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 went to the clubhouse three shots clear of the field, a reminder of his dynamic start last year at St. Andrews.
He was leading the British Open after shooting 63, then slumped to an 80 in the howling wind of the second round. McIlroy shouldn't face those conditions in Georgia -- the forecast called for warm, clear weather through the weekend -- but he feels better prepared to deal with any adversity.
"At the time, it was very disappointing," McIlroy said of 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 at 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 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. "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 Day 2, as he did in Scotland.
"I hope it will help me," he said. "I have that experience to draw on, 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 was 1 under after rolling in a long putt at the 14th for his second straight birdie.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson teed off in the next-to-last group of the day and pushed his opening tee shot into the trees left of the fairway. He scrambled to save par and was even through three holes.
Matt Kuchar, Sergio Garcia and Y.E. Yang were closest to the lead, all at 4 under while still on the course. Two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen had the early lead after holing out an eagle from the fairway on the first hole. But the South African limped to the finish with three straight bogeys for a 70 that felt much worse.
Woods has gone 20 tournament over 17 months without a win, but he's always a contender at Augusta National, where he's captured four green jackets and finished fourth a year ago.
The day began shortly after sunrise with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer striking ceremonial tee shots, the traditional start to the year's first major.
With the overnight chill still lingering, the 81-year-old Palmer hit a little fade tnder heading to the 17th hole.
Six of the top seven players have a shot at leaving Augusta in the No. 1 spot if they win, including third-ranked Mickelson, who squandered a dozen chances last year to take it. The next two -- No. 4 Luke Donald and fifth-ranked Graeme McDowell -- also are in the running.
Even Woods, who has slipped to seventh, isn't out of the chase for No. 1.