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Rory McIlroy failed to recapture the World No. 1 ranking from Tiger Woods with a victory at the Houston Open, but he is excited about progress in his shotmaking and one last Masters tuneup event.
McIlroy fired a two-under par 70 to finish on four-under 284 for 72 holes at the $6.2 million PGA event, making birdies on the last two holes on both the front and back nines but taking consecutive bogeys at 11 and 12.
"I'm excited about my game and excited about how I'm hitting the ball," McIlroy said. "It has been a good week. Lot of positives to take from it.
"Definitely steps forward. The scores haven't reflected how I've played. It was pretty solid. I hit the ball reasonably well, my short game is sharp and putted it pretty nice. If I can limit the sloppy mistakes I'll be fine."
McIlroy has added next week's Texas Open to his schedule to give himself more competitive rounds ahead of the following week's Masters, the first major championship of the year at Augusta National.
"I've learned a few things that I can bring into next week and obviously looking ahead to Augusta, too," McIlroy said.
"It has been a productive week -- obviously not the finish that I would have wanted, but there are still a lot of things I can take from it."
Early season struggles by McIlroy and an adjustment to new equipment opened the door for him to be overtaken by Woods, who won his third event of the year a week ago at Bay Hill to reclaim the top spot for the first time since 2010.
But McIlroy says he is getting better with every round as he tests himself for the Masters.
"How I'm striking the ball and how I'm feeling with my swing and short game and stuff, that's fine, but it's a matter of playing," McIlroy said.
"In the summer you played a lot of golf and you're used to keeping score. This year, I guess it's only my 13th, 14th competitive round, so it's not quite there, but it's getting close."
The question is will his top form arrive in time for his journey to Magnolia Lane and give him a chance to add the Masters to a major win list that includes the 2011 US Open and 2012 PGA Championship.
"Four more competitive rounds will do me do me a world of good," McIlroy said. "I'll be in good shape going into the first major of the year.
"I need to go and just play competitive golf. If it was a par-3 course, I would go and play it just because that's what I need. I need competitive golf and I need committing to targets and it doesn't matter if it's a short course or long course or wide course or whatever.
"As long as I have a scorecard in my hand, that's what I need."
Building in confidence, McIlroy said he needs to be better at missing in the proper places, especially when it comes to Augusta National.
"The way I've struck the ball for the most part has been really good. My short game has been sharp. That has been a very positive sign this week," said McIlroy.
"Everyone hits bad shots. I've just got to hit the bad shots in the right places and not short side myself and hit them in hazards, sort of give myself a little more margin for error."
McIlroy said he might have been smarter to schedule another Middle East event and not take a four-week break after Abu Dhabi, although his round count dropped after a first-round ouster at the WGC Match-Play and a walkout in the middle of his second round at the Honda Classic.
"All of a sudden you haven't played a lot of golf," McIlroy said.