McIlroy mastering Augusta with opening 65 as Harrington and Kaymer head towards early exit

It was a day to remember for Rory McIlroy in The Masters yesterday – and one to forget for Padraig Harrington and world No 1 Martin Kaymer.

While they shot 77 and 78 respectively – Harrington nearly pulled out with neck trouble – McIlroy charged into a two-stroke lead over Korean YE Yang and big-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros with a dazzling seven-under par-65.

Although Quiros still had five holes to play and the opportunity to take over at the top, the 21-year-old Northern Irishman’s round brought back memories of his major record-equalling first round 63 in The Open at St Andrews last July.

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But that is where he hopes the comparisons end as McIlroy followed that round with an 80.

Tiger Woods, meanwhile, started with a 71, while defending champion and favourite Phil Mickelson, in the second last group of the day, was two under after escaping from the bushes with a par at the long 13th and from the trees with a birdie at the next.

McIlroy said: “It was not as explosive or as spectacular as St Andrews, but it was very solid and it’s a great start.”

The best at The Masters, in fact, since Greg Norman’s 63 in 1996.

“I felt as if my game’s been really good all season and after working on my game in Florida for 10 days with my coach Michael Bannon I feel very comfortable.

“I’m still relatively inexperienced, but I feel I am pretty quick learner.

“There’s no substitute for experience and I’ve still got a lot of learning to do, but I am getting there. It was nice to see a few putts drop in as well and hopefully I can build on it.

“I think what happened at St Andrews will be a massive help. It was a very valuable lesson in my development as a golfer.”

After saving par from the fairway bunker at the first he birdied the next three from two, five and 20 feet, making a 10-footer on the ninth to turn in 32.

The 505-yard 11th is probably Augusta’s toughest hole, but he struck a five-iron to eight feet for his fifth birdie and, after three-putting the long 13th for par, picked up further shots at the next two.

First he holed from 10 feet again and then he was on in two at the par five and two-putted.

Yang, who became Asia’s first major champion by beating Woods head-to-head at the 2009 US PGA, moved alongside McIlroy with a two at the short 16th, but bogeyed the last two.

Woods has not won for nearly 17 months and has been working on swing changes since August.

“You have trust it now – we’re in a major championship and it’s full systems go,” he said before adding that he felt he was still right in the hunt “only six back.”

Lee Westwood, who had the big setback of a six on the long eighth after “over-hooking” his second, had to settle for a 72 and again was not happy with his putting.

“It’s how my game is at the moment,” said the world No 2. “If you can’t hole it out from four feet you’re going to struggle.”

Harrington’s 77 matched his worst-ever round on the course and he commented: “I nearly pulled out before I started.

“I haven’t even come close to swinging the club. I wanted to pull out, but I wouldn’t – that’s just me. But it wasn’t much fun. I always have to be wary – I was swinging the left-handed shot, just warming up and it just kind of clicked.”

Kaymer is heading for a fourth-successive missed cut in the event and his 78 represented a new low.

England’s Ross Fisher shared sixth spot after a 69, but from two under after 14 Ian Poulter dropped four shots in the last four for a 74 – the same as US Open champion Graeme McDowell, who three-putted four times in six holes at the start of the back nine.

Paul Casey was one over with four to go, 53-year-old Sandy Lyle was in with a 73 and Justin Rose only level par following seven at the 13th. As for Luke Donald, who carried the curse of winning the eve-of-tournament par three competition into the main event, he was three over after 13, but then went birdie-eagle-birdie to race to one under.