“That was the plan this week was to get myself tournament ready,” McIlroy said after a 66 Sunday. “It was a bonus that I got into contention and had a chance to win.
“I think I know now where my game is at, and I'm happy with it. Everything that I wanted to accomplish this week, I accomplished.”
He wasn’t the only one.
Laird’s victory at the Valero Texas Open got him into the Masters and turns around what was a season headed in the wrong direction with missed cuts in half his starts and zero top 25s.
Now he’ll try to become the first player since Phil Mickelson in 2006 and just sixth overall to win the week before and go on to win the Masters. His previous best finish in two trips to Augusta National was a tie for 20th two years ago.
Furyk has had more success at the Masters, twice finishing fourth and four times registering a top 10. Though he’s only truly been in contention once at Augusta National (in 1998 when he trailed by three entering the final round), he’ll arrive with a lot of confidence after his performance in San Antonio.
“Way better,” Furyk said about his chances at the Masters after a final-round 69 that included an eagle on the last hole. “To come in here and finish third and hit a lot of good shots and play well and end on a high note on 18, much, much better.
“I can learn more in two rounds out here than I can in seven days at home without a doubt.”
Padraig Harrington and Charl Schwartzel also have reasons to feel positive.
Though each had varying degrees of sloppiness -- Harrington a second-round 73 with three bogeys on the back nine, and Schwartzel three double bogeys on the card for the week -- each also found at last some rhythm on a tough track, tying for 10th and 22nd, respectively.
Clearly, though, McIlroy gained more than anyone, proving the guy holding the trophy at the end isn’t always the only one to win something.
THE BACK NINE: 9 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. Little things can make a big difference. At least they did for Martin Laird. The Scot was struggling with his confidence and just about everything else in his game after making a coaching change late last year and getting off to a slow start on the West Coast this year. Then he decided to put his old putter -- the one he used to win at Bay Hill in 2011 -- back in his bag. “I got over here (last) Sunday and got some good practice in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday with it and felt a lot more comfortable with that,” Laird said. “I felt like I could see. It sounds simple, but I know where it's lined up easier. It's kind of a comfort thing. I'm confident with where I'm aiming with it as opposed to some of the other (putters) where I was kind of second guessing. It really is as simple as that.” For the week, Laird ranked second in strokes gained-putting and on Sunday he took just 22 total putts, a dozen of which were one-putts.
2. Laird also became the first player since Johnson Wagner in 2008 to earn a trip to the Masters by winning the week before. As for the other five players to win the week before the Masters then capture the Green Jacket, they were: Mickelson (Bell South), Sandy Lyle (Greater Greensboro Open) in 1988, Art Wall (Azalea Open) in 1959, Sam Snead (Greater Greensboro Open) in 1949 and Ralph Guldahl (Greater Greensboro Open) in 1939.
3. For all the doom and gloom over Rory McIlroy’s play this year, his 66 Sunday marked the 11th of 13 rounds of par or better on TOUR this season. By the way, he also tied for first in greens in regulation last week at a shade under 78 percent. “Iron play is good, driving the ball, I didn't quite drive the ball that well (Sunday), but my 3-wood was working pretty good,” he said. “All in all, it's really in a good place, and I'm looking forward to next week.”
4. Earlier, I mentioned five players who gained varying degrees of momentum last week in San Antonio heading into the Masters. Here are three players who gained none (or maybe even lost a little): Ian Poulter, Brandt Snedeker and Ryan Moore. Poulter has shot in the 70s in 11 of his 15 rounds on TOUR this season -- which included middle rounds of 75-74 in San Antonio -- and ranks 100th in birdies and 117th in scoring. Snedeker missed the cut in his two starts at Bay Hill and in Houston after being sidelined for five weeks with a rib injury. Moore, who three years ago tied for 14th at the Masters, missed his last two cuts in Tampa and Orlando and has shot in the 70s his last 10 rounds.
5. Stat of the Week I: This is more of an odd-but-true nugget more than a stat, but Laird became just the third international player since 1970 to win the Valero Texas Open. Adam Scott in 2010 and Nick Price in 1992 were the others.
6. Another odd-but-true item from last week: It marked the first time that Furyk played the week before the Masters, which he has competed in every year but once since 1996.
7. Stat of the Week II: Laird’s victory also stopped the streak of U.S. players winning on TOUR at 16, dating back to Tommy Gainey’s win at last year’s McGladrey Classic. Americans had won the first 14 events of this season.
8. Stat of the Week III: $130 million. The numbers are out and that’s how much was raised for charity from the TOUR and tournaments in 2012, pushing all-time charitable contributions to $1.86 billion.
9. The forecast for the Masters: Mostly sunny with temperatures in the mid-70s, except for Friday, when there’s a 70 percent chance for rain and thunderstorms.