Points battles way into the Masters
And what did we learn about Mickelson, McIlroy in Houston?
On the PGA Tour, one stretch of 72 holes can change a career forever.
That certainly was the case for D.A. Points on Sunday. He jumped from 195th in the world coming into the Shell Houston Open to 70th after his second PGA Tour victory in Humble, Texas. So what else did we learn in the Lone Star State this week? Our experts tackle those topics and more in this week's edition of Monday Four-Ball.
1. What does D.A. Points' second PGA Tour victory say about his golf game?
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Most pros constantly search for that missing piece to the puzzle. D.A. Points found it this week and rode it to a win in Texas, writes Farrell Evans. Story
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Points is a fighter. He didn't let his slump stop his resolve to keep improving his game.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: It says he can find it quickly. Points' win seemingly came out of nowhere. He had made just two cuts this season and only a few weeks ago began working with a new instructor. Now he's headed to the Masters.
Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: That no matter how bad a streak a PGA Tour player is on, one tiny thing can flip the switch and put him into the winner's circle. Maybe it was bringing back his mom's old putter that did the trick, but Points had been truly terrible all season. He missed seven of nine cuts and posted a season-best finish of T-63 in his first tournament of the year at the Humana Challenge. Now he's sitting pretty with another two-year exemption in his back pocket, plus a Masters invite.
2. Which top-10 finisher at the Shell Houston Open surprised you the most?
Michael Collins: Kevin Chappell's last cut made was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open the first week of February! We caddies call that a "lottery ticket." Nine tournaments, six missed cuts, two top-10s and a 24th. I want to know who exactly saw him getting a top-10 this week? I want to go to Vegas with him/her!
Farrell Evans: Henrik Stenson. His tie for second in Houston was his best finish in a tour event since he won the 2009 Players Championship. This performance also vaulted him into the top 50 in the world ranking, which earned him a berth into the Masters.
Bob Harig: Stewart Cink. The 2009 Open Championship winner hasn't been on a leaderboard since forever and hasn't contended on Sunday for a couple of years. He had a share of the 54-hole lead and managed his best finish in nearly four years.
Kevin Maguire: Charles Howell III. The 33-year-old from Augusta, Ga., needed a T-3 to get inside the top 50 in the world ranking for a Masters invitation, and he nearly got there. A bogey-free, 6-under 66 on Sunday earned Howell his fourth top-10 of the season. It was only enough to get him to 54th in the world, though.
3. What did we learn about Phil Mickelson's hopes for Augusta at the Shell Houston Open?
Michael Collins: One bad hole Sunday kept him from a bogey-free 66. Unfortunately, a week off will almost nullify all the work he's done preparing for Augusta. Whatever putting grip he went with this past weekend (67-68), stick with it. I wonder, if he wins at Augusta with that fat putter grip, will they talk about banning it, too?
Farrell Evans: Phil loves this time of year. In Houston, he played like a guy on a mission to win his fourth green jacket.
Bob Harig: Not much. Lefty is up and down. It would be much easier to say his game is rounding into shape if the Masters were this week. But it's next week. He will be antsy. Perhaps the extra time will do him some good.
Kevin Maguire: That he can still turn it up a notch when he wants to make things interesting. Lefty went 67-68 on the weekend to finish T-16. If anyone doesn't believe he'll be a factor come Augusta next week, think again.
4. Thumbs up or thumbs down to Rory McIlroy playing this week at the Valero Texas Open?
Michael Collins: Thumbs up. There's a big difference between knowing something isn't perfect and doing something about it. Rory knows he needs more tournament rounds, and he's willing to sacrifice the type of course for the reps he needs. There are many guys who wouldn't man up and do this.
Farrell Evans: Thumbs up. McIlroy might never play in San Antonio again after this week, but he'll be grateful for the experience when he looks back on this season.
Bob Harig: Thumbs up. He feels he needs more competitive golf and so he is going after that this week in San Antonio, correcting an issue that many felt all along: He needed to add another tournament somewhere to get ready for the Masters.
Kevin Maguire: Thumbs up, but with an asterisk. McIlroy needs more rounds under his belt to start trusting that swing, especially with the Masters looming, but he should have planned ahead better so he wasn't playing the week before Augusta, which he traditionally doesn't like to do. That could come back to haunt him. I'm still impressed, though, that he stepped up and admitted he needed more work. Not every top-tier pro would do that.
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