Sunday, May 20, 2018

McIlroy headlines Houston Open

.fast facts

This week on major tours

PGA: Houston Open, Redstone Golf Club, Humble, Texas. TV: Today-Friday, 4 p.m., Golf Channel. Saturday-Sunday, 1 p.m., Golf Channel; 3 p.m., Ch. 8.

Europe: Trophy Hassan II, Golf du Palais Royale, Agadir, Morocco. TV: Today-Friday, 9:30 a.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m., Golf Channel.

HUMBLE, Texas — Once the frost thawed, Rory McIlroy was back at work Wednesday morning trying to find a swing he could trust and repeat.

McIlroy hasn't looked anything like the world's No. 1-ranked player this year, and now he's not. That spot belongs to Tiger Woods again after he won Monday for the third time in two months at the Arnold Palmer Invitational to establish himself as the favorite going into the Masters.

None of this bothers McIlroy.

He is most concerned with the path of his swing. He still hasn't made the cut against a full field this year. That makes the PGA Tour's Houston Open, which begins today, more than just a final tuneup for the Masters in two weeks. It's a place to measure progress.

"I want to get back to getting into contention in tournaments and trying to win," McIlroy said. "I think this is a good week to … have a chance."

McIlroy is part of a strong field at the Houston Open, which tries to give players a taste of what they might see at the year's first major. The greens are fast and pure, with closely mown collection areas that allow for a variety of shots around the green.

The Houston Open thought it was getting the No. 1 player when McIlroy signed up in January. It still has five of the top 10, including Steve Stricker, Brandt Snedeker and Louis Oosthuizen.

And it has Phil Mickelson, who likes Houston so much, he would rather play this tournament than adhere to his usual schedule of playing the week before the Masters. Because the Masters is a week later than usual based on the calendar — it always ends on the second Sunday of April — the Texas Open was given the spot a week before Augusta.

That change worked out well for McIlroy, who wants to be in Augusta the weekend before the Masters.

Under more scrutiny than he ever had faced — a new place in the game, a new equipment deal with Nike — McIlroy tripped badly coming out of the blocks. He missed the cut in the European Tour's HSBC Golf Championship in January. He lost in the first round of the World Golf Championships' Match Play Championship last month. His frustration boiled over when he walked out in the second round of the Honda Classic on March 1.

Optimism came from this month's World Golf Championships Cadillac Championship, an event with no cut. McIlroy broke par for the first time this year and closed with 65 to crack the top 10. Then he took off two more weeks, spending part of that time with tennis-playing girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki in Key Biscayne and hitting balls at Miami Municipal Golf Course.

"We go through highs and lows. It's just sport," McIlroy said Tuesday. "I guess you've just got to … be patient and know that you're working on right things."