Rory McIlroy resembles a student cramming before a crucial exam.
The test on the horizon for the Northern Irishman, of course, is the first major of the season at Augusta National starting on 11 April. Extra study time has belatedly been pencilled in for the world No2 – at the Texas Open from Thursday.
McIlroy departed Houston in decent spirits after closing with two birdies in a row. An aggregate score of four under par was not sufficient to trouble the leaders but he still accentuated the better aspects. "It has been a good week," said the 23-year-old. "I have a lot of positives to take from it. I have learned a few things as well that I can take into next week. The scores haven't really reflected how I have played.
"It obviously isn't the finish I would have wanted but there are still a lot of things I can take from it. The way I have struck the ball, for the most part, has been really good. My short game has also been a real positive this week. This is a great tournament and I really like the golf course."
The coming week may be a different matter. The TPC San Antonio venue is notoriously tight and blustery, factors which ensure many leading professionals leave it off their schedule before heading for the Masters. McIlroy, however, is undaunted.
"I need to go and just play competitive golf, that is what I am going there for," he explained. "If it was a par three course I would go and play it because that is what I need, competitive golf. I need to commit to targets; it doesn't matter if that is on a short course, a long course, a wide course or whatever. As long as I have a scorecard in my hand, that is what I need.
"The two majors I've won and some of the ones I've played well in, sometimes I played the week before, sometimes I've taken a couple weeks off. I don't think there's any set way to do it. It just depends on how you feel on those given weeks."
McIlroy's season thus far has been dogged by under-performance and missed cuts. He suffered a shock loss to Shane Lowry in the first round of the WGC World Match Play and infamously walked off the course at the Honda Classic, just eight holes into his second round.
There have, therefore, been contributory factors to McIlroy looking slightly undercooked ahead of the season's opening major. "If I had done things differently, I might have played one more event in the Middle East rather than take a four-week break after Abu Dhabi," he said.
"Apart from that, I feel like it has been pretty good. Obviously when you lose in the first round of the World Match Play and play a round and a half at the Honda Classic then all of a sudden you haven't played a lot of golf. If I had played four rounds at the Honda, it would feel very different."
In his final round on Sunday, McIlroy found water at the 3rd, 11th, 12th and 15th holes. It is an indicator of his scrambling skills that only two of those aberrations resulted in bogeys.
"It was good apart from a few mistakes," McIlroy said. "I hit four balls into hazards, which wasn't too good, but apart from that it was reasonably solid. I hit the ball well and I feel like my short game is sharp. So, overall, it wasn't too bad. I just need to cut out the mistakes."
This student is not overly keen on self-assessment. McIlroy was reluctant to offer a percentage as to how strong his game is at present; it clearly peaked in the latter half of last year, when he claimed his second major and won the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic.
"It is hard to say where I am right now; I think how I am striking the ball – how I feel with my swing and my short game is fine," said McIlroy. "But it's a matter of playing. In the summer you have played a lot of golf and you are used to going out there scoring low in rounds. This year, I have only played 13 or 14 competitive rounds. It is not quite there but it is getting close. I'm excited about my game and excited about how I'm hitting the ball."
With Augusta and the Masters drawing ever closer, McIlroy's biggest enemy is time.
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