McIlroy stands tall after work on short game pays off with 65

Ulsterman sets blistering early pace but late surge from Quiros sees leadership shared

Rory McIlroy is no respecter of reputation. Nine months after bringing the grand old lady that is the Old Course to her knees with a 63, so the Ulsterman dared treat the Georgia beauty in the same contemptible manner. With a 65 the 21-year-old became the youngest first-round leader in Masters history.

What a way to start the 75th edition of the season’s opening major. McIlroy’s seven-birdied, no-bogeyed magnificence was just what this glorious spectacle deserved. After two third places in his last two majors, and three third places in the last five majors, McIlroy is on the premises yet again and along with the big-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros leading a double-pronged challenge for the first European green-jacket this century.

Yet recent experience warns the boy of the perils. At St Andrews he scored an 80 on a windswept second day; an ordeal which will figure large in his mind today. “I think it will be a massive help,“ said McIlroy, after breaking 70 for the first time at Augusta. “Looking back, it was a very valuable lesson in my development. I'll be thinking about it tomorrow and thinking how I can do things better than that day. Shooting a score like that… well, you should really never make that mistake again.”

He added: “It's possible that I can go out and shoot another 65, but I know that it's also very likely I'm not going to do that. So if I do find myself in a bit of trouble, I'm going to have to stick in there, grind it out.”

A grind was the furthest image from the admiring observer’s mind yesterday. This was vintage Rory; if it possible to be vintage at an age when your friends are still in college, that is. It seemed effortless, as he blasted into the middle of the fairways and from there at the pins. It could have been so much better, historic even, but at least four makeable putts stayed up. Only two 63s have ever been recorded here.

“I’d take a 65 all day long,” said McIlroy. “I wouldn't say it wasn't as spectacular as the 63 at St Andrews but it was very solid from start to finish. I've struggled with the front nine over the past couple of years and made a point last Friday to play 27 and go out on the front nine again and just make sure I'm very comfortable with the shots I need to hit there.”

Comfortable? He was four-under at the turn. McIlroy looked and played relaxed from the outset. Little wonder really, seeing as he has brought a group of pals over to stay with him in a rented house near to the course. On Wednesday night they were to be found playing American Football in the street - until a elderly female neighbour told them off. Sometimes it is all too easy to forget how young McIlroy happens to be.

This is only his ninth major and yesterday was only his seventh competitive round at Augusta. “I'm still relatively inexperienced but I feel as if I'm a pretty quick learner. I'm getting there,“ said McIlroy, who missed the USPGA play-off by a mere shot last August. “There’s no substitute for experience, especially around here. But I’ve learned where to miss it in the right spots.” In truth, these wasn’t too much missing going on out there.

This was exactly what he wanted and indeed expected after a three-week break, the last two of which were spent in Florida working with his long-time coach, Michael Bannon. The gym-work he has been doing with Steve McGregor, Lee Westwood’s fitness coach, has firmed up both his figure and his resolve. It has been the ideal build-up. With all the attention on Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and the other Europeans above him in the rankings, the world No 9 came in here somewhat under the radar. Well, his figure has suddenly lit up the screen.

For so long on the first day he seemed certain to be the lone pacesetter. But Quiros is capable of the most outrageous birdie runs and with three birdies in the last four holes the player in the very last grouping drew level with McIlroy, leaving two shots back to the Korean duo, Kj Choi and YE Yang, in third. Quiros, the world No 23, is made for Augusta and gives the blue and gold cause so much more reason for hope. Martin Kaymer, meanwhile, provided, exactly none.

The world No 1 shot a disastrous 78 to make a fourth missed cut in as many Masters a possibility, if not a probability. “I can’t play this course,“ said Kaymer. No kidding. The German’s playing partner Lee Westwood fared much with a level-par 72, but the world No2 bogeyed the last and was left frustrated with yet another poor putting display. His mood was in direct contrast to that of Woods after a 71.

“I hit a lot of beautiful putts,” said Tiger, looking for his first victory in 17 months. “And they were just skirting the edge, so hopefully they will start going in. But I'm very pleased. I'm right there in the ball game, I'm only six back and we’ve got a lot of golf ahead of us.”

Woods, however, also recognised the quality of the golfer ahead of him. “Rory’s got a lot of talent,” said the last golfer to win a Masters aged 21. “And as we all know he's got a wonderful swing and it's just a matter of time before he starts winning a bunch of tournaments.”

One man with a bunch of green-jackets is the defending champion, Mickelson, and maybe yesterday’s exhibition of golfing escapology explains why. Mickelson hit only four fairways (the fewest out of the entire field), hit 12 greens in regulation and still managed a 70.

This was one back from England’s Ross Fisher - the first man out on the course - and the resurgent Sergio Garcia. Also on two-under with Mickelson is the world No 6, Paul Casey, after four birdies in the last six holes and on level par is the world No 4 Luke Donald, who was three-under for the last six.

Alas there was disappointment for Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell with 74s, while Padraig Harrington latest challenge for a fourth major is all but over after a neck injury sustained while limbering up almost forced him to withdraw. A 77 signified he probably should have. At least Ireland has Rory to cheer on. Brilliant Rory.

Masters details

Leading first-round scores (US unless stated)

65 R McIlroy (N Irl), A Quiros (Sp)

67 Y E Yang (S Kor)

68 M Kuchar, R Barnes

69 T Immelman (SA), C Schwartzel (SA), R Fisher (Eng), B Snedeker, S Garcia (Sp)

70 P Mickelson, S O'Hair, C Villegas (Col), G Havret (Fr), R Fowler, R Goosen (SA), H Fujita (Japan), R Moore, K T Kim (S Kor)

71 R Palmer, R Ishikawa (Japan), T Woods, M A Jimenez (Sp), R Palmer, A Cabrera (Arg), F Couples

72 D Chung, A Hansen (Den), H Slocum, A Cejka (Ger), N Watney, A Scott (Aus), J Day (Aus), R Karlsson (Swe), D Chung, L Westwood (Eng), D Toms, P Hanson (Swe), D A Points, L Donald (Eng)

73 K Na, J Overton, S Lyle (Scot), J Byrd, T Clark (SA), B van Pelt, L Mize, J Jeong (S Kor), Z Johnson, J M Olazabal (Sp), B Crane

74 J Kelly, C Hoffman, R Sabbatini (SA), G McDowell (NIrl), D Johnson, B Haas, M Laird (Sco), I Poulter (Eng)

Selected second round tee-off times

(all times BST; *=amateur)

13:29 Angel Cabrera (Arg), Ian Poulter (Eng), David Toms

14:57 Bubba Watson, Paul Casey (Eng), doardo Molinari (It)

15:19 Justin Rose (Eng), KJ Choi (S Kor), Louis Oosthuizen (SA)

15:30 Phil Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy (Aus), *Peter Uihlein

15:52 Jonathan Byrd, Ross Fisher (Eng),Sean O'Hair

17:09 Vijay Singh (Fiji), Tim Clark (SA), Aaron Baddeley (Aus)

17:42 Rory McIlroy (N Irl), Rickie Fowler, Jason Day (Aus)

17:53 Mike Weir (Can), Hiroyuki Fujita (Japan), Retief Goosen (SA)

18:04 Padraig Harrington (Ire), Ryo Ishikawa (Japan), Bill Haas

18:26 Martin Kaymer (Ger), Lee Westwood (Eng), Matt Kuchar

18:37 Hunter Mahan, Ernie Els (SA), Francesco Molinari (It)

18:48 Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell (N Irl), Robert Allenby (Aus)

18:59 Arjun Atwal (India), Sergio Garcia (Sp), Robert Karlsson (Swe)

Weather Warm and sunny, with light winds and patchy cloud. Maximum temp: 26C

TV Live Sky Sports 1, HD1, 7pm-3am. Highlights BBC2, 7-8pm

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'