Twelve holes into his Shell Houston Open third round, Rory McIlroy had cause to wonder whether he had done the right thing by entering next week's PGA Tour event in San Antonio.
At that stage, McIlroy sat five under par for this tournament and, suddenly, found himself in with a strong chance of actually winning it. Were he to do that, it would surely make a mockery of the general assumption – also held by the man himself – that McIlroy needs more competitive action before the Masters.
How golf can so rapidly change. McIlroy three-putted from just 5ft on the 13th, in dropping a shot which was compounded by another bogey one hole later. On the 18th, McIlroy pulled his tee shot into water, ensuring he had played the closing six holes in three over par.
Still, McIlroy took solace from a second under-par round in succession, this time of 71, and what he believes is a gradual movement back towards form which is representative of his talent.
"I am very happy with the signs," McIlroy said. "I had a putt on the 13th green to go five under for the day, it wasn't to be and I made a couple of silly errors coming in. But with a bit more play, one more round here and hopefully four next week, I will be ready. If I get those stupid errors off my card, I will be OK."
McIlroy explained the thinking behind his late entry for the Valero Texas Open. "It was my caddie, JP [Fitzgerald] who mentioned it to me after my round on Friday," he added.
"I had some lunch, thought about it, and texted him to say I didn't think that was a bad idea. I've got to do what is best for me and what's best for me is playing over the next two weeks.
"I just feel like I am playing well, hitting the ball well, everything feels good in my game and it is just about getting a bit more competitive golf. I need to get a little bit sharper, I still feel a little rusty out there. I think the more rounds I play, the better it will be for me going into Augusta."
McIlroy will therefore delay his planned second trip to earthquake- ravaged Haiti in order to prepare instead for San Antonio. McIlroy had been due in Haiti on Monday and Tuesday.
He added: "I had to make a few tough phone calls on Friday night. It was one of the first things I thought about. But Unicef were great about it. I am a big supporter of what they do all over the world and hopefully I will be able to make it up to them."
McIlroy's extended stay in Texas does carry potential hazards, however. The course at TPC San Antonio is notoriously fiddly and tight, with strong winds routinely providing a backdrop.
Phil Mickelson has expressed his frustration at the spot the Texas Open has on the PGA Tour rota. Mickelson pointed to "not really having tournaments conducive to getting ready for these [major] events."
It is open to question, then, what benefits this specific venue will offer a player immediately prior to the Masters. If they are seeking regular rhythm in a swing, as McIlroy presently is, there is the prospect of wind having a detrimental effect. But there will be some familiar faces, at least, in the form of Shane Lowry, Ian Poulter, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington.
The summit of the Houston Open leaderboard now has a more familiar appearance than was the case at close of play on Thursday and Friday. Stewart Cink and Bill Haas lead the way at 11 under with a tightly-bunched group of experienced players in pursuit; Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Keegan Bradley and Angel Cabrera are all within two shots of the lead.
"The start of the year has been fairly slow," admitted Westwood after his 67. "I felt like I've been playing well, it has been about trying to convert from the range and the shots, turn them into some low scores this week.
"I was much more solid today. I played the par fives in three under par; on the first day I was one over. You can't afford to do that.
"Today, it was obviously a lot better. I'll shoot lower scores if I start playing the par-fives better. Wherever I am, I'll be pleased and be in good shape for the Masters in two weeks' time."
Mickelson was similarly content with his own 67, albeit he lies five shots from the leaders. "My game is starting to feel really good," he said.
"I'm looking forward to tomorrow's round because each day I feel like my game has become better and better. My touch on the green is a lot better and I have got a low round in me tomorrow."
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