5 Things: McIlroy climbs, Horschel leads in Texas
SAN ANTONIO – A week ago, Rory McIlroy was an eleventh-hour entry into the Valero Texas Open. He came for more reps and is guaranteed at least two more this weekend by shooting a 5-under 67 in the second round. He also jumped into contention and trails 36-hole leader Billy Horschel by three strokes. Here are 5 Things You Need to Know:
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1. RORY AND HIS REPS: After stringing together three straight birdies to finish his round of 67 at TPC San Antonio's AT&T Oaks course, McIlroy wasted no time confirming the obvious: He’s pretty happy with his decision to add the Valero Texas Open to his pre-Masters schedule.
McIlroy said he could feel his game rounding into form during a Thursday night range session at Doral, and has made steady progress ever since.
“It was getting there,” he said. “Then I feel like what I found yesterday on the range was good, and I was able to bring it straight on the course today, which is a great thing.”
McIlroy, who has hit 78 percent of his greens in regulation, took advantage of mild conditions and put himself in contention for the first time this season.
“It will be nice to be in the mix,” he said.
Color 19-year-old fellow competitor Jordan Spieth duly impressed.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t bet against him next week,” Spieth said of McIlroy’s chances at Augusta.
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2. HORSCHEL ON TOP: Billy Horschel entered the media center and began by apologizing.
“Sorry I had to ruin everyone’s story,” he said after two late birdies vaulted him into sole possession of the 36-hole.
No need to apologize about shooting 68 to grab a two-stroke lead. Especially when you rally from an early 2-over start.
Horschel, who is seeking his first PGA Tour win and a berth in next week’s Masters, is building on last week’s runner-up finish at the Shell Houston Open. He said he learned to play with more of a tunnel vision, which included ignoring the cheering of the crowd and other distractions such as scoreboard watching.
“I actually watched the coverage (of the Shell Houston Open) Sunday night after the tournament, and if I would have looked at the leaderboard, I can guarantee I would not have played well,” he said. “Because when I saw everyone making birdies and the leaderboard fluctuating a lot, there was no chance I could have put that out of my mind…I’m just going to keep on doing it.”
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3. FURYK GOES VIRTUALLY COLD TURKEY: Excuse Jim Furyk if he felt like a rookie on Thursday. The 42-year-old former U.S. Open winner had never seen the TPC San Antonio AT&T Oaks course before and played only four holes during Wednesday’s pro-am before weather halted play.
Asked if he remembered the last time he went into a tournament cold turkey, Furyk answered, “ Never.”
Furyk paused and reconsidered. “You know what, that’s not true. I played Riviera as a rookie (in 1994) and Monday qualified because I wasn’t in. The Monday qualifier got rained out, qualified on a Tuesday,” he said. “I had to run out to the 11th tee and play eight holes, and I had to walk the front nine with a friend in the pro-am just to kind of see it.”
No matter. Furyk opened 3-under through three holes Thursday and followed up Thursday’s 69 with a second-round 70.
One day after Furyk dropped his gap wedge in favor of a second driver, he returned to a traditional bag lineup. But he still expressed interest in using two drivers next week at the Masters.
“I’m still getting used to it a bit,” Furyk said of using a second driver. “I’m still ‘fighting the lefts.’ That’s my concern right now. I think I have another 10-15 yards in there that could come in handy at Augusta.”
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4. GOOSEN FEELING GOOD AGAIN: There are eight South Africans in the field at next week’s Masters. That list doesn’t include Retief Goosen. Shocking, right?
But he’s making a valiant bid to earn the final ticket to Augusta. Goosen is 5 under and three strokes behind at the halfway point.
More importantly for Goosen is that he’s healthy again after having back surgery late last year.
“It was a big decision,” Goosen said. “Surgery is the last thing. But at the end, I just couldn’t play golf anymore. If the surgery didn’t work, I still couldn’t play.”
Goosen waited four months before hitting balls again. He said his back feels better than it has during the last five years.
“I’ve probably hit more balls in the last month than I’ve hit the whole last two years,” he said. “So I’m slowly working my way up.”
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SHORT SHOTS: Jordan Spieth posted a 4-over 76 and missed the cut. He blamed a balky putter. “I just feel like my little sister over there could have putted for me and shot a better round,” said Spieth, who finished 150th out of 152 players in the strokes gained-putting statistic in the second round. . . . K.J. Choi (T-5 at 5-under 139) hired caddie Alistair “Squirrel” Matheson, who worked for Geoff Ogilvy for 13 years before this season. . . . Steven Bowditch (T-2 at 6-under 138) has only one career top-10 finish on the Tour. . . . Daniel Summerhays (T-2) leads the field in total birdies, with 13 through two rounds. Two years ago, he shot 83-74-MC at AT&T Oaks. . . . Scott McCarron, who is playing on a medical extension, missed his 10th cut in a row dating to the 2011 McGladrey Classic. . . . Defending champion Ben Curtis finished on the cut at 1-over 145 and is among 81 golfers at 1 over or better.