Wednesday 21 February 2018

Rory struggles as Padraig finds form ahead of Masters test

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, chips to the 18th green during the first round of the Texas Open golf tournament
Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, chips to the 18th green during the first round of the Texas Open golf tournament

Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy's last-ditch bid to find some form before next week's US Masters stuttered after a promising start in the Valero Texas Open today.

McIlroy only added the event to his schedule at the 11th hour after struggling to adapt to new equipment and recapture the form which brought him five wins in 2012, including a second major at the US PGA Championship.

But with caddie JP Fitzgerald advising him that he needed more competitive rounds under his belt, McIlroy travelled to San Antonio and initially looked set to be very happy with the decision.

Starting from the 10th on the difficult Oaks Course - the fourth most difficult on the PGA Tour last year - McIlroy opened with four pars before picking up a birdie on the par-five 14th and another on the 17th.

However, a bogey on the 18th was the first of three in succession which dropped him back to one over par, not what the world number two was looking for after speaking of the need to cut out "silly mistakes" in his rounds.

The 23-year-old stopped the rot with pars at the third and fourth and then birdied the next two holes, but carded his fourth bogey of the day on the ninth and had to settle for an opening 72.

At level par, McIlroy was four shots off the early clubhouse target set by another multiple major winner, Ireland's Padraig Harrington carding a 68 marred only by a bogey on the 18th.

Harrington won the Open Championship in 2007, successfully defended it the following year and then won the US PGA Championship a few weeks later, but has not tasted victory on one of the major tours since - his last win came on the Asian Tour in 2010.

Anyone winning this week will have to defy the odds if they want to also claim a Green Jacket at the Masters, however.

Only two players have won the week prior to the Masters and then gone on to win in Augusta: Sandy Lyle in the Greater Greensboro Open in 1988 and Phil Mickelson in the BellSouth Classic in 2006.

Harrington was joined in the clubhouse lead by American Billy Horschel, who carded six birdies and two bogeys in his 68, while fellow American Jason Gore and England's Brian Davis were one behind after rounds of 69.

Sweden's Peter Hanson, who led going into the final round of the Masters 12 months ago, and Scotland's Martin Laird were another stroke adrift, with 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel one under after five holes and playing partner Ian Poulter level.

Harrington admitted he had enjoyed his fair share of good luck in cold and blustery conditions, with his only bogey caused by three-putting the 18th.

"It was cold and that really does affect the ball," the Dubliner told reporters. "I didn't have a great ball-striking round but my misses were either in the right places or I got slightly fortunate and then got up and down.

"I'm not walking away from this round thinking 'wow, I hit a number of pure golf shots' or anything like that. It was more mental fortitude than ball striking.

"This morning, early on, it was a battle of survival. Last week back in Ireland it was snowing and I didn't feel this cold. There was a feeling of 'let's just hang in there and stay in the tournament'. Sometimes that lets you play a little bit more within yourself."

Press Association

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