HUMBLE, Texas – I tore up the paper with my predictions after the first round. I watched favorites stumble and no-name underdogs make title runs. I sat shaking my head in disbelief, even though every tournament seems about as unpredictable as the Powerball numbers.
Just another wild week on the PGA Tour.
What, you thought I was talking college hoops?
Welcome to the “other” March Madness, as craziness and capriciousness reigned – along with the rain – at the Shell Houston Open. But the similarities didn’t stop with the fickle nature of these coinciding events.
There were bracket busters. The top-ranked player in the field, Rory McIlroy, survived and advanced, but never contended. Phil Mickelson seriously contended for only a few minutes early Sunday afternoon before getting bounced from title consideration.
There were Cinderella stories. Four players in the eventual top nine on the leaderboard have never won. And that doesn’t even include Steve Wheatcroft, whose status is so negligible that he didn’t even get off the alternate list at last week’s Web.com Tour event before Monday qualifying this week. He was such a dark horse that he made Florida Gulf Coast University look like John Wooden’s UCLA teams of the early 1970s.
There was mind-bending bracketology. At one point in the final round, there were 18 players within two strokes of the lead. By day’s end, nine players had led or shared that lead, a revolving door of names big and small, top seeds and upset specials.
There was a major call in an important situation by the officials. This one was a delay of game, as play was stopped because of dangerous weather conditions at 3:52 p.m. local time Sunday afternoon, with heavy rains soon enveloping the area. At one point, it appeared the Tour was doomed to a second straight Monday finish, but play continued two hours and 38 minutes later with the remaining half-dozen twosomes finishing before dark.
And in the end, there was a buzzer beater to clinch the title.
It came off the stolen putter of Mary Jo Points, whose precocious son Darren Andrew – called D.A. from the time he was born – took the Ping Anser model out of her bag back in 1987, when he was 11 years old, and had it sitting in his garage when he took it out prior to this week and put it into play.
Leading by one coming to the final hole, Points hit 3-wood to the middle of the fairway on the difficult par-4 closer, then fanned a hybrid short and right of the green. It hung precariously on the edge of a slope and from there he hit a chip to 13½ feet, with the impending putt the only thing standing between him and a second career victory.
Having struggled lately with the flat stick – any flat stick – Points sought the help of instructor Brian White on Wednesday morning based on the suggestion of fellow pro Chris Stroud. For the nominal cost of taking care of White’s change fee to catch a later flight out of town, Points received a few pointers that proved key to his week.
“He gave me a couple things, changed the putter – boom – felt great,” he reported. “The ball started rolling real tight. My hit got a little more consistent. I stopped missing putts to the left and, I mean, when I hit good putts this week, the line on my ball rolled so tight, it just looked like it was going to dive in the hole.”
Points may not have been an underdog of FGCU proportions, but he could have been analogous to Wichita State, right down to the mid-major status and “Shockers” nickname. In nine previous starts this season, he had made the cut just twice, with a best finish of T-63 at the Humana Challenge. That’s akin to a tournament team riding a big-time losing streak going into the Big Dance.
Even with little form and less momentum, Points never saw this tournament as anything but an opportunity to change that.
“I never count myself out,” he explained. “I never just chalk it up, like, oh, this year is over with. I've never, ever felt like that. I was just grinding, just trying to wait and try to find that one thing that was like – boom – there it is and there I go.”
That “one thing” was standing in front of him on the final hole, just 13½ feet for par and an unlikely victory – even if he didn’t view it that way. Downgrain and with a slight right-to-left break, Points employed the same stroke he’d been using since that lesson with White on Wednesday morning. The ball started right at the cup and never left its line, dropping in for the dramatic buzzer beater.
It was the culmination of a week that can only be described as crazier and more capricious than anything we’ve seen recently on the hardwood.
From bracket busters to Cinderella stories, from a logjam of title contenders to the lone figure of D.A. Points left standing with his mother’s stolen putter in his hands, this tournament was more unpredictable than that other tournament referred to as March Madness.
And even better: This one actually finished in March.