Sport Golf

Sunday 17 December 2017

Rusty McIlroy adds Texas Open to diary

William S Callahan

RORY McILROY has entered next week's Valero Texas Open as he scrambles to find his competitive edge before the US Masters.

Including yesterday's hard-fought second-round 70 at the Shell Houston Open, McIlroy has played just 10 rounds of competitive golf so far in 2013, a year fraught with failure and frustration.

After working with his coach Michael Bannon on the range at Redstone yesterday afternoon, Ulster's World No 2 decided to add San Antonio to his schedule before teeing it up at Augusta on Thursday week.

"I just think a few more rounds under my belt will stand to me before the Masters," he confirmed.

This is a significant change of tack for McIlroy, who usually prefers to rest the week before a Major, as he did in the build-up to his victories at the 2011 US Open and last year's US PGA.

It's unclear if this will affect McIlroy's planned visit to Haiti on Monday and Tuesday, his second trip to the earthquake-stricken Caribbean nation as honorary sporting ambassador to UNICEF Ireland.

gritty

The win McIlroy needed at the Shell Houston Open to regain the world No 1 spot remains a far-flung hope, but, if nothing else, the Holywood star proved yesterday that he can produce when he has to.

McIlroy made his first cut of the season, thanks to a gritty finish for a 70. He was flirting with the cut-line, aware that one more loose shot would set the crisis bells ringing loud and clear before the Masters.

"I walked on to the seventh green (his 16th) and saw I was tied 77th," McIlroy said. "I knew I needed a birdie coming in, which I was able to do. I played those last few holes really well when I sort of needed to."

It was his second shot on the par-five eighth which meant most. In his opening 73, McIlroy had located the water to the right of the green before taking a double-bogey seven.

"That was a key moment for me," he said. "I knew that if I did what I did on Thursday that would likely be it."

From 262 yards he found the left fringe of the green and, with two putts, left himself on the right side of the cut mark.

McIlroy might even have birdied nine but his 40-foot putt scraped the edge, so he had to be satisfied with a one-under total for 36 holes.

Of course, it would be all too easy to overstate McIlroy's form. Truth is, Bannon says, he remains "ring rusty". Two more rounds this weekend and four in San Antonio will help.

The gremlins are no longer between the shoulders, but between the ears. It has nothing to do with the Nike clubs he switched to in January. It is the workman, not the tools.

"Rory's game is all good," Bannon said. "The main problem was the backswing, but that's all fixed so it's all good for the Masters."

The student concurred. "It's more of a mental thing than a mechanical thing at this point – I've just to commit to my shots," McIlroy said.

McIlroy's two-under round yesterday included two penalty shots on an erratic driving day on which he hit only five fairways.

His par-save on the par-five fourth was particularly valiant, however. Wet off the tee, McIlroy made an up and down from 30 yards.

There's a Masters place up for grabs for the winner here and England's Brian Davis ensured he would enter the weekend in contention after a 70 took him to seven under. That's three off the clubhouse lead held by Steve Wheatcroft, 35, a Monday qualifier from Pennsylvania who opened with sweet matching rounds of 67.

Shane Lowry was in grave danger of missing the weekend. After a calamatous triple-bogey at 12, he was three-over for the tournament and four outside the projected cut mark with four to play.

Houston Open,

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