With the Masters just two weeks away, the Shell Houston Open represents one final chance for some of the PGA’s top golfers to qualify for the event. It’s also an opportunity to get in one last tune-up before golf’s most illustrious tournament begins on April 11.
All eyes were on Rory McIlroy Thursday, as the 23-year-old set out to regain his No. 1 ranking. With a win at Bay Hill last weekend, Tiger Woods ascended back to his familiar place atop the world golf rankings, and a win this weekend will propel McIlroy back above his new Nike teammate.
McIlroy struggled on Thursday, though, bogeying two of the last four holes of his round to post a one-over 73 at Redstone. It’s still early in the tournament, but he’ll have a long way to go to catch up to D.A. Points.
Points put together an impressive eight-under round on Thursday, turning in a scorecard with nine birdies and just one blemish. The No. 195 golfer in the world birdied eight of his last 11 holes after bogeying the par-4 fifth.
The top of the leaderboard was a bit of a surprise after Day 1. Angel Cabrera (66), Lee Westwood (68), Bill Haas (68) and Dustin Johnson (69) all turned in quality scores, but a lot of 72s and 73s litter the middle of leaderboard, including an even-par 72 from Phil Mickelson.
Lefty was three under on the back nine, but two bogeys and an ugly double bogey on the par-4 fifth was too much to salvage a quality score. He’ll enter Day 2 tied for 63rd in the tournament.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 rounds on the leaderboard after Day 1 and highlight some notable performances.
*Full leaderboard can be found at PGATour.com.
The most notable golfer in the Top 20 after Thursday, Westwood checked in with a round of 68 that included seven birdies and three bogeys scattered throughout his card. The 39-year-old struggled at the par-5 fourth and par-5 eighth but played his final two par-5s at one under.
Westwood birdied four of his last seven holes to close out the round strong, and he’ll look to make a move on Friday to catch Points atop the leaderboard.
Nothing about Westwood’s round was especially worrisome. Despite his early struggles, he reached 72.22 percent of greens in regulation and posted a 71.43 percent driving accuracy. As long as he stays in the fairway and reduces his 1.53 putting average, Westwood should remain in the Top 20 through the weekend.
With a round of 70 on Thursday, Bradley finishes Round 1 tied for 28th alongside Louis Oosthuizen, Aaron Baddeley, Boo Weekley and several others at two under.
The No. 10 golfer in the world, Bradley played the front nine at three under, but bogeys at No. 10 and No. 15 didn’t help his cause.
The 26-year-old didn’t putt particularly well on Thursday, posting a putting average of 1.83. If he hopes to climb up the leaderboard on Day 2, he’ll have to cut down on strokes on the green.
Mickelson struggled last week at Bay Hill, posting a second-round 79 and missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He didn’t struggle as badly Thursday, but an even-par round of 72 will leave him with some work to do this weekend.
Lefty is still working out some kinks in his game that have been apparent in the last few weeks of action. If he is to win his fourth Masters in two weeks, he’ll have to iron out those creases this weekend at Redstone.
How Mickelson managed to salvage an even-par round on Thursday is a mystery. He hit just over a third of his fairways, failed to reach the green in regulation on seven occasions and posted a putting average of 1.727—none of which suggest Lefty is quite prepared for Augusta on April 11.
Regaining the No. 1 ranking probably isn’t in McIlroy’s mind this week. Despite once again staring up at Tiger, McIlroy has to be more concerned with working out some issues before the Masters that have been impeding his game this year.
It seemed just a couple weeks ago that he had perhaps turned the corner. After withdrawing in the middle of the first round at the Honda Classic, McIlroy returned at Doral March 6, firing a 63 to quell some major concerns.
McIlroy’s offseason switch to Nike raised several questions about his ability to adjust to all new gear. He hasn’t been dominant by any means, but that 63 certainly hushed the doubters.
Still, three bogeys and a double bogey Thursday weren’t what he was probably hoping for. Provided he stays above the cutline, he’ll have a few more days of tournament play to iron out his game for the Masters, but McIlroy is still staring at a nine-shot deficit to begin Friday’s play.
Things could be going much, much better for Olesen right now.
The No. 40 golfer in the world posted a putrid 10-over 82 in Round 1, finishing in sole possession of 155th place in the tournament. There wasn’t much good to take away from it, either.
A lone birdie on four started out a respectable one-under round through four holes, but it fell apart at the par-4 fifth with an ugly triple bogey. Six bogeys and a double bogey (on No. 13) marred the final portion of a scorecard he probably hopes to forget.
Olesen’s driving accuracy (64.29 percent) was the only marginal statistic from his round. He failed to reach nine greens in regulation, averaged 1.89 putts per hole and just couldn’t seem to get anything going his way.
The 23-year-old has six professional wins to his name, but he’ll need to make some major improvements if he hopes to be competitive at the Masters, to which he earned an invitation by finishing 2012 in the Top 50 spots in the world rankings (h/t USA Today).
Round 2 Information
Where: Redstone GC Tournament Course, Humble, Texas
When: 8 a.m. ET
Television: Golf Channel, 4 p.m. ET
*World golf rankings acquired from ESPN.com.