McIlroy Needs Solid Friday to Make Cut in Houston

It's hard to believe that Rory McIlroy has played only nine competitive rounds this year. After beginning the season ranked No. 1 in the world, the 23-year-old Northern Irishman has slipped to second in the standings after Tiger Woods swept past him with already three wins in 2013.

McIlroy's issues have been well documented: signed a $250 million, 10-year contract with Nike; with new equipment promptly goes out and misses the cut in Abu Dhabi; as top overall seed falls to Shane Lowry in first round of WGC-World Match Play; walks off Champion Course at PGA National while 7-over par through eight holes in the second round of the Honda Classic, citing a toothache but later apologizing.

It was only in early March at the WGC-Cadillac Championship that he started coming around, shooting scores of 73, 69 and 71 before closing with an encouraging 65.

Back in competition for the first time since that 7-under Sunday at Doral, McIlroy did not impress Thursday in the Shell Houston Open, carding a 1-over 73, nine strokes behind 18-hole leader, D.A. Points.

In order to get in more rounds before the Masters in two weeks, McIlroy needs to go low enough Friday to make the weekend cut at Redstone Golf Club in Humble, Texas, and that might be difficult.

But, as indicated in his interview after Houston Open's first round, the two-time major champion is hopeful. Here's what McIlroy had to say during that Q&A.

Q. What positives do you take away from today, Rory?

RORY MCILROY: I'm not too sure. I mean, I feel like I hit the ball okay. I think if I just eliminate the stupid mistakes, you know, I made double on a par-5 on the front nine and made a couple of silly bogeys. If I can, you know, just not do that and keep playing the way I'm playing, I feel like I'm playing okay and I feel like there's a few little ones in me.

Q. Last time we saw you competitively was the Sunday 65 in Doral. On Tuesday you said that you had a couple of really good practice sections. How do you feel in practice rounds versus in competitive rounds lately?

RORY MCILROY: I think there's still a little bit of a difference. I think I'm still a little bit tentative on the golf course and not committing to my shots fully, so - but I think that just takes time and hopefully another three rounds this week and some good scores will give me confidence going into the Masters.

Q. 3-over on the front nine, able to get four birdies coming in at least get it back to 1-over. Did something click for you on that back the back nine or at least get things going in the right direction?

RORY MCILROY: I felt like on the front nine I was a little tentative. I made a couple of silly mistakes making double on the par-5 there. I just tried to commit to myself a little more on the back nine and seemed to help. So, a couple of loose shots here and there, but all in all, it was a tricky day, and if I could have got it back to even par, I would have been pretty happy, but I'm 1 over par and hopefully the conditions are a little calmer tomorrow morning and go throughout and make some more birdies.

Q. You said earlier in the week you were pleased with your weekend at Doral, you were pleased with your week of practice, feeling more confident. How much was that confidence put to the test out here?

RORY MCILROY: It is out here because you've got this wind and you've got water basically everywhere you look, so you got to commit to your shots and hit good ones, and I hit the ball - felt like I hit the ball pretty well off the tee. Couple of loose iron shots didn't quite commit to, but as I've said the last few weeks, it's going in the right direction, which is a good thing.

Q. Rory, I really admire the way you fought back on the back nine after a tough start.

RORY MCILROY: Yeah. It wasn't the start that I wanted. I made a couple of quick birdies at the start of the back nine which helped. Made a couple of loose bogeys coming in, but I started to hit the ball - you know, I guess just commit to my shots a bit more on the back nine and that helped, and it's nice to get a couple of shots back and hopefully go out there tomorrow morning and under good conditions and get a few more back.

Q. Maybe the greens will be a little softer. I thought they were pretty firm this afternoon?

RORY MCILROY: They were. They were getting a little crusty. The wind has picked up considerably and they're firm at the start of the week anyway. Maybe a little bit of moisture in the morning and a bit more receptive.

Q. I feel a good start for you coming up.

RORY MCILROY: I hope so. I played okay. I hit the ball better on the back nine, made a few birdies there. Just got off to a pretty slow start, couple of sluggish shots on the front nine which cost me, but, you know, it was nice to get a couple of shots back and hopefully get some good conditions in the morning and make some birdies.

Q. Compared to what you've been playing, how do you view what you did today as of late?

RORY MCILROY: It's been pretty similar. I've been hitting the ball great in practice. Obviously practice and going out here and in competitive rounds is a little bit different. I think I just need rounds just to get a bit more comfortable with what I'm doing, but it's feeling pretty good.

Q. How difficult is 18 with the wind?

RORY MCILROY: It's probably playing as easy as it's going to play all week, I guess, with this wind coming off the right. So you don't - if it's into it, it's a brute of a hole, but when it's downwind, it plays a little easier.

Q. Priority for tomorrow, earlier tee time. Chance to get a low number?

RORY MCILROY: The greens got firm. It will be nice to have maybe the greens to be a bit more receptive and, yeah, I mean, it got pretty windy out there, it got tricky because the wind swirls in this golf course. If it's a little bit calmer, the scoring conditions should be a bit better.

Q. I know you like coming here. How is this as a test?

RORY MCILROY: It's a great test, especially in the afternoon when the greens get firm. You see most of the good scores posted today were in the morning. Hopefully that's the case again tomorrow and we can go out and make some birdies.

Q. You're used to big crowds. This wasn't a bad gallery today.

RORY MCILROY: It was great. It's great. The local community really supports this tournament in Houston, and it's great to see so many people out here.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.