April 2, 2017
Russell Henley no longer gets to take a week off, and he couldn't be happier.
He's going to the Masters.
Henley overcame a four-shot deficit Sunday in the Houston by closing with a 7-under 65 for a three-shot victory, one of the most important final rounds of his career. Only later did he realize it might have his best.
He made 10 birdies. He never went more than two holes without a birdie.
''I made 10 birdies today?'' he asked. ''Oh, wow. Wow. Yeah, then I guess it's definitely the best.''
Henley ran off five of them in the opening eight holes to briefly catch up to Sung Kang, only to make a double bogey from the bunker on the par-3 ninth at the Golf Club of Houston. Only the 27-year-old from Georgia was just getting warmed up.
The decisive stretch came on the par-5 13th, where Henley and Kang were tied for the lead. Henley pitched to 3 feet for birdie, while Kang missed from 15 feet. On the par-3 14th, Henley rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt on the fast greens, cut to try to mimic what players will face at Augusta National. Kang did well to save par from 6 feet. And then Henley raced out to a three-shot advantage with another up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 15th.
He finished with a bogey for 20-under 268, three shots ahead of Kang.
Rickie Fowler was never in the picture. He made a double bogey with a wild drive on the second hole, and then got hit driver off the deck into the water on the par-5 fourth hole to drop another shot. Fowler trailed by as many as seven shots until a flurry of birdies late in the round when it was out of reach.
Fowler closed with a 70 and tied for third, along with Luke List (68).
''Just an alignment problem that just caused me to make a couple bad swings, cost me a few shots,'' Fowler said. ''Nice that I got it turned around and started to make some good swings and made some birdies and fought back, got a good finish out of it. Obviously, yeah, I would have like to have gotten off to a better start.''
Jon Rahm, the 22-year-old rookie from Spain, closed with a 67 and tied for 10th, his fourth consecutive top 10 as he heads to Augusta National for his Masters debut.
Henley won for the third time in his PGA Tour career, and his first since a playoff victory over Rory McIlroy in the 2014 Honda Classic. He was in danger of missing the Masters for the second straight year until winning the Houston Open, the only way into Augusta National at this point.
''I wasn't expecting to go back to Augusta,'' he said. ''I was planning on not going, but I was going to try my best to win. So, the fact I get to go back is pretty cool and I'm excited. It hasn't really sunk in yet.''
Henley became the third player in the last four years to win the Houston Open and earn a trip to the Masters.
Kang, going for his first PGA Tour victory, had a six-shot lead after 36 holes, the largest in tournament history. He appeared to get a slight reprieve Saturday when Fowler fell back with a four-putt double bogey on the 18th hole of the third round.
The threat turned out to be Henley, one of the best putters in golf when he gets it going.
Kang did his best to hang on, but he never made another birdie after No. 8. His hopes were all but gone when he missed a 5-foot birdie attempt on No. 16.
''This week is going to be very memorable for me,'' Kang said. ''I played really solid the first few rounds and then it shifted for two rounds. I'll keep grinding out and working out and hopefully, I can get a chance next time.''
The starting times were moved up Sunday because of the threat of rain, and the final round featured dark, gray skies and a drizzle, followed by steamy sunshine as the leaders entered the final stretch.
This was the Houston Open with Shell as the title sponsor after 26 years.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was at the tournament on Sunday and advocated for moving the Houston Open inside the city limits rather than unincorporated Harris County near Humble where the tournament has been played since 2003.
Neither the sponsor nor the location for next year's Houston Open has been determined. Turner advocated heavily for moving the tournament to Memorial Park, which last hosted the Houston Open in 1963.
April 2, 2017
Sung Kang shot a 1-under 71 to hold a three-shot lead over Rickie Fowler after the third round of the Houston Open on Saturday.
After shooting a tournament course record 9-under 63 on Friday, Kang took a commanding six-shot lead with a 36-hole tournament record of 129 through two rounds.
However, on Saturday, it was Fowler's day to chase history, shooting a 5-under 67 to trim Kang's lead as they head into the final round.
After Thursday's 8-under 64, Fowler held a one-shot lead over Kang after the first round, but slipped to fourth on Friday with a 71. He returned to form on Saturday and has a PGA Tour career-best 22 birdies through three rounds.
Behind Kang and Fowler at 17-under 199 and 14-under 202 through three rounds, respectively, Russell Henley is 13-under 203 and Luke List is 12-under 204. No one else is within eight shots of Kang.
Kang, the 29-year-old South Korean who entered the week ranked No. 202 in the world, could earn an invitation to next week's Masters with a win on Sunday.
Playing one hole behind Fowler throughout the day, Kang played in the shadows of Fowler's stardom and the roar of the crowd rooting for a big comeback.
Kang gave up the lead briefly after a putt lipped out of the hole on 16 by taking a full circle around the cup before sneaking out.
On the final two holes of the day, however, it was Fowler who had his share of misfortunes on his putts. He bogeyed on 17 and double-bogeyed on the 18th hole to give Kang a little more breathing room heading into the final round.
Sunday's tee times have been moved up to 7:15 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Central with threesomes off split tees to try to avoid heavy thunderstorms and rainfall expected in the late morning to early afternoon.
Heavy winds approaching 25-30 mph at times and cloudy skies resulted in much higher scores on Saturday than were seen on Friday, with the average score around 1 over par.
Kang will be grouped with Fowler, something both players said they look forward to as they enter the final round. Kang has never led a tournament on the PGA Tour after three rounds. He said he was well aware of Fowler's pursuit on Saturday, thanks to the crowd.
''I heard a lot of noise in front of us so I was like, 'Oh, I know something big is going on up there,''' Kang said.
Fowler said he's ready to shake off his struggles on the last two holes.
''I drove it well, hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens and made some good putts,'' Fowler said. ''I'm not looking at the last two holes. It was a great day of golf, and I put myself in a position to win a golf tournament tomorrow.''
Fowler said he likes the challenge of playing from behind and hopes to put some pressure on Kang.
Kang said he'll be playing conservatively and defensively, especially with the strong possibility of inclement weather on the way.
For the third straight day, however, Kang insisted that he doesn't have his sights set on earning a last-minute invitation to the Masters.
''Even if I think about it, it's going to happen or not,'' Kang said with a grin. ''Why do I want to think about that? I'm so tired right now. I have no power to think about anything.''
April 1, 2017
South Korea's Kang Sung scorched the Tournament Course at the Golf Club of Houston on Friday, firing a nine-under par 63 for a record-setting second-round lead at the Houston Open.
The 29-year-old, who entered the week ranked 202nd in the world, opened the second round one shot off the lead held by American Rickie Fowler.
He produced seven birdies and an eagle at the par-five eighth hole, where he rolled in a 30-footer.
Kang's 16-under total of 128 broke the 36-hole tournament record by a stroke.
His six-stroke advantage heading into the weekend is the largest 36-hole lead on PGA TOUR this season, and the largest ever at the Houston Open.
Americans Hudson Swafford and Russell Henley both carded 67s to share second on 134.
Fowler's one-under 71 -- which included six birdies as well as three bogeys and a double-bogey -- left him alone on 135, one stroke in front of Zac Blair and Aaron Baddeley.
"I putted pretty good yesterday, putted really good today," Kang said. "Plus I teed off the first off, and the greens are just pure, nobody really had them. The putter just kept making the putts."
Kang finished equal 18th at last year's US Open in his only major start, but hasn't posted a victory since the 2013 Korean Open.
A victory on Sunday would see him grab a last-gasp berth at the Masters, the first major of the year that tees off next Thursday at Augusta National.
"It's not in my head," Kang said of that tantalizing possibility. "I'll go play. Whatever happens, happens."
Fowler arrived at the 15th tee just four behind Kang. But he dropped three shots in two holes with a double bogey at 15, and a bogey at 16.
A raft of highly ranked players failed to make it to the weekend of the final Masters tuneup.
That included fifth-ranked British Open champion Henrik Stenson, sixth-ranked Jordan Spieth and seventh-ranked Adam Scott.
March 31, 2017
Rickie Fowler shot an 8-under 64 for a one-shot lead over Sung Kang after the first round of the Houston Open on Thursday.
Fowler had his best round in six appearances at the tournament, topping a previous low score of 68. Fowler overcame damp conditions and a chilly, breezy morning to jump to a hot start.
Fowler won last month at the Honda Classic and is trying to keep momentum going into the Masters next week. The Honda Classic win snapped a 13-month, 25-start drought for Fowler.
Fowler held a three-shot lead over Vaughn Taylor and Keegan Bradley when he finished his round in the afternoon, then Kang closed the gap with his 65. The 29-year-old South Korean missed a putt from less than 5 feet to bogey on 18. Still, compared to last year's final round at the Houston Open when he shot a 6-over 78, he said he was satisfied with the improvement.
Kang is among the 115 players who need a victory to qualify for Augusta National, as Jim Herman did by winning in Houston last year. Among the 144 players in the Houston Open field, 29 already have invitations to play. It would have been 30, expect Dustin Johnson decided to take the week off after winning the Dell Technologies Match Play for his third straight victory.
Behind Fowler and Kang, Stewart Cink, Jhonattan Vegas and Kyle Stanley all shot 6-under 66. Jordan Spieth struggled at times and shot 3-under 69. Herman shot 2-over 74, while 2015 Houston Open winner J.B. Holmes shot 1-over 73.
Kang said he doesn't want to get too ahead of himself by eyeing a last-minute ticket to Augusta after the first round.
''I don't know anything about the future, and whatever happens, happens,'' Kang said. ''I'll just keep doing what I can do the next few days, and I'll accept the results.''
Heavy rains canceled the pro-am event at the Golf Club of Houston on Wednesday.
The sun dried out the course later in the day, and the greens began to play faster. Several players commented on the balancing act of avoiding the water hazards but also not overplaying the speedy greens, which are designed to mimic Augusta.
Fowler said he was fortunate to not have been too thrown off by the muddy conditions.
''I felt like I got some good breaks with having mud on the same side as where the trouble was and that I could kind of keep it fairly conservative,'' Fowler said. ''If the mud was kind of kicking in, it ended up being a good shot.''
On Thursday night, Fowler traveled 20 miles south to downtown Houston to throw out the first pitch at the Astros' exhibition game against the Cubs. Fowler said he spent a lot of time with the Cardinals during spring training and said he's a friend of Astros owner Jim Crane, who he has played golf with at the Floridian National Golf Club.
''It's probably more nervous when you get out there on the mound than we really ever get or maybe close to Ryder Cup nerves,'' Fowler said. ''You're just hoping not to screw up.''
|T23||USA||D. A. Points||-5||-||68||71||74||70||283|
|T23||USA||Harold Varner III||-5||-||68||73||71||71||283|
|T39||USA||Charles Howell III||-3||-||70||71||72||72||285|
|T44||USA||J. J. Spaun||-2||-||69||72||75||70||286|
|T55||USA||J. T. Poston||Par||-||70||71||70||77||288|
|T55||RSA||Tyrone van Aswegen||Par||-||69||73||75||71||288|
|T61||USA||Davis Love III||1||-||71||72||76||70||289|
|T61||USA||J. J. Henry||1||-||71||71||75||72||289|
|MDF||ZIM||Brendon de Jonge||4||-||73||71||76||-||220|
|CUT||TPE||Cheng Tsung Pan||1||-||73||72||-||-||145|
|CUT||KOR||K. J. Choi||2||-||70||76||-||-||146|
|CUT||USA||J. B. Holmes||3||-||73||74||-||-||147|
|CUT||ESP||Rafael Cabrera Bello||5||-||75||74||-||-||149|
|CUT||USA||Rich Berberian Jr||14||-||74||84||-||-||158|