HUMBLE, Texas – The march to the Masters for Rory McIlroy looks more like a crawl.
McIlroy only had four birdie putts on the front nine, none closer than 20 feet. He took two chips to reach the second green. He found the water on the third-easiest hole at Redstone Golf Club and made double bogey. What he salvaged Thursday in the Houston Open was a 73, along with some optimism.
"I think I'm still a little bit tentative on the golf course and not committing to my shots fully," McIlroy said. "But I think that just takes time and, hopefully, another three rounds this week and some good scores will give me confidence going into the Masters."
D.A. Points, using an old putter he once took from his mother, opened with five straight birdies on his way to an 8-under 64, giving him a one-shot lead over Cameron Tringale and John Rollins. Also coming to life was Angel Cabrera, the Argentine with two majors and a house at Redstone. He had a 66.
McIlroy, playing in the afternoon when the wind kicked up, was happy just to stay in range. Right when it looked as if the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland was headed for a big number, he rattled off three quick birdies and got it back to even par before he failed to convert a superb flop shot into par.
"I fought back well. I didn't get too down on myself," McIlroy said. "It would have been great to finish even par, but I made a couple of shots back, so that's not too bad."
Even so, the Houston Open is his final stop before the Masters, and it's not as if McIlroy has loads of rounds behind him. Thursday was only the ninth round he has completed in five tournaments this year. And he no longer has the No. 1 ranking, taken back by Tiger Woods last week at Bay Hill.
The first step is making the cut at Redstone on Friday, and seeing more good shots.
"My swing is not as free flowing because I'm working on a few things and getting into a couple of bad habits," McIlroy said. "But it's definitely feeling more natural than it has been the last few weeks."