AUGUSTA, Ga. - The flair of Rory McIlroy. The sheer power of Alvaro Quiros. These are but two of the fresh faces in golf who offered more evidence Thursday at the Masters that a new generation is on the way.
And that’s only going to make it tougher on Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
The 21-year-old McIlroy, who opened with a 63 at St. Andrews last summer in the British Open, again delivered exquisite shots on one of golf’s biggest stages for a 7-under 65. It was such a clean round that he didn’t make a bogey and was left wondering how much lower he could have gone if not for missing five birdie chances inside 10 feet.
“It wasn’t maybe as exclusive or spectacular as the 63 at St. Andrews,” he said. “But it was very solid from start to finish.”
Then came Quiros, a 28-year-old Spaniard whom many consider the longest hitter in the game. Blasting away on a course where he had never shot better than 75, he spun an approach back to 3 feet on the 18th hole to catch McIlroy atop the leaderboard.
They had a two-shot lead over a pair of South Koreans, former PGA champion Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi.
Mickelson and Woods, with six green jackets between them in the last decade, blended in more than they stood out.
Woods played in a moderate morning breeze, ideal for scoring. But he lost his way starting the back nine with consecutive bogeys, made only one birdie on the par 5s and settled for a 71.
“I would rather be where Rory’s at,” Woods said. “But, hey, it’s a long way to go.”
Mickelson was erratic off the tee, hitting tee shots into the Georgia pines and spraying one so far into the azaleas left of the 13th fairway that he looked like he was on an Easter egg hunt. He hit only four fairways, last in the field of 99 players.
As always, his superb short game kept him from dropping shots until his approach to the 18th green hit the gallery left of the green. He chipped too hard and missed a 7-footer for a 70.
“I scrambled well today, but I let four or five birdie opportunities slide,” Mickelson said. “I’m going to have to capitalize on those opportunities to go low. I didn’t shoot myself out of it, but I didn’t make up ground on the field like I wanted to.”
The top Americans on the leaderboard were Matt Kuchar and Ricky Barnes at 68. Another shot back was a group that included former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, Brandt Snedeker and Sergio Garcia.
Puyallup’s Ryan Moore had six birdies in a round of 2-under 70 to tie for 14th, then said he “topped” two shots out of the pine straw.
Moore, who wore a tie in an old-school nod to Augusta National founder Bobby Jones, then talked about the stature of the event.
“I just love the whole experience, the course, the fact you get to come back for the rest of your life,” he said. “There’s a lot of great aspects to winning this tournament.”
Moore – who saved par from the pine straw at No. 1, then bogeyed from the straw at No. 11 – said, “Hopefully, I don’t have to play too many more of them.”
“ You can probably say I topped it twice and shot 2-under,” he said.