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Points has an old putter and takes early lead

Friday - 3/29/2013, 4:12am  ET

Cameron Tringale putts onto the 18th green during the first round of the Houston Open golf tournament, Thursday, March 28, 2013, in Humble, Texas. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Brett Coomer)

DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer

HUMBLE, Texas (AP) -- 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 and a house at Redstone. 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 on Friday, 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 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."

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.

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