Rory McIlroy didn’t anticipate an encounter with the native plant life when he signed up for the Texas Open.
Despite just such a happening on Friday, the world’s No. 2 golfer matched the low round of the day with a 5-under par 67 and moved within three shots of leader Billy Horschel, continuing his last-minute preparations for next week’s Masters.
McIlroy, who decided to play in the tournament late last week, had seven birdies — including his final three holes — and overcame a bogey on No. 9 after driving into the rough and catching his left shin on a nearby cactus.
The misstep dropped McIlroy to 1 under, but he rebounded with key putts on the final three holes for birdies and pulled well within reach of the leaders entering the weekend.
“It was a good way to finish,” McIlroy said. “It will definitely make dinner taste a little nicer tonight and give me a couple of more hours in bed tomorrow morning.”
The 23-year-old two-time major winner is three shots back of Horschel, who birdied his last two holes to post his second straight 4-under 68.
A group of three players — Daniel Summerhays, Charley Hoffman and Steven Bowditch — are two shots back at 6 under, while McIlroy is tied with six others at 5 under.
Thursday’s co-leaders, Matt Bettencourt and Peter Tomasulo, each shot 1-over 73s and fell four shots off the lead.
Bettencourt went as low as 8 under in the surprisingly calm Texas weather on Friday morning before falling back after a stretch of three bogeys in four holes once the wind picked up ever-so slightly.
Summerhays also reached as low as 7 under before falling back with a bogey on No. 9, but it was Horschel who separated himself with his late flurry.
Horschel jumped from 60th to 24th on the money list after a second-place finish at last week’s Houston Open. He closed out Thursday’s round with a birdie, and he one-upped that on Friday — closing with a pair of 11-foot birdie putts on No. 17 and 18 to vault into first.
“Today, I knew there was not going to be very much wind, so you had to take advantage of this golf course,” Horschel said. “I warmed up really well; probably hit the best I have on the range in a month-and-a-half before a round.”
He needed 28 putts on Friday after taking only 25 a day earlier, but Horschel hit 11 of 14 fairways after hitting only seven a day earlier.
Horschel has made the cut in all nine of the events he’s entered this year, extending his tour-best streak to 21 made cuts in a row, but he has yet to win a PGA Tour event.