By Ron Patey

J.B. Holmes won the the Shell Houston Open after he burst out of the gate in the final round to record seven birdies on the first eight holes and nine on the opening 12. Holmes soared up the leaderboard with an 8-under, 64 total, and into a playoff with Johnson Wagner and Jordan Spieth. The trio had tied at 16-under 272 when they started the first playoff hole on the monster dogleg-left water-lined 18th hole. Holmes and Wagner both made par, and Spieth was eliminated after he posted a bogey.

Holmes and Wagner headed back to the 18th tee for the second playoff hole, and after Holmes made a par, Wagner flubbed a short par putt to not only see the Shell Houston Open title slip away, but also a spot in this week’s Masters. The victory earned Holmes $1.188 million and boosted him into third place from 16th in the FedExCup standings. It is his fourth PGA Tour victory.

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Next On The Tee: The Masters

While the eyes of the golf world will be on four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods at Augusta, the field would be wise to focus on how to take down two-time (2012 and 2014) champ Bubba Watson. Watson’s self-taught ability to crush shaped bombs off the tee with laser-like precision and knack for planting pressure-cooker iron shots, either tight to the stick or in the bottom of the cup, have earned him a pair of green jackets.

Another major factor to consider is his cool demeanor when clutch time rolls around. Jordan Spieth, who played with Watson in last’s year final round, passed along in an interview that Watson was trying to tell him a joke as they walked the back nine on Sunday. Spieth couldn’t believe Bubba had decided to go into a comedy routine during their battle for the title.

Spieth’s experience of playing alongside the long-hitting lefty, who plays to the beat of his own drum when the big money is on the line, can’t help but boost the Texan’s chances of putting on his first green jacket in Butler Cabin. The 21-year-old already goes in as a favorite, having won the Valspar Championship over Patrick Reed in a dramatic playoff, and his second-place finish at the Shell Houston Open comes on the heels of a runner-up showing in the Valero Texas Open.

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Top-ranked Rory McIlroy makes his way to Augusta just one major away from putting the finishing touches on a career Grand Slam. The superstar from Northern Ireland has set the bar so high that he’s had to deal with outrageous expectations so far this season. McIlroy’s standards are such that the recent results of a T9 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and a T11 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational have been viewed as disappointments; most guys on tour would kill for those finishes. The prevailing opinion on McIlroy is he’s a small swing tweak away from contending or running away from the Masters field.

Augusta National Golf Club plays 7,435 yards long and is a par 72.

Favorites: Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Henrick Stenson, J.B. Holmes

Players to Watch: Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Jimmy Walker, Tiger Woods