Rory McIlroy will jet into San Antonio today for a first visit to ‘The Alamo’ city in nine years.
It will be the first of two weeks where a victory prize is also an item of much sought-after clothing, with the Valero Texas Open winner being fitted with a stylish pair of cowboy boots and I don’t need to remind you what the winner a week later in Augusta also slips into.
We’ve known since early last month that McIlroy will tee up on the Greg Norman-designed The Oaks course at TPC San Antonio, with the new World No. 9 looking to celebrate the 100thanniversary of the first hosting of the Texas event with PGA Tour victory No. 21.
McIlroy had been a regular for many years at the Shell Houston Open when the event was being staged the week prior to the Masters. Organizers in Houston would strive to set the course up as best they could to mirror Augusta National-like conditions. The Tour players responded by turning up, and then at the tournament end, United Airlines arranged a one-way flight direct from the nearby Houston International Airport to Augusta, GA. It meant getting into Augusta late on Sunday night but it avoided the hassle of the other 364 days a year in having to travel via Atlanta, a two-hour drive away.
It was the only time a year such a flight was on the US radar system, and there would be players, caddies, officials, and two or three media, including myself on a few occasions. A regular passenger would be the late Doug Sanders, who passed away in his beloved city of Houston two years on the Tuesday following next week’s Masters.
The Houston Open, apart from one year, hosted the event the week prior to the Masters from 2007 to 2018. However, when Shell ended its sponsorship, the event moved to October and that is where it is now on the schedule.
And that one year the event was not played in the week prior to The Masters was 2013, with the Valero Texas Open proud to host the last event before players headed east to Augusta.
Mcllroy was making his Texas Open debut in 2013 and attracted enormous attention as he was the reigning PGA Champion, one of five victories in season 2012 that also included the European Tour season-ending DP World Tour Championship. Though McIlroy did not count on Scotland’s Martin Laird shooting the lights out with a blistering final round 63 to capture a third Tour title and also become the first player since Johnson Wagner to earn the final spot into the Masters by virtue of his win at the 2008 Shell Houston Open.
Laird followed up a par on the first hole with consecutive birdies and could not be stopped ahead of finishing his round with three straight birdies.
McIlroy finished 12-under for the tournament after shooting a six-under 66 on Sunday to come in two shots back of Laird. That 2013 last round proved to be the lowest-scoring day of the tournament at the TPC San Antonio. After three days of four-under 68’s leading the way with the occasional 67, everyone went low on Sunday. In addition to Laird’s 63 and McIlroy’s 66, Peter Hanson also shot a 66, while Jimmy Walker shot a 67, and everyone except for overnight leader Billy Horschel in the top 14 shot at least two-under.
It was very late on that Sunday night that Laird found his way to Augusta, and actually made his way to the house being rented by fellow Scot and Masters champ, Sandy Lyle who put Laird up for the night until he could move into a rented house of his own.
McIlroy joined Laird in Augusta ahead of finishing T25th in his then-fifth Masters’ showing.
In 2014, the Shell Houston Open was back on the Tour schedule the week prior to The Masters and McIlroy finished T7th before heading to Augusta and a finish in a share of eighth place. It’s the last time McIlroy has teed up in a Tour event the week prior to a Masters.
McIlroy is in San Antonio not just to be fitted with a unique pair of Valero Texas Open cowboy boots but to get his game in shape to win a maiden Masters, and join just five other players as a member of the most exclusive club in all of golf.
McIlroy will be speaking to the media on Wednesday, though there’s one person pretty chuffed to have McIlroy in the field this week and that’s Larson Segerdahl, Executive Director of the Texas Open, who said: “We are thrilled to welcome Rory back and excited for the fans as another extremely popular player adds his name to the field. Rory’s presence will certainly help elevate the stature of our 100th Anniversary Tournament this year.”
Joining McIlroy in the field in San Antonio will be reigning champion Jordan Spieth – who will be looking to become the first back-to-back champion since US Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson in 2008 and 2009
Defending Masters champ, Hideki Matsuyama, who finished tied 30th in last year’s Valero Texas Open before taking the green jacket a week later at Augusta, will try and repeat that formula this year.
And to celebrate the tournament’s centenary, a number of former champions will be appearing, including Deane Beman (1969), Ben Crenshaw (1973 & 1986), Hale Irwin (1977), Lee Trevino (1980), and Tom Watson (1987).
Now a good question to ask McIlroy, what is his shoe size, and what size jacket does he wear?