Friday was a better day than Thursday for Rory McIlroy at the Valero Texas Open. McIlroy did not have to fight weather elements, but it wasn't completely smooth sailing for the world's No. 2 golfer.
On the ninth hole, McIlroy drove his golf ball into the trees on the left side of the fairway. Like a weekend golfer, McIlroy searched for his ball. Unlike most weekend golfers, though, he found his ball but scraped his leg on a cactus. The sting would stay with him for a while as he went on to bogey the hole.
McIlroy told reporters at his press conference (via pgatour.com), "I shouldn’t have been there anyways, so I guess it was deserved, getting a—whatever it was—off the cactus."
This was really the only low point for McIlroy's round, as he went on to finish the day with a 67 and just three shots off the lead.
Friday was a better day, and his late birdie surge on the last three holes provided evidence that he was feeling more comfortable with his game. It also helped him confirm his reason for being in San Antonio this week.
McIlroy was a late entry into this week's field and is delaying his scheduled mission trip to Haiti. He believes he really needs this tournament and a few more competitive rounds before heading to Augusta next week.
McIlroy said (per pgatour.com), "I definitely feel like I made the right decision to come here, and even if I hadn’t been in this position and had been a few shots back I’d still feel the same way...I haven’t really been in contention this year, so it will be nice to get into the mix."
McIlroy has his putter and short game to thank for allowing him in the mix this weekend. It's a mix that includes four of the top 15 players in the world.
Billy Horschel, the current leader at eight under, knows there are tour winners like McIlroy, Furyk, Choi and Goosen lurking behind him. It doesn't phase him, though. He is concentrating on his game, not others.
Horschel said (per ESPN.com), "I think you have that mindset. You can't think that these guys have won majors, and then you start worrying about what they're doing and you forget about yourself."
That's a point McIlroy can agree with. He is focusing on what he is doing and what he needs to improve on.
Driving still seems to be a work in progress, but his iron work and putting are strong—all positive signs heading into next week and the year's first major.
Is McIlroy getting used to his new clubs, or is he climbing out of a slump? Whatever the answer, the evidence suggests he is regaining confidence and moving forward.