Like the weather, Matt Jones had been threatening all day on Sunday in the final round of the Shell Houston Open and finally he struck like a lightning bolt when his 42-yard chip shot rolled into the hole for a playoff win over Matt Kuchar. The playoff was made necessary when Kuchar bogeyed the final hole to fall back into a tie with Jones at 15 under par.
Jones began the final round six shots in back of Kuchar, and fell back one more stroke with a bogey on the first hole. Tee times for Sunday’s final round were pushed back because of rain in the Houston area and Jones seemed to still be wiping sleep out of his eyes until he reached the third hole. What a wake-up call it was. After a par on the second hole, the 33-year old Australian rang up six birdies on the next nine holes and suddenly found himself in the thick of the race at 14 under. A birdie and a bogey on 16 and 17 left him two strokes out of the lead and needing a birdie at the tough par-4 finishing hole to even have a chance. Jones got the birdie after dropping a 46-foot birdie putt, and would have to sit and hope that Kuchar would get something worse than par on 18.
Matt Kuchar started the day with a four-shot lead at the Golf Club of Houston golf course and, even though he bogeyed the first hole, still seemed in control of the Shell Houston Open most of the day. Time after time he fought off challenges from golfers like Sergio Garcia, Cameron Tringale and Shawn Stefani. The last hurdle standing was Jones, and Kuchar was standing on the tee box when he heard the roar on the 18th green as the Australian’s putt dropped to pull him to within one stroke of the lead. Kuchar seemed nonplussed as he striped his drive into the middle of the fairway of the 488-yard par-4. His second shot was not so perfect. The words “Oh, Matty” were out of his mouth even before his ball splashed into the water hazard to the left of the green. A clutch chip and putt later his ball was into the cup for a bogey-5 and Kuchar joined Jones back on the tee at 18 for their sudden death playoff. One would become a welcome Matt, the other would have to settle for door Matt.
If driving the ball on 18 were the measuring stick, Matt Kuchar would have carried home the trophy twice in the final round of the Shell Houston Open. His ball split the fairway again, while Jones’ ball found the sand trap to the right of the fairway, leaving him a lengthy shot from a questionable lie that allowed him only one option—to play short of the green down the right side and away from the water. Determined not to hit his second shot into the hazard again, Kuchar chose to play to the right of the green—right into the green-side bunker. Still, it was not a difficult bunker shot and Jones was still way short of the green. Matt Kuchar was still studying his next shot when Jones played a chip over the bunker, onto the green and in the hole for his second birdie on 18 within an hour. Kuchar played a good shot from the bunker, but anything short of holing out was not going to be good enough.
Matt Jones holed a chip shot and won the Shell Houston Open, $1.2 million and a spot in the Masters Tournament next week at Augusta. For Jones the win means everything because, in his words, “that’s what we play for,” and to get to play at Augusta National “as a reward is amazing.”
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Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky