When the people at Augusta National decided to reinstate the win-and-in policy three years ago, the rule was universally applauded by players on the PGA TOUR, who approve of any change that gives them additional access to the Masters.
Also providing a little fist pump were the organizers of the Shell Houston Open, who were handed another weapon for their arsenal of why players should come play their event. Already blessed with a tough golf course (with a rigorous finishing hole) and great playing conditions, the Shell Houston Open now had one other selling point to the players.
In addition to serving as a great tune-up for the Masters, the folks in Houston could say, “Hey, boys, if you haven’t qualified for little tournament in Augusta, come take one last swing at it.” And there’s something about playing for that green jacket that almost makes one forget about the $5.9 million purse — at least until they start handing out paychecks.
Since the win-and-in policy was restored, the Shell Houston Open has never failed to provide a little bonus drama for Augusta. In 2008 it was Johnson Wagner who held on to win his first PGA TOUR event and earn his spot in the Masters. He didn’t have to think long about accepting the invitation, either; he was on a jet around midnight and headed toward Magnolia Lane.
Things didn’t quite work out the next two years, but they were awfully close. In 2009, it was J.B. Holmes, who missed his final chance by losing in a playoff to Paul Casey. In 2010, it was Augusta State graduate Vaughn Taylor who was beaten in a playoff by Anthony Kim and denied an 11th-hour admission ticket.
While most of the players you’d expect to see in the Masters have already qualified, there are a few who still need to take advantage of this one last opportunity get in the field. Five looking to make their move this week include:
Michael Bradley: He won the Puerto Rico Open this spring, but that doesn’t count in the eyes of the Masters committee since it’s opposite the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. He ranks No. 31 on the money list and needs a victory in Houston to make his first Masters appearance since 2009.
Spencer Levin: He’s posted three top-10s in the last six starts and has finished outside the top 15 only once since February, which leaves him 17th on the PGA TOUR money list. Despite a slight meltdown on Saturday at Bay Hill, he rebounded to tie for sixth. It would be fun to see him in the Masters.
Marc Leishman: The 2009 Rookie of the Year waited until the weekend to play his best golf at Arnie’s place last week. Leishman, who is No. 30 on the money list, is a big guy who has a nice touch around the greens; he’ll get a chance to show it this week in Houston. He missed the cut in his Masters debut a year ago and would benefit from the experience.
Webb Simpson: A solid spring includes a runner-up performance at the Transitions Championship, which has helped him climb to No. 22 on the money list. He followed that by missing the cut at Bay Hill. Simpson, a three-time All-American at Wake Forest, is looking to make his Masters debut.
Jimmy Walker: “Kid Dynamite” has three top-10s this spring, but his game went south when the TOUR went to Florida. He’s missed the cut the last two weeks. Walker is No. 26 on the earnings list, but needs his first career victory if he wants to see those famous Augusta National green cellophane-wrapped pimento cheese sandwiches up close and personal.
When it comes to needing that Shell Houston Open mojo, Wagner, Taylor and Holmes are all on the top of the help-needed list once again.
Although Wagner won the Mayakoba Golf Classic earlier this season, the Masters doesn’t recognize that as a win-and-in event since the best players were competing in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship that same week. Holmes is No. 27 on the money list, but No. 60 in the world rankings. Taylor has not finished better than 25th this season.
Those three know the possibility exists to see the azaleas next week. Now they have one more chance to take care of business. It will be fun to watch the drama unfold.
- Jhonattan Vegas becoming star as PGA Tour Rookie
- Champion’s Tour players can still provide very competitive play on PGA Tour
- Westwood skips The Players Championship due to restrictions
- Johnson Wagner wins the Mayakoba Golf Classic on Sunday for second title
- PGA Tour looking at making changes to end of season for players not making FedEx Cup