Rory McIlroy eager to take the positives as late bogeys offer evidence of rustiness at Houston Open
RORY McIlroy has always liked to let his golf do the talking and yesterday it provided the perfect explanation of why he took the difficult, and extraordinarily late, decision to play the Texas Open in preparation for next week’s Masters.
The young Ulsterman was stood over a five-foot putt on the 13th to take himself to five-under for the day, six-under for the round and right into contention at the Houston Open – he three-putted.
And then he proceeded to drop two more shots to return to two-under and rejoin the also-rans.
McIlroy’s schedule switch was thus vindicated. “I hit the ball really well – it’s the best I’ve hit it this week,” he said.
“So, I take a lot of positives from it. Obviously the finish wasn’t what I wanted, but that was down to some silly mistakes from rustiness.
“With a little more competitive play, I’ll eradicate that.”
And so last nighe he headed for San Antonio instead of Haiti. McIlroy was due to visit the earth-quake ravaged islands on a two-day trip in his role as a Unicef ambassador.
“That was the disappointing thing,” he said. “I made a few tough phone-calls last night, obviously, but eight to nine hours of travel from Haiti wasn’t going to be the best preparation.
“Unicef was great about it. I’m a big supporter of what they do all over the world and I will make it up to them in some way.
“But I ended up thinking to myself, 'okay, let’s just do for these next couple of weeks what’s best for me,’ and what’s best for me right now is competitive golf and playing rounds.”
McIlroy was convinced by his coach, Michael Bannon, and his caddie, JP Fitzgerald. Behind the scenes his management had been talking with the Texas Open organisers for a few weeks.
Initially, McIlroy was not interested. He was going to Haiti, and from there home for a few days’ practice at home in South Florida and from there to The Masters on Saturday.
If he makes the cut in San Antonio, he won’t arrive until Monday now.
“It’s funny, I hadn’t thought about it all,” McIlroy said. “JP mentioned it to me after I shot 70 yesterday. He said, 'if you just play a few more rounds, I think you’re going to be ready’.
“I brushed it off, I didn’t really think about it too much and sat down, had some lunch, mulled it over and texted him saying, 'I don’t think this is a bad idea’.
"It probably took me an hour or two to sort of think about it and decide.”
Still McIlroy took it to the wire; there were only 30 minutes left until the deadline when he eventually committed.
There were some raised eyebrows, as the TPC San Antonio is a tight layout which is prone to be windy. As Phil Mickelson says “it is not conducive to preparing for Augusta”.
For McIlroy, however, it is match-fitness which is key. He is feeling strangely tentative over his shots and is aware that Augusta gleefully gobbles up the meek.
“It’s about committing to my shots on the course and feeling more comfortable out there in competition,” he said.
“It’s all well and good hitting it well on the range, but you’ve got to go do it on the course, and I feel like I’m finally beginning to do that.”
Rarely has anyone looked so content after playing themselves out of the competition. McIlroy had waltzed through those first 12 holes, looking like the player who held the game to ransom at the end of the last season.
On the 13th it was about to become even more promising, but then came the three-putt from tiddler range to make bogey instead of birdie, then he failed to get up and down on the 14th and then he found the water with his drive on the 18th.
In the event he did well to keep the damage to a bogey on the finishing hole – he made a three with his second ball.
“Obviously it’s not the finish I wanted, but overall, I’m happy,” he said. “It’s just a matter of going out there, eliminating mistakes, knowing I’m playing quality golf and making enough birdies.
I have to just keep the daft errors off my card and I’ll be okay.” Barring a sensational comeback today, McIlroy will not be securing the victory which he requires to reclaim the world No1 spot from Tiger Woods.
Mickelson does have a shout, however, after a 67 took him to six-under, which was four behind the halfway leader Steve Wheatcroft as he set out for his third round.
Mickelson’s form was ominous for his Augusta rivals. After missing the cut at Bay Hill, the three-time Masters winner is threatening to blossom at just the right time.
He birdied the first, birdied the last, and although there was a bogey on the eighth – achieved in typical Mickelson style as he went for the glory shot over the water – he appeared extremely controlled.
His comments afterwards underlined his confidence.
“My game is starting to feel really good,” said the 42-year-old. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow because each day I feel like my game and my touch on the green has gotten better and better.
“When I’m playing my best, golf becomes kind of a reactionary sport where I look at the target, I see the shot and I just swing.
“The first couple of days I was more conscious about the mechanics and just trying to get things right.
“Today I was able to get out of that mode and just started to react – that is why I’m excited.”