By Doug Ferguson
The Associated Press
HUMBLE, Texas — The putter D.A. Points once took from his mother paid off nicely for him Thursday in the Houston Open.
Points opened with five straight birdies and wound up with an 8-under 64 on a pleasant morning with only moderate wind at Redstone Golf Club. He had a one-shot lead over Cameron Tringale and John Rollins.
Rory McIlroy had to fight hard for a 73.
In his final tournament before the Masters — and his first event since August at No. 2 in the world — McIlroy caught the lip of a bunker and followed with a 5-wood into the water for a double bogey on the par-5 eighth hole that put him at 3-over par. He rallied strong on the back nine with three birdies in a four-hole stretch, only to miss a 7-foot par putt after a flop shot over a wide bunker.
“I felt like on the front nine I was a little tentative,” McIlroy said. “I just tried to commit to myself a little more on the back nine and it seemed to help. If I could have got it back to even par, I would have been pretty happy, but I’m 1-over par and, hopefully, the conditions are a little calmer tomorrow morning.”
Points first borrowed the Ping Anser from his mother during his junior years in Illinois, and like most golfers, he abandoned it once he stopped making putts. But he recently asked Ping to clean it up for him and add some weight. He also got a putting lesson — no, not from Steve Stricker — and he was on his way.
“Maybe I’m an idiot for not having used this putter the whole time,” Points said. “It worked well today.”
Points, whose only win came with actor Bill Murray at his side at the Pebble Beach National Pro-am, made all five of his opening birdies from inside 15 feet. He dropped only one shot along the way.
A mild wind gained strength in the afternoon, and Rollins still managed a 65.
“I knew the conditions were going to be tough out there, knew the greens were fast, so that makes it tough as well,” Rollins said. “I just kept the ball in front of me and gave myself a lot of opportunities and got a solid round out of it.”
Angel Cabrera of Argentina, a two-time major champion who lives in Houston, was in the group at 66.
Phil Mickelson was at 4 under and right in the mix until he hit his tee shot into the water on the sixth hole and made double bogey, nearly hooked a 3-wood into the hazard on the next hole and three-putted for bogey, and then made bogey on the par-3 ninth from a bunker to wind up at 72.
“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.”
Mickelson played with defending champion Hunter Mahan, who didn’t hit the ball his best and it finally caught up with him at the end for a 74. Also in the group was Geoff Ogilvy, who needs to finish in the top 50 in the world to get into the Masters. Ogilvy is currently at No. 50, though he will lose spots through the formula this week. He had three penalty shots in his round of 73.
Lee Westwood hit two shots in the water and still salvaged a bogey and was in the large group at 68 that included Riviera winner John Merrick and Jimmy Walker.
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.
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