Rory McIlroy tried hard to sound enthusiastic about his battling 73 in Texas but it far from a vintage day for seven Irishmen who did battle on both sides of the Atlantic yesterday.
Shane Lowry had a great round going but let it slip before a birdie at the last gave him a one under 71 in the Shell Houston Open, where McIlroy fought back from three over after eight to give himself a chance of playing two more rounds before the Masters.
Admitting he was tentative and lacking in a touch of confidence given that it was just his ninth competitive round this season, McIlroy said: “I fought back well, I kept in good spirits which was the main thing.
“I didn’t get too down on myself. I made a few quick birdies to get back to even par. It would have been great to finish at even par but one over still means I made a couple of shots back.
“With not playing in a couple of weeks, I had to feel my way back into it again. But I started committing to shots more on the back nine and started to hit some good shots there.
“Everything feels pretty good, the greens just got firm and the wind got up. Most of the good scores today were in the morning.”
Needing at least a share of third place to break into the top 50 in the world who qualify for the Masters on Sunday night, Lowry got off to a brilliant start when he raced to three under par through six holes.
However, he dropped three shots in a five hole stretch mid-round and had to hit a brilliant tee shot to seven feet at the 229 yard ninth to dip under par, finishing the day tied for 43rd and seven shots off the lead.
DA Points carded an eight under 64 to lead by one from Cameron Tringale and John Rollins with Lee Westwood putting brilliant for a 68 as Phil Mickelson dropped four shots in his last five holes for a 72.
That was one better than world No 2 McIlroy, who bogeyed the second and then racked up a double bogey seven at the eighth to slip to three over.
However, the 23-year old showed signs that his game is not that far away when he hit approaches close at the 10th and 12th for birdies and two putted the par-five 13th to get back to level before mixing two bogeys with a birdie over his last five holes.
“I have learnt over the past few weeks that I have got to keep my spirits up. There is no point getting too down on yourself. I felt like I was doing that a bit too much at the world matchplay and at the Honda, and you saw what happened there. I should smile and enjoy what I am doing out there.
“I think I am driving the ball well. Once I commit to my iron shots they are fine, my wedge play has been sharp. And I feel like I am putting well, it is just about hitting greens to give myself chances. I came up and out of a couple of iron shots today, which is what made them go to the right.
“It’s about hitting more good shots, getting confidence from that and making the whole thing more free-flowing. It is still not quite as free-flowing as I usually am because I am working on a few things and getting into a few bad habits. But it feels more natural now than it has done for the last few weeks.”
If it was a battle for McIlroy, it was even tougher for the Irish quintet in action in the Trophée Hassan II in Morocco, where Marcel Siem shot an unbelievably impressive, eight under 64 to keep alive his chances of grabbing the win he needs to join McIlroy at Augusta National.
On a day of swirling gusting winds, afternoon starter Siem had the better side of the draw, but his performance was still out of the top drawer as he enjoyed ‘one of those days’ by holing out three times from off the green.
The best of those shots, a perfect five iron that found the bottom of the cup on the par four third hole of the Golf du Palais Royal in Agadir, set him up for a truly amazing finish as he chipped in on the 17th for eagle and then on the last for birdie to take a three shot lead over Spain’s Alvaro Velasco who did not finish his first round due to fading light.
Despite a frustrating bogey at the 18th, Q-School graduate David Higgins was the best of the Irish with a one over 73 as defending champion Michael Hoey battled back from three over after seven holes to post a 74 that left him tied for 49th.
Peter Lawrie was level par with nine holes to play but dropped four shots on the front nine before a birdie at the ninth gave him a 75 that left him just inside the projected cut mark.
As for Gareth Maybin and Damien McGrane, the season will be a long one given their form so far this year.
Maybin, 106th in the Race to Dubai, had two double bogeys in his last four holes for a seven over 79 while McGrane, who is 116th in the money list, failed to make a birdie in a disappointing 80.
Three Englishmen – 2011 champion David Horsey, Greame Storm and Simon Wakefield – share third spot on four under, with Finland’s Miko Ilonen, Scotland’s Craig Lee and England’s Gary Lockerbie a further shot back.
But the day belonged to Siem, who kept alive his dream of playing in the first Major of the season with an outstanding performance aided by the kind of luck you need to win at the highest level.
“I have had a few crazy ones, like 64s with ten or 11 birdies and then a triple bogey or something like that but never one where I chipped in for eagle and then birdie on the last two holes,” smiled Siem.
“Sometimes you need a bit of luck in this game and thankfully today was one of those days where it went my way.”
Trophée Hassan II
64 M Siem (Ger);
67 A Velasco (Esp);
68 D Horsey (Eng); S Wakefield (Eng); G Storm (Eng);
69 M Ilonen (Fin); C Lee (Sco); G Lockerbie (Eng);
70 J Luiten (Ned); G Havret (Fra);
71 D Howell (Eng); J Quesne (Fra); S Arnold (Aus); J Walters (RSA); A Hartø (Den); P Waring (Eng); R McEvoy (Eng); K Kyung-Nam (Kor);
72 P Larrazábal (Esp); C Lloyd (Eng); S Henry (Sco); B Wiesberger (Aut); A Tadini (Ita); D Popovic (Aus); M Baldwin (Eng); J Lara (Esp); M Southgate (Eng); J Campillo (Esp); M Lampert (Ger);
73 D Higgins (Irl); A Marshall (Eng); G Mulroy (RSA); M Lundberg (Swe); R Davies (Wal); C Paisley (Eng); O Fisher (Eng); B Rumford (Aus); F Molinari (Ita); E De La Riva (Esp); E Porter (Aus); A Levy (Fra); J Parry (Eng); R Rock (Eng); J Hansen (Den); B Ritthammer (Ger); A Cañizares (Esp);
74 D Drysdale (Sco); M Hoey (Nir); G Murray (Sco); E Kofstad (Nor); J Morrison (Eng); L Slattery (Eng); L Gagli (Ita); S Dodd (Wal); R Ramsay (Sco); E Grillo (Arg); S Webster (Eng); J Lagergren (Swe); R Cabrera-Bello (Esp);
75 R Green (Aus); P Lawrie (Irl); M Wiegele (Aut); S Gallacher (Sco); A Snobeck (Fra); C Cévaër (Fra); D Gaunt (Aus); L Jensen (Den); T Fleetwood (Eng); T Levet (Fra); F Andersson Hed (Swe);
76 R Jacquelin (Fra); K Broberg (Swe); J Busby (Eng); S Little (Eng); J Edfors (Swe); S Hansen (Den); R Coles (Eng); A Kaleka (Fra); G Cambis (Fra); A Quiros (Esp); M Korhonen (Fin); P Erofejeff (Fin);
77 S Jamieson (Sco); K Horne (RSA); Y El Hassani (Mar); R Wattel (Fra); R Bland (Eng); M Lafeber (Ned); I Garrido (Esp); J Elson (Eng);
78 B Dredge (Wal); A Sullivan (Eng); A Joudar (Mar); C Del Moral (Esp); R Derksen (Ned); T Van Der Walt (RSA); J Sjöholm (Swe); S Kjeldsen (Den); M Zions (Aus); M Madsen (Den);
79 S Walker (Eng); C Doak (Sco); P Price (Wal); A Forsyth (Sco); F Aguilar (Chi); G Orr (Sco); G Maybin (Nir); J Olazábal (Esp);
80 S Benson (Eng); F Serghini (Mar); P Hedblom (Swe); D McGrane (Irl); E Pepperell (Eng); O Floren (Swe); M Jonzon (Swe); M Tullo (Chi); M Carlsson (Swe);
81 E Molinari (Ita); E Goya (Arg); B Åkesson (Swe); N Fasth (Swe); P Whiteford (Sco);
82 M Foster (Eng); M Crespi (Ita); M El Maouas (am) (Mar);
83 G Bourdy (Fra); J Gonnet (Fra); M Glauert (Ger);
84 G Boyd (Eng); M Nixon (Eng); C Yuan (am) (Chn);
85 M Kieffer (Ger); C Macaulay (Sco); O Wilson (Eng);