Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have knocked their Augusta practice round on the head to avoid a Masters stampede
The Holywood teenager, 19, has sparked “McIlroy Mania” with US golf fans after Woods tipped him as a future world No 1.
But their planned Augusta practice round won't happen now with the pair deciding that the fan mania they would cause would be a massive headache ahead of the season's opening major.
As a wayward Padraig Harrington's blew his chances of victory in the Shell Houston Open- running up eight penalty shots during the week as he closed with a 77 - McIlroy bogeyed the last but signed for a fine 69 to finish tied for 19th on five-under.
Explaining the Woods decision, McIlroy said: “It’s just not going to happen. If I played with him there’d be too much going on.
“It’s extra stuff that Tiger doesn’t really want to deal with either. It’s just extra stress you don’t want.”
Woods’ pal Mark O’Meara offered to play a practice round with McIlroy at Augusta after watching the Ulster sensation blast a sensational 64 on his way to victory in the Dubai Desert Classic.
The 1998 Open and Masters champion usually plays with Woods early in the week at Augusta and promised he’d do his best to organise a dawn three-ball with the world No 1 this week.
But McIlroy’s profile has rocketed in the US following his run to the quarter-finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play and top finishes in the Honda Classic and the CA Championship at Doral.
The mop-topped youngster was plastered across the front cover of Sports Illustrated’s Masters issue with a punk rock, spiky hairstyle.
And that’s because Woods recently hailed McIlroy as his "hair apparent", insisting: “He has all of the components to be the best player in the world, there's no doubt. It's just a matter of time and experience.”
McIlroy still hopes to tee it up with O’Meara and Ernie Els before his Augusta debut and confessed that used the Shell Houston Open as a chance to try out his tactics.
He said: “I played to my spots, I wasn’t aiming at pins all the time, which is what you need to do at Augusta. I plotted it around.”
Despite a bogey at the last, McIlroy was happy with his Masters build up and planned to fly down to Augusta on Els' private jet.
"I was trying to make it a bogey free round but a 69 is a nice way to end the week,” McIlroy said after going 67-73-74-69.
“I struggled the middle two rounds but I did a bit of work on Saturday and this morning, and I’ve ended the week on a good note going into Augusta.
“I’m now definitely looking forward to heading to Augusta and I can’t wait.”
McIlroy was heading straight for the Houston airport but intends taking Monday morning off before heading down to Augusta National later in the day.
“The good part of my game is my scoring and I’m able to get the ball up-and-down, and taking my chances when they present themselves,” he said.
“I’m just getting the most out of my game and I could probably hit it a little better but I have three days to work on that."
Harrington was just two shots off the lead with a round to play, completing the last five holes of his delayed third round in one-under for a 68 that left him tied for ninth on nine under.
He birdied the first to get to within a shot of the sextet of leaders - Paul Casey, Fred Couples, Geoff Ogilvy, Ryan Moore, Bo Van Pelt and Colt Knost - but unravelled by playing the last 14 holes in six over par.
His driving cost him dear in the opening round, where he had three penalty shots after visiting four hazards off the tee. But he took that tally to eight for the week as he hit just four fairways in the final round.Wayward tee shots led to bogeys at the fifth, sixth and 11th before he dropped another shot after pushing his drive into the lake at the 12th.
He then took three to get down from the back of the par-three 14th, missing a five footer for par and while he birdied the par-five 15th, he had to chip in to limit the damage to a double bogey six at the last after two visits to the water hazard.
In the drink off the tee, he hit his third shot wide of the bunkers on the right and chipped into the lake before chipping in from 40 feet for his six.
“The 18th was a tough tee shot today and I hit it into the water and it’s never nice to take a six but then it was nice to chip-in and get a cheer,” he said.
“I definitely let it slip mentally today and it was obviousl I got frustrated but it was a tough day today and I do need to be a little bit more patient next week.”