Wheatcroft faulters in final round
HUMBLE, Texas – D.A. Points came back from a long rain delay and made four pars, the last one giving him a one-shot victory in the Houston Open and a trip to the Masters.
With a putter he once borrowed from his mother and never returned, Points rolled in a putt from just outside 12 feet on the final hole to polish off a 6-under 66 and avoid a sudden-death playoff with Masters-bound Henrik Stenson and Billy Horschel.
It was quite a turnaround for Points, whose only other PGA Tour win was at Pebble Beach two years ago with actor Billy Murray along for the laughs.
He started the year by missing the cut seven times in nine tournaments. He arrived at Redstone Golf Club having not broken 70 in last nine rounds. But he stayed in the hunt after opening with a 64, and he kept his calm when he returned to the golf course after a rain delay of nearly three hours.
Washington’s Steve Wheatcroft, the Monday qualifier who started Sunday one shot out of the lead, had a 74 to tie for 22nd. The good news is that the tournament ended on Sunday, giving him time to make the next Monday qualifier in San Antonio.
“Thank you for staying,” Points said to the sparse gallery in the bleachers as he walked off the green.
Stenson birdied his last two holes for a 66 before the storms rolled across Houston, and while he came up one shot short, he moved up to No. 42 in the world ranking to earn an invitation to the Masters. Horschel was on the 18th tee when play was halted, and then had to wait some more for his turn to hit on the tough driving hole. He split the middle, found the green and two-putted for par to join Stenson in the clubhouse lead.
They waited around for a playoff that wasn’t necessary when Points saved par on his last two holes.
“I’ve been having a really tough year,” Points said. “To have a putt to win, you want that starting out every week. I would have liked for it to have been closer.”
Points picked up his final birdie on the par-5 13th when the hole got in the way of his chip and kept the ball from running well past. It instead stopped 3 feet away.
Then, he made it hard on himself.
His 5-iron to the 17th came up well short, and Points hit a beautiful pitch-and run to tap-in range for his par. On the final hole, his hybrid began to sail right of the green toward the bunkers, but it caught just enough of the grass to hand up in the rough. He played a peculiar shot, lobbing the pitch instead of playing it closer to the ground, and the ball came up well short on the rain-softened green.
The putt dropped into the left corner, and Points screamed so loud it could be hear over the sparse applause.
Suddenly, his year is looking up.
He finished at 16-under 272, and the win gives him another two-year exemption. His exemption from the Pebble Beach would have expired this year. More important, the win gets him back to Augusta National in two weeks.
Twenty players were separated by four shots going into the final round, and it stayed that way for a while, with a dozen players poised to make a run and seize control as the storm clouds gathered.
Phil Mickelson opened his final round with four straight birdies, and he was still in the picture until a three-putt double bogey on the 14th hole. He had a 68, and wound up six shots behind.
Dustin Johnson had the lead at one point until he missed a short birdie putt on the 11th, and then hit his 5-wood into the water on the reachable par-4 12th hole, leading to bogey. He wound up with a 65 and finished two shots behind.
Ben Crane, who played alongside Points, had birdie chances on the last two holes that would have dropped if he had hit them hard enough. Crane had a 68 and tied for fourth with Johnson.
Kevin Chappell was briefly tied for the lead. He had a 68 and tied for sixth, along with Brian Davis (67) and Stewart Cink (70), who started the final round tied for the lead. Cink returned from the delay by making a 5-foot par putt, an 18-foot birdie putt and a 10-foot par save on the 17th to get within two shots of the lead.
He needed Points to make bogey on the last hole to have any chance, and was on the tee when he heard the cheer for a par. Cink put it into the bunker off the tee and near the green and made his only bogey of the day.
Jason Kokrak needed a birdie on the 18th to have any chance at a playoff and yanked his tee shot into the water.
Rory McIlroy was long gone, on his way north to San Antonio, when all this was going on. The world’s No. 2 player closed out his week at the Houston Open by making a 25-foot birdie putt for a 70 and a tie for 45th. McIlroy will play the Texas Open next week before heading to the Masters.
The consolation prize went to Stenson, who figured he would need to finish in the top 10 to crack the top 50 in the world in the final week that Augusta National uses the world ranking to fill out the field. He did even better, nearly winning the tournament.
“I said to my caddie walking up 18, ‘No matter what, we’re playing for a green jacket in a couple of weeks,”’ Stenson said. “That will be nice.”
It wasn’t so nice for Charles Howell III, who rallied with a 66 but still wound up four shots away from where he needed to finish to get into the top 50. Howell, who grew up in Augusta, will miss the Masters for the fourth time in the last five years.
“I’m not going down the road of disappointment,” he said. “I played good. I would love to be in the golf tournament. So would 300 million other golfers. I played well this year and I’m going to watch the tournament on TV. It’s just horrible to watch on TV, to be honest.”
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