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Rory McIlroy's schedule change in preparation for another tilt at Masters win

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Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images

Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images

Getty Images

Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images

Rory McIlroy will play the week before the Masters for the first time since 2014 as he bids to complete the coveted career Grand Slam at Augusta.

McIlroy, set to become World No 1 this week, has committed to playing in the Valero Texas Open and plans to play seven events before making his 12th trip down Magnolia Lane. The Holywood ace took a week off before last year's Masters, where he finished eight behind Tiger Woods in joint 21st.

"If anything, I just wasn't quite as sharp as I have been in previous weeks," McIlroy said at the time. "It's not that I didn't play or practice, and I was trying to get myself ready, but I think I realised over the past couple of years the best way for me to get ready is play the week before."

The Augusta National Women's Amateur will precede the Masters again this year, but Banbridge's Olivia Mehaffey has opted not to take up her invitation, instead accepting one of five amateur exemptions for the ANA Inspiration in California.

"I believe this is the right decision at this time in my career," said the Arizona State University-based player. "I am excited to play with the best in the world, and I am grateful for this opportunity."

Footsteps

The 22-year-old will be making her fourth appearance in a professional Major at Rancho Mirage, following in the footsteps of Leona Maguire, who made a solid start in the LPGA Tour's ISPS Handa Vic Open.

At the PGA Tour's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Graeme McDowell continued his hot run of form by opening with a two-under 70 to lie four shots off the lead.

Back in the world's top 50 thanks to his win in the Saudi International, the 2010 US Open champion (40) was one-over with eight holes to go at Spyglass Hill but picked up three shots coming down the stretch.

He was four behind world No 8 Patrick Cantlay, who fired a six-under 66 at Spyglass Hill to share the early lead with Korn Ferry Tour graduate Chase Seiffert, who played Pebble.

As Seamus Power shot a level par 72 at Pebble Beach in his first start for two months, Pádraig Harrington opened with one-under 71 at Monterey Peninsula as he bids to win back his PGA Tour card. A wrist injury kept the Ryder Cup skipper out until April last year but with a medical exemption, he has 11 events to earn enough FedEx Cup points to match last year's top-125 total.

In the Challenge Tour's RAM Cape Town Open, Gavin Moynihan's two-over 74 left him joint 81st, eight behind Daniel van Tonder.

Elsewhere, Dundalk's Caolan Rafferty shot 74 and Mallow's James Sugrue a 76 to tie for sixth on three-over with Tom McKibbin joint ninth in the African Amateur Stroke Play.

Pebble Beach Pro-Am, 8pm; live, Sky Sports

Irish Independent