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"Everyone starts off this tournament a bit tentative because it's Augusta and you don't want to miss it in the wrong places," he said. "If I had finished over par for the day I wouldn't be that happy. I definitely feel a lot better about tomorrow."
He should feel better than Woods, who went in the opposite direction at the end by bogeying his last two holes for a 72. The talk coming into this Masters was all about McIlroy and Woods and the prospect of the rising superstar who briefly was No. 1 in the world after winning the Honda Classic last month battling it out on Sunday afternoon with the greatest player of his time.
There's 94 other players in the field -- including Lee Westwood, who leads after opening with a 67 -- but McIlroy versus Woods on the back nine of Augusta National is a showdown golf fans want to see almost as much as boxing fans want to see Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Both players made plenty of mistakes Thursday to stop that from happening, but neither played themselves out of it. That's a hallmark of Woods' game over the years, but it's something the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland is just beginning to master. Playing patiently doesn't come easy at that age, especially on a course that demands patience.
A year ago, McIlroy fired an opening-round 65 to sprint out to the lead and become a target for the rest of the field. He held on for three rounds, but in the end it was just too much to ask.
Now he seems comfortable to be in a group of players four shots back. It's a spot that will allow him to fire at a few flags without worrying about protecting his lead, a spot that will surely make it easier to sleep at night.
"Being in the pack is good," he said. "I know I can go out and go about my business without thinking about the lead."
An unusual admission, something you would never hear from Woods.
Refreshing, though, if only because the kid is honest about his golf.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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