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McIlroy solid as he looks to fill Tiger void

ESPN staff
April 4, 2014 « Groves applies to be his own manager | Test Wayin World Cup »
Rory McIlroy said he was "really pleased" with his opening round of the Houston Open © Getty Images
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Rory McIlroy turned up at the Houston Open claiming he wanted to replace Tiger Woods as the dominant player in golf.

His first audition was, in his own words, "solid, if unspectacular" after an opening round 70 in Texas where many of the world's best are honing their games ahead of next week's Masters.

McIlroy started well, picking up shots at four, six and eight, but a solidarity birdie on the back nine was sandwiched by bogeys at the par-4 11th and par-3 14th.

The 2-under round leaves the world No.7 five shots behind leaders Bill Haas and Charley Hoffman.

'I can fill Tiger void'

  • Rory McIlroy can't remember a time when men's golf has so clearly lacked a dominant figure, or figures, heading into The Masters.
  • Welcome to the Tiger Woods-lite 2014, a year full of those hoping to contend on the PGA Tour rather than one player who expects to win each and every week.
  • So who can replace Woods at the top of the game?
  • "Hopefully me," McIlroy said.
  • Click here to continue reading

"Solid, if unspectacular start here in Houston," he wrote on Twitter. "[I'm] really happy with my form from tee to green. Hole a few more putts and I'll be right there!"

Fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington, who has slipped to world No.164, needs to win in Houston if he is to qualify for Augusta. Failure to do so will see him miss out on a trip to Georgia for the first time since making his debut in 2000.

Harrington carded a 3-under 69, but it could have been so much better after his six birdies were spoiled by a trio of bogeys - largely down to a poor touch on the greens.

Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson did more than prove to just himself that he's ready for The Masters.

The three-time winner of the famous green jacket showed everyone that he's fully recovered from the injury that forced him to withdraw from last week's Texas Open.

Without so much as a practice round this week at the 7,441-yard Golf Club of Houston, Mickelson opened with a 4-under par 68.

The bogey-free performance was a far cry from last week when Mickelson was forced to withdraw during the third round in San Antonio after pulling a muscle in his right side.

"I'm surprised because I was worried about the Masters," Mickelson said. "I was certainly worried about Houston, but it healed a lot quicker. I felt great today; I didn't feel any pain or discomfort and didn't even think about it."

Keegan Bradley and Matt Kuchar lead a group of five golfers one off the pace at 6-under, with 10 golfers a shot further back at 5-under.

Of the 144 players in the field, 113 will head into the second round at even par or under.

Houston Open leaderboard

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