TORONTO - With accessible pins and soft greens, it’s way too early to start talking about the aggression of young Rory McIlroy paying off, but his first round, seven-under 65 is the first sub-70 score that McIlroy has registered in three visits to the Masters.
Sunday at Augusta is a completely different story than Thursday at Augusta, so we can’t get too excited about long-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros, with a couple of missed cuts at Augusta behind him, coming through late in the day to tie McIlroy on a leaderboard that has four players from outside the U.S. on top.
“(The greens) were very receptive. You could feel them firming up a little bit as the wind started to pick up the last few holes for us, but it was as nice as you’re going to get it out there for Augusta — receptive greens, not much wind,” McIlroy, 21, said.
With his Howdy Doody face and hair cascading in all directions from under his cap, McIlroy hardly looks like your typical overnight co-leader at Augusta where, according to conventional wisdom, it takes years to figure out the nuances of the greens alone.
Looks can be deceiving considering McIlroy’s ties for third at the British Open and PGA Championship last year, but this was just his seventh round at the Masters, including his missed cut last year, and he made note of the importance of experience.
We’ll see how he does in the final three rounds, but McIlroy enjoyed a flawless day yesterday with seven birdies and no bogeys, while a veteran such as Retief Goosen got it to five under at the turn before stumbling around Amen Corner and recording five bogeys on the back nine to finish at two under.
“I thought I drove the ball really good. Then, when you drive it well, you have a chance to give your self opportunities for birdies,” McIlroy said.
“I felt like I hit my irons really good, but I just stayed committed to the targets I was picking. I wasn’t trying to get over aggressive. I was playing smart and really just trying to leave myself in the best possible place and I did a good job of that today,” said McIlroy.
CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Just speculating, but wouldn’t it be fun to see a Sunday showdown between Tiger Woods, who was one under yesterday and sits six shots back, and McIlroy after the youngster from Northern Ireland boldly said he would look forward to playing a struggling Tiger in last year’s Ryder Cup? It didn’t happen, but what better place to make a wish come true than in the final round at Augusta?… With Martin Kaymer exploding with a 78, he’s in danger of missing his fourth cut at the Masters, leaving the No. 1 ranking in the world ready for the taking, which likely means we can stop all this talk about Phil Mickelson, one of the players in contention for that lofty title, winning his second consecutive Masters. Mickelson is five shots off the lead, but always fades when No. 1 is within reach.
With all the talk about Lee Westwood, we forgot about Sergio Garcia for best player never to win a major. It remains to be seen if his balky putter can hold up, but his three-under 69 yesterday left him just four shots back. That dubious distinction must now seem like a compliment for Garcia, who took time off last year to adjust his attitude, which he badly needed to do. For awhile, it seemed that the tempestuous Garcia had disappeared into the deep, dark hole that David Duval occupied for so long … Another sign of the times is the attention paid to Woods for merely being under par on a prime day for scoring. Yesterday’s performance was hardly vintage Tiger, but he is still within striking range… Camilo Villegas, who was two under in the first round, suggests that one thing that players have to get past the hyperbole that surrounds Augusta and realize it’s about patience. “More than anything it was just the golf course. It’s just a golf course that you got to respect it, but you can’t fear it,” Villegas said.
ARMCHAIR RULES OFFICIALS
At least we know that at this year’s Masters, a player who unwittingly breaks a rule can’t be DQ-ed as a result of a fan sitting at home watching on television and calling in the infraction. In a revision that is effective immediately, a player not aware he has broken a rule before returning his scorecard cannot be disqualified, although the applicable penalty will still be assessed. This revision does not apply to players who commit an infraction because of ignorance of the rules of golf. You may recall Padraig Harrington being DQ-ed from the Abu Dhabi Championship earlier this year after his ball moved slightly while marking his ball. Harrington signed for a 65, but the violation was reported afterwards and he was DQ-ed. It’s a start, but golf should be counting on its own officials to assess penalties, either real or imagined, not fans. Imagine if the NHL allowed that to happen during a Leafs-Habs showdown?