Rory McIlroy adjusts Tour schedule to take in Valero Open in Texas

Holywood golfer feels he needs more competitive action before the first Major of the season, the Masters


If there appeared to be a measure of panic stations about world number two Rory McIlroy’s decision to adjust his schedule on the recommendation of his caddie JP Fitzgerald to take in this week’s Valero Open in Texas on the US Tour, a choice that has caused him to postpone his humanitarian visit to Haiti, there can be little doubt that a competitive dress rehearsal ahead of the US Masters makes a lot of sense.

McIlroy – joined in Texas by another two of Ireland’s recent Major champions, Pádraig Harrington and Darren Clarke – at least showed over the weekend at the Shell Houston Open that his game appears to have turned a corner, but the decision to add in this week’s tournament, as sudden as it was, would appear to be an ideal opportunity to iron out any lingering swing issues before driving down Magnolia Lane for the far greater demands of Augusta.

“I’ve learned a few things,” observed McIlroy after posting back-to-back sub-par rounds over the weekend to move from the cut line to a tied-45th finish in the the Houston Open, won by DA Points. “I feel like my short game is sharp, a very positive sign . . . there’s a lot of things I can bring (into the Valero Open) and obviously looking ahead to Augusta too. It’s been productive.”

Of his decision, taken last Friday, to belatedly add on this week’s event to his itinerary, McIlroy remarked: “I’m there to play competitive golf. If it was a par three (competition), I would go and play it just because that’s what I need. I need competitive golf and I need committing to targets. It doesn’t matter if it’s a short course or long course or wide course or whatever, as long as I have a scorecard in my hand, that’s what I need.”  

Change his mind
McIlroy’s lack of competitive rounds so far this season – he has only played 12 and a bit – and the proximity of the season’s first Major combined to make the golfer change his mind, on the recommendation of Fitzgerald.

“I think in how I’m striking the ball and how I’m feeling with my swing and short game and stuff, that’s fine. It’s a matter of playing. In the summer, you play a lot of golf and you’re used to keeping score. This year, I guess it’s only my 13th, 14th competitive round, whatever it is, so it’s not quite there. But it’s getting close.” 

McIlroy referred to the need to eliminate what he called “sloppy” and “silly” mistakes, something that would carry even greater punishment at Augusta. “If I can just keep bogeys off my card, then I’ll be in great shape . . . I think just four more competitive rounds will do me a world of good. I’ll be in good shape going to Augusta.”

Of what he wants most from his visit to San Antonio this week, McIlroy said: “I’d say course management is a big thing, you know, not short siding yourself, hitting to the fat of the greens when you need to, giving yourself a bit more margin for errors.”  

Like McIlroy, Clarke – playing on a sponsor’s outing in Texas this week – has also been selective in his tournament outings this season and will also hope that the set-up in this pre-Masters tournament will provide conditions conducive to those in Augusta. 

In contrast, nobody could accuse Harrington of underplaying this season. The Dubliner has played in no fewer than nine events so far this season – taking in the Middle East, Asia and coast-to-coast in the United States – and returns to action in Texas after a week home in Dublin during which he worked on his driving and putting. Harrington’s last outing was a top-six finish in the Malaysian Open a fortnight ago.

Whilst McIlroy, Harrington and Clarke are fine-tuning for Augusta in San Antonio, Graeme McDowell – who has three top-10 finishes so far this season – has opted to focus on preparing away from competitive action. 

Shane Lowry’s failure to break into the world’s top 50 means he is returning home to play in the Spanish Open in a fortnight’s time before flying back stateside to take up an invite to play in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Yesterday was the cut-off for those players in the top 50 of the official world rankings who hadn’t previously qualified for the Masters to claim their ticket and Henrik Stenson’s runner-up finish to Points made him the big winner.