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THE MASTERS

Quiros saves best for last

Long-hitting Spaniard birdies the final two holes for a 65 that ties McIlroy for the first-round lead.

April 08, 2011|Jeff Shain

AUGUSTA, GA. — The crowds that had reveled in the Augusta National sunshine were either headed to the exits or already headed to dinner by the time Alvaro Quiros stepped to the 18th tee. After all, it already had been a long day.

Masters icons Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were cheered as they hit their ceremonial tee shots. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson drew their usual flocks of followers. Rory McIlroy carried the banner of the next generation with a scintillating seven-under-par 65.

And then Quiros finished it off with an unexpected flourish.

A huge drive led to a laserlike nine-iron that came to rest no more than four feet past the hole, completing a birdie-birdie finish as the Spaniard carded his own 65 in Thursday's final group to stand alongside McIlroy at the top.

What's so unexpected about that? Consider that in two previous Masters visits, Quiros had never produced anything better than a 75.

"I don't know if this is just an instant, for a day," said the affable Spaniard, pleasantly baffled by the transformation. "For the moment, I am very happy with my game. Tomorrow, I cannot say how it's going to be resolved."

McIlroy sounded much more assured after his bogey-free round, at 21 becoming the youngest to hold a share of a day-end Masters lead. Seve Ballesteros was 23 when he led after 1980's opening round.

It also marks the second time in the past three majors that McIlroy laid claim to a first-round lead.

The Northern Ireland pro opened last year's British Open with a 63 at St. Andrews that matched the major-championship scoring record -- promptly followed by an 80 as high winds strafed the Old Course a day later.

Happily for McIlroy, Friday's forecast calls for winds not much above 12 mph.

"It was a very valuable lesson in my development as a golfer," said McIlroy, who came back to place third at St. Andrews. "I feel as if I'm playing really well, so hopefully [a repeat] doesn't happen and I can go out and shoot another good score."

Thursday's 65s matched the lowest opening Masters round in the past 10 years, alongside Chad Campbell's scorecard two years ago.

Y.E. Yang, the 2009 PGA Championship winner, and fellow South Korean K.J. Choi provided the nearest pursuit with a pair of 67s. Matt Kuchar and Ricky Barnes, both former U.S. Amateur champions, were another stroke back.

Mickelson and Woods kept themselves in the hunt, but find themselves needing to make up some ground. Mickelson opened his title defense with a 70, starting with seven consecutive pars and stung by a closing bogey.

"I scrambled well to stay in," Mickelson said, "but I also let four or five good birdie opportunities slide."

Woods posted a 71, once again left wanting by not enough putts actually falling into the hole. He needed 30 to complete the round, missing an eight-foot birdie chance at No.18.

"I hit beautiful putts all day," Woods said. "A couple of bad ones, but overall felt really good over the putts. Realistically, the round probably should have been 68 [or] 69."

Instead, Woods failed to break 70 in a Masters opening round for the 16th time in 17 career visits.

Retief Goosen matched an obscure Masters record for fastest start, holing an eight-iron for eagle with his second swing of the day. Only one other man has started a Masters with an eagle at No. 1, Scott Verplank in 1987.

Martin Kaymer, No. 1 in the world, shot a 78.

jshain@orlandosentinel.com

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