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Originally published Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 9:24 PM

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McIlroy still looking for optimism in game

The march to the Masters for Rory McIlroy looks more like a crawl. McIlroy only had four birdie putts on the front nine, none closer than...

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HUMBLE, Texas — The march to the Masters for Rory McIlroy looks more like a crawl.

McIlroy only had four birdie putts on the front nine, none closer than 20 feet. He took two chips to reach the second green. He found the water on the third-easiest hole at Redstone Golf Club and made double bogey. What he salvaged Thursday in the Houston Open was a 73, along with some optimism.

"I think 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."

D.A. Points, using an old putter he once took from his mother, opened with five straight birdies on his way to an 8-under 64, giving him a one-shot lead over Cameron Tringale and John Rollins. Also coming to life was Angel Cabrera, the Argentine with two majors. He had a 66.

McIlroy, playing in the afternoon when the wind kicked up, was happy just to stay in range. Right when it looked as if the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland was headed for a big number, he rattled off three quick birdies and got it back to even par before he failed to convert a superb flop shot into par.

"I fought back well. I didn't get too down on myself," McIlroy said. "It would have been great to finish even par, but I made a couple of shots back, so that's not too bad."

Even so, the Houston Open is his final stop before the Masters, and it's not as if McIlroy has loads of rounds behind him. Thursday was only the ninth round he has completed in five tournaments this year. And he no longer has the No. 1 ranking, taken back by Tiger Woods last week at Bay Hill.

The first step is making the cut at Redstone and seeing more good shots.

"My swing is not as free flowing because I'm working on a few things and getting into a couple of bad habits," McIlroy said. "But it's definitely feeling more natural than it has been the last few weeks."

Points, like most golfers, abandoned his old putter years ago once he stopped making putts.

"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.

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.

Kyle Stanley of Gig Harbor and former Husky Rickard H. Lee also shot 72s. Former Husky Troy Kelly had a 73. Michael Putnam of University Place shot a 75.

Other tournament

Marcel Siem of Germany had two eagles and shot an 8-under 64 to take a three-stroke lead after the first round of the Trophy Hassan II in Agadir, Morocco.

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