McIlroy returns to form ahead of Masters

The fretting over Rory McIlroy can cease. He who is now No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings enjoyed a return to form in the Valero Texas Open at TPC of San Antonio just in time for this week’s Masters.

The Texas Open wasn’t on McIlroy’s to-do list until last weekend, when he realized that he needed more competitive golf under his belt buckle if he was to have any chance to contend at Augusta. His first round wasn’t so great, but he caught fire in the second round and would have won had Martin Laird not gotten Houdini-like with his putter in the final round.

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McIlroy garnered seven birdies while shooting 67 in the second round, and eight birdies en route to a final-round 66. The fourth and 10th holes both gave him problems and cost him the tournament. He bogeyed both of them twice, with no birdies, over the four days. He shot 72 on Thursday and 71 on Saturday.

Although he didn’t leave with the trophy, McIlroy’s first priority in Texas was to get his game in order and that mission was accomplished.

“To finish off this tournament with a round like today is obviously great going into Augusta,” McIlroy said after Sunday’s round. He said that “just eliminating the stupid mistakes that I was making on the course, mental errors” was his biggest accomplishment.

McIlroy, who shot 12-under-par 276, finished second, two strokes behind Laird.

Padraig Harrington can also leave for Augusta in a good state of mind. He tied for 10th place, shooting 7-under-par 281 (68-73-70-70). Although he wasn’t stuffing his card with as many birdies as McIlroy, he was better able to limit his bogeys, suffering only seven over the course of the tournament.

Before the tournament began, Harrington reckoned that nine under par would contend for the title, which would be more conducive to his game than playing over a course where birdies were cheap and plentiful. He was only a stroke off the first-round lead in conditions that are more typical of northern climes at this time of year.

"I used my head to get around the golf course,” Harrington said after the first round. “My misses were good. It was cold out there and it was windy, and that combination, it's not a day for ball striking. Really, most of the time you're hitting knock-down shots and swinging three-quarter swings. You don't want to get a ball in the air for any length of time. It was more mental fortitude than ball striking today. Last week back in Ireland it was snowing and I didn't feel as cold."

His chances of winning suffered on Friday, when he played the back nine with three bogeys and no birdies, but nobody broke away from the pack, and he was on the outer fringes of contention early on Sunday, until Laird and McIlroy separated themselves.

Shane Lowry won’t be heading for the Masters (at least not as a player), but he can feel good about his performance in Texas. He got a share of 15th place at 4-under-par 284 (70-72-72-70). His play was a bit on the streaky side – birdies and bogeys tended to cluster – but he can look back with satisfaction on his best finish to-date on the PGA Tour.

Joining McIlroy and Harrington in Augusta will be Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and amateur Alan Dunbar, who earned an invitation with his victory in last year’s British Amateur Championship