HUMBLE (AP) – One way or another Henrik Stenson is going to the Masters.
Stenson, who eight months ago was No. 133 in the world, closed with a 6-under 66 on Sunday in the Houston Open and was the leader in the clubhouse when the final round was delayed because of thunderstorms. The top 50 in the world ranking after this week earn exemptions to the Masters, which starts April 11.
The Swede needed to finish at least in 13th place alone to break into the top 50, although he didn’t know the math. Stenson figured a top 10 would do the trick, and he didn’t feel comfortable until he blistered his tee shot on the 18th hole and hit his approach into about 10 feet for birdie.
“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. That was the main goal coming here. And when I played as well as I did, put myself in a good position, I’m still trying to do well here and then give myself a chance to win this tournament.”
He finished at 15-under 273, one shot behind D.A. Points, who was on the 15th hole when play was stopped by approaching storms.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Marcel Siem of Germany won the Hassan Trophy in Morocco. That moved him to the cusp of the top 50, but Siem fell short when Russell Henley closed with a 68 at the Houston Open. The best Siem could do was No. 51.
Henley already is in the Masters from winning the Sony Open in January.
Fredrik Jacobson of Sweden and Richard Sterne of South Africa also were added to the Masters field by staying in the top 50. Neither played this week.
Charles Howell III, the Augusta native who started the year outside the top 100, needed to finish no worse than fourth place alone at the Houston Open. He hurt himself with middle rounds of 72-70 at Redstone, but put together a late charge. Howell closed with a 66, but likely fell at least three shots short of having a chance.
“It was a nice finish,” Howell said. “Probably not quite good enough for what I need to go to Augusta, but I played well. I gave myself a chance. It was a good effort, but good efforts don’t get that invitation to Augusta.”
Geoff Ogilvy, who played 10 out of 11 weeks trying to get into the Masters, started the week at No. 50 and missed the cut for the second straight week. Ogilvy withdrew Sunday from next week’s Texas Open, ending his hopes of returning to the Masters. The winner of the Houston Open and Texas Open earn a trip to the Masters.
Ogilvy last year fell one shot short of ending the year in the top 50 and assuring his spot at Augusta.
Howell is not playing the Texas Open, either.
“I thought my best chance of getting in was the top 50,” Howell said. “I played a ton of golf. I’m a little tired, to be honest.”
Howell finished third at the Sony Open, and he lost in a playoff the next week at the Humana Challenge. What hurt even more was closing with a 78 in the Honda Classic and a 73-75 weekend at Bay Hill, costing him valuable ranking points. Howell said there was no point in looking back.
“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.”
The addition of Stenson, Sterne and Jacobson brings the Masters field to 91 players expected to compete. There are no more than two spots available for the winners of the Houston Open and Texas Open if they are not already eligible, meaning this will be the smallest field at the Masters since 90 players competed in 2006.
Stenson began his turnaround last September when he tied for fifth in the Dutch Open. He took a big leap with his win at the South African Open, and then a tie for seventh in the season-ending event in Dubai on the European Tour. Last week, he tied for eighth at Bay Hill, which moved him up five spots to No. 53 and gave him a good chance at cracking the top 50 in Houston.
And that he did. With so many players in contention in Houston — 20 players separated by four shots going into the final round — he needed to pile up birdies. Stenson was worried when he failed to birdie the reachable par-4 12th, and then hit a tee shot against the lip of a fairway bunker and wound up making bogey on the par-5 13th. But he birdied three of his last four holes to sew up his spot at the Masters. And he still had a chance to win.
“Just been a great turnaround these last two weeks,” he said.
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