Rory McIlroy tunes up for Masters at Valero; others aim for win, invitation

There are two types of golfers in the field for the Valero Texas Open: those who are already assured of a tee time at next week’s Masters, and those who must win this week to earn their invitation.

Rory McIlroy falls into the first camp, of course. Not only is the Northern Irishman the highest-ranked player in the world who will tee off Thursday at TPC San Antonio, he shoulders the added pressure of preparing for the Masters — the only prize missing from a career Grand Slam — as his major championship drought approaches 10 years.

“Good golf at Augusta feels like boring golf and I think that’s something that I’ve always struggled with because that’s not my game,” McIlroy, ranked No. 2, said Wednesday. “To me, it’s the biggest test of discipline and the biggest test of patience of the year for me.”

While he won the Dubai Desert Classic in January, McIlroy has yet to place better than T19 in five starts on the PGA Tour in 2024.

McIlroy has played the week before the Masters five other times in his career. His best showing was a second-place finish at the 2013 Valero Texas Open.

“If I realized anything over the last few years, it’s (that) I definitely play my best golf in runs, so this is the first of probably a four-week stretch for me,” McIlroy said.

“It’s nice to try to play my way into form … obviously with the main focus being getting myself ready for the Masters next week.”

McIlroy is one of 30 players in San Antonio tuning up for the Masters. That list also features top-10 golfers Brian Harman, Max Homa and Ludvig Aberg of Sweden; two-time Texas Open champion Corey Conners of Canada; and past Masters winners such as Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, Zach Johnson and Australia’s Adam Scott.

A green jacket may be the ultimate prize, but Scott, for one, isn’t coming to the 7,438-yard, par-72 Oaks Course just to duff it around.

“As much as we all think about next week, I’m here, I want a good result,” Scott said. “I’d like to win a trophy, that’s still what I’m trying to do out here. It’s been a long time since I have lifted a trophy.”

While the Collin Morikawas and Jordan Spieths of the world try to find better form for Augusta, the other 126 players on the property know what a victory on Sunday would unlock for them.

Conners knows the feeling well. Before he won here in 2023, his breakthrough actually came in 2019 when he Monday-qualified into the field and proceeded to win his first PGA Tour title.

“I think guys who don’t have an opportunity in the (Masters) field, there’s a bright light at the end of the tunnel here,” Conners said. “If you win like I did in ’19, you punch a ticket to Augusta. I think some guys are motivated, sort of the last chance to get in the field there.”

And that opportunity exists for more than just the youngsters on tour. Veteran Billy Horschel is in danger of missing the Masters — he’s made the cut there four years running — in part because of a poor 2022-23 season.

“I’m not happy that I’m not in Augusta or any of the majors as we sit here right now, but listen, it’s my own fault,” Horschel said.

“I didn’t play well last year, but the great thing is this game of golf gives you opportunities to correct that wrong and I’m trying the best I can right now to make up for a bad year last year and get myself back to where I feel like I deserve to be in the game of golf or (where) I want to be in the game of golf.”

–Field Level Media