Rory McIlroy has gotten off to a strong start to the season, but he is still looking for his first tournament win since 2012. The 2014 Shell Houston Open gives him a strong chance as a final tune-up before the Masters.
The former No. 1 player in the world has not competed in almost a month since the WGC-Cadillac Championship, where he tied for 25th. Amazingly, this was his worst finish of the year with three other top-10 finishes in three stroke-play tournaments.
Still, he has a long way to go to get back to the level that he was at a few years ago. The good news is that he has high goals, while attempting to be the most dominant player in the world. McIlroy told reporters during his press conference:
It's almost like golf is waiting for someone to stamp their authority on the game and be that dominant player. [...]
You know, me personally as a fan of golf, it would be nice to see someone sort of break away. I hope it's me as a fan of golf and fan of myself that I can do that.
This all starts with winning tournaments, something the talented player hopes to do as soon as this week in Texas.
|2014 Shell Houston Open Final Leaderboard|
|T1||Matt Jones* (won in playoff with birdie on 1st extra hole)||-15||68-68-71-66|
Even though McIlroy entered Sunday's final round without a realistic chance to win, it didn't stop him from giving it his all. It may wind up being the turning point in his season, too, because McIlroy brought his best in shooting a seven-under 65 at the Golf Club of Houston.
McIlroy made zero bogeys and seven birdies en route to matching the low round of the event in the clubhouse, per the PGA Tour's official Twitter account:
This is yet another sign of McIlroy's immense talent and the firepower he has when he puts it all together. The problem for him has been that it hasn't happened all that often—or on a consistent basis.
|Rory McIlroy Round 4 Scorecard|
As Shane Bacon of Yahoo! Sports noted, though, McIlroy couldn't pick a much better time to be finding his form with the Masters awaiting this coming week:
The round ended in style, when McIlroy's great approach shot to the par-four 18th hole got him within manageable distance to pour in yet another birdie:
With such a small margin for error on a long hole and the small target for that second shot, McIlroy showed that his distance control is spot-on at the moment. Considerable improvement with the putter complemented McIlroy's impeccable game from tee to green in the last round, as he shot into the top 10 in Humble.
VegasInsider.com had McIlroy as a 10-to-1 co-favorite with 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott for Augusta National even before the Northern Irish prodigy posted his sensational score on Sunday. Perhaps this 65 will boost his status—with oddsmakers, analysts and fans alike—regarding his chances at a first green jacket.
There has to be some sort of vengeance factor for McIlroy, who hasn't threatened to win the year's first major since blowing a four-stroke lead entering the last 18 holes in 2011. It would already be the third leg of the Grand Slam for McIlroy if he were to win, and it's impossible to count him out now that he's proven himself.
Unlike the two days prior, consistency was not an issue for McIlroy on Saturday. Simply making something—anything—of note happen was.
Two bogeys and four birdies later, McIlroy's Round 3 scorecard looked pretty similar to that of the previous two days:
|Rory McIlroy Round 3 Scorecard|
Things looked better for McIlroy through the first nine. He birdied on the third hole, bogeyed on the sixth and then tallied another birdie on the eighth hole via a solid 31-foot putt:
Things collapsed shortly thereafter, as he bogeyed three of the holes on the back nine to put him well out of first place after a lackluster 74:
|Shell Houston Open Round 3|
McIlroy seems nonchalant about his performance thus far with the understanding it is merely a tune-up before the Masters, as captured by Ryan Lavner of the Golf Channel:
“It’s good to get it all out of the system this week,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad it’s not next week. I’m glad I’m not 40th going into the last day.”
As Layner notes, McIlroy has left something to be desired on the greens, but has looked great on long shots. If he can manage to bring it all together Sunday he'll be in good form heading into next week.
Consistency continued to be the thorn in McIlroy's side on Friday as he wound up nine back of the leader thanks to a 71 that left him three-under par.
Like Thursday, his scorecard was all over the place, with shows of strength followed by peaks and valleys:
|Rory McIlroy Round 2 Scorecard|
Still, the overall effort left him above the cut line and somewhat in striking distance of the overall leaders:
|Shell Houston Open Round 2|
McIlroy admitted after the round he was disappointed in the erratic showing, according to John Huggan of Golf Digest:
"I left a couple out there. I was three under par through 10 holes with two par 5s to come. I was thinking I could get a couple more but ended up giving a couple back. So I'm a little disappointed. I could be standing here a few shots better."
Things started great with birdies on the 10th and 12 holes, but it was soon apparent McIlroy's form was not consistent. He struggled off the tee and took a penalty drop on the sixth hole after a wayward tee shot was unplayable.
That was far from the lowlight, as he also missed a putt from three feet for par on the third hole.
The areas in need of improvement are obvious. Really, McIlroy is a few silly mistakes out of being in contention so far. He'll continue to work the kinks in his game out with the Masters on the horizon, so watch for McIlroy to make some noise this weekend.
On the first day of action at the Shell Houston Open, McIlroy got off to a great start but could not continue while finishing with a 70, just two strokes under par.
Here is a look at his complete scorecard from Day 1.
|Rory McIlroy Round 1 Scorecard|
This put him well in contention to catch the current leaders.
|Shell Houston Open Round 1 (as of 6:30 p.m. ET)|
|T2||Charley Hoffman||-6||Thru 15|
|T2||Jason Gore||-6||Thru 13|
|T2||Brice Garnett||-6||Thru 13|
McIlroy was almost flawless on the front nine, posting three birdies without a single bogey. He was putting on a clinic for how to keep his shots in regulation.
Almost every drive was on the fairway and virtually every second shot was on the green. This included the par-five No. 4, which he tore up to get his first birdie of the day.
A great approach shot on the sixth hole helped him notch another birdie, which was followed by a long putt on No. 8 to move to three strokes under par for the day:
At this point, McIlroy was certainly happy with his effort:
Unfortunately, things started to go south after the turn. On the 11th hole, McIlroy hit his tee shot directly into a bunker and then struggled to get back on track, finishing with a bogey.
McIlroy then wiped out a birdie on No. 13 when he bogeyed No. 14. The powerful golfer knocked the ball over the green on the par-three hole and could not get up and down for par.
He ended up finishing with four pars in a row to end the day two strokes under par.
Although he did not have his best day, he still finished below par and just five strokes off the lead. With three days remaining in the tournament, he has plenty of time to turn things around and try to contend.
However, McIlroy must get back to consistent play while avoiding bogeys to help get back into the competition. Otherwise, he might end up being more concerned with just making the cut at the end of Round 2.
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