McIlroy lands just inside the cut in Houston

World number two climbs to one under after a 'more consistent' second round of 70, but Shane Lowry misses out after a 75


In Rory McIlroy’s current spell of transition, he has learned to be grateful for small mercies. And, indeed, the passing of character tests. With three holes of his second round of the Houston Open to play, McIlroy sat tied for 77th and facing the ignominy of another missed cut.

The Northern Irishman needed to pick up at least a shot and duly did that; ensuring his Masters preparation will at least be boosted by the playing of a further two, much-needed, competitive rounds in Texas. “It was nice to be able to play some good shots coming in like that, knowing that I had to,” McIlroy said. “No one likes missing cuts and especially it’s my last event before the Masters. It is nice to have another couple of rounds to try and get confidence in what I am doing.”

McIlroy’s mood, as has been the case all week, is upbeat. There seems no question of him returning to the embattled mindset which did little to help him earlier in the year.

Whether by virtue of placing golf in its proper perspective or otherwise, McIlroy appears perfectly willing to meet what challenges lie ahead of him. And he is candid about such tasks.

“There were a couple of swings out there again today that I was a bit tentative on,” he admitted. “If I just let them go, it would be fine. I think it’s more a mental thing than a mechanical thing at this point.”

In isolation, McIlroy’s Friday 70 is far from a bad score and especially with two penalty strokes included in the round. Yet he remains a work in progress, clearly not yet fully committed to every shot he hits and lacking the kind of confidence which would send him to the Masters in his rightful place as a leading candidate to win the event. He needs inspiration, and rapidly, to turn things around before the first major of this year. “It was OK,” added

McIlroy of his day at the office. “It was definitely more consistent today than yesterday. I gave myself quite a few chances. All in all, it was OK. It could have been a couple better but it was an improvement.”

Hindsight is of course wonderful, but McIlroy’s light schedule at the start of 2013 is open to question amid his high-profile move to new Nike equipment. His course management at times also leaves more to be desired than should be the case; on the 1st on Friday, which he was playing as his 10th, McIlroy hit a driver off the tee and found a bunker. The world number two's playing partners, Keegan Bradley and Dustin Johnson, had taken the more sensible option of fairway woods on the 397-yard hole.

Generally, McIlroy’s second round driving was wayward. Perhaps he was still distracted, having joined in with the batch of high-profile professionals in the instant and bizarre craze of “Dufnering”. He, Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Luke Donald posted pictures light-heartedly mocking their counterpart Jason Dufner. At a childrens’ function on Thursday, Dufner was photographed slouching against a classroom wall; McIlroy et al opted to do likewise, whether in hotels or at the driving range.

“It’s the best thing ever,” said McIlroy. “I’ve never had so much entertainment. I was on my own last night in the room and just going through things. The first thing I said to Keegan when I saw him this morning, was: ‘This is best thing I’ve ever seen.‘ I texted Jason last night, it was good entertainment for the night.”

Steve Wheatcroft took a one-shot lead into third round when he produced a second straight 67 to sit 10 under overall, one shot ahead of fellow Americans Jason Kokrak and overnight leader DA Points — and nine up on McIlroy.

The 35-year-old has one tournament victory to his name on the second-tier Nationwide Tour, and has never been to The Masters. Nevertheless, he was taking things in his stride. “Who knows? I could shoot 61 tomorrow, I could shoot 71 tomorrow,” he said. “I really don’t know.

“I’m not going to sit around here and think about it too much. I’m going to think about the first tee ball on the first tee and we’ll go from there.”

Brian Davis arrived in Texas having competed in eight events in 2013 but having made a mere two cuts and claimed just a single top-30 finish. There has been no such trouble for the Englishman at Redstone, Davis building on Thursday's 67 on Thursday by signing for a two-under par 70. He is yet to drop a single shot. Davis was in with a chance of winning this event a year ago but slumped to a final round of 74 to slip out of contention.

Despite claiming $10.7m (€8.36m) in career earnings on the PGA Tour, the son-in-law of the England goalkeeping legend Ray Clemence hasn’t won a single tournament.

“I haven’t been playing that badly,” Davis said. “I missed cuts in the first two tournaments by one shot. I have just not had any momentum this year but have a chance to establish some of that now. I played shocking until Bay Hill last year so haven’t been too worried about what has been happening recently. I’m very pleased to be where I am and very pleased to be bogey-free round this course, which is a good achievement.”

There is continuing woe, however, for Paul Casey. The former world number three set himself a goal of making it back into the top 10 by the end of 2013 but exited Houston, where he has won previously, having added a 79 to Thursday’s 78 to miss the cut with a depressing overall 13-over par total after two poor rounds.

After lying one under overnight Shane Lowry missed the cut on two over after carding a disappointing 75 on day two.

Guardian Service