By Ron Patey
Journeyman Jim Herman went big-name hunting at the Shell Houston Open, armed with a game plan. And he and his caddy, Matthew Achatz, stuck to it on Sunday as Herman bagged his first championship in more than 100 starts on the PGA Tour.
Herman’s target golf approach — and his willingness to take Achatz’s advice — put him right in the thick of things on the back nine with big boppers Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson. The Cincinnati native left his driver in the bag and mostly used 3-woods from the tee. As a result, Herman kept striking second shots off the short grass to spots Achatz had pointed out and then relied on the pinpoint wedge game he’d sharpened up through extra practice sessions.
That commitment to improving his short game really paid off on the par-3 16th hole. Herman had tugged his tee-shot left and faced an uphill greenside chip. He used his new-found touch to hole-out the shot and move into the lead for good.
That spectacular chip no doubt juiced Herman’s confidence. He followed it up with his longest drives of the event on 17 (313 yards) and 18 (316 yards), two of the Golf Club of Houston’s toughest holes. He made the stress-free pars to dust off Stenson and Johnson for the win.
Next On The Tee: The Masters
Returning champion Jordan Spieth heads up Magnolia Lane to defend his green jacket title. He’ll be looking to recover some of that mind-blowing magic from last year, when he set or tied seven records on the iconic Augusta National track.
The 22-year-old Texan has one win this season at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but he hasn’t consistently earned top-of-the-class grades as a green reader in 2016. Chances are that that will change this week. He also put in a sterling effort on Augusta’s slick putting surfaces in 2014, when he tied Jonas Blixt for second, three shots behind champion Bubba Watson.
Jason Day goes for three in a row this week on Bobby Jones’s creation. The Aussie is coming off back-to-back victories in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and the WGC-Dell Match Play at the Austin Country Club. While Day took heat for going with a light schedule after winning five times last year, he’s shown that he knows what’s best for himself. In his wins, Day has mixed massive drives with a real feel for thrilling galleries, knocking miracle recovery shots tight to the pin.
Adam Scott and caddy Steve Williams are back together again at Augusta. Scott, who won the 2013 Masters in a playoff with Angel Cabrera, switched from his regular bagman, David Clark, for The Masters only. He is banking on Williams’s experience on the bag for five Masters championships.
Scott comes into the prestigious tournament as one of the hottest players on the PGA Tour after wins in Florida at the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Bubba Watson will look to score his hat-trick championship on the Georgia layout. Watson, the 2012 and 2014 champion, is comfortable shaping shots on Augusta National. The long-hitting lefty has a win at the Northern Trust Open and a second-place finish at the WGC-Cadillac Championship under his belt this season.
Rory McIlroy continues his now annual quest for the career Grand Slam this week. If McIlroy gets the job done on Sunday, he’ll join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen in the exclusive modern-era club.
Augusta National Golf Club will play 7,435 yards and is a par 72.
Favorites: Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott
Players To Watch: Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Charl Schwartzel, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson
Ron Patey covered the golf industry for 21 years as a special sections editor with Sun Media. During the past six years, Patey has been a golf writer for Examiner.com.