TEENAGER sensation Rory McIlroy confessed he’s playing stress-free golf after recording a fifth straight three under par tally on day one of the Castello Masters in Spain.
McIlroy carded a 68 under a ‘preferred lie’ rule on the rain-softened Club de Campo del Mediterraneo course, on the outskirts of Castellon that left the 19-year-old on three under, trailing four strokes behind Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen on seven under.
Four players — Argentina’s 2007 US Open champion, Angel Cabrera, England’s Richard Finch, Spain’s Ignacio Garrido and Sweden’s Peter Hanson — are next best, on six under par.
Tournament host Sergio Garcia birdied his closing three holes in a 66 to be tied with fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal and Frenchman Thomas Levet.
McIlroy heads the four-strong Irish contingent contesting the €2m tournament.
The Belfast teenager finished 10th in last week’s Portugal Masters with four rounds of a three-under par 69, and yesterday McIlroy started this tournament with a three-under-par effort on the par 71 Castellon layout.
“I am just playing really solid at the moment and it’s just stress-free golf and whilst it could have been a lot better, three under is a pretty decent score and sets me up well for the week,” he said.
“So if I can keep playing like that for the rest of this week, and then next week, I will be really happy.”
McIlroy’s already delighted to have broken into the top 100 on the world rankings having soared to 91st after his 10th place finish last week in Portugal.
“It was one of my goals to end my first full season in the top 100 and now that I am 91st, I’m determined to move up as high as I can before my season ends,” he said.
“So the next goal is to break into the top 50 and that will mean I will play in all the Majors and the WGC events. A win this week would get me top 40 and that would be really nice.”
McIlroy arrived in Spain lying 37th on the Order of Merit and eyeing a top 30 position at the close of next week’s Volvo Masters that would assure him a place in next year’s British Open at Turnberry.
“I want to keep finishing really well and I’m just seven spots behind getting into The Open next year, so to end the year knowing I’m exempt into one Major next year will be great,” McIlroy added.
“The best aspect about my play of late is that I am staying very level headed, and whilst it doesn’t come that easy all the time, I just feel very comfortable out here.”
Peter Lawrie has bizarrely found himself grouped for the opening two rounds with Garrido, the player he beat in a play-off to win the Spanish Open earlier this year.
However whilst Garrido lost out to the Irishman in May, yesterday Garrido got the better of Lawrie in finishing six shots ahead of him.
“I thought it was a bit peculiar that in my first event back in Spain, they should put Ignacio and myself in the same group,” said Lawrie.
“But then I won the Spanish Open, so I don’t mind.”
Garrido remarked: “Peter got the better of me in the Spanish Open and whilst we are still good friends, it was good to get a points win over him today.”
Paul McGinley carded a 72 whilst Kilkenny’s Gary Murphy was denied a chip-in birdie at the last that hit the flagstick, and he eventually finished with a 74.
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