I don’t know what was more exciting — the 46-foot birdie putt Matt Jones sank on the last hole of his final round Sunday at the Shell Houston Open to give him a chance to catch Matt Kuchar, who had led most of the last two rounds, or the 42-yard chip-in for birdie on the same hole during a playoff that all but clinched the win.
I’ll go with the latter, since Kuchar failed to hole out on his third shot from a greenside bunker to halve the first playoff hole, making Jones the winner and securing the Australian a spot in next week’s Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga.
The exciting finish surely made the day worthwhile for all who braved the colder-than-normal temperatures, the off-and-on rain and the earlier-than-scheduled start at the PGA Tour’s stop in Houston.
It did for me.
For Jones, 33, earning his first PGA Tour win and qualifying for the Masters probably seemed like a long shot at the start of the final round, considering he was six strokes behind Kuchar — seven strokes after he bogeyed the first hole.
But he answered with birdies at the third, fifth, sixth and eighth holes to make the turn at 3-under, while Kuchar — who began the day with a 4-stroke lead — had two bogeys and a birdie on the front to give Jones and the rest of the field some hope. Kuchar finally got things going on the back 9 with birdies at the 10th, 13th and 15th holes to seemingly right the ship.
But bogeys on the par-3 16th and the closing par-4 18th — which he bogeyed in the second and third rounds — set the stage for the playoff. It had to be doubly painful for Kuchar when, after driving the ball right down the middle on the final hole of regulation, he over-hooked a fairway wood and found the water left of the 18th green.
“Oh, Matty!” he muttered to himself immediately after striking the ball. He did show some gumption by getting up-and-down to save bogey and force the playoff with Jones.
On another note, as much as I love to play golf, I’ve only been to four PGA tournaments — the Shell Houston Open three times, and the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando, Fla., last year.
So, I decided I wanted to take in the Pro-Am. Pro-Ams give amateur golfers the opportunity — for a hefty fee — to play a round of golf with a PGA Tour professional before the actual start of the tournament.
The thing I liked best about my day Wednesday at the Golf Club of Houston — besides getting to hang out with retired Galveston County Sheriff and Daily News golf columnist Gean Leonard — was the laid-back atmosphere on the course.
During tournament play, volunteer marshals are positioned throughout the course tasked with keeping the throngs quiet when a player is about to hit a shot.
And while there are marshals during the Pro-Am, because the crowd is so much smaller than a regular tournament round, they are a little more lax.
I also got to see former Astros pitcher Roger Clemens — playing with pro golfer Johnson Wagner — as he exited the 18th green following the round.
Clemens was interviewed by local media as soon as he walked off the green.
He then signed autographs for every spectator lined along the ropes who stuck out a hat or a program or photograph.
I watched as he took extra time to visit with a wheelchair-bound young man, and you could tell by the look on the young man’s face that the extra attention was making a lasting impression.
While it might not compare with the thrilling action we saw Sunday on the 18th hole, I highly suggest to anyone thinking about going to a professional golf tournament to consider the Pro-Am day.
Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.