MARANA, Ariz. -- Rory McIlroy couldn't help but chuckle.
When he got to the range on Wednesday morning, he was hitting balls with 17-year-old Matteo Manassero, 19-year-old Ryo Ishikawa and a man old enough to be their father, Steve Stricker.
"Stricker was pushing the average age up by a bit there, so it was funny," the 21-year-old McIlroy said with a smile.
Only two of the four -- McIlroy and Manassero -- will be back there on Thursday morning preparing for the second round of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, though. McIlroy beat Jonathan Byrd 4 and 2 while the Italian teen disposed of Stricker 2 and 1.
Not a birthday to remember for Stricker, who turned 44 on Wednesday.
"I was looking forward to this match and I was trying to do my best," Manassero said. "I actually have played well. I played really well. I achieved a victory against one of the best players in the world and ... past champion of this event. So it's just a big highlight for me."
Manassero, who became the youngest winner ever on the European Tour last year, said he wasn't expecting a lot this week. He played lost of match play as an amateur but not "against such big players. So this is already very good for me, and we'll see what happens next round."
Next up for Manassero is Charl Schwartzel, who beat Ishikawa in 20 holes. The other teenager in the field, Seung-yul Noh, the 19-year-old Korean, drew world No. 2 Martin Kaymer and lost 7 and 6.
It was hard to tell if McIlroy was happier for himself or Manassero, whom he had played a practice round with on Monday. McIlroy can relate to what the young Italian is experiencing this week -- he made his debut at Dove Mountain as a 19-year-old on the heels of his first European Tour victory.
"It's awesome; it's fantastic," said McIlroy, who faces Ben Crane in the second round. "I'm happy for him. ... He's so mature for 17. ,,, It's all these little things -- he's still learning and they're put into the memory bank and it can only serve him well in the future and that's why all the experience that I've had, good and bad, they should serve you well in the future. And to get all these experiences so young.
"By the time Matteo and myself, 24, 25, you know, we'll have tons of experience that we can use and hopefully use it to our advantage."
McIlroy, who is ranked No. 7 in the world, feels he's a "much more rounded" golfer than he was when he tied for fifth at Dove Mountain three years ago. He also has seen the landscape of the game altered thanks to the volatility of the world rankings after Lee Westwood overtook Tiger Woods as world No. 1.
"I definitely think there's an opportunity for the younger guys to come and show what they've got on Tour," McIlroy said. " ... You come on, and as I said before, you feel like you've nothing to lose. You just go out there and you're playing your game.
"I mean, regardless of Tiger or Phil or Steve Stricker or Jim Furyk are coming towards the end of their careers, I think the young guys are not good enough to compete with them. ... I mean, I don't think Tiger and Phil have got any, well, yeah, I mean I don't think Phil hasn't got any worries. I mean, Tiger isn't as dominant as he used to be, and Phil, I mean Phil won The Masters last year.
"They're great players and they're going to continue to be great players until their mid 40s. … I think it's a good opportunity for guys, the younger generation to come through and show what they have." -- Helen Ross
MARANA, Ariz. – Luke Donald is making short work of Charley Hoffman in the opening round of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.
The Englishman has won three holes with birdies and another three with pars as Hoffman has made two bogeys and one double bogey. The two have just made the turn.
Another potential upset is brewing with Ryan Palmer leading Jim Furyk 2 up through nine holes. J.B. Holmes, who made the field on Tuesday when Tim Clark withdrew, is 2 up on Camilo Villegas after 10 holes.
Ernie Els has made quite a rally against Jeff Overton. The American won the first three holes with birdies but Els has just won four straight holes to take a 1 up lead at the 10th.
The match between Stewart Cink and defending champion Ian Poulter is living up to advance billing. Cink, who has a 21-11 record at the Accenture Match Play Championship, has just birdied the par-5 13th to get back to 1 down.
Italian teen sensation Matteo Manassero has drawn first blood against Steve Stricker, too. He birdied the fourth hole and is 1 up through five holes.
McIlroy talks to the media about his match play approach and the other young golfers in the field.
MARANA, Ariz. -- It wasn't exactly a "Hello, World" moment. But two years ago this week Rory McIlroy introduced himself to the global game.
McIlroy, who was just 19 at the time, came to Dove Mountain riding the wave of a win in Dubai. He went on to reach the quarterfinals of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.
McIlroy has since added a win at the Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA TOUR and is now ranked seventh in the world. Interestingly, too, is the fact that he's now something of an "elder" statesman with three teenagers in the field this week.
Italy's Matteo Manassero, who turns 18 in April, has already won on the European Tour, as has Korea's Seung-yul Noh, who is 19. And Ryo Ishikawa, who is 19, already has 11 victories on the Japan Tour.
"I played Matteo this morning and it's hard to believe he's in this tournament as a 17-year-old," McIlroy said. "It's pretty incredible, really. And there's so many young guys coming through, even the younger guys like Noh Seung-yul from Korea and you've got Ryo Ishikawa, Rickie Fowler, Matteo Manassero and myself, all guys that are 21 and younger.
"I think it's great. It's great for the game of golf, it makes it a little more exciting. And add to that group the likes of Dustin Johnson, I think him, the guys that are in their mid 20s, it's exciting times for golf."
That said, much is expected from the young Irishman with that distinctive mop of curly brown hair. In fact, recently on Twitter his countryman, Graeme McDowell, picked McIlroy as his favorite at the Masters -- and that comes from the reigning U.S. Open champion, no less.
"I think he's one of the most talented players ever I've had the pleasure of playing with," said McDowell, who has become a close friend. "He's only won twice, but he's a young man, and he's No. 7 player in the world. So he's got there with consistency, as opposed to just having big weeks here and there. He's a hell of a consistent player.
"I played with him this morning. He makes the game look incredibly easy. And I think he's got a game that probably suits the like of Augusta. The way he drives the ball, it's only a matter of time before he gets his head around a golf course like Augusta.
"His golf brain is young, but he makes up for it with a lot of talent and skill. And once the golf brain matures, and he keeps coming to golf courses like this, and Augusta, and Open golf courses, it's only a matter of time until he gets his head around and it understands how to control his talent. And it's going to be pretty scary what the guy can achieve.
“That's great. I think we've got a lot of young players coming through like Rory, Rickie Fowlers, Ryo Ishikawas, and Matteo Manasseros, I think the game is really healthy. We've got a lot of super stars in the making. And it's been great to match Rory's career unfold the last few years, and to watch it unfold the next ten years, I think he can really be a great player."