HUMBLE, Texas – Ben Curtis won the Texas Open last year to secure a spot in the Masters, but it wasn't enough to get him into the Bridgestone Invitational, a 15-minute drive from where he lives in Ohio. The Texas Open had such a weak field that Curtis did not earn enough world ranking points for the winner to qualify for Firestone.
That won't be the case this year, and not just because Rory McIlroy – the No. 2 player in the world – made a last-minute decision to play.
Because of how the calendar falls, there were two weeks between Bay Hill and the Masters. And because of a deal that the Texas Open cannot end on Easter Sunday, it now occupies the final week before Augusta National. That spot had belonged to the Houston Open.
With so many players wanting one last tournament before going to the Masters, the Texas Open has attracted the likes of Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, Charl Schwartzel, Ian Poulter and Peter Hanson, along with European Tour members Jamie Donaldson and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, all of them in the top 50.
Curtis earned 24 ranking points for winning last year, the same amount for winners of opposite-field events. The winner this year is likely to earn in the neighborhood of 44 points, putting it on par with the Humana Challenge.
It debunked the theory of one agent who predicted both fields – the Houston Open and Texas Open – would suffer because of the date change.
The Houston Open was still attractive enough to get Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker, Steve Stricker and Keegan Bradley (not to mention McIlroy). D.A. Points won the tournament and earned 56 points, an increase from 50 points a year ago. Even with the date change, the Houston Open attracted 27 players who already were in the Masters, comparable with previous years.
The Texas Open has 16 players who will be in the Masters. Not only is its field strong enough to send the winner to Firestone, he might qualify for another World Golf Championships, the HSBC in Shanghai at the start of the 2013-14 season.
There again will be two weeks between Bay Hill and the Masters next year, but with Easter Sunday the week after Augusta, the Houston Open will return to its normal spot a week before the Masters.
AMERICAN STREAK: Jonas Blixt of Sweden is becoming a footnote in history – the last foreign-born player to win on the PGA Tour.
Blixt won the Frys.com Open at CordeValle on Oct. 14. Since then, Americans have won all 16 official PGA Tour events, including 14 in a row to start the 2013 season. That matches the longest American streak to start the season since 1984. That run ended a week after the Masters when Nick Faldo won at Hilton Head.
As for the 16 in a row?
It's the longest streak of American winners since they won 17 straight in 2006. That streak began with Tiger Woods at the British Open (one week after John Senden won the John Deere Classic) and ended when K.J. Choi won at Innisbrook in the penultimate tournament on the official schedule.
RIGHT CALL, WRONG KIND OF GOLF: A trip to the Masters wasn't meant to be for Geoff Ogilvy, though not from a lack of effort.
Starting with the Humana Challenge, he played 10 tournaments out of 11 weeks in a bid to get into the top 50 in world rankings by the end of the Houston Open. The only week he missed was the Match Play Championship because he didn't qualify.
A question arose last week, after Ogilvy missed the cut for the fifth time this year, about whether he would have been better off not playing the last two weeks.
Turns out he made the right call.
If he had not played Bay Hill or the Houston Open, Ogilvy would have had only 50 tournaments count against his record and his average points would have been 2.31. He would have been projected at No. 50 in the world after Houston, instead of being projected at No. 53.
Ogilvy would have taken the risk, however, that no one would play well enough to move past him.
Henrik Stenson tied for second in the Houston Open. Marcel Siem won the Hassan Trophy on the European Tour. Both would have kept Ogilvy out of the top 50. In the case of Siem, he still didn't get in. The German was No. 51 by a 0.025 points average behind Russell Henley.
ONE LAST CHANCE: Marcel Siem of Germany narrowly missed out on the top 50 and his first trip to the Masters.
Now, he gets one more chance.
Tournament officials said Siem accepted a sponsor's exemption Monday to the Texas Open. While the cutoff for qualifying for the Masters through the world ranking was last week, all winners of PGA Tour events that offer full FedEx Cup points get a trip down Magnolia Lane.
Ever since the Masters renewed its criteria to take PGA Tour winners in 2007, only one player has won the last event before the Masters to get in – Johnson Wagner at the Houston Open in 2008.
GEORGIA CUP: A tradition that began in 1998 with Matt Kuchar as the winner resumes Thursday at The Golf Club of Georgia. U.S. Amateur champion Ben Fox faces British Amateur champion Alan Dunbar of Northern Ireland in the Georgia Cup.
The U.S. Amateur champion has an 8-7 edge in the series.
Kuchar won the inaugural competition in 1998 when he defeated Craig Watson. Over the years, the Georgia Cup has featured three future Ryder Cup players (Kuchar, Sergio Garcia, Edoardo Molinari), along with Ricky Barnes, Matteo Manassero, Peter Uihlein and Graeme Storm.
Former Masters and U.S. Open champion Billy Casper will serve as honorary captain.
Fox, a senior at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, won the last two holes in regulation and then made an 18-foot birdie on the 37th hole to beat Michael Weaver last summer at Cherry Hills in the U.S. Amateur. Dunbar, who played on the Walker Cup team in 2011, beat Matthias Schwab of Austria in 36 holes to win the British Amateur at Royal Troon.
DIVOTS: In a classy gesture to the caddies whose players were in the pro-am, Houston Open tournament director Steve Timms gave each of them an envelope with a $100 bill for helping out with amateurs in the group. ... The PGA Tour has decided not to alter the points system for the FedEx Cup playoffs this year. It had been discussing whether to reduce the amount of points in playoff events to keep the volatility but reduce the award of those who can move too high with a second- or third-place finish. ... The Jim and Tabitha Furyk Foundation raised about $300,000 for local children's charities through the ''Furyk & Friends Celebrity Golf Classic.'' Among the players who took part were Steve Stricker, David Toms and Justin Leonard. Also playing were Reggie Jackson and Chipper Jones. The foundation has raised $800,000 for charities since it began in 2010.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The Houston Open was the seventh tournament out of 14 this year on the PGA Tour that had a round suspended because of weather. The last two tournaments were suspended by storms. The others were suspended because of snow, darkness, frost, fog and wind.
FINAL WORD: ''I've dreamed of this since I was a boy.'' - Wocheng Ye, the 12-year-old from China who became the youngest player to qualify for a European Tour event.