Those out following Rory McIlroy over the front nine on the opening day of the Shell Houston Open could very well have joined in chorus declaring: “Houston, we have a problem!”
But after slumping to three over par over his outward half McIlroy managed to fix the problem and superbly wipe out the bogeys in the first four holes of his homeward nine before eventually signing for a one-over-par 73.
It left McIlroy nine shots behind American leader DA Points, who resurrected a putter he had ‘borrowed’ from his mother when he was 12 and used it on just 23 occasions during his round of 64.
McIlroy had turned down the opportunity to join fellow Irishman Shane Lowry and their manager and respective caddies at Wednesday night’s NBA Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers game and instead he stayed in his hotel room.
But then opening paragraph of the report on the game in Wednesday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle could very well have been the golf lead in today’s edition with the paper reporting: “The Rockets, they were just missing shots.”
That was very much the scenario for McIlroy over his first nine holes on the Redstone course and with his second shot iron play badly hurting the world No 2, who missed the green in regulation for five of the nine outward holes and made the turn sharing 132nd place in the 156-player field.
McIlroy flew the green with his second shot at the second taking bogey and after five straight pars he found a fairway bunker with his drive off the par-five eighth hole but could only manage to advance the ball seven yards. He then put his third into water guarding the green before two-putting for a double bogey seven.
In contrast, playing partners Keegan Bradley and fellow American Dustin Johnson made the turn with respective three-under-par and level-par totals. But to his credit, McIlroy turned around his flagging effort and begun his back nine with one of the best shots of his round, a wedge at the 10th hole from 106 yards to less than a foot for a first birdie.
He then played a wedge to 11 feet at the 12th and holed the birdie putt before two-putting for birdie at the next. While he bogeyed 14, McIlroy recovered the shot when two-putting 15 for birdie.
Lowry hit what he described as his best shot all season to set up birdie at the last in his round of one-under-par 71.
After racing to three under par after just six holes, Lowry absolutely ‘flushed’ a four-iron to six feet at the ninth — his 18th hole — for birdie and a top-50 finish.
It is Lowry’s first appearance in Houston and on a course again set up to help the two dozen odd players, including McIlroy, who will also be competing next fortnight in the season’s first Major.
Lowry was on the leaderboard early at three under par after six holes but faded with bogeys at nine, 12 and 13 before ending with a birdie.
“I got off to a good start and then after dropping a couple mid-round it was nice to birdie the last and get myself back into the red,” said Lowry.
“The bogeys were just bad decisions as opposed to bad shots and on a day with the course playing tough as the wind was swirling a lot.
“But then to finish the way I did was really pleasing as I had 230 yards to the hole off the tee and I said to Dermot [Bray, his caddy] after hitting the ball that that’s the swing that won me Portugal last year.
“It was the best shot I’ve hit in about three or four months.
“But I will need to keep on top of it as I do still feel a bit rusty but overall I am happy to finish one under par.”
Meanwhile, Darren Clarke will join Pádraig Harrington and Lowry in next week’s Valero Texas Open in San Antonio, the last qualifying event for next month’s Masters.
Clarke and Lowry have been afforded invitations to contest the $6.2m event.
The three Irishmen have never contested the event and for Lowry, unless he wins this week in Houston, it will be his Augusta ‘last chance saloon’.
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