Shell Houston Open:
This was the 69th overall edition and the 11th consecutive on the 7,441-yard par-72 Golf Club of Houston’s Tournament Course.
With a final-round 4-under-par 35-33=68 and a 72-hole aggregate of 15-under 273, overnight co-leader Jim Herman claimed his first PGA TOUR title in his 106th career start, besting runner-up Henrik Stenson by one stroke.
The University of Cincinnati product, a pre-tourney 300/1 outright, was making his sixth Shell appearance with a previous best of T14 in 2012. He had won five times in college and once on the Web.com Tour (2010 Moonah Classic), but before Sunday happened, his career mark on TOUR was T4 at the 2015 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
The 191st-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) improbably brushed aside a plethora of A-list chasers, including No. 7 Stenson, No. 9 Dustin Johnson, No. 5 Rickie Fowler, and No. 2 Jordan Spieth.
In doing so, he converted his first career 54-hole lead/co-lead and with the win, is the last invitee to the 80th Masters, where he'll be making his debut.
Herman began the finale co-leading with Jamie Lovemark on 11-under after opening in 69-69-67. He kicked off with a routine two-putt par before connecting from 8'8" on the par-4 second for his first circle.
The 38-year-old added a second birdie on the par-5 fourth before hitting his tee shot on the par-4 fifth OB leading to his (lone) bogey and reached the turn at 1-under on the day and one back.
At that point, the leaderboard read:
-13 Russell Henley (playing the 10th hole)
-12 Rafa Cabrera-Bello (thru 16)
-12 Dustin Johnson (10)
-12 Henrik Stenson (playing the 10th)
-12 Jim Herman (9)
The Cincinnati native circled a 13-footer on the par-4 11th, two-putted the par-5 13th for a ‘4’, and then with the shot of his career, pitched-in from the left rough, 39'9" from the hole for birdie at the par-3 16th to push one ahead of Stenson.
He two-putted the 17th for par, and then after a 10-minute wait, striped his drive on the par-4 18th 316 yards dead in the center of the fairway. It was the longest of the week on the par-4 closing hole. One green and two putts later, he was a champion.
With this win, Herman jumps from No. 191 in OWGR to a career-high No. 68 (previously 176th after 2016 RSM), and from 93rd in the FEC standings to 18th. He is also now fully exempt on TOUR thru the 2017-18 season.
Other than the aforementioned pitch-in at the par-3 16th on Sunday, the key to his victory was a bogey-free 5-under 67 in R3, moving him from T8 after two rounds to T1 thru 54 holes.
The Winner's Stats (rank):
Driving Accuracy: 39/56 (T16)
Driving Distance: 290.6 yards (40th)
Greens in Regulation: 53/72 (T10)
Strokes gained: tee-to-green (SGTTG): 8.175 (8th)
Strokes gained: putting (SGP): 6.577 (4th)
Putts per GIR: 1.660 (T4)
Sand Saves: 3/4 (T10)
Eagles: 0 (T13)
Birdies: 21 (T3)
Bogeys: 4 (T4)
Double bogeys: 1 (T19)
There was no clear advantage in the draw, though 27 early/late were stranded on Friday due to darkness after a 93-minute weather delay earlier that morning. Three of the top-four finishers were early/late however, including the champion.
In total, 40 (of 68) early/late made the 36-hole cut (four WDs), and 41 (of 71) late/early made the 36-hole cut (one WD).
Jim Herman (1st): Early/late
Henrik Stenson (2nd): Late/early
Dustin Johnson (3rd): Early/late
Rafa Cabrera-Bello (4th): Early/late
Golf Channel Perfect Picks ($2,408,560):
Group 1: Henrik Stenson (2nd): $734,400
Group 2: Rafa Cabrera-Bello (4th): $326,400
Group 3: Jim Herman (Won): $1,224,000
Group 4: Johnson Wagner / Si-Woo Kim (T13): $123,760
Yahoo! Low Rounds:
R1: Charley Hoffman (64)
R3: Henrik Stenson (66)
R4: Rafa Cabrera-Bello (65)
R2- (ONE): Will MacKenzie (68), also bogey-free in R1 (69)
Henrik Stenson: The Swede authored a 4-under-par 34-34=68 to post 14-under 274, but came up one shy of champion Herman.
Playing out of the penultimate twosome, he began his final frame one back of Herman and Lovemark after opening in 69-71-66.
The 39-year-old, two days shy of his 40th, joined the top spot with birdie-3 on the first but missed from 5'8" for birdie at the third. He saved par from 8'8" on the par-5 fourth after his second found the water, birdied the fifth, and dropped a 9’5” par putt on the ninth to reach the break one back of partner Henley, who led outright on 13-under.
Stenson circled birdie on the par-4 10th from 11'3" and chipped-in for birdie-4 on the 13th, but squared his first bogey (failed sand save) on the par-3 14th. He canned a 10-footer on 15 for his fifth birdie and saved par on 16 and 17 before a 17'9" birdie try to tie slid by on the right.
This was Stenson's fifth SHO and second runner-up finish (T2/2013). Dating back to the start of the 2014-15 season, he now leads the TOUR with the most runners-up (without a win) with five, including three in last year's Playoffs.
He was looking for his fifth TOUR title in his 149th start – first since the 2013 TOUR Championship – but settles instead for his eighth career runner-up.
Dustin Johnson: Making his fifth appearance with his only other cash a T4/2013, Johnson finished in solo third on 13-under 275. He led the field in SGP at 8.763 (-0.340 on Sun.), but was a dismal T66 (of 71) in GIR at 58.33 percent (42/72).
He was T2 after opening in 7-under 65, T3 thru 36 holes after 2-under 70, and T3 thru 54 holes with another 70. The 31-year-old began the final round on 10-under, one adrift of Herman and Lovemark.
Playing out of the antepenultimate twosome, he turned with a two-birdie one-bogey 35, and then pulled within one after circling his third birdie at the par-4 10th to reach 12-under.
Johnson’s hopes of adding a 10th TOUR title and first of the season were silenced when he rinsed his second to the par-4 11th (152 yards out from the fairway) and ate a double bogey. To his credit, he bounced back with birdies on holes 12, 14 and 15 but the damage had been done.
Jamie Lovemark: Looking for his first TOUR win in his 78th start (70th as a pro), Lovemark co-led with Herman thru 54 holes (67-68-70). Playing out of the final twosome, the 28-year-old mustered one birdie, a five-footer on the par-5 eighth, against three bogeys and a double for 4-over 76 and solo 18th.
Charley Hoffman: After making his 10th straight cut in 10 tries at the Shell, the 39-year-old looked poised to record his first top 10 of the season in his 10th start.
After opening with a nine-birdie one-bogey 8-under 64 (tourney low) and chasing with 2-under 70, he led outright after 18 and 36 holes, respectively. Hoffman closed in 74-76 to post 4-under 284 and T33.
What We Learned:
The pre-tourney odds-favorites have won just ONCE this season thru 21 events (Jordan Spieth- Hyundai TOC). Spieth was the book-maker favorite this week (13/2) and finished T13 on 8-under 280 (67-73-70-70), seven adrift of champion Herman.
Eighteen (18) of the Top 50 OWGR were in the field:
Playing the Texas Angle at the Golf Club of Houston:
Texas natives (and residents) Patrick Reed (third appearance) and Sean O’Hair (debut) were the only top-10 Texans (with T10s). O’Hair co-led the field in total bogeys with only three and was No. 1 in scrambling at 84.62 percent. Reed maintains his lead on TOUR in top-10 finishes – this season – with seven on 11 starts (three players are T2 with five).
Houston native Roberto Castro (fourth appearance) began the final round in solo sixth but shot a one-birdie five-bogey 4-over 76 for T27. He LED the field in SGTTG (12.176) but was LAST (71st) in SGP at -7.424.
There were 23 Shell debutantes in the 144-man field (seven TOUR rookies):
Rafa Cabrera-Bello: Making his tourney debut, the sponsor invite needed no worse than a two-way T6 to qualify for Special Temporary Membership (STM).
He made the 36-hole cut on the number after opening in 71-72 (T64), and then played the weekend in bogey-free 68-65 to back door solo fourth. In three TOUR starts this season, the 31-year-old has posted T11 (WGC-Cadillac), a career-best third (WGC-Match Play), and now solo fourth.
Michael Kim: The 22-year-old Houston resident was the top rookie posting T27 on 5-under 283 (68-74-71-70).
The TOUR heads to Augusta National for the 80th Masters Tournament. Jordan Spieth defends after winning last year’s edition in wire-to-wire fashion, four strokes better than runners-up Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose.
Stay tuned to this space for all the latest player news and opinions as the TOUR readies for the season’s first major and its 22nd tournament overall.