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Page 6 / Friday, April 8, 2011

New Mexico Daily Lobo

McIlroy has carefree start by Paul Newberry Associated Press

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Rory McIlroy has another early lead at a major championship. Now, he’s got to avoid another meltdown. One of golf’s brightest young stars, the 21-year-old McIlroy surged to the top of the Masters with a 7-under 65 on Thursday. He was in the clubhouse one shot clear of the field, poised to become the youngest first-round leader in Masters history. It was a reminder of his dynamic start last year in the British Open. McIlroy opened with a 63, only to slump to an 80 in the howling wind of St. Andrews the next day. He shouldn’t face those conditions in Georgia, where the forecast called for warm, clear weather through the weekend. Whatever happens, he feels better prepared to deal with any adversity. “At the time, it was very disappointing,” McIlroy said, referring to his second-round collapse at St. Andrews. “But looking back, it was probably very valuable in my progression as a golfer.” He rallied to finish third in the British Open, though far behind winner  Louis Oosthuizen, and was third at the PGA Championship. Throw in his performance at the Ryder Cup, where he helped Europe reclaim the trophy from the U.S., and it’s easy to understand why the

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young man from Northern Ireland is considered a star-in-the-making. He sure had it going at Augusta National, taking advantage of nearly perfect conditions for scoring: a sunny day with only the slightest breeze. McIlroy started rolling at the par-5 second with the first of three straight birdies, and kept it going through a bogey-free round. “I trusted everything,” he said.

“Looking back, it was probably very valuable in my progression as a golfer.” ~Rory McIlroy “I trusted where I wanted to hit the ball. That’s the key around here. With some of these pins, you can get tentative and try to guide it in there. You just have to pick your targets and trust your swing. I was very happy with the way I did that.” McIlroy doesn’t expect to fall apart on Friday. “I have that experience to draw on,” he said, “especially being in a similar position to last year at St. Andrews. I feel like I’m better prepared to tee off in the second round of a major with the lead.” Tiger Woods wasn’t anywhere near the lead, but at least he wasn’t

totally out of it. Mired in the longest winless streak of his career, he made a long putt at No. 14, lipped out several others and finished with a 71. He considered it a promising start. “I’d rather be where Rory is,” Woods said, glancing at the scoreboard from behind the 18th green. “But, hey, there’s a long way to go. We’ve got a long grind ahead of us. ... I’m very pleased. I’m right there in the ballgame. I’m only six back.” While Woods has gone 20 tournaments over 17 months without a win, he’s always a contender at Augusta National, where he’s captured four green jackets and finished fourth a year ago. Defending champion Phil Mickelson  teed off in the next-to-last group and pushed his opening tee shot into the trees left of the fairway. He scrambled to save the first of seven straight pars, before a birdie at No. 8 pushed him into the red for the first time. Lefty was coming off a threestroke win at Houston, his first triumph since last year’s Masters and a sign that his game was peaking at just the right time. Former PGA champion  Y.E. Yang was closest to the lead, dropping to 6 under with an eagle at the par-5 13th.  Matt Kuchar  shot 68, while four other players were at 69:  Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel,  Brandt Snedeker  and  Ross Fisher.

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stretch, the Lobos were outscored 48-18. That came after a five-game winning streak in March that bumped up the Lobos’ record to 9-15, but are now just 9-20. The Horned Frogs, meanwhile, are at opposite side of the spectrum — 20-9 overall and 5-1 in the Mountain West Conference. They’re building on a 2010 season that saw them go all the way to Omaha, Neb., where they finished runner-ups to UCLA in the NCAA College World Series. Pitcher Mitchell Garver said TCU is similar to other opponents the Lobos already faced. “The pitching that we’ve seen so far at Oklahoma State and Arizona State, that’s the best pitching that were going to see,” Garver said.

“Heading into TCU, I’ll be anxious to see how we match up against those guys.” Birmingham, who wanted the season to be “a baptism by fire,” said facing top-25 teams can build a young team’s poise, even more so when the team is a national power. “Were playing a really hard schedule, but this is about building a program,” Birmingham said. “The only thing that is getting in our way is our youth, and it’s the only thing getting in our way of competing with these guys.” That is to say nothing about TCU’s bullpen. The Horned Frogs allow only 2.26 ERA, tops in the MWC. To make matters worse, UNM, with its .268 average, ranks second to last in the conference in batting. In a nod to the future,

Birmingham downplays the fact that this season hasn’t been as successful as last season. “This year we’ve got 28 games against national ranked teams and were on the road all the time,” Birmingham said. “As soon as our freshmen become sophomores and our sophomores become juniors, heads up.”

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