Rory McIlroy cruised to a bogey-free 65 before ESPN even made it to air, a score that stood until the final group of the day, when Alvaro Quiros birdied Nos. 17 and 18 to tie for the lead at 7-under. I’m not saying it’s a two-horse race just yet, with Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi at 5-under, Matt Kuchar and Ricky Barnes at 4-under, and a total of 48 players at par or better.
But through one round, who are you more impressed with: McIlroy or Quiros?
It was the media’s duty to harass remind McIlroy how difficult it is to back up a great first round at a major, since just last year, the 21-year-old followed his opening 63 at the British Open with an 80 in absolutely miserable conditions at St. Andrews. While he certainly won’t have to battle 30-40 mph winds Friday, McIlroy is well-aware of the pitfalls that await a first-round leader at a major, and how last year’s second-round derailed an otherwise stellar week — in which he ultimately finished third.
“You know, that second day at St. Andrews, hopefully it doesn’t happen, but say I’m 2 over after three [on Friday],” McIlroy said. “It’s fine. You’re still in the golf tournament. There are still 50-whatever holes to play. You don’t need to play spectacular golf for 72 holes to win.”
Playing partner Rickie Fowler was especially impressed with the way McIlroy dissected Augusta on Thursday.
“He was swinging with a lot of confidence,” said Rickie Fowler, who shot a respectable 70. “I thought he was going to get a couple more and get to 8 or 9 [under].”
And you can’t write about a 21-year-old dicing up Augusta without conjuring up images of Tiger Woods in 1997. While McIlroy won’t touch Woods’ 12-stroke margin of victory, he has already matched Woods’ low score for that week. (I know. I’ve been trying to beat it in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12. I’m stuck on 66.) But Woods’ 65 didn’t come until the third round that year, meaning McIlroy is the youngest first-round leader in Masters history. McIlroy was also the only player in the field without a bogey on Thursday.
Yep. McIlroy’s gonna be a great one. Heck, he already is, with three career top 10s in majors, including last year’s British Open and PGA Championship. Can he finish it off this time?
And then there’s the specimen Quiros, who was wildly entertaining, but maybe not as much as playing partner Gary Woodland. Augusta had fun with this pairing, putting Quiros with Woodland and Jhonattan Vegas to form the longest-hitting threesome in the history of man.
While Quiros piled up eight birdies, the most thrilling round belonged to Woodland, who was 3-over through 12, but finished eagle-par-birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie to get to 3-under, tied for seventh with, among others, Sergio Garcia. Vegas also made a nice rally late in his first major, eagling No. 15 and playing the last six holes in a mere 3-under to get back to even.
But Quiros might have the scariest combination of power and putting in the field, unleashing 350-yard drives and sinking eight birdies — including one on each of Augusta’s four par 5s — while hitting 15 greens and needing only 27 putts.
While Quiros’ skills have never been questioned, the round did come from nowhere, as the 28-year-old had missed the cut in both of his previous tries at Augusta, and never broken 75. Thursday’s round shattered his career best by 10.
“I holed putts,” said Quiros, whose biggest putt was a 20-footer to salvage bogey on No. 14. “Obviously, the best club in my bag was the putter.”
Can Quiros follow the Angel Cabrera blueprint and keep it going? Or did he just catch lightning in a bottle for one round?
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)