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April 7 2013

7:35 PM

Putting key for McIlroy going forward


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.

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