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McIlroy wears ambition well as he pursues green jacket

Rory McIlroy has acknowledged that his performance in the final round of the Shell Houston Open has left him feeling ready for the Masters, which starts on Thursday.

The Irishman heads to Augusta National after yesterday carding an impressive 65 to finish in a share of seventh in Houston. Australia's Matt Jones won the contest after coming through a play-off with Matt Kuchar of the United States.

The fight to top the leaderboard extended the day's play but McIlroy was relaxed in the club house already. His round had ended in steady rain but also with bright spells which came in the form of a 10-foot birdie putt in a bogey-free round on the Golf Club of Houston course in suburban Humble. It was his lowest round in Houston and two shots better than his opening score on his debut in the event in 2009.

It encouraged a sense of optimism from a player who will this week bid to become the first Irishman to be fitted for the famous Augusta green jacket. "I could not have asked for more heading into a major than to shoot a 65," he said. "I just didn't make any mistakes, like hitting any balls into the water or miss any short putts, except on 11 and 13. But, then, I'm not complaining about a 65.

"It was a great way to round off my preparations for Augusta and I had mentioned after Saturday's round I wanted to shoot something in the 60s and I achieved that. I would feel I am one of a handful of guys who will be up there next week and it was just [good] to see some of the game I know I have coming through."

It was just two years ago that McIlroy appeared certain to win at Augusta, only to wilt haplessly. The image is one which endured, even if a confident, smiling golfer strode from the last green in Houston.

"I'm positive and happy how this week went even though I didn't get myself into contention but then I made up for that today with a 65," he added. "So I could not be a in better mood getting on a plane to Augusta."

It was a feeling which has not yet taken hold of prospective spectators, though, given that ticket sales for the Masters have been down 20% since Tiger Woods announced that he was to withdrawal due to a back injury.

There would seem little that could dampen the spirits of Stephen Gallacher, though. The Scot will this week compete at Augusta for the first time and has received advice from Dave Stockton, twice a runner up in the Masters.

The American has taken Gallacher under his wing ahead of this year's event and advised his charge to treat the whole experience as if it were akin to the Scottish Open. "Stephen has got to treat it like he was playing in say a Scottish Open or maybe Dubai," said Stockton, who won two major championships in his career.

"I know that's easy to say but then he can't let himself get wrapped up in the Masters, even though it will be the best tournament he has ever seen. Everything about the Masters is spectacular and Stephen's got the length off the tee to play Augusta well. It's all about dealing with the all the other stuff that goes on around him."

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