5 Things: McIlroy 'nearly there' after made cut

Rory McIlroy during the second round of the Shell Houston Open.

Rory McIlroy during the second round of the Shell Houston Open.

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After two rounds of the Shell Houston Open, a surprise name sits atop the leaderboard.

Steve Wheatcroft shot 5-under 67 on Friday to enter the weekend at 10 under.

But Wheatcroft wasn’t the only surprise from Friday. Jason Kokrak, D.A. Points and Stewart Cink are all near the top of the leaderboard. Defending FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker missed the cut, as did defending tournament champion Hunter Mahan. Others, like Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, just made it into the weekend.

Here are 5 Things you need to know from Friday’s second round in Houston:

• • •

‘NEARLY THERE’: He’s not in contention, but Rory McIlroy likely found himself some weekend tee times for the first time in a PGA Tour event this season.

McIlroy, now World No. 2, shot 2-under 70 Friday at the Shell Houston Open to enter the weekend at 1 under, nine shots back of leader Steve Wheatcroft, who is 10 under.

“(I feel) a little bit better, but only a little,” McIlroy said. “There were a few swings out there that I wouldn’t mind getting back, but on a whole it was better (than Thursday). I didn’t make as many of the silly mistakes as I did yesterday. . . . But apart from that, it was pretty solid. I was giving myself some chances.

"I felt like I hit a lot of good putts that just didn’t drop.”

McIlroy birdied two par-5s Friday, Nos. 8 and 15, after sticking third shots to inside 5 feet. He also just missed several putts, including a long par putt at the par-4 second for his only bogey of the round. But nine missed fairways, most all of them to the right, is still a sign that McIlroy isn’t 100 percent comfortable with his game.

“Everything is nearly there, it just takes that extra little couple of percent and it’s where I want it to be,” McIlroy said. “But I’ve got another two days here to try and shoot a couple of good scores and hopefully I can do that.”

McIlroy withdrew from the Honda Classic in his only other Tour start. He also was eliminated from the opening round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play. But he shot 65 in the final round at Doral, where there was no cut, to finish T-8 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

His final two rounds in Houston won't be his last competitive rounds before the Masters, though, as McIlroy confirmed after his round that he'll play in next week's Valero Texas Open.

With his game seeming to come around as he enters weekend play in Houston, McIlroy said it’s all about trust right now. And with Augusta on the horizon, McIlroy will need every bit of that old confidence he had acquired after winning two majors if he wants to have a shot at his third major title.

“It’s a volatile sort of thing, you hit a couple good shots in a row and your confidence goes up, and you hit a couple of bad ones and it’s back down again,” McIlroy said. “I think for me it’s just about trusting what I’m doing and knowing that if I trust my swing . . . it’s going to work out for me in the end.”

• • •

HOPEFUL HOOSIER: The Indiana University men’s basketball team might have been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, but it will be a former Hoosier who will enter the weekend with the lead on the PGA Tour.

Steve Wheatcroft, a 35-year-old who Monday qualified for his spot in the Shell Houston Open, fired a second straight 5-under 67 Friday and leads by a shot at 10 under.

“It’s been fun,” Wheatcroft said. “Yesterday was a little stressful. I hit it all over the map, just made a lot of putts. I was very concerned with where the driver was going, (so I) made a couple tweaks late (Thursday) night, was on the range in the dark, found something with the driver and hit it a lot better today.”

Wheatcroft is seeking his first Tour victory in his 79th career start. He has five career top-25s on Tour, having made just 28 cuts, including seven in 22 starts in 2012.

He’s playing in his first Tour event of 2013, having already posted two top-25s on the Web.com Tour this season.

Wheatcroft, historically better with the short game, credits his improved play to some swing changes he made last year with a new swing coach.

“I knew I needed to make a change to get to the next level, knew I needed to be a better ball-striker,” Wheatcroft said.

Through two rounds in Houston, that hard work looks to be paying off.

• • •

END OF EARLY-SEASON STRUGGLES? Jason Kokrak and D.A. Points haven't had the kind of starts to the season that they were hoping for.

Kokrak has four missed cuts, a WD and a 79th-place finish in his last six starts while Points has missed seven of nine cuts and hasn't finished better than T-63 in 2013.

But through two rounds of the Shell Houston Open, Kokrak and Points find themselves tied for second at 9 under, one shot back of leader Steve Wheatcroft. Kokrak carded a 3-under 69 on Friday, making five birdies and a double bogey. Points fired a second-round 71, a round that included a birdie and 17 pars.

Between the two, they have recorded 23 birdies. And both are trying to end their early-season struggles this week in Houston.

• • •

IN-CINK: It's been a while since Stewart Cink has won an official PGA Tour event. That last win, well, it came at a major championship: the 2009 Open Championship.

But lately, Cink has been known less for his six Tour wins, including one major, and more for his name being featured in the latest Golf Boys video.

But with a Friday-best, 6-under 66 in Houston, Cink is trying to regain his old form and notch his first victory in nearly four years. He's tied for fourth with Brian Davis at 7 under.

Cink, who has not made a bogey through two rounds in Houston, entered this week No. 79 in the FedEx Cup standings. He has made four straight cuts, though, after missing three of his first four to start the season.

He finished T-10 at Humana and T-14 at Tampa Bay, so he has been in contention a few times already this season. He'll look to close the deal this time around in Texas.

• • •

SHORT SHOTS: Defending Houston champion Hunter Mahan shot 1-under 71 on Friday, but missed the cut at 1 over. . . . Speaking of former champions, Phil Mickelson shot 1-under 71 and was set to just make the cut at 1 under. The 2011 winner of this event, Mickelson started his second round off slow, going 1 over on the front nine. He made double bogey at the par-4 fifth for the second straight day. But three straight birdies, coming on Nos. 11-13, helped Mickelson rally for an under-par score. "It could've been a lot lower," Mickelson said. . . . Dustin Johnson, who won the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions but has since failed to record a top-10 finish, shot 2-under 70 and heads into the weekend at 5 under.

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