By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A line of thunderstorms spanning as far north as Kentucky and as far south as southern Louisiana is barreling toward Augusta National. The expected arrival time: Approximately 4 p.m. ET.
In the meantime, here's a look at a few afternoon groups to keep an eye on as they'll try to get in as much golf as they can before the heavy stuff hits.
Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Angel Cabrera, 12:57 p.m.: Scott has fared well here the last couple of years, tying for eighth in 2012 and second in 2011. The latter was Scott's best finish in a major at the time, and he held the lead by himself while playing the 71st hole. Then Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to win by two. Garcia, meanwhile, famously said a year ago here that he doesn't think he will ever win a major. He's softened his stance since, but he has just two career top 10s here, the last of which came in 2004 when he tied for fourth. Cabrera has won a major -- three of them -- including this one in 2009.
Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, 1:30 p.m.: It's not a driver, it's not quite a 3-wood, it's a Phrankenwood. Mickelson never disappoints when he comes here, one way or the other, and this year is no different with a special club in his bag that's part driver, part 3-wood. He's also won here three times before. Oosthuizen lost to Bubba Watson in a playoff here last year, and he comes in off a 10th-place finish in Houston. He's also played well on the European Tour, winning the Volvo Champions in January.
Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, Freddie Jacobson, 1:41 p.m.: Bradley has been a popular pick in various Masters pools in the press room and with good reason. Bradley, who two years ago won his first major at the PGA Championship, arrives here off four straight top 10s, including a tie for fourth at PGA National and a tie for third at Bay Hill. McIlroy, on the other hand, has had his ups-and-downs but seems to be trending in the right direction after a 65 at Doral and a runner-up in San Antonio.
McIlroy arrived at Augusta National off a runner-up last week in San Antonio. (Ehrmann/Getty Images)
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- When Rory McIlroy played his first Masters four years ago, Augusta National took some getting used to.
"It took me a while to get comfortable taking a divot," he joked, referencing the pristine conditions here.
This year, it has taken McIlroy a while to get comfortable with his swing.
After missing the cut in Abu Dhabi, being bounced in the first round of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship and walking off the golf course midway through The Honda Classic -- criticism and scrutiny abounding over his change in equipment, toothache and suddenly fragile psyche -- McIlroy's confidence hit rock bottom.
But after some hard work on the range with his coach, a final-round 65 at Doral and a runner-up in San Antonio two weeks later, McIlroy arrives at the year's first major in a different frame of mind.
"I got a lot out of last week, and obviously bringing a nice bit of confidence here this week," McIlroy said Tuesday. "Last week wasn't about the golf swing. It was just about getting competitive play. I felt like I accomplished that.
"Doral was the place where I felt like I turned the corner in terms of my golf swing."
Further proof came at TPC San Antonio, where McIlroy led the field in greens in regulation.
After signing a lucrative endorsement deal and switching to Nike clubs in the offseason -- a move he wanted to make in one step rather than multiple ones -- McIlroy is also finally settled in with his equipment, particularly the driver.
"I'm 100 percent there," he said. "I feel they are a part of me now."
Now he hopes to make a Green Jacket part of his resume.
Two years ago, McIlroy entered the final round here with a four-stroke lead only to implode on Sunday and shoot 80. Last year, he struggled on the weekend, shooting 77-76 to tie for 40th.
In four appearances here, McIlroy's best result was his tie for 15th in 2011. But there are no demons McIlroy said, only one goal.
"Would anything less than a win be a disappointment this week?," he said. Yeah, it would be. Every time you come here you're wanting to win that Green Jacket, and every time that you don't, it's another chance missed."
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Caroline Wozniacki will caddie for boyfriend Rory McIlroy in the Masters' annual Par-3 Contest on Wednesday.
Asked over Twitter this past weekend by Thorbjorn Olesen if she was caddieing for McIlroy, Wozniacki replied, in part, "Yeah, I am! Gonna be fun!"
McIlroy confirmed she'll be on the bag as well, joking he might add a couple of bricks to the bag.
This is the first time Wozniacki has attended the Masters.
McIlroy arrives at Augusta National off his best finish of the year, a runner-up at the Valero Texas Open.
Rory McIlroy made a run on Sunday but couldn't catch a red-hot Marin Laird. (Dykes/Getty Images)
By Tim Price, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
SAN ANTONIO -- It got a bit shaky at times this week for Rory McIlroy, but he accomplished what he wanted by coming to the Valero Texas Open in an effort to get ready to tee it up at the Masters in four days.
“Everything I wanted to accomplish this week, I accomplished,” McIlroy said after a final-round 66 at TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks Course. “I’m very happy that I’m going into next week with my game in good shape and my confidence level pretty high.”
It would have gotten even better if not for Martin Laird. McIlroy had an eight-birdie, two-bogey performance to finish at 12-under for the tournament. But Laird recovered mightily from an 11-month slump and fired a course-record-tying 63 to beat McIlroy by two shots.
The 66 has to be considered even better than the final-round 65 McIlroy shot at Trump Doral to finish eighth at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. TPC San Antonio was a brutal test conducted in winds that consistently blew in the 20-25 mph range.
He increased his number of competitive rounds this year from nine to 13. His solo second is his best finish this year and best since winning the BMW Championship in the FedExCup Playoffs.
But current form isn't always the best indicator for McIlroy. He went into the Masters last year off top-three finishes in each of his three events leading up to Augusta, including the win at The Honda. But he also took three weeks off prior to The Masters.
“I thought if I got to 12-under that it might have been good enough today,” McIlroy said. “But Martin played just too good and holed so many putts. It was hard to keep up.”
Putting, in fact, will be the thing McIlroy must improve between now and his first green at Augusta. He was first in greens hit this week (almost 78 percent hit in regulation), was ranked 15th in total driving, yet he failed to crack the top 60 in putting. It could have been worse if not for his 26 putts on Sunday, his best by three putts. There were two days he had more than 30 putts.
“I think it’s just about getting my short game as sharp as possible around there,” McIlroy said. “I think everything else is pretty good. Iron play is good. Driving the ball -- I didn’t quite drive the ball that well today but my 3-wood was working pretty good.”
McIlroy uncorked a 3-wood 325 yards at the downwind 15th, then made a mistake that probably cost him one last shot at catching Laird. With 125 yards in, he pushed his approach right, flirted with the deep bunker and had to chip from about 20 feet. He ran it past and made a good four-footer coming back to save par.
He birdied 16 with a 13-foot putt, but Laird was able to match everything in the group ahead.
By Tim Price, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
SAN ANTONIO -- If Rory McIlroy didn’t look out of place preparing for The Masters by coming to the Valero Texas Open while Tiger Woods stayed at his Florida home and Phil Mickelson settled for his trip to Houston, McIlroy sure looked like a bumbling tourist when he walked up the ninth fairway at TPC San Antonio to find an errant tee shot.
McIlroy tried to step over a cactus and got a lesson that South Texas cactus might be smaller than the ones that spike up through the Arizona desert, but they bite just as hard.
“I shouldn’t have been there anyways, so I guess it was deserved, getting a -- whatever it was -- off the cactus,” McIlroy said.
They call those things a needle. But McIlroy wasn’t at a loss for words to describe what he did over the final three holes at the AT&T Oaks Course to finish a round of 67 that has him at 5-under for the tournament, three shots back of Billy Horschel.
It was useful, certainly, after McIlroy took a swing thought from the range after his play yesterday to not bring the club back so much to the inside. He said it might be that one thing that clicks for the rest of the week and into next at Augusta.
McIlroy sank a 26-foot putt for birdie at No. 16, made a 12-footer for another one at 17 and reached the difficult 588-yard, par-5 18th in two after a 350-yard drive before watching a 25-foot eagle putt slide just by to put the cap on the 67 that puts him right back in the mix at the VTO.
“I definitely feel like I made the right decision to come here, and even if I hadn’t been in this position and have been a few shots back I’d still feel the same way,” McIlroy said. “I haven’t really been in contention this year. So it will be nice to get into the mix.”
Starting five shots back at even par, McIlroy was plodding along a front nine that is playing more than a half-stroke more difficult than the back when his driver at No. 9 sailed left. He advanced well enough to be close to the sharply elevated green so he could chip up, but the lack of green to work with left him with a long par putt he could not save.
It got quiet after a birdie at 11 sent him back to 2-under and gave him a safe cushion of making the cut (the number was projecting 1-over at the time), but the tee shot at the 16th (playing 166 yards today) was close to pin high and gave him a rather flat look that he converted.
He’s one of the few to hit 18 in two, and he was the first this week to hit the par-5, 592-yard eighth with a 325-yard tee shot and an approach of about 270 yards in that ended up 12 feet from the hole (he missed the eagle).
“I think that shows where my game is,” McIlroy said. “Those two par 5s are probably the toughest to hit in two with how small the greens are. It shows that my ball-striking is there. If I can keep hitting shots like that into par 5s, I’ll be doing OK.”
It would work at Augusta, for sure.
By PGATOUR.COM Staff
The second round of the Valero Texas Open is winding down and there are currently 81 players at 1-over or better at TPC San Antonio.
Among them is Rory McIlroy, who added this event to his schedule to get more practice in before next week’s Masters. McIlroy is 2 under through 14 and is in pursuit of his first sub-70 round in his last six.
In the clubhouse and sitting a little closer to the projected cut line are Charl Schwartzel (+1), Ian Poulter (+1) and Shell Houston Open champion D.A. Points (+1). Defending Valero champ Ben Curtis is on the course at 1-over with four holes to play.
Among those currently on the course with ground to gain are Gary Woodland (+2/14), Scott Brown (+2/15), Cameron Tringale (+3/16) and Robert Karlsson (+3/10).
A number of notables have already completed their rounds and will not be around for the weekend at TPC San Antonio. That group includes David Toms (+8), Vaughn Taylor (+6) and Jonathan Byrd (+3).
John Daly, Chez Reavie, Nick O’Hern and 1997 champion Tim Herron are all in the clubhouse at 2-over and will have to hope a number of player fall back and allow them to move inside the top 70 and ties.
By Tim Price, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
SAN ANTONIO -- When he came to the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio, Rory McIlroy knew he wouldn’t dominate a layout that has been second-toughest on the PGA TOUR in most measures the past two years.
Red numbers at the Valero Texas Open would not be the indicator for the readiness of his game heading into the Masters next week. But limiting the bad mistakes that could derail a round was the goal.
Thumbs down, so far, after McIlroy let a good round get away with three straight bogeys as he made the turn during his even-par round of 72.
“I started off well -- got it to 2 under -- then I threw in those silly mistakes I was talking about trying to eliminate,” McIlroy said. “Made two bogeys on the par 5s and made a bogey with a wedge in my hands.”
After he got too much air underneath an approach out of the fairway from 128 yards out on No. 18 (his ninth hole), his ball precariously cleared the creek in front of the green and tumbled back to the water. He was able to drop on the green side of the hazard, but he was chipping for par.
The bogey zapped his momentum. A hole earlier he hit his driver to the front edge of the green 334 yards away and lipped out for eagle. His birdie had him at -under after eight holes.
After the bogey on the next, McIlroy turned downwind from the 25 mph gusts for the next four holes, yet he bogeyed No.1 when his wedge approach from 149 yards settled on the back edge. He failed to get up and down from inside 30 feet.
It was worse on the next hole, 595 yards and straight away. After a 316-yard drive down the gut and with a chance to reach the green, he pushed it right into the rough. From 58 yards away, he failed to get it back on the fairway and couldn’t convert what spiraled into a scrambling par attempt.
Earlier in the round he reached the 561-yard, downwind 14th with a 317-yard drive and 236-yarder drilled in to the accessible front pin to inside 20 feet but missed the eagle.
With the wind continuing to blow this afternoon, it’s likely that 72 will be well within the cut line. So if he takes the track of limiting mistakes, he should be OK for getting more competitive repetitions past the second round and have more preparations for Augusta.
“It’s hard to make birdies out there, especially when the conditions are like they are today,” McIlroy said. “I need to limit those mistakes, definitely more mental mistakes than physical. Just stop doing them. I don’t know; it’s hard to explain. It comes with play. That‘s why I‘m here this week.”
By Tim Price, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
SAN ANTONIO -- Thunder rumbled overhead as Rory McIlroy came off the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio on Wednesday.
McIlroy came to the Valero Texas Open to find his groove, yet he cannot lose the questions over the current state of his less-than-No. 1-in-the-world game.
“I feel like I’m hitting the ball very similarly to the way I was last year,” McIlroy patiently said. “It’s just when you’re out there and in competitive runs, you’re limiting the silly mistakes. It’s the sort of stuff you get when you play week in and week out. That’s what I’m trying to get by playing here.”
Even though most of the pro-am rounds had at least a portion washed out Wednesday -- McIlroy had five holes left when the bad-weather horn blew -- the field appears to be headed for an on-time start for Thursday’s opening round.
McIlroy will go off with ninth-ranked Matt Kuchar, the highest ranked player in the field next to world No. 2 McIlroy, and a player whose star appears to be rising as McIlroy’s did a few years back -- 19-year-old rookie Jordan Spieth.
“I’m surprised I wasn’t paired with some better players,” Spieth said, dryly. “(McIlroy) is only a few years older than me and, obviously, accomplished so much. I look up to him as a player and a person. Hopefully I can test my game against his.”
But perhaps it’s McIlroy whose game is more in need of a test since winning the PGA Championship in August. His highlight this year, not counting the lucrative endorsement deal with Nike, is something McIlroy refers to with tongue-in-cheek.
“People don’t remember that I shot 65 at Doral to finish eighth (in the WGC-Cadillac Championship),” he said. “People don’t remember that stuff, but they remember the wins.”
So far this year people remember McIlroy has a missed a cut at Abu Dhabi, walked off the course as a defending champion at PGA National and lost in the first-round of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. And it doesn’t sound like McIlroy is worried about doing anything memorable in San Antonio. Winning is not critical to him, until next week.
Most of his performance stats look encouraging, and all he needs to do to compete next week is fine-tune everything. He’s first in driving distance, which never hurts at Augusta, but 160th in accuracy at 53.17 percent (Tiger Woods, though, has won three tournaments this year hitting 55.8 percent of his fairways). He’s eighth in eagles average (encouraging coming into Augusta’s reachable par 5s) and first in sand saves. He’s in the top 40 in strokes gained-putting, too.
What does that leave to work on in San Antonio?
“Course management,” McIlroy said. “Putting the ball in play. Leaving my ball on the right side of the pins when I’m going for greens, and if I miss greens to get it up and down. I feel like all the components are there. It’s just a matter of putting them all together.”
Driving accuracy might hurt him at the mostly tight AT&T Oaks but isn't as big of a concern when he gets to Augusta.
“Augusta is a little more generous off the tee than it is here, but in a way that’s a good thing,” he said. “That means I’ll step up on some tees next week and I’ll feel like they’re a little wider than they were this week.”
There may be some thunder rumbling, may be some rain, from McIlroy’s game this week. But he said he won’t fret it until the green jacket is on the line.