Rory McIlroy bids for Masters lift-off in Houston

Rory McIlroy will hope he has finally found the secret to successful Masters preparation as he competes in this week’s Shell Houston Open.

Rory McIlroy: Shell Open bid. Picture: Getty

McIlroy has yet to record a top-10 finish in five appearances at Augusta National, his “best” result being joint 15th in 2011, when he led by four shots going into the final round, only to collapse to a closing 80.

On that occasion, the 24-year-old did not play for three weeks before the year’s first major championship, an approach he repeated in 2012 in the belief that he usually performed well when fresh.

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That did not transpire and a finish of 40th at Augusta prompted a rethink, with 2013 seeing the Northern Irishman playing in Houston and at the Valero Texas Open before the Masters.

It looked to be a good idea as McIlroy was only denied victory in Texas by a brilliant closing 63 from Martin Laird but, again, there was to be no green jacket a week later. A third round of 79 was followed by a closing 69, but that was only good enough for a share of 25th.

McIlroy’s most recent appearance saw him finish 25th in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in early March, although he has recorded two runners-up finishes in 2014 – in Abu Dhabi and at the Honda Classic, where he lost out in a play-off.

One good omen for the former world No 1 could be that the last four majors that Tiger Woods missed through injury were all won by Irish golfers.

McIlroy won the 2011 US Open and Darren Clarke took the Open Championship a month later while, in 2008, Padraig Harrington won both the Open and the US PGA Championship.

While neither Laird nor Russell Knox are playing in Houston, eight Scots are in Spain for the inaugural NH Collection Open starting today at La Reserva in Sotogrande.

A dual-ranking event made up of European Tour and Challenge Tour members and with a prize fund of n600,000, it joins the Spanish Open, which will be staged from May 15-18 at PGA Catalunya, on the 2014 schedule.

Richie Ramsay, Scott Jamieson, Marc Warren, Craig Lee, David Drysdale, Peter Whiteford, Chris Doak and Jamie McLeary are all in the field.