Bannon and Stockton happy with McIlroy

The two people that know Rory McIlroy best, long-time coach Michael Bannon and Dave Stockton feel the 23-year-old is in flying form ahead of next month’s Masters.

Bannon and Stockton walked side-by-side with the world number two during yesterday’s 9-hole shortened Shell Houston Open Pro-Am.

McIlroy led a star-studded four-man side of former NFL Dallas Cowboys running back, Emmit Smith, former US Secretary of State, James Baker, NASCAR team owner, Roger Penske and Marvin Odum, the President of Shell.

And while Smith managed to outdrive McIlroy off the forward tees on a number of occasions, McIlroy’s game looked extremely sound on the eve of the $6.2m (e4.8m) event.

“Rory’s game is all good,” said Bannon.

“The main problem was the back swing and that’s fixed so it’s all good stuff for this week and for the Masters.

“His 67 on the final day of Doral clearly showed that Rory’s game was coming together as he played very well.

“And with Augusta now just two weeks away I am very pleased where his game is and this tournament here in Houston will bed in more what we’ve been doing.

“But if you look back on the history of Rory’s swing this move from going outside to inside wasn’t really typical of him so his takeaway now is more on plane.”

Stockton had walked 18 holes with McIlroy of the Redstone course a day earlier and he echoed Bannon’s sentiments.

And at times, Stockton was spotted walking with either one of McIlroy’s wedges under his arm or his putter

“All parts of Rory’s game are good, and the irons and the woods are good while his putting is fine, too,” said Stockton.

“It’s now all a matter of hopefully building on how well he played at Doral as his last round was a great, positive final day’s play.

“I saw Rory this new season at the Match-Play and the first thing that struck me was how good he was hitting all his new clubs.

“Everyone was blaming Nike and stuff after he was beaten by Shane (Lowry) but I never believed that.

“I’ve seen him hitting the clubs a lot now and the clubs look really good so I was surprised he had the trouble he had.”

McIlroy also won a vote of approval from the 43-year-old Smith who played in three winning Superbowl’s during the 1990s.

“I’m having a blast playing alongside Rory,” said Smith.

“He’s a great young man and it’s just amazing to watch him swing a golf club because he’s just a kid, weighing something like 145 lbs and he’s just smoking it.

“I’ve enjoyed following his career from afar and watched him rise up through the ranks and become the man he is right now, and have the success he’s had and to be alongside him playing today is amazing for me.”

The 83-year-old Baker is a Houston native and Secretary of State in fellow Texan George W Bush’s administration.

Baker, who plays off a handicap of 23, was also full of praise for McIlroy.

“I’ve just loved playing today with Rory and he’s a terrific young kid,” said Baker.

“I played last year with Freddie Couples and he was fabulous and to play with Rory also great, and I just hope he wins this tournament.”

If McIlroy does win in the Lone Star State he will return to world number one.

While McIlroy is making a third appearance in the event, Shane Lowry is making his debut and competing on a sponsor’s invitation, as well as being afforded an invitation to contest next week’s Valero Texas Open in San Antonio.

However it was not to Monday night Lowry was reunited with his missing golf clubs.

“It seems that everytime I travel through London my clubs go missing, so I will have to try an avoid going through London,” he said.

“As for the golf course it’s great and it’s probably the best groomed golf course I’ve played.

“The greens are very quick and it’s nice to have my clubs to play the course after the drama of them going astray for a few days.”

McIlroy will tee-up in the company of Keegan Bradley and Dustin Johnson at 12.50pm local time (5.50pm Irish) while Lowry joins American Ben Kohles and Korean D.H. Lee at 9.10am (2.10pm Irish).

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