J Harris: Still no win for Masters favourite
The Shell Houston Open ended on Sunday at the Golf Club of Houston on Humble, Texas. And once again it was the Commonwealth Blue Ensign of Australia that flew highest at the prize-giving after Matt Jones followed his countryman, Steven Bowditch (who won the week before at the Valero Texas Open) and won not only the tournament, but also booked his spot at this week's US Masters.
Two weeks prior to Bowditch's win it was fellow Aussie, John Senden's chance as he picked up the win at Valspar Championship at Palm Harbour. That's three Australian wins out of the last four PGA Tour events.
Ordinarily I wouldn't read too much into this "mini-trend" but I can't help but recall Gary Player's words to me that Jason Day was his pick to win at Augusta this week. Day is Australian! Anyone else feel a slight shiver?
But let's have a good look at the Shell Houston Open.
Matt Jones played really well to shoot a 6 under par 66 in the final round on a rainy day that was more annoying than anything else, and really just interfered with the concentration levels, but clearly not his. However, I think it would be fair to say that at 7 shots off the pace, coming back to win this tournament was not realistically on his agenda.
But golf is a strange old game. The 66 got him into a tie with a red-hot Matt Kuchar and so a play-off was required. Jones needed just one more hole and a touch of magic to see off the world number seven, chipping in from about 38 metres out and picking up the very last Masters spot available for 2014.
In so doing, Jones bumped up the Aussie "delegation" size at Augusta National to seven to be led by defending champion Adam Scott.
Kuchar will be disappointed after missing out on consecutive weekends and some will question his ability to close out when in a strong position. But not me. I still feel that the old adage of "cometh the hour, cometh the man" will apply this Sunday at Augusta, and Kuchar is certainly one of those men who thrives on the big stage.
The South Africans who played this past weekend did well, in particular Retief Goosen (tied seventh) and one of my Masters favourites, Charl Schwartzel who ended tied 19th. He'll be unhappy though with a second round 75, but showed good determination to bounce back well from there. That determination will come in handy this week and could be the difference between an early exit or some weekend action, or even better, yet another green jacket.
There's plenty of rainy weather all around Augusta National at the moment and this weather system will stay in place at least until Wednesday. And then, almost as if the curtain is lifted on this golfing showpiece, the sun is set to come out on Thursday. Temperatures start at 23°C and build gradually into Sunday's 32°C. This wet weather now and intense sunshine from Thursday will create greens that will be very receptive early on and then transform into concrete slabs by Sunday. Good luck putting or pitching into those greens on day four.
The challenges at Augusta lie quietly in wait, almost smug in its peril and convinced of its own certain potency. Who will win? Will it be the strong Aussies? Or the gritty and gutsy South Africans? Or will the winner come from the host nation, as it has on 57 other occasions?
Whoever it is and wherever they come from, this tournament will test all of them to their limits and will ensure that only the very best player can call himself the Master.
Jeremy Harris is the sports anchor at 94.5 Kfm on the Breakfast Show. He is a keen golfer and plays off a 6 at his home club, Arabella. Follow him on Twitter @jeremyharris55.