SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Rory McIlroy found the groove he was looking for when he made the last-minute decision to sign up for the Texas Open.
McIlroy matched the low round of the day with a 5-under par 67 on Friday and moved within three shots of the lead, continuing his last-minute preparations for next week’s Masters.
The world’s No. 2 golfer, who decided to play in the tournament late last week, had seven birdies — including his final three holes — and overcame a bogey on No. 9 after driving into the rough and catching his left shin on a nearby cactus.
The misstep dropped McIlroy to 1 under, but he rebounded with key putts on the final three holes for birdies and pulled well within reach of the leaders entering the weekend.
The 23-year-old two-time major winner is three shots back of leader Billy Horschel, who birdied his last two holes to post his second straight 4-under 68.
A group of three players — Daniel Summerhays, Charley Hoffman and Steven Bowditch — are two shots back at 6 under, while McIlroy is tied with six others at 5 under.
Thursday’s co-leaders, Matt Bettencourt and Peter Tomasulo, each shot 1-over 73s and fell four shots off the lead.
Bettencourt went as low as 8 under in the surprisingly calm Texas weather on Friday morning before falling back after a stretch of three bogeys in four holes once the wind picked up ever-so slightly.
Summerhays also reached as low as 7 under before falling back with a bogey on No. 9, but it was Horschel who separated himself with his late flurry.
Horschel jumped from 60th to 24th on the money list after a second-place finish at last week’s Houston Open. He closed out Thursday’s round with a birdie, and he one-upped that on Friday — closing with a pair of 11-foot birdie putts on No. 17 and 18 to vault into first.
He needed 28 putts on Friday after taking only 25 a day earlier, but Horschel hit 11 of 14 fairways after hitting only seven a day earlier.
Horschel has made the cut in all nine of the events he’s entered this year, extending his tour-best streak to 21 made cuts in a row, but he has yet to win a PGA Tour event.
Now he faces a leaderboard filled with winning experienced players behind him, including four players — McIlroy, Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen and Lee Janzen — who have combined to win seven majors.
McIlroy is the most recent major winner of the pursuers, having won the PGA Championship last August. However, he’s struggled for much of this year following an equipment change and recently lost his No. 1 ranking to Tiger Woods.
McIlroy has just one top 10 finish this year, and he decided late last week to add the San Antonio stop to his schedule to add competitive rounds prior to next week’s opening major of the year.
It’s a move that appeared questionable after an up-and-down even-par 72 on Thursday, but not anymore after Friday’s scoring binge.
McIlroy still had fits with his driving, hitting only 9 of 14 fairways, but he made lengthy birdie putts on each of his final three holes — including a 26-foot strike on the par-3 16th. He narrowly missed a 24-foot eagle putt in front of a surging gallery on the 18th after reaching the par 5 in two shots.
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