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Rory McIlroy back in the birdies in quest for Masters form

By Kevin Garside

San Antonio here we 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 ten. 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. The weekend proved one of few mistakes for Westwood but not quite the birdie rush his approach play demanded. He was 12 under with one to play, four behind leader DA Points, when the weather forced a suspension in play. "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 play well this week and 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.


Marcel 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 was thought to be enough to claim the spot ahead of him.


That would come to pass with Stenson leading in the clubhouse on 15 under when the weather hit, his position in the top ten unassailable and second only to DA Points, who led by one on 16 under with four to play. The German kept his side of the bargain, winning by a three-shot margin to England's David Horsey and Mikko Ilonen of Finland.


"I'm super happy; really proud that I stayed that calm," said Siem, who sought advice from his hero Bernhard Langer before his round. "There was a lot of pressure – Mikko had a great start again – so I'm really happy that I scrambled well and came back nicely. I've never been in that situation so I spoke to Bernhard last night to see if he could give me some advice on how to cope with being four shots in the lead, so thanks Bernhard!"

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