This week’s Shell Houston Open offers another chance to earn a spot in the Masters, which gives a glimmer of hope to Georgians Charles Howell III and Chris Kirk.
Both are among the top 20 money winners on the PGA Tour, but neither has met any of the criteria that earn players an invitation to Augusta. They can still qualify with a victory in Houston or at next week’s Valero Texas Open.
Kirk, a Georgia graduate who now lives in St. Simons, has quietly moved up to 15th in the FedEx Cup standings and is 17th on the money list. He tied for 16th at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational and has two top-10s and four top-25 finishes in seven starts. Kirk has nearly won as much money this year ($1.097 million) than he did all of 2012 ($1.197 million) and he has history in Houston, finishing second there to Phil Mickelson in 2011. Kirk is seeking his first invitation to the Masters.
Howell, an Augusta native, makes no bones about how important the Masters is to him. After missing the field for three years, Howell qualified for the event in 2012 based on making the 30-man field for the Tour Championship. He tied for 19th at the Masters, his second-best performance there.
Howell is having a good season and currently ranks 12th on the money list. He has three top-10s and five top-25s in nine starts. He lost in a playoff at the Humana Challenge in January. He’s currently No. 57 in the world and could also qualify by climbing into the top 50 by the end of this week. But such a move would likely require a win.
Tiger on track: Is Tiger Woods on track for another green jacket? He’s already won three times this spring and has regained the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking after sagging all the way to No. 58 two years ago.
Woods has won three events prior to the Masters on three other occasions (2000, 2003 and 2008) but failed to win the green jacket in any those years. Of his previous four Masters victories, he has twice won two tournaments prior to Augusta and two times has won at Bay Hill before winning at Augusta.
Woods hasn’t won the Masters since 2005, when then-chairman Hootie Johnson ordered course changes to famously “Tiger-proof” the tournament.
Last week Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the eighth time. It was his 77th career win, five short of matching Sam Snead’s record. Snead was 45 when he won his 77th event. Woods is only 37.
On the Tours: World Golf Hall of Famer Curtis Strange is the latest commitment to the field at the Greater Gwinnett Championship, to be played April 15-21 at the TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth. Strange is a two-time U.S. Open champion who won 17 times on the PGA Tour. …
The win by Woods at Bay Hill marked the 15th consecutive PGA Tour event won by an American, a streak that began when Tommy Gainey won the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island last fall. … The LPGA is off this week, but returns next week with the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the women’s first major of the year.
Etc.: Chris Borders will retire as general manager of the Atlanta Athletic Club on March 31. Borders, director of golf Rick Anderson and director of grounds and courses Ken Mangum worked together for 24 years and helped the club host two PGA Championships and a U.S. Junior Amateur. Border was known as an impeccable host who got things done properly and on time. …
Gary Benson of Marietta and Scott Resseguie of Augusta won the Georgia State Golf Association’s Four-Ball tournament at Doublegate Country Club and Stonebridge Golf and Country Club in Albany. They finished with an 8-under 208 and beat defending champions David Matthews and Doug Rayford, both of Valdosta, by one shot. …
Steve McGrath, the co-chairman of the Stadion Classic at UGA, has been named the Web.com Tour’s Volunteer of the Year. For four years, McGrath has overseen the team of 500 who volunteer for the annual event.