HUMBLE, Texas – When last we checked in on the text message chronicles of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, the older swoosh brother was one up on his lil’ buddy in the banter ballgame. That’s one as in the world ranking status he swiped from him just a few days ago and one as in the number of fingers he suggested Rory remove from a certain body part in order to help him climb back into the winner’s circle this week.
Following opening rounds of 73-70 at the Shell Houston Open, McIlroy may want to use that finger to dial his friend’s number and ask for a little advice.
No, not advice on reclaiming that No. 1 ranking. Or hitting those new Nike sticks farther and straighter and closer to the hole. Or even playing high-pressure golf under the watchful eyes of the world.
McIlroy has either figured all of that out already or will sometime in the near future. What he needs advice on is his compression – and it has nothing to do with his swing.
As much as Woods has mastered the art of the game, he’s equally adept when it comes to summarizing his feelings in the most concise manner possible. Just take a look at Rory’s comments following a second round during which he flirted with the cut line and it’s easy to see how Tiger would have translated these thoughts.
Rory: “It was OK. It was definitely more consistent today than yesterday. Wasn't many birdies, but I gave myself quite a few chances. All in all, it was OK. It could have been a couple better, but, you know, it was an improvement on yesterday.”
Tiger translation: “It’s a process.”
Rory: “It was a little better. I think there was a lot more consistency in it, wasn't as many loose shots in there and hitting more greens, giving myself plenty of chances for birdies. I actually putted pretty well. A few that didn't drop for me. All in all, it was an improvement on yesterday, which is the main thing.”
Tiger translation: “I’m close.”
Rory: “No one likes missing cuts and especially it's my last one before the Masters. Nice to have another couple of rounds, do some work on the range this afternoon and hopefully improve on the course that I've already done.”
Tiger translation: “It is what it is.”
Except when it isn’t.
While McIlroy maintained minutes after his Friday round that this would be his last event prior to the year’s first major championship, he threw an 11th-hour curveball late in the afternoon, committing to next week’s Valero Texas Open.
It will mark his first time competing in the event, but directly addresses criticism he’s received for playing such a sporadic schedule so far this season. Assuming he completes two more rounds here in Houston, that still means just 12½ competitive rounds through the first three months of the year.
They’ve hardly all been beauties, either. In his previous four starts, McIlroy missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, lost in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and withdrew halfway through the Honda Classic second round before finally posting a T-8 at Doral two weeks ago.
Committing to next week’s field in San Antonio serves as an admission that his game isn’t where it needs to be heading into Augusta National, which shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise based on those results. While his short game looked Masters-ready during much of Friday’s round, McIlroy was forced to shout, “Fore right!” more times than he’d like to remember.
“He was just a bit rusty off the tee,” his longtime instructor Michael Bannon explained. “He’s just not releasing the club.”
While Bannon didn’t appear too concerned with his pupil’s play, the decision to squeeze in another tournament tells us there is discomfort somewhere in Camp McIlroy.
Tiger translation: “I need more reps.”
Even when Woods wasn’t winning seemingly every other tournament start, his insistence that he didn’t need more time between the ropes was rarely countered by a decision to add appearances to his schedule.
While Rory could take some advice from Tiger right now, idle promises to play more golf wouldn’t be on that list. He obviously feels right now like he needs more reps in order to fine-tune his game before Augusta. Now he’ll get them next week.