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Takeaways

Rory McIlroy's rough iron play, Bryson DeChambeau's wild back nine and a leader looking for a last-minute Masters invite

March 31, 2022

Carmen Mandato

There are many PGA Tour pros playing in the Valero Texas Open with the main goal of getting their game into shape for next week's Masters. Russell Knox, however, is hoping to simply get into the field at Augusta National.

The 169th-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking still has a shot of earning a last-minute invite to the year's first major if he wins at TPC San Antonio. And while it's certainly a tall order, the 36-year-old Scot couldn't have asked for a better start.

Knox shot a bogey-free 65 on Thursday to grab the Day 1 lead. Yes, there's a lot of golf yet, but yes, he can't help from looking ahead a bit.

"I would love to win and get to play next week," he told reporters after. "That's obviously why I'm here."

It's been five years since Knox has been at Augusta National, a reward stemming from his most recent of two PGA Tour titles at the 2016 Travelers Championship. Not too many people remember that final-round 68 at TPC River Highlands that was punctuated with an all-time hat toss, however, because Jim Furyk bested him by 10 shots that day to shoot the tour's first and only 58.

Knox added a victory on the European Tour at the 2018 Irish Open, but hasn't won anywhere since. He attributes his winless drought to errant driving, however, he says he's cleaned that up of late.

"Over the last couple years just kind of got off track slightly, was hitting a few wayward tee shots," Knox said. "But I've worked hard with my coach, Mark [McCann], and we've really went back to fundamentals, got my setup correct and it just gives me the freedom to kind of swing away. I know it's never going to be perfect, but the last couple months it's really been a strength of mine again."

Knox had a bizarre run of three consecutive T-33s beginning in February, but he also had a T-7 at the Sony Open and more recently, a T-6 at the Players. So he's trending in the right direction for a third PGA Tour title—and the clutchest win of his career given the timing.

"It would be the biggest bonus of the year obviously if that happened, but no, I'm quite happy to sit on the couch with my dog next week, too," Knox said. "Obviously I say that, but I mean, I'm going to try my hardest to finish first this week."

Go for it, Russell. Your dog will understand. Anyway, here are our other takeaways from Day 1 at the Valero Texas Open.

Rory's rough iron play

Rory McIlroy is one of those working on specific aspects of his game ahead of the Masters, but his irons clearly needs more work if he's going to win that elusive green jacket. McIlroy made six birdies on the day—but had those offset by six bogeys, mainly caused by loose approach shots. Like this wild miss on No. 1:

Yikes. Look out, patrons! Overall, McIlroy lost nearly a full stroke to the field on strokes gained/approach-the-green, ranking him 105th in the field. And it's not like the putter was much better. McIlroy was in the middle of the pack, barely in positive territory in strokes gained/putting. And he missed two par attempts from inside of five feet.

He will probably need to do better that on Friday if he's to make the cut. Then again, if he doesn't, he'll just have more time to prep at Augusta, where he's one of the favorites (14-to-1 odds) to win the green jacket.

Bryson's wild back nine

Bryson DeChambeau made his return from hip and hand injuries at last week's WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, failing to advance out of his group. On Thursday, he remained rusty with a one-over-par 73.

But it was his back nine—the front nine at TPC San Antonio Oaks' Course—that caught our attention most. DeChambeau shot one over on that side with a lone par at No. 4. Surrounding that was pure chaos as he made five bogeys, two birdies, and the only eagle of the day on the par-5 second.

You gotta think that Bryson's mind, like Rory's, is on Augusta next week. Unlike McIlroy, however, DeChambeau's record there is very spotty. He's made the cut in all five appearances, but has never finished in the top 20.

In any event, DeChambeau, who is only making his fourth start of 2022, could probably use the extra tournament prep this week. He'll start the second round outside the projected cut line.

A 21-year-old turns heads

Carmen Mandato

If you've been following golf closely of late, you've undoubtedly heard of Rasmus Hojgaard and his twin, Nicolai. The Danish-born brothers combined for five DP World Tour titles before turning 21 earlier this month. Yes, you read that right.

And now Rasmus has his eyes on a first PGA Tour title after opening with a 66. A 66 that had to feel disappointing after finishing with a double bogey on No. 9, the only blemish on his card.

"I didn't feel like I hit that bad of a tee shot and I had to chip sideways back into the fairway," Hojgaard said. "Had I think 133 meters to the flag, just was a little too aggressive with that shot. Yeah, short-sided myself and I didn't get up and down and suddenly you walk away with double bogey. Yeah, that was a bit annoying, but it happens."

We're guessing it was a bit more annoying for gamblers betting on Hojgaard to have the first-round lead. Ouch, that's a tough beat. Anway, love the attitude, Rasmus. That kid is going places. Maybe even Augusta National next week.