SIMON LEWIS: ‘Rusty’ McIlroy needs action

Rory McIlroy is in San Antonio, Texas, this week.

Nothing unusual about being at the latest PGA Tour stop, of course, except he should have been heading to Haiti on another one of his much-lauded humanitarian visits on behalf of Unicef.

This is not a criticism of turning his back on Haiti, McIlroy will visit the poverty-stricken earthquakle-devastated Caribbean nation again soon enough, just as he did before winning the US Open in 2011. But with a week to go until the first major of the year, the recently-deposed world number one’s meticulously planned Masters preparation has been thrown into a heap.

Instead of heading to Haiti, McIlroy will tee it up at the Valero Texas Open, the final tournament before the action ramps up a notch and the world’s best golfers make their entrance along Magnolia Drive to Augusta National.

Plenty of players, of course, choose to warm up for the majors by competing the week before. Others steer clear of their contemporaries, keep their heads down and prepare in solitude. It is down to personal preference and both approaches have paid dividends.

Either way, though, they have been planned months in advance by players and their closest advisers.

McIlroy, too, will have made his mind up on this year’s schedule some time over the winter and you can only suppose there are serious concerns about his readiness for the Masters to prompt an abrupt change in plans.

Despite a light playing schedule to this point, and deeply disappointing scores, all the noises coming out of Camp McIlroy have been that the Holywood golfer is not at all concerned by the teething problems accompanying his switch to Nike clubs and the swing fixes worked on with coach Michael Bannon.

“Rory’s game is all good,” Bannon last week prior to the Shell Houston Open, and before McIlroy scraped into the weekend and finished tied for 45th.

It was McIlroy’s opening rounds of 73-70 that prompted caddie J.P. Fitzgerald to suggest the change of heart and, according to reports, the boss considered the idea over lunch on Friday and decided to follow the advice.

“I ended up thinking, OK, let’s just do for these next couple of weeks what’s best for me,” McIlroy said. “What’s best for me right now is competitive golf and playing rounds.”

His fear that he is undercooked heading to Augusta seems perfectly justified. Sunday’s final-round 70 in Houston was just his 12th competitive round of the year, including his first-round matchplay defeat to Shane Lowry.

“Everything feels good in my game,” he said on Saturday. “It’s just about playing a bit more competitive golf and just getting a little sharper. I just feel a little rusty out there, at times.

“The more golf you play, I guess, the more savvy you become. I think it’s a good decision. I’m looking forward to getting a few more rounds under our belt going into Augusta.”

The concern is that McIlroy repeats the pattern established by a similar decision last season when after two missed cuts he snuck the St. Jude Classic into his schedule a week ahead of his US Open title defence and tied for seventh, only to miss the cut at the following week’s major.

Fitzgerald oncourse to fulfil pro dream

You may recall the story, told in this column last month, of Andrew Fitzgerald, the Cork golfer who emigrated to California recently and is following his dream to enter the professional ranks.

Having held his own in three PGA Tour qualifiers since arriving in San Diego and having quit his day job in the drinks industry, the day is fast approaching when Fitzgerald has the chance to take a giant leap forward in that quest as he heads to Morongo Golf Club in Beaumont, California, on Sunday to begin practice for next week’s Canadian Tour qualifying.

The former Monkstown member will tee it up alongside 299 other golfers battling for the 40 tour cards that could lead eventually to the riches of the PGA Tour and he heads to northern California in high spirits for the four-round, no-cut Q-school over two courses starting next Tuesday.

“Practice and playing going well,” says Fitzgerald, who has already scouted out both the Legends and the Champions courses on which two rounds each will be played.

“Both courses are quite long with a lot of fairway bunkers and accuracy off the tee is a premium.

“The greens are big and undulating so being decisive with putting is the key. I was up there twice and played rounds on each of the courses.

“I felt very comfortable with each of the courses and it suits me off the tee. The courses really are all about positioning your ball off the tee and as the majority of the greens are elevated, it’s crucial to pick the right iron and yardage.”

Fitzgerald is certainly bringing a professional approach to his tilt at Q-school, and is confident in his ability to convert strong practice into his best tournament play.

“I feel good about my game, I have become stronger and fitter in the past six months. Having played the three PGA Qualifiers, I know I can compete.

“I’m very excited about the week and also that my wife Jane will be there to share it with me.”

There will also be plenty of support from afar, Fitzgerald’s last appearance on these pages bringing plenty of reminders from home that he may be thousands of miles away but his progress is still at the forefront of many friends.

“I got so many text messages and e-mails of support and good luck, that it is a bit overwhelming,” he said. “The members of Monkstown never surprise me, with the support they have for me and, needless to say, my mum and dad back in Cork are very proud.”

Rising starlet Meadow takes her career to the next level

Andrew Fitzgerald isn’t the only Irish golfer branching out on America’s west coast this weekend. Portrush’s Steph Meadow, British women’s amateur champion, participates in her first professional major at the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco Championship in Rancho Mirage. Meadow, 21, enjoyed a stellar year in 2012, winning the Ladies British Open Amateur Championship at Carnoustie in June and clinching the winning point for GB & Ireland at the Curtis Cup at Nairn&. Now in her third year at University of Alabama, world number 11 Meadow is in rich form on the US collegiate circuit. We wish her well.

Glum Dufner brings so much cheer

It seems the whole world of golf has taken to Dufnering, the act of replicating the irrepressible Jason Dufner’s morose, Eeyore-like pose with only a wall propping him up, whilst visiting an American school classroom’s reading corner.

A US website published the extremely amusing picture last week, thankfully bringing the world of the laidback and likeable Dufner to a much wider audience and Twitter soon went into a frenzy of Dufnering, spearheaded by Keegan Bradley. It did not take long for Rory McIlroy to get in on the act and in the interests of raising spirits this column suggests everybody should give it a go. Never has the act of looking so glum brought so much cheer. Long live the Dufner!

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