Rory McIlroy played himself into title contention at the Valero Texas Open and was relishing the opportunity to push for victory this weekend.
The world No.2’s mission for this tournament was to play himself into form ahead of the Masters, and Friday’s five-under-par 67 indicated he is back in the old groove, albeit with the new clubs he’s been using since signing a £150 million deal with Nike.
The lowest round of the day briefly lifted McIlroy to one shot off the lead, which stood at six under, before late finisher Billy Horschel made back-to-back birdies at 17 and 18 to reach eight under after 36 holes.
But McIlroy, three shots back heading into the weekend in a six-player tie for fourth, was just delighted to be back near the top of a leaderboard, having struggled this season.
He has seemed to have a hard time adapting to new clubs, and the form which brought him five wins in 2012, including a second major at the US PGA Championship, has been largely absent.
But in San Antonio his fortunes might be on the turn, with McIlroy now hunting a trophy ahead of this week’s major at Augusta.
“I’m looking forward to getting into contention. I haven’t really been in contention this year and it’ll be nice to get in the mix,” the Northern Irishman said. “I want to play well and know if I play well I’ll have a great chance to win.”
He said of his second round: “I knew the conditions were good and you had to take advantage of it. I played solid, I drove the ball well, hit quite a lot of greens, and made some nice putts coming in.
“It gets me in a good position going into the weekend. American Horschel leads from compatriots Charley Hoffman and Daniel Summerhays and Australian Steven Bowditch, all on six under.
As McIlroy ascended the leaderboard, he passed Padraig Harrington going the other way, but the Dubliner recovered to a 73 and a healthier three under.
Scotland’s Martin Laird was also three under after a 71, with Englishmen Brian Davis and David Lynn steady on two under after their respective rounds of 72 and 70. Ireland’s Shane Lowry also carded a 72 to be two under through 36 holes.
Ian Poulter and Charl Schwartzel just made the cut at one over after shooting rounds of 75 and 73 respectively.