HUMBLE, Texas – Matt Jones called it.
He predicted a chip-in as he approached his ball, which sat in the rough right of the 18th green, on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff against Matt Kuchar at the Shell Houston Open.
“I walked up there and told my caddie I was going to chip it in,” Jones said. “My chipping has been pretty good for a while. … When I know what I have to do, I seem to be able to pull it off moreso. Especially playing golf with my friends, if I have to birdie to beat them, somehow I do it. It was nice to be able to do it on this stage.”
Jones wasn’t involved in some casual round, though. He was trying to beat one of the world’s best players to earn his first PGA TOUR victory. Jones’ 42-yard hole-out gave him that victory, and his first trip to the Masters. He also moved from 75th to 16th in the FedExCup standings.
The chip-in was Jones’ second consecutive unlikely birdie on the Golf Club of Houston’s difficult 18th hole. Jones closed regulation by making a 46-foot birdie putt.
“I was going to three-putt before I left it short,” he said. “I didn’t care about finishing second or third or fourth, it didn’t matter. I was only trying to get the win.”
Matt Jones' chip-in to win playoff at Shell Houston Open
Matt Jones' chip-in to win playoff at Shell Houston Open
Jones (66) and Kuchar (72) finished regulation at 15-under 273.
Jones narrowly missed his first Masters bid last fall, missing a 6-foot putt on the BMW Championship’s final hole that cost him a spot in the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola; the TOUR Championship’s 30 qualifiers all earn Masters invitations. Jones finished 32nd in last year’s FedExCup.
His two unlikely hole-outs on the last two holes of the last PGA TOUR event before the Masters earned him an invitation to Augusta.
“I was going home to play with my 2-year-old and 3-week-old,” Jones said of his pre-victory plans for Masters week. “So, bit of a change now that I think they’ll be on a plane to Augusta as well.”
CLOSE AGAIN: This was the second consecutive week that Kuchar was in the lead on the back nine Sunday and lost to a winless Australian.
Kuchar was tied for the lead with nine holes remaining in last week’s Valero Texas Open before being passed by Steven Bowditch. Kuchar led by one shot Sunday when he made the turn in 1-over 37. He still had a one-shot lead as he stood in the Golf Club of Houston’s 18th fairway. He pulled his 214-yard approach shot into water left of the green, though. He got up-and-down from 64 yards to save bogey and force a playoff.
“It’s smarter to bail out and give yourself a chance,” Kuchar said, “but I was looking to try to make 4 and win the tournament. Looking back, you can make par from the right bunker and not from the water. I tugged it a little too much.”
Kuchar hit the 18th fairway in the playoff, but hit his approach shot into a bunker right of the green. The tournament ended when Kuchar failed to hole his bunker shot.
Kuchar has finished fourth and second in his two appearances leading into the Masters. He also has finished in the top-10 in his previous two Masters appearances.
“I’m hoping to keep the train going,” he said.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click below to see our favorite images from Sunday's action
MASTERS MOMENTUM: Rory McIlroy will take momentum into the Masters after a final-round 65 at the Shell Houston Open. His bogey-free round at the Golf Club of Houston matched the low score of the week.
"It was a good way to end the week, obviously," said McIlroy, who played in the day's first threesome. "I wanted to shoot something in the 60s at least today to give me some positive vibes going into Augusta. I played really well, played really solid from tee-to-green again."
McIlroy’s final round moved him from 37th to seventh on the leaderboard.
CALL OF THE DAY: Dennis Paulson from PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM and PGATOUR.COM calls Matt Jones' birdies on the 18th that propelled him to victory at the Shell Houston Open.
LEFTY ON THE MEND: Phil Mickelson said he felt no discomfort at the Shell Houston Open from the pulled muscle that forced him to withdraw from the prior week’s event. There’s still something nagging at him as he heads to Augusta National, though.
“I’m a little nervous heading into next week. I haven’t had the results, I haven’t been in contention, I haven’t won this year, so I’m certainly nervous about my chances, but it’s my favorite week of the year,” said Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion. “It will be a challenge for me to deal with the pressure of the Masters and how much I love that tournament when I haven’t been (in contention) much this year.”
This is the first year since 2010 that Mickelson will arrive at Augusta National without a victory. Mickelson’s most recent Masters victory came in 2010.
His T12 finish at the Shell Houston Open was his best on the PGA TOUR this season. His last top-10 on TOUR was a T6 at The Barclays in August. He finished T2 in his 2014 debut, at the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, but has finished outside the top 10 in his past seven starts. He’s 80th in the FedExCup.
This is the first year since 2010 that Phil Mickelson arrives at Masters without a win. 2010 also is the last time Mickelson won at Augusta.— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) April 6, 2014
HOMETOWN HERO: Shawn Stefani made the most of a sponsor exemption into his hometown tournament. Stefani, who was born in nearby Baytown, finished fifth. It was Stefani’s final start in a minor medical extension, but he earned enough FedExCup points to retain full playing privileges for the remainder of the 2013-14 season.
“There is a lot of pressure (playing at home), but sometimes that can work to your advantage because you get a lot of positive energy,” Stefani said. “That’s kind of what I had today.”
Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen also was making the final start of a medical extension. He also earned enough FedExCup points to retain full playing status for the remainder of the season. Goosen finished seventh after breaking par in all four rounds.
My favorite part of pro golf is the Sunday night trip from 1 event to the next. So much possibility. Especially when it's THE MASTERS BABY!!— Roberto Castro (@cicioCASTRO) April 6, 2014