.
“Everything that I’ve been doing since I got the clubs out again after the New Year has been working toward Augusta,” said McIlroy, whose lone win in the U.S. came at last year’s Quail Hollow Championship. “It’s paid off today and hopefully it can pay off for the next three.”
McIlroy was one of 48 golfers in the 99-player field to shoot par or better during the opening round, five shy of the tournament record set in 1991. Defending champion Phil Mickelson is 2-under par, while Woods trails by six after a 1-under 71 as second-round play has begun today.
Quiros, 28, birdied the two final holes -- giving him eight on the day -- to tie McIlroy for the lead. Quiros, who hadn’t scored better than 75 in his two previous Masters appearances, was playing in the final group of the day and said he envisioned how special it would be to be in the same position on the final day of the tournament.
“It looks like I was playing in the Sunday afternoon in the leading group,” said Quiros, who leads the European Tour in driving distance at 314.5 yards. “Normally, I’m watching this situation through the TV sitting on my sofa. But it was a very special moment.”
The only player in the past 25 years to win the Masters after holding at least a share of the first-round lead was Trevor Immelman in 2008. A year ago, Fred Couples led after a 66 on Day One and eventually tied for sixth.
McIlroy said he’ll have to perform better than he did in the second round at last year’s British Open at St. Andrews in Scotland. He vaulted to the top of the leader board with a 63 there and followed with an 80.
“It was a very valuable lesson in my development as a golfer,” said McIlroy. “If I do find myself in a bit of trouble, I have to stick in there and grind it out. That’s something that I learned in St. Andrews, even though I didn’t do it that Friday.”
The youngest player to hold a first-round Masters lead had been Seve Ballesteros, who was 23 in 1980. McIlroy tees off today at 12:42 p.m. local time and Quiros is scheduled to start his second round at 10:41 a.m.
Entering the tournament, McIlroy was tied as the fifth choice among oddsmakers, with Mickelson the favorite to successfully defend his title. Mickelson had three birdies yesterday before making his lone bogey on the closing hole.
“I scrambled well, but also let four or five birdie opportunities slide,” said Mickelson, who tees off at 10:30 a.m. local time today. “I’m going to have to capitalize on those opportunities (today) to go low.”
Woods, who’s gone 18 months without a win, shot 70 or higher in the first round for the 16th time in 17 Masters trips. He had three birdies and two bogeys.
“There’s a long way to go,” Woods, who has a 1:48 p.m. start today, told reporters. “We have a long grind ahead of us. I’m very pleased, I’m right there in the ballgame.”
Sergio Garcia of Spain is 3-under, along with Ross Fisher of England, Geoff Ogilvy of Australia, South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel and Immelman, and Brandt Snedeker and Gary Woodland of the U.S.
“I don’t really know how to play the golf course,” said Kaymer, who added he isn’t sure what adjustments to make for today. “I can think about another hour or hour and a half or two hours, and I just don’t really find a solution.”
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