CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Rory McIlroy, who won the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship and lost in a playoff here last year, is making a move Thursday afternoon during the first round at Quail Hollow.
McIlroy has birdied four straight holes to get to 4 under through eight holes. He made a 5-footer at the par-5 fifth, then rolled in a birdie from 3 feet at No. 6. He two-putted the seventh hole from 21 feet and tapped in from 20 inches at No. 8.
Also on the move this afternoon is European Ryder Cup hero Nicolas Colsaerts, who has just made the turn in 32. He and McIlroy are both one stroke off the lead.
Another player who has history at Quail Hollow, Lucas Glover, who won the 2011 Wells Fargo Championship, has reeled off three straight birdies and is 3 under through eight holes.
PGA TOUR rookie Derek Ernst birdied the eighth hole, his 17th of the day, to join the pacesetters at 5 under in the next-to-last pairing of the morning. Also shooting 67s were Ryan Moore, Nick Watney and Robert Garrigus.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Rory McIlroy is still looking for that spark.
The world No. 2 thought he might have found it when he closed with a 65 at Doral and tied for eighth -- albiet a "back-door top-10," McIlroy said -- at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. But then there was that disappointing tie for 45th at the Shell Houston Open that prompted him to add the Valero Texas Open to his schedule the following week.
The decision was a good one, too. McIlroy contended all week in San Antonio, shooting 66 in the final round to finish second on the virtual eve of the Masters Tournament. "Did all that I thought I needed to do, just someone else on the day played that little bit better and beat me," McIlroy said. "So I was really happy with that."
The Masters was a good-news, bad-news kind of week, though. McIlroy was pleased overall but he took himself out of contention with a back-nine 42 on Saturday that included a triple bogey and a double bogey on the way to a 79. He was 10 shots lower on Sunday, though, and McIlroy comes to Quail Hollow with a quiet kind of confidence as he searches for his first win of the year.
"My game at The Masters was good, I just had a bad stretch of holes which put me out of the tournament," he said. "If I eliminated that, it would have been a different story. But I'm happy with where my game's at. As you say, that little bit of spark, that little bit of momentum to maybe get on a run like I got on at the end of last year would be nice, but I'm being patient with it and just waiting for the right time."
McIlroy's run started at Kiawah Island last year where he won the PGA Championship by eight strokes. Two wins in the FedExCup Playoffs followed, bringing his total for 2013 to four and turning a good season into a PGA TOUR Player of the Year campaign.
Interestingly, though, McIlroy didn't see the run coming when he got to the South Carolina low country last August.
"Of course you want to try to get in contention and try to win tournaments," McIlroy said. "But you get comfortable with your game over a period of time and it's a great feeling, and I wish I had that feeling all the time. But you're not going to play that well week in and week out, but it's I guess managing it when it doesn't quite feel as good as it was then. Making sure that your bad scores are still 70, 71, instead of 75, 76."
McIlroy's patience was rewarded, though.
He had tied for fifth at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational the previous week and continued to play well in the practice rounds at Kiawah Island. The opening round 67 on a punishing Kiawah course was proof-positive, though, and McIlroy knew how to seize the momentum when it surfaced.
Will he find it again at Quail Hollow? It wouldn't be the first time -- McIlroy picked up his first PGA TOUR victory at the Wells Fargo Championship when he closed with a 62 three years ago and then lost in a playoff in 2012.
"I'm always excited to come back here," he said. "This is a place that I really enjoy. I love the golf course. I think it's probably one of the best run tournaments of the year. They make you feel really welcome, and obviously, good memories here from my first win on the PGA TOUR. Happy to be back, excited and looking forward to getting going this week."
McIlroy finished his week at Augusta National 2-over par (Cannon/Getty Images)
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Rory McIlroy left Augusta National heading in the right direction, but was no less disappointed with his finish.
"It's frustration," McIlroy said when asked for his feelings after "That's what this golf course is, it's frustrating.
"I know I've played good enough golf here to win it at times, it's just a matter of stringing it all together in one week."
This was not one of those weeks. McIlroy was consistently inconsistent.
After playing his first two rounds in a combined 2 under and moving to within three of the lead early in the third, things went sideways for McIlroy, who played his final 12 holes Saturday in 8 over en route to a 79.
The former world No. 1 was 10 strokes better on Sunday, and the last two times he left here without a Green Jacket he went on to win a major later that summer -- first at the U.S. Open at Congressional, then at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. But there's still some figuring out to do.
"I'll take any," McIlroy joked when asked which major he would win next. "I'm hitting all the shots. It's just a matter of committing to them all the time."
A lack of confidence in his swing since switching equipment in the offseason has been prevailing problem all season for McIlroy.
He missed the cut in his first start of the year, was eliminated in the first round of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship in his second and walked off the golf course midway through his round in the third.
McIlroy turned a corner with his swing, he said, with a final-round 65 at Doral, but he's been up and down since, tying for 45th in Houston, finishing second in San Antonio and falling out of contention on the weekend here.
His trips down Magnolia Lane have been just as unpredictable with a tie for 20th in 2009, a missed cut in 2010, a tie for 15th in 2011 following a final-round 80 and a tie for 40th last year.
This week, McIlroy had almost as many bogeys -- 12 -- as birdies -- 13.
"I'm learning each and every year around here," McIlroy said. "You just got to be so controlled and not take on too much. It's one of these golf courses where, when it's like this unfortunately like you can shoot 65 in a heart beat, but all of a sudden you go for a few shots and you're staring double and triple bogey in the face."
It hasn't helped that McIlroy is still working out the kinks in his swing.
"My misses have been wide and that's the thing that I need to sort out," McIlroy said. "A perfect example is the 11th (Saturday). Instead of just missing it in the right rough you miss it 20 yards in the trees and you don't have any shot.
"If I can just sort out those misses so they're not quite as wide and they're still in play, then that's what I need to do."
He could also learn from Fred Couples, Angel Cabrera and even Bernhard Langer -- all players who have won a Green Jacket and continue to play well here, no matter their age.
Of course age (i.e. experience) can go a long way around these parts.
"They know where to miss it; even their bad shots are put in the right positions," McIlroy said. "Because they have played it so many times it's sort of second nature to them, and I'm trying to get there."
McIlroy stumbled to a 79 Saturday, which included a 42 over his final nine holes. (Ehrmann/Getty Images)
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The circumstances were different, but the result was nearly identical for Rory McIlroy.
Two years ago, McIlroy led by four going into the final round at Augusta National and shot 80. Saturday, he trailed by four but looked every bit as lost on his way to a 79 that included two 7s on his scorecard.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," said McIlroy, searching for an answer to the riddle that Augusta National has at times been for the 23-year-old. "I feel like I played smart enough. I mean, I'm playing it the way I know the way you should play it. I'm not taking too much on, I'm not being too defensive.
"I feel like my strategy's right, it's just sometimes if your execution is just that little bit off you pay a big price for it."
That price included two bogeys and a triple bogey over a five-hole stretch in the middle of McIlroy's round after he'd briefly moved to within three strokes of the lead early on Saturday.
The latter of those came on the par-4 11th, where, from the middle of the fairway, McIlroy inexplicably tugged his approach shot left and into the tiny pond short of the green.
Things went from bad to worse on the par-5 15th when McIlroy's second shot found the front of the green only to spin back into the water. After he hitting from the drop area, McIlroy three-putted.
"The margins are very small on this course and when you get on the wrong side of some of these slopes, you can't help but get a penalty," said McIlroy, who closed in 42. "I felt like I was done in on 11 and 15, but that's the way it goes."
Just the way it did two years ago when McIlroy pulled his tee shot so far left on the 10th hole, it landed between Peak and Berckman cabins.
Of course it didn't start out so bad for McIlroy. He birdied the third hole to get to 3 under and sneaked onto the first page of the leaderboard.
But much like the rest of his season, Saturday's round was wildly inconsistent with four bogeys, a double, a triple, one birdie and a dozen pars.
For the week, he has more bogeys -- 11 -- than birdies -- 9 -- and has just 59 percent of his fairways and taken 87 putts.
"It's disappointing, especially after such a good start," said McIlroy, who arrived at Augusta National off a runner-up in San Antonio. "I was only a few off the lead going into the seventh hole today and then all of a sudden I play through seven through 11 in 5‑over par and basically my chances in the tournament are gone."
McIlroy is 2 under entering the weekend at Augusta National. (Cannon/Getty Images)
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Rory McIlroy is moving in the right direction.
How far and how fast he'll get to the destination, we'll find out this weekend at Augusta National.
With every good round, McIlroy is another step further from the player who walked off the golf course in the middle of a round and later lost his No. 1 ranking, and one step closer to the player who won five times in 2012 and skyrocketed to the top of the golf world.
Friday, McIlroy played his final 11 holes in 4 under on his way to a 70 to get to 2 under and within reach of the lead entering the weekend at the 77th Masters.
McIlroy's run began on the par-5 eighth, where he made eagle after reaching the green in two from 275 yards with a 5-wood.
Five holes later he made the first of two straight birdies before sticking his approach on the 18th hole to just inside 10 feet to set up another.
"The eighth hole really got me going, really kick started me," McIlroy said. "Then I started to hit some really good, quality shots. I took advantage of a couple of easier holes on the back nine."
On a difficult day of scoring with tucked pins and increased winds, anything under par was a good score.
Just making par on the front nine proved to be valuable for McIlroy, especially after bogeying two of his first three holes. After that, however, McIlroy's card remained mostly clean with just one bogey, on the par-3 16th, the rest of the day.
He also had just 25 putts after taking 32 the day before.
"The improvement in the putting from last night to today has been a big thing," he said. "I'm committing to my lines a lot better.
"I think what pleased me today was just not letting it get away from me. Two over through three holes and having par putts on the next four from outside six feet and being able to turn in even par was something I was very proud of today. I stayed patient out there when I needed to. It was a good day."
And potentially a better weekend.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The first round of the Masters always provides plenty of entertainment and storylines, and Thursday was no exception.
Whether it was 53-year-old Fred Couples turning back the clock (again), or 14-year-old Tianlang Guan shooting 73, or Sergio Garcia grabbing a share of the lead at a place where a year ago he said he didn't have it in him to win a major, there was a lot to soak up.
Friday, however, is more serious with players positioning for the weekend. With that in mind, here are a few groups to keep an eye on in the morning wave.
Tianlang Guan, Ben Crenshaw, Matteo Manassero, 9:06 a.m.: "Very, very impressive" is how Crenshaw described the teenager's performance in the opening round. A former phenom himself, that's not hyperbole from the former Masters champ. Guan had the best score of the six amateurs in the field and now has a chance to make it to the weekend.
Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera, 9:39 a.m.: Garcia shot 66 in the opening round, matching his career low here, and recorded his first bogey-free round here since 2002. It's the first time he's led after any round of the Masters; now the question is can he keep it going? He's 1-for-9 in his career in converting first-round leads into wins on the PGA TOUR.
Dustin Johnson, Fred Couples, Branden Grace, 9:50 a.m.: Johnson said Thursday that Augusta National suits his eye. It looked like it. He shot 67 and is one off the lead entering the second round. The key for him: Putting. Johnson took just 26 putts in the first round. Meanwhile, for all of Couples' success here, Thursday was just the fifth time he's cracked 70 in the opening round. That bodes well for him the rest of week -- he has 11 career top 10s here and in each of the last three years has finished in the top 15. He always feels ageless here and fed off Johnson, a sort of younger version of himself. There's no reason to think he can't again.
Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, 10:23 a.m.: Mickelson admitted to being too "tentative" in his opening-round 71. Translation: With a wet and soft golf course, and 33 players breaking par in the opening round, Mickelson is going to be very aggressive on Friday.
Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, Freddie Jacobson, 10:34 a.m.: McIlroy's opening round was a mess, but he held it together well enough to shoot even par. He'll have to clean up his putting, however, if he's going to get in contention for the weekend. Ditto Bradley, who had 30 putts and an up-and-down day but managed to scrape out a couple of birdies on his way to a 73.
McIlroy trails by six shots after Thursday's opening round at Augusta National. (Redington/Getty Images)
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- As far as Rory McIlroy has come since his early-season struggles that included a missed cut, a first-round loss in the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championships and a walk-off midway through his second round at The Honda Classic, he still as a long way to go.
"I just made some silly mistakes," a frustrated McIlroy said after an even-par 72 Thursday at the Masters. "I felt like I played well and gave myself plenty of opportunities.
"It could have been better."
Whatever splendor was missing on an overcast day at Augusta National, McIlroy made up for with a colorful scorecard, especially on the back nine.
After making the turn in a respectable 1 under, McIlroy racked up more bogeys (four) than birdies (three) to also go with just three pars.
McIlroy's putter deserved most of the blame. He had a couple of three-putts on the closing nine and finished with 32 putts overall.
Even when things did go right, they went the other direction just as quickly.
A birdie on No. 9 was followed by bogeys on two of the next three holes. McIlroy birdied the par-5 13th and 15th, but sandwiched in between was another bogey.
By the time he made his final bogey of the day, on No. 17, the frustration boiled over for the 23-year-old former No. 1 and he tossed his putter in disgust.
"That was the story of the day," said McIlroy, who is six shots off the lead of Sergio Garcia and Marc Leishman. "Any time I got a bit of momentum I gave it straight back. Around this course you really can't do that."
With 33 players breaking par in a windless, benign opening round, the disappointment was understandable.
At the outset, it looked like McIlroy would be one of those under par.
With his parents and girlfriend, tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, looking on, McIlroy split the fairway with his opening tee shot.
He missed a 20-footer for birdie but would make one on the next hole after nearly chipping in on the par-5 second to set up a tap-in.
McIlroy added another birdie four holes later but gave it right back with a bogey on No. 7 before another birdie on the ninth.
"I feel like the game is there," McIlroy said. "As long as I keep giving myself birdie opportunities like that and take a few of them, hopefully I can go out and post a good one (Friday)."
Mistakes are something McIlroy rarely made last year when he ascended to No. 1 in the world, winning five times, including the PGA Championship by eight shots.
In the offseason, however, he switched equipment, signed a multi-million dollar deal with Nike, struggled to regain his form, was thrust into an unfamiliar spotlight and finally felt the crush of it all.
There have been signs of progress, however.
McIlroy shot 65 in the final round at Doral, which is where he says he "turned the corner" with his swing. He also finished second last week in San Antonio.
How close is he to returning to the player he was a year ago?
"I am getting there," McIlroy said. "I think I am hitting the ball just as well. It is just a matter of taking the opportunities and limiting the mistakes."
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Rory McIlroy has had his share of ups and downs not just this season but at Augusta National as well.
Two years ago, he led by four going into Sunday before an epic collapse and a final-round 80.
Last year, Mcilroy was never in the mix, tying for 40th. His other two appearances here resulted in a missed cut and a tie for 20th.
It's all been a learning experience for the 23-year-old, who tees off at 1:41 p.m. ET.
"They definitely help you, because every time you come back here, you gain a little bit more experience from the previous year," McIlroy said. "You shouldn't hit it there; if you want to miss this green, you miss it this side. Stuff like that.
"You can play pretty sloppy around here, but if you miss it in the right places, you'll get away with it. If you start to short‑side yourself and you start to miss the fairways on the wrong side, then you get into problems."
McIlroy has certainly experienced plenty of the latter this season.
He missed the cut in his season-opener in Abu Dhabi, then was bounced in the first round of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.
A week later, McIlroy walked off the golf course midway through his second round at The Honda Classic, where he was on his way to another high number, citing a toothache and not being in a good place mentally.
There's been progress since, however: A final-round 65 at Doral, where McIlroy said he turned the corner with his swing, and a runner-up last week in San Antonio -- a tournament he added at the 11th hour in order to get more competitive rounds under his belt with his new equipment.
But can he continue the upward trend here at Augusta National?
When he first arrived here in 2009, McIlroy joked he was afraid to take a divot, noting the course's pristine condition. In the years since, he's become more comfortable. The awe of playing here hs also been replaced by the reality of the hard work needed to succeed -- sort of.
Said McIlroy: "It becomes hard work when you start missing in the wrong spots."