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McIlroy, Quiros off to roaring start

The Associated Press. Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches a putt by Jason Day on the 16th green during the first round of the Masters Thursday in Augusta.

The Associated Press. Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches a putt by Jason Day on the 16th green during the first round of the Masters Thursday in Augusta.

AUGUSTA -- A year ago, the opening round of the Masters seemed like Old Timers Day after five players age 50 or older broke par, and two were within a shot of the lead.

However, youth was served in Thursday's first round of the 2011 tournament in the form of 21-year-old Rory McIlroy.

The native of Northern Ireland fired a 7-under par 65 to take the early lead into today's second round at Augusta National.

Late in the day, another twentysomething -- 28-year-old Alvaro Quiros of Spain -- got hot on the back nine, connecting for birdies on four of the last six holes to match McIlroy's 65 and share a two-stroke lead over a pair of Korean, Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi, each of whom sit at 5-under.

McIlroy's feat is not quite as precocious a feat as his youth would suggest.

"This is my ninth major," McIlroy said. "I've played a Ryder cup and I've had three top threes in majors. I'm still relatively inexperienced, but I feel as if I'm pretty quick learner."

Indeed, McIlroy charged out of an early tee time to birdie three straight holes after making a par at No. 1.

Another stretch of three birdies in five holes at 11, 14 and 15 gave him a solid cushion and allowed him to cruise in with his 65.

Several players in the later tee times made a run towards McIlroy's score, with the most serious one coming from Quiros, who has never made the cut in two previous Masters appearances.

In fact, he bested his lowest previous single-round score by 10 strokes Thursday.

He did it by using a little imagery while playing out of the final group of the day with Gary Woodland and Venezuela's Jhonattan Vegas.

"I was talking with my caddy about walking the 18 holes just like I was playing Sunday afternoon in the leading group," Quiros said with a laugh. "It was a nice feeling because normally, I've been watching this on TV."

Yang and Choi also made late runs at the leaders, with Yang actually tying for the lead at 7-under after a birdie at 16, only to fall back by bogeying the final two holes, while Choi birdied 17 and 18 to pull into a tie with his countryman.

There are also a lot of familiar names lurking well within striking distance after Round 1, including defending champion Phil Mickelson, who got as close as four shots back at 3-under before a bogey at 18 left him at 2-under.

Then there is former Georgia Tech standout Matt Kuchar, is just three shots off the lead at 4-under 68, along with Ricky Barnes.

"I felt solid out there," Kuchar said. "I didn't feel like I was doing a whole lot of grinding. It felt like a lot of good opportunities.

"I'm really pleased with where I finished. It's a great spot."

Sergio Garcia leads a group of six different players four shots back at 3-under, while a pair of local favorites finished strong.

Former Georgia Tech star and Duluth resident Stewart Cink recovered from a stretch of three straight bogeys at 9, 10 and 11 with three birdies over the final seven holes to finish at 1-under 71.

"It was a good time to dig deep and just kind of battle away and come home with a decent score," said Cink, who is in a group of seven players tied at 1-under that includes four-time champion Tiger Woods, 2009 champion Angel Cabrera and 1992 champion Fred Couples. "It could've been 74 or 75 today."

The same is true for former Georgia standout Bubba Watson, who also had three birdies over the final six holes -- including one on 18 -- to cap an up-and-down round at 1-over 73.