AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Rory McIlroy and his buddies bought a football Wednesday night, and decided to test it out in the mall parking lot.
Guess who was watching?
“By accident,” Alvaro Quiros said. “I was watching Rory play with a rugby ball with his friends. Did he tell you that? He was doing terrible.”
McIlroy is much better with his golf clubs, as he showed Thursday by shooting a 7-under 65 in the first round of the Masters. A few hours later, Quiros had joined him again – this time atop the leaderboard at Augusta National.
“My target tomorrow is to make the cut,” Quiros said. “It would be stupid to think I can shoot 65 again because it’s not my way. As I said before, 75 was my best round here. It could be just one good round of golf.”
For McIlroy, it could be something bigger.
The 21-year-old from Northern Ireland is the leader of golf’s version of the Brat Pack, a group of kids with big games and even more moxie. He turned pro in 2007, earned his European card without going to Q-school and broke into the top 10 in the world all before he turned 21.
He tied a major championship record by opening with a 63 at St. Andrews in last year’s British Open, and has tied for third at three of the last five majors, including the last two.
“I seem to play well in the big occasion,” McIlroy said. “I always feel that I have the game to win. It’s just the extra 2 percent here and there that makes the difference. Those are the sort of things I’ve been working on this year. … But I feel as if I’ve shot good enough rounds in the majors and I’ve played well enough to believe in myself and believe that I can win a major.”
To do so, he’ll have to avoid a meltdown – similar to the one he had at St. Andrews. He followed his record round with an 80 that dropped him out of contention, and pouted his way around the course like a petulant teenager. He rolled his eyes after bad shots, scuffed his shoes and slumped his shoulders.
If there had been a door to slam somewhere on the Old Course, he probably would have done that, too.
“Obviously, at the time I was very disappointed. But looking back on it, it was a very valuable lesson in my development as a golfer,” McIlroy said. “It’s possible that I can go out and shoot another 65, but I know that it’s also very likely that I’m not going to do that. So if I do find myself in a bit of trouble, I’m going to have to stick in there, grind it out.”
Quiros’ plan is much simpler: Hit a good drive on No. 1, and go from there.
The 28-year-old Spaniard has five career victories on the European tour, but he came to Augusta National without any expectations. He played so poorly in his first two appearances here that he once thought maybe he couldn’t play this course. When someone asked how he compared with two-time Masters champion Seve Ballesteros, Quiros said Ballesteros had the hands of an artist while he had the hands of a bricklayer.
“The two previous years, I came to the Masters thinking that I can play well, shoot low. And this was my main mistake,” Quiros said. “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 I 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.”
Quiros’ round was even more surprising considering it was his very first round with his new caddie.
Since winning the Dubai Desert Classic, Quiros has failed to finish better than 33rd.
“It’s like in soccer, or in football. When a team is playing bad, you cannot change the 22 players. The only thing that you can change is the coach, isn’t it?” Quiros said. “In my case, it’s the same. I cannot change myself. Well, I’m trying to change myself, but it doesn’t work.”
Whatever he was doing Thursday worked. He had birdies on three of the last four holes to tie McIlroy.
“I was talking with my caddie about it, walking the 18th hole. It looks like I was playing Sunday afternoon in the leading group,” Quiros said. “It was a very nice feeling because normally, I’m watching this situation through the TV, sitting on my sofa.”