Points finds the magic in Houston

HUMBLE, Texas -- Generally, on the PGA Tour it's easy to predict with some degree of certainty how players will perform from week to week.

The money list and performance stats are a pretty good gauge of who will be in contention on Sunday afternoons.

It wasn't surprising that Keegan Bradley had another top 10-finish in Houston, because he had done the same thing in his previous three events. Billy Horschel made his tour-leading 20th consecutive cut here with a tie for second. Rory McIlroy had another underwhelming showing with a tie for 45th.

You could have forecasted all of these things at the start of the Shell Houston Open. But you probably never would have guessed that D.A. Points would have won the tournament, his second career title, to earn a berth into the Masters.

Coming into Houston, the 36-year-old former University of Illinois star had missed seven of nine cuts on tour. Prior to this week, his best finish on the season had been a tie for 63rd at the Humana Challenge in January. With $24,048, the Pekin, Ill., native was 188th on the money list.

To win, Points brought out a refurbished Ping Anser putter that he lifted from his mother's bag when he was 10 or 11 years old. He was ranked 163rd on tour in putting. So he would try anything that had a smooth face. The putter had languished in his garage for close to a decade, among 30 or 40 others.

In his first round on Thursday, when he shot a tournament-low 64, a hot putter led Points to nine birdies, including a stretch of seven in eight holes.

For the week, Points was 10th in putting.

Players have unexpected flashes of brilliance all the time on the PGA Tour, but rarely are struggling players able to sustain excellence over 72 holes. Perhaps, the most remarkable aspect of Points' victory was his ability to maintain the good play over four days, when he hadn't been in this position since last May in a playoff loss to Rickie Fowler at the Wells Fargo Championship.

Points' win wasn't the only victory this year that defied logic. In early March, Michael Thompson beat an elite field at the Honda Classic after missing the cut in three of his first four events. In his last start before Honda, Thompson had shot 78-80 in L.A.

Points made the right bet this week on his mother's putter and a lesson from Brian White, the Lamar University men's golf coach.

But these are some of the world's greatest tinkerers. Walk up and down a tour range on any given Monday or Tuesday of a tournament week, and you're likely to hear stories of players who have claimed to discover that missing piece to the puzzle that will lead them out of the doldrums.

When you hear players say they are close, much of what they are referring to are some incremental steps to a climatic experience when everything clicks in their golf universe.

Darren Andrew Points had that epochal occurrence this week at Houston.

"I never count myself out," Points said. "I never just chalk it up, like, oh, this year is over with. I've never felt like that.

"I was just grinding, just trying to wait and try to find that one thing that was like, boom, there it is and there I go. Fortunately, it was this week and I capitalized on it."

Points' boom episode this week began when he switched to a center-shafted putter to the more offset Ping Anser that helped him hit more down on the ball and stop missing putts to the left.

"When I hit good putts this week, the line on my ball rolled so tight, it just looked like it was going to dive in the hole," he said.

It was fitting that Points made a 13-foot putt on the 72nd hole to seal a 1-shot win over Henrik Stenson and Billy Horschel.

Now Points is headed to his second Masters. And he's not surprised that it's happening, despite the seven missed cuts on the season. He never lost faith that his fortunes could change in an instant.

"I never not think it's on my radar," Points said of Augusta. "I want to win more than once. I want to have the opportunity to win majors. I want to play in Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups. These are things I want to do and I know I'm capable of doing."

Points will be in the field next week at the Valero Texas Open, where another player might find that missing piece or spark that raises them from the dead.

The proof, Points showed in Houston, isn't in the money list or the stats, but in the drive to solve the mystery of a very hard game, and the belief in that transformational occasion that changes everything on the golf course.