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McIlroy sets the Masters pace

It was like St Andrews all over again in The Masters on Thursday as 21-year-old Rory McIlroy displayed his talents for all the world to see.

Nine months on from starting the Open Championship with a major record-equalling 63 the young Northern Irishman began the 75th Masters with a seven under par 65.

It put McIlroy - third in the last two majors of last season - into a three-stroke lead over American Matt Kuchar just as favourite Phil Mickelson began his defence of the title with a scrambling par and Tiger Woods bogeyed the 10th and 11th to drop back to one over.

McIlroy followed his 63 with a windswept 80 in Scotland last summer, but the weather looks good for the week in Georgia and he hopes now to take over from Seve Ballesteros as the second youngest winner of the title - after Woods, of course.

His first shot of the day actually found sand, but after saving par with a deft chip to two feet he birdied the next three holes from three, five and 18 feet and picked up another shot at the ninth to turn in 32.

The 505-yard par four 11th is probably the hardest hole on Augusta National, but the Holywood golfer birdied that as well - as did England's Ross Fisher in a 69 - and after three-putting the long 13th for par holed from 10 feet at the next and two-putted the 530-yard 15th.

Retief Goosen, who in contrast began his round by becoming only the fifth player in the tournament's history to make an eagle two on the 445-yard first, was only one off another record with his front nine 31.

But the twice runner-up mixed two further birdies with four bogeys in the next eight holes.

Fisher, whose wife Jo is expecting their second child early next week, shared third place in the clubhouse with American Brandt Snedeker on the same three under mark.

Woods had one birdie - at the short sixth - and eight pars going out, but was still producing the odd bad swing and his back-to-back bogeys on two of the most demanding holes came as no great surprise.


From Belfast Telegraph