D.A. Points celebrates after shooting a final-round 66 to win the Houston Open. (AP)
So you were watching March Madness, and you were organizing egg hunts, and maybe you were thinking about MLB Opening Day … and you forgot about the Shell Houston Open.
No worries, amigo. I got your back.
I'm happy to sing "The Ballad of D.A. Points," a wholly likable 36-year-old Midwestern gent with one career win (at Pebble Beach, by the way), a LEGO belt buckle and a previous claim to fame as Bill Murray's not-famous playing partner at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Now, after making a 13-footer for par on the 72nd hole in the early evening gloaming of Houston for a one-stroke win over Billy Horschel and Henrik Stenson, Points is a double winner on the PGA Tour, and there is nothing sweeter on the golf course than the sensation of validation.
One career win, and a bushel of missed cuts on your résumé makes someone prone to call you a fluke. Two wins, even with a bushel of missed cuts on your résumé? That makes you a guy who backed it up, who can now walk around in life, and when someone asks to talk about your win on the PGA Tour, makes you a guy who can ask: "Which one?"
Much like Kevin Streelman's first career win at Tampa Bay two weeks ago, Points' win at Houston is a refreshing break from TigerMania and RoryMania gripping golf fans everywhere. There are only so many times we can write and talk about Tiger Woods kicking major butt, and Rory McIlroy lost in the wilderness without forgetting that other human beings actually play golf.
And truth told, it was getting sort of easy to forget that Points played golf. After his breakthrough win at Pebble in 2011 with Carl Spackler as his amateur partner, Points' career became as mysterious as the living conditions of Spackler's shed/house in "Caddyshack." In 22 events after the Pebble win, Points' highest finish in 2011 was a tie for 10th at the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. That stretch was made worse by seven missed cuts.
And 2012 wasn't any better. After a strong performance at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow – in which he was the "Who's He Again?" figure in a playoff with McIlroy and winner Rickie Fowler – Points plunged into obscurity. He missed 10 of 16 cuts heading into 2013, and, as if to prove that wasn't a fluke, went and missed seven of his first nine cuts this year.
D.A. was scoring no FedEx Cup points, one might say.
If you're counting, that was 17 missed cuts in 25 events entering Houston. That's a 68 percent missed cut rate. That's no bueno, as they might say at a Tex-Mex restaurant in H-Town.
But he hooked up with a new swing coach, Gary Gilchrist, two weeks ago, and something clicked. His first-round 64 set the tone, and his final-round 66 proved he could make the swing under pressure.
[Watch: Sunday highlights]
Plus, he proved he could scramble when it appeared his hopes for victory were sinking like the evening sun in the storm-delayed finish. After inexplicably coming up short of the 17th green from the fairway, Points hit a delicate chip to three feet, a gorgeous bit of nerve. And on 18, he had a mighty 231 yards to the green and was able to avoid a greenside bunker with his approach, hit a so-so chip to 13 feet, then make the putt and – yes! – exult like a man who needed, craved and loved the feeling of validation.
It's hard not to like Points. He told Steve Sands on The Golf Channel that his mechanism for staying calm during the round was to "keep giving my caddy cheesy grins … that usually made us laugh." And he used a PING putter he borrowed from – get this – his mother when he was a junior golfer. He'd gotten away from using Mom's flatstick in the past few years, but dusted it off, asked PING to add some weight to it and had it in his hands when he lined up the 13-footer for victory.
It's like that old song, where they spell out "M-o-t-h-e-r: 'M' is for the putts I make with your putter ...'"
And the final key to victory was a life lesson for all: Zen.
Points told Sands that his only thought over the putt was, "Whatever happens, happens."
He elaborated that it's been a tough year, and to have a putt to win was so overwhelming that he just surrendered to the moment. He let go of the stress, and rolled the putt in. His shout of joy and exultant fist-pump let you know how much it meant to him.
And, like a good Midwestern boy from Illinois, Points made sure to be gracious.
"Thank you for staying!" he shouted at the few gallery members left after the storm. "Thank you for staying, and Happy Easter!"
Same to you, D.A. And thanks for the show.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
69-70-70-65 – 14-under 274, Dustin Johnson, tie for fourth, Shell Houston Open, Redstone Golf Course, Humble, Texas.
Oh, so there's Dustin Johnson. I thought we had lost him to the world of Instagrams with Paulina Gretzky.
And that's not entirely a knock on Dustin Johnson. I'm sure, given the option, some of us would shirk our work duties for Instagrams with Paulina Gretzky.
But it's been darn near three full months since we saw Johnson resonate on a leader board. His win at Kapalua in early January was so long ago, Tiger was still a major question mark, Rory was still No. 1 and Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend was real.
Shortly after that win, the Dustin-Paulina romance hit the press, Dustin and Paulina kept Instagramming photos of themselves madly in love and Johnson missed a couple of cuts, threw in a W/D and didn't hang a top 10 until Houston.
That leaves us with two options on Johnson, who for three years now has been the most tantalizing major-less talent on Tour:
1.) He's back playing golf seriously now, making good on his otherworldly talent and driving down Magnolia Lane next week, loaded for bear.
2.) It's a blip on the screen, and the maddeningly inconsistent Johnson will be back Instagramming with Paulina as soon as this week.
I vote for Option "1," only because it's time to see Johnson join the Majors Club. Nobody on Tour has a more physically impressive presence, given Johnson's 6-foot-4 frame, club head speed and hands.
And yet, his history at Augusta National is not strong. He missed last year because of an injury, and in three prior runs at a green jacket, has finished tie-38, tie-38, tie-30.
Idle question: Will Paulina Instagram a pimento sandwich from the grounds? Only time will tell.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"J.P. was the one with the idea. He said to me: If you just play a few more rounds, I think you'll be ready." – Rory McIlroy, to NBC on Saturday at the Shell Houston Open.
And just like that, the Valero Texas Open went from "Honey, I'm Going to Get Some Gardening In This Weekend" to "Hey, Rory's Playing!" for most golf fans.
That is, if McIlroy can contend, for a change. Oh!
Any regular reader of this column knows I'm a monster Rory McIlroy fan, and even named my second son "Rory" for reasons that may or may not have to do with my ManCrush on his golf swing.
By any measure, however, it's been a disastrous 2013 for Rors. A list of highlights thus far:
• A news conference in Qatar announcing his new Nike deal, complete with fireworks. A check of Wikipedia shows Ben Hogan never held a news conference with fireworks.
• He then missed the cut at Qatar. There were no fireworks when he signed his card.
• He took four weeks off, showed up in Arizona with those infernal Nike clubs for the World Match Play, and promptly lost his first-round match to 64th seed Shane Lowry.
• He walked off the course at the Honda Classic in the eighth hole of his second round.
• He earned a back-door top 10 at Doral with a final-round 65, perhaps a bit of fool's gold.
• He lost his No. 1 ranking to Tiger Woods.
• He got a text message from Tiger telling him to take his "finger out of his (rear end) and win," which was either very cool of Tiger to encourage his rival, or a passive-aggressive mind-screw of Rory by Tiger's masterful tactics of crushing his enemies.
• He followed up the text with a tie for 45th at Houston, all with those Nike clubs. Again, no fireworks.
But, hey: I still like his name!
And we're here to spread good news. The decision by McIlroy to change his pre-Masters schedule and play in the Texas Open, detailed in the above quote as originating with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald, is the best thing he could have done.
The game is about repetition and confidence, and McIlroy needs both. So it's refreshing and encouraging that he ditched the advice of handlers, agents, hangers-on and listened to his looper. Rory should go to San Antonio and try to find something in the dirt. As he said, "I need to commit to targets. … I need to have a scorecard in my hand."
I still don't think he's a safe bet to make a run at Augusta National, but maybe by the summertime, we can get McIlroy back into our good graces. Play on, Rors, and to heck with that Nike team that was probably planning a pre-Masters Sunday night grip-and-grin event for you. Play golf!
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
Look who started his round birdie-birdie-birdie on Sunday to creep within two shots of the lead – good ol' Phil Mickelson.
And then, on the par-5 fourth hole, Lefty had about 15 feet for eagle. If he made it, he'd tie for the lead and add all kinds of sizzle to Sunday.
Except, he just missed it, settled for birdie, one stroke back – and then played even par the rest of the way for a 10-under, tie-16th finish.
And just like that, he whet our appetites for one of America's favorite springtime shows: "Phil At Augusta."
He's already giving us quality Phil-isms, as if to fire us up. He spoke after the round about switching back and forth between a traditional putter grip, and the "claw" putter grip, saying he needs to incorporate the "claw" more to lessen his forward press. These are things, by the way, you'll never hear Tiger say. But Phil loves being the mad scientist.
Don't forget one of the sport's more amazing statistics before next week: Phil has won two green jackets (2006, 2010) since Tiger last won one (2005).
It would have been great to see him blister Redstone on Sunday to get a pre-Masters win to crank up the buzz, and it would have definitely been kick-started by an eagle on No. 4 to get tied for the lead. Alas, he missed.
So, let's go back out to No. 4, remind Lefty to choose the proper grip, get him to roll in that eagle and make for a newsy Sunday and … give that man a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Do any of you remember last year's Texas Open? Couple of week after the Masters? Ben Curtis edging out Matt Every and John Huh for the win?
Yeah, I didn't think so.
But this year, the Texas Open becomes the "Pre-Masters Rory Watch," and that's a good thing. If McIlroy hadn't shifted his schedule, the top-ranked players in the field would be Matt Kuchar (No. 9 in the Official World Golf Rankings), Ian Poulter (No. 12) and Charl Schwartzel (No. 15). So, without slagging those fine gentlemen, let's just say the Valero Texas Open just got a cortisone shot.
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