Rory McIlroy needs good round to make cut in Houston

Rory McIlroy was asked what positive signs he took from his first round at the Houston Open.

"I'm not too sure," McIlroy said.

McIlroy opened with a 73 on Thursday, and is in danger of missing the cut in his last start before the Masters.

D.A. Points shot an 8-under 64 to take a one-stroke lead over Cameron Tringale and afternoon starter John Rollins. Angel Cabrera and Jason Kokrak were two shots back.

McIlroy, meanwhile, seems to be grasping for the form that catapulted him to No. 1 in the world last year.

"I'm still a little bit tentative on the golf course and not committing to my shots fully," McIlroy said. "But I think that just takes time and hopefully, another three rounds this week and some good scores will give me confidence going into the Masters."

He has to make it to the weekend here first.

McIlroy is off to a shaky start since he signed a new equipment deal with Nike in the offseason. He missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, lost in the first round of the Match Play Championship and walked off the course in frustration in the second round of the Honda Classic.

He saw progress when he tied for eighth at Doral, but was disappointed after his up-and-down start in Houston. McIlroy hit only eight of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens in regulation. He made three bogeys and dunked his approach to the par-5 8th in the water and took a double.

"It wasn't the start I wanted," McIlroy said.

Points, though, couldn't have dreamed of a better one. He opened with five straight birdies, holed a bunker shot for another one and finished with his best round of the year.

Trying to change his luck after only two made cuts this year, Points dug into his mother's golf bag and pulled out the old putter that used to help him win in his junior days.

After Thursday, he's wondering why he ever stopped playing with it. He holed birdie putts of 54 and 36 feet Thursday and needed only 23 putts in his round.

"Maybe I'm an idiot for not having used this putter the whole time," Points said. "It worked well today."

The bunker shot was a bonus, following an errant 8-iron off the tee at the par-3 7th.

"I was like, 'I can't hit it any better than that,'" he said. "Then, for it to actually do what you imagined it to do and then to go in on top of that is just — it's luck, to be honest."

The wind picked up in the afternoon, and Rollins thinks he may get a jump on the field with an early start on Friday.

"Obviously, the greens are going to be really fresh, at least the first nine holes, for sure," he said. "But having a 7:30 (a.m.) tee time, there may not be much wind, perfect conditions. We'll see what happens."

Phil Mickelson settled for a 72 after going 4-under through his first 13 holes. He hit a tee shot into the water, leading to a double bogey, three-putted the next hole for a bogey, and then hit a tee shot into the bunker on the par-3 ninth to drop another shot.

"It was a disappointing finish," Mickelson said. "I feel really good with the putter, and I believe that as the tournament goes on, I'll get better."

Defending champion Hunter Mahan played with Mickelson and shot a 74. Former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, currently ranked No. 50 in the world, rounded out the group and shot a 73. Ogilvy must be in the top 50 by the end of the weekend to qualify for the Masters.

Lee Westwood shot a 68, despite making bogeys on two par 5s. Charles Howell III had a 69 in his bid to get into his hometown major at Augusta National. Howell would need to finish at least in fourth place alone to have any chance of moving into the top 50.

Mickelson, the 2011 champion, returned to Houston even though it falls two weeks before the Masters this year. The tournament was the run-up event to the Masters from 2007-12.

This is only the second time in the last 15 years that Mickelson won't be playing the week immediately before Augusta. Lefty also plans to skip the week before the U.S. Open.

"It's a very unusual situation for me here," he said. "I usually like to play the week before. I'm going to have to learn how to do that, now that we're not really having tournaments conducive to getting ready for those events. This is a good opportunity for me to work on getting prepared properly in another spot outside of a tournament."