AUGUSTA, Ga.—Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Spain’s Alvaro Quiros bumped into each other at an Augusta shopping mall Wednesday night before the Masters.
They were together again at sunset Thursday — atop the leaderboard at 7 under par in golf’s first major championship of 2011.
“I watched Rory playing with a [football] and he was doing terrible,” Quiros said about McIlroy disturbing a neighbor playing catch under street lights later Wednesday. “I like American football, but I’ve never tried it. When I fly here, I like to watch football, baseball, but I don’t have too much idea about technique.”
They both proved they can play their international game at an exceptional level.
McIlory had a morning charge with seven birdies, and Quiros matched the 7-under 65 while working for the first time with caddie Gareth Bryn Lord.
“It’s like soccer or in football: When a team is playing bad, you cannot change the 22 players; the only thing you can change is the coach,” Quiros said. “In my case, it’s the same. I cannot change myself — well, I tried — but I changed the caddie to see if I can change something.”
The result for Quiros was a 10-stroke improvement over his previous best round at Augusta National. He shot 75 once in 2009 and twice last year.
Quiros, who averaged more than 309 yards off the tee Thursday, shot 4 under through the last nine holes, including holed birdie putts of about 20 feet and then three feet on the last two greens.
“I was talking with my caddie walking the 18th, and it looked like I was playing on Sunday afternoon,” Quiros said. “It was a very nice feeling because normally I watch that situation on the TV sitting on my sofa. It was a very special moment.
“The weather was perfect, I was feeling good and I was lucky with my putting, so I couldn’t complain.”
McIlroy had little to complain about as well. His bogey-free 65 came as he played with fellow youngsters Rickie Fowler — dressed head to toe in green Puma clothing — and Jason Day.
“When I saw the draw, being paired with Rickie and Jason, I knew it was going to be a good group for us,” McIlroy said. “It’s their first Masters and it’s my third, but we’re all [about] the same age. We talked about cars, boats — anything but golf, really.”
Of the 99 participants in the 75th Masters, 48 shot par or better in ideal conditions consisting of 70-degree temperatures, a light breeze, lush fairways and receptive greens.
“We started off like this last year,” said Ricky Barnes, who is tied with Matt Kuchar for fifth at 68. “There were some good numbers early last year. But the course will change each and every day.”
Koreans Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi are tied for third at 67. Yang shot 4 under on the front nine and Choi shot 4 under on the back, including birdies on five of the last six holes after a bogey at No. 11.
“I think that was like medicine for me,” Choi said through a translator. “If I had saved par, I probably would have been too excited and maybe lose my rhythm.”
There are seven players four shots off the lead, including Americans Brandt Snedeker and Gary Woodland, who played in the final group with Quiros.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson is tied for 24th and five shots back, which is one stroke better than Tiger Woods.
“My target tomorrow is to make the cut,” Quiros said. “It would be stupid to think about shooting 65 again, because it’s not my way.”
McIlroy can relate to keeping simple thoughts heading into the second round of a major.
The 21-year-old opened the 2010 British Open with a 63 and owned the lead by two shots at St. Andrews. He followed that with an 8-over 80 in the second round — a feat he won’t forget and one he doesn’t want to repeat.
“It was a very valuable lesson in my development as a golfer,” McIlroy said. “I’ll be thinking about how I can do things better tomorrow than I did that day in St. Andrews.”
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...