RORY McILROY'S parting gift to Humble, Texas was a brace of beautiful birdies which suggested the Holywood star can find his A-game in time for the Masters.
McIlroy's game was too inconsistent over four days at Redstone Golf Club to allow him to join yesterday's thrilling Easter Sunday shoot-out for the Shell Houston Open title.
A final-round 70 left the 23-year-old tied-45th on four-under-par and counting the cost of the staggering nine penalty strokes he racked up on the Champions course, half-a-dozen of them off errant tee shots.
Throw in a plethora of missed greens from mid-fairway and some careless play around and on the greens at Houston, particularly his three-putt from inside five feet at 13 on Saturday, and the need for McIlroy to play the Valero Texas Open this week becomes apparent.
Once again, the weather played spoilsport as a powerful storm cell forced play to a halt with the tournament coming to a climax. Resurgent Swede Henrik Stenson was leading in the clubhouse on 15-under after a fabulous 66 and DA Points was 16-under playing 15 when play was halted.
Hours earlier, McIlroy completed only his 12th competitive round of 2013 and it will take at least another 72 holes in San Antonio this week to knock thick rust cakes off this game if he's to have any chance of raising a decent challenge to Tiger Woods at Augusta.
Still, the Ulster youngster wore a beaming smile as he left the 18th green yesterday after two birdies which were strongly reminiscent of his barnstorming finish to 2012.
McIlroy was even-par for his fourth round after a couple of front-nine birdies were cancelled out by two back-nine bogeys after he knocked successive tee shots into the water at 11 and 12. In all, he hit three balls into the lake in the fourth round and slammed another drive into the wilderness.
So McIlroy was little more than a frustrated bystander at yesterday's birdie-fest in Houston as he stepped onto the 17th tee.
Yet the 341-yard drive he ripped into the heart of the fairway there threatened to turn the clocks back, not forward. After hitting his approach to 15 feet, McIlroy holed the putt for his three.
With absolutely nothing to lose, McIlroy ignored the water lapping all the way down the left side of the 18th hole as he blasted a stunning 358-yard drive into the ether. His 138-yard wedge to 24 feet wasn't exceptional but the downhill putt for birdie certainly was.
"I felt a little rusty out there at times. I think the more rounds I play, the better it will be for me going into Augusta," said McIlroy, explaining why he added the Texas Open to his schedule.
"That's all I need to eradicate some of those stupid mental errors out there. The more golf you play, the more savvy you become and the more you commit to shots."
McIlroy, sporting ambassador for UNICEF Ireland, was "disappointed" to have to postpone today's visit to Haiti. "That was one of the first things I thought about, but going to and from Haiti wasn't going to be the best preparation.
"UNICEF was great about it ... hopefully I can make it up to them in some way."
Precious advice from two-time US Masters champion Bernhard Langer yesterday helped fellow German Marcel Siem clinch his third European Tour title – but he fell agonisingly short of a first Masters invite.
Siem (32) placed a trans-Atlantic call to Langer on Saturday night and made good use of his tips as he wrapped up victory with a final-round 70 at the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco.
"I wasn't sure how to cope taking a four-stroke lead into the final round of a tournament," said Siem, who needed to win at Golf du Palais Royal to have a chance of earning a slot at the Masters – he did his part but cruelly fell just two-hundredths of a ranking point shy, filed by events in Texas.
"He gave me some very good tips, so thanks Bernhard," added the French Open champion, who has accepted an invite to play alongside McIlroy, Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke in San Antonio this week where nothing short of a win can reignite his Masters dream.
Siem won by three from England's David Horsey (69) and Finn Mikko Ilonen (60). Defending champion Michael Hoey, the only Irish golfer to make the cut in Agadir, banked €12,000 in a tie for 32nd place on one-under after a closing 70.