Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Rory McIlroy to shake off rust before Masters

San Antonio here I come. After his birdie-birdie finish Rory McIlroy was a happier bunny packing his suitcase for the three-hour drive west along Interstate 10.

The decision to contest the Valero Texas Open this week came late in the day but looks a good one with some rust still to shift ahead of the Masters.

McIlroy continues to make incremental gains towards the formidable peak that took him to the world no.1 ranking before Tiger Woods showed up once more. He claims the issues are more mental than technical, a position substantiated by an improvement in ball-striking if not the stream of birdies that follow when touch is deft.

"There are a lot of positives to take from it. I've learned a few things as well that I can bring into next week and obviously looking ahead to Augusta, too. It's been a productive week," McIlroy said after closing on four under par.

"I think the way I've struck the ball for the most part has been really good. My short game has been sharp. I'm obviously looking forward to getting a few more rounds under my belt going into Augusta."

Following a steady trot through the first seven holes of his final round McIlroy went birdie, birdie to the turn. Successive bogeys at 10 and 11 holed his momentum ensuring there would be no repeat of his final round at the WGC-Cadillac three weeks ago, where he posted a 65 to finish in the top 10.

There was, however, a nifty 20-footer for birdie at the last to help him on his way. Lee Westwood's week took a turn for the better when he finally worked out how to play the par-5s.

Birdies at both long holes on the outward nine, four and eight, took Westwood to the turn on 11 under par. On a packed leaderboard Westwood was one of 12 within three of the lead when he set out for home on the back nine.

The weekend proved one of few mistakes for Westwood but not quite the birdie rush his approach play demanded. The consistency is returning and, slowly, belief with it ahead of the Masters, where his has finished in the top three twice in the past three years.

"The start of the year has been fairly slow. I felt like I've been playing well. It's been trying to convert from the range and the shots, turn them into some low scores this week," Westwood said.

"I have started to do it a little bit more for Augusta. I wanted to get some confidence."

The next step is to follow his fellow contenders over the top in pursuit of the win. There is still a passive quality to Westwood's game that he must shed to contend again at the Masters. Patience is a virtue but not at the expense of risk when the situation demands it.

lMarcel Siem did all he could to achieve his career ambition of a Masters berth with his wire to wire victory in Morocco. Siem started the week in 72nd place in the world rankings knowing a win in the Hassan Trophy was the minimum required to breach the top 50 and gain entry to Augusta. Even then admission would be determined by outcomes in Texas where a top-12 finish by Henrik Stenson would be enough to claim the spot ahead of Siem.

Holder Michael Hoey was in line to finish in a share of 32nd after a closing 70. Hoey fired six birdies but his efforts were hindered by four bogeys. The Belfast man's one-under-par left him 15 shots behind Siem.

lDefending champion Harry Diamond cruised into the last 16 of the 91st West of Ireland Amateur Open at County Sligo.

Diamond enjoyed a 7 and 6 victory over Kilkeel's William Hanna and will play Newlands' Andrew Hogan, who was a 2 and 1 winner over Warrenpoint's Colm Campbell. Irish Boys Close champion Gareth Lappin beat Irish Amateur Open Gavin Moynihan with a birdie at the 19th.

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