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.