Russell Henley played in the Masters three consecutive years starting from 2013. He missed out last year and appeared destined to spend the second week of April on the sidelines once again – until he caught lightning in a bottle at the Shell Houston Open.
The Georgian golfer booked the last spot in the 2017 Masters field with a come-from-behind victory at the Shell Houston Open. The 27-year-old carded a closing 65 (that included a bogey and double-bogey) to overhaul overnight leader Sung Kang and first-round leader Rickie Fowler.
Henley, who started the day four shots behind Kang, began his morning with five birdies in the first eight holes. A double at the ninth seemingly stopped his victory march cold, but Henley bounced back with another birdie streak. Though he bogeyed the Golf Club of Houston’s tough 18th, his seven-under 65 was good enough for a three-shot victory.
“I tried to go into it with the mentality that I could do it and win it,” Henley said afterwards. “And I started to believe it.”
Kang struggled on the day to the tune of an even-par 72. Earlier in the week, the South Korean – who entered Houston ranked 158th in strokes gained: putting – put a new TaylorMade Spider model in his bag, a change that paid dividends as Kang led the field in putting through three days. Alas, he hit just 11 greens in the fourth round, and when he did find the dancefloor, his short-game woes returned.
Fowler, who started the day in second place, double-bogeyed the second hole and bogeyed the par-5 fourth. While he rebounded nicely to finish two-under on the round, it wasn’t enough to catch Henley. A four-under performance from Luke List tied him with Fowler for third.
While the Houston win grants Henley security in a two-year US PGA Tour exemption, it also delivered an invite to a certain tournament in Georgia this week.
“It hasn’t quite hit me yet that I’ve earned a spot to the Masters,” said Henley, who started the week ranked 117th in the world.
Henley enjoyed a promising start to his career, finishing 19th in the 2014 FedEx Cup. Alas, the past two seasons have presented their hardships, failing to finish inside the top-60 in earnings. Though he’s had a fine campaign with two top-10s and six top-25s, it was his first time contending in 2017.
“I feel like I’ve had a really consistent season,” Henley said. “I think the consistent play has given me confidence.”
The Houston victory is Henley’s third US Tour career win, and first since 2014. In his three previous Masters, a 21st-place finish in 2015 was his best showing.
* We have another Major championship with a big-time rules controversy. And the reaction to the odd situation at the first women’s major of the year has already been overwhelming and will surely continue to be.
In the middle of the final round of the ANA Inspiration, Lexi Thompson was informed by a rules official that she would be assessed a four-shot penalty – for replacing her ball in an improper spot on Saturday. After officials reviewed the tape, Thompson was assessed a two-shot penalty for putting her ball in the wrong spot, and then a two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard.
Here’s footage of the incident:
— GOLF.com (@GOLF_com) April 3, 2017
Though the R&A and USGA announced proposed changes earlier this year to modernise the rules, they wouldn’t take effect until 2019 – leaving the potential for rules scenarios like this to keep happening.
Thompson’s unfortunate circumstance comes after back-to-back weeks of rules controversies at the US Open with Dustin Johnson and the US Women’s Open with Anna Nordqvist. Nordqvist was assessed a penalty after officials reviewed high-def video from the telecast, yet she wasn’t informed until a hole later.
And Johnson, who still won the US Open at Oakmont, wasn’t informed of the USGA’s decision of his drama from the 5th green until the 12th tee box.
Here’s the LPGA’s statement on the situation:
Thompson rallied after being slapped with the four-shot penalty. She birdied three of the final six holes to tie South Korean So Yeon Ryu at 14-under before Ryu birdied the first extra hole to claim her second Major title.
Amid the rules brouhaha was a missed opportunity for Minjee Lee to take the winner’s dip in Poppie’s Pond. The West Australian pushed into a tie for the lead after Thompson’s penalty strokes were handed down but bogeyed both back-nine par 3s before a final-hole birdie left her at 13-under, one stroke shy of joining Thompson and Ryu in the playoff. A tie for third still gave Lee her best finish in a major.