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McIlroy, Quiros sit atop leaderboard

Friday, April 08, 2011

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The international flags over the main leaderboard at Augusta National Golf Club are flying proudly after one day of the 75th Masters Tournament.

Alvaro Quiros is all smiles after getting a birdie on the 18th hole to grab a share of the first-round lead. The Spaniard, who hasn't made the cut in two previous trips to the Masters, led the field in driving distance and birdies Thursday. (Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

On the 50th anniversary of the event's first international champion, Thursday's opening round was truly a global affair.

Nine international players are among the 13 players in the top 10, including the top four.

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, and Spain's long-hitting Alvaro Quiros share the lead at 7-under-par 65. They are followed at 67 by Koreans Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi.

Two Americans -- Matt Kuchar and Ricky Barnes -- are tied for fifth place after 68s.

At 69 are England's Ross Fisher, Spain's Sergio Garcia, South Africa's Charl Schwartzel, South Africa's Trevor Immelman, Australia's Geoff Ogilvy and Americans Brandt Snedeker and Gary Woodland.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson bogeyed the 18th hole for 70, while Tiger Woods had 71.

Rory McIlroy held the lead until Quiros joined him at 7 under par through one round. (Staff)

"It was just OK," Mickelson said. "I didn't make up ground on the field like I wanted to, so I've got to go out and do it tomorrow."

Woods had 30 putts, but he wasn't discouraged.

"I hit a lot of beautiful putts," the four-time Masters champion said. "A lot of beautiful putts. And they were just skirting the edge, so hopefully they will start going in."

McIlroy, who at age 21 became the youngest first-round leader in Masters history, provided the early thunder, off in the 10th group of the day.

Quiros was in the final group -- nearly 41/2 hours after McIlroy and with a small gallery watching him birdie three of the final four holes (Nos. 15, 17 and 18) and lead the field in driving distance (309.50 per drive) and birdies (8).

"The weather was perfect, I was playing good and I was very lucky with the putting, so I couldn't complain, obviously," Quiros said.

Tiger Woods makes his way to the 15th green during the first round. Woods said he wasn't discouraged by having 30 putts. (Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

The free-spirited Quiros didn't know about McIlroy's strong play when he teed off. He just looked to see how his fellow Spaniards were doing.

"I can't be pretending to see the leaderboard; it would be stupid," Quiros said, referring to his previous Masters record, a best round of 75 in two starts.

On a day when the wind died down and the pin positions were generally accessible, 30 players shot under par and the scoring average was 72.717, down from 73.146 in last year's first round.

Even so, the ninth-ranked McIlroy had the day's lone bogey-free round.

Seve Ballesteros had been the youngest first-round Masters leader at age 23 in 1980. In what could be a good omen for McIlroy, Ballesteros went on to win that Masters, something only 15 first-round leaders have done in Masters history.

It was a big day for McIlroy, who had some bad second rounds in major championships last year. After opening with 74 in last year's Masters, he shot 77 to miss the cut.

Alvaro Quiros reacts to a putt on No. 13 during Thursday's first round. (Michael Holahan/Staff)

"It was probably the low point of the season for me," McIlroy said. "I went back home for a couple of weeks to sort of try and find my game again and won Charlotte whenever I did that (May 2)."

In July, he led the British Open at St. Andrews with an opening 63. He followed with 80. McIlroy regrouped to shoot 69-68 on the weekend and tie for third.

McIlroy thinks what happened in the second round at St. Andrews "will be a massive help to me. Looking back on it, it was a very valuable lesson in my development as a golfer.

"I'll be thinking about it, and I'll be thinking about how I can do things better tomorrow than I did that day in St. Andrews."

McIlroy said Thursday's 65 "wasn't as explosive or spectacular" as the 63 at St. Andrews, but it was "very solid from start to finish."

This Masters has been on his mind since early January, he said.

Alvaro Quiros shows disappointment with a putt on No. 15. (Andrew Davis Tucker/Special)

"I've practiced and I've prepared myself for this week," he said. "Everything that I've been doing since I got the clubs out again after the new year on the seventh of January, it's just been working towards Augusta. And it's paid off today, and hopefully it can pay off for the next three. "

McIlroy was so sharp with his irons that of his seven successful birdie putts, only one -- a 20-footer on No. 4 -- was longer than 10 feet.

"It's nice to come out here and shoot a really good round and get into the 60s and get that little monkey off my back and get to go into the next three rounds in a positive frame of mind," McIlroy said.

For the day, he hit 10 of 14 fairways, 14 of 18 greens and needed just 26 putts.

"That was it," McIlroy said. "It sounds simple, but it wasn't."

"Everything is good (with McIlroy)," said Jason Day, one of his playing partners. "He drives it unbelievable. Hits the iron great, Chips and putts good. That's why he shot 7-under today. He's in a good spot right now. I think mentally he's very happy where he is."

Alvaro Quiros reacts to a birdie putt on No. 18 during Thursday's first round. (Andrew Davis Tucker/Special)

"He looked like he was swinging with a lot of confidence," said Rickie Fowler, McIlroy's other playing partner. "I thought he was going to get a couple more (birdies), close to 8 or 9 (under)."

After shooting rounds of 78-75 and 75-75 in his previous two Masters, Quiros came in with a different attitude this year.

"The two previous years, I came to the Masters thinking that I can play well, shoot low," he said. "And this one was my main mistake. My main mistake, because it's a golf course -- it's too tough. Every single situation has to be measured. I mean, the risk, the reward. And today, I was very happy making pars. This is why probably shoot 65.

"If I push myself to shoot 65 from the first tee, I tell you, probably it will be the same, 75, 76, like the previous years," he said.

Other than McIlroy, it was not a great day for Europeans in the top 10 in the Official World Ranking. No. 1 Martin Kaymer had 78, while No. 2 Lee Westwood and No. 4 Luke Donald had 72s. No. 5 Graeme McDowell shot 74 despite taking 36 putts.

Kaymer changed his pre-Masters tournament schedule in hopes of playing better at Augusta National, but it has backfired.

Alvaro Quiros walks up to the seventh green and tips his hat to the patrons cheers. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

He beat only four players in the 99-player field after the 78, the highest score of his Masters career. Kaymer is now 18-over par for seven rounds and will likely miss his fourth consecutive Masters cut today.

"For me, it was a very difficult day," said Kaymer, who hit just six fairways and started going the wrong way with a bogey on the second hole.

"Every day I played here was a tough day so far," he said. "I was disappointed because there are some golf courses that suit you and some they just don't."

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.

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