Georgia native Russell Henley said he had “chills” thinking about his return to the U.S. Masters, a reward for his three-stroke victory at the Shell Houston Open in Texas on Sunday.
The amateur guitar player made a career-best 10 birdies to surge past a faltering Kang Sung-hoon and clinch his third PGA Tour victory.
“I just told myself to bear down, no matter whether I was winning or losing. When you embrace the challenge it calms you down a little bit,” Henley, who started the day four strokes behind Kang, said after carding 65 to finish at 20-under-par 268 at the Golf Club of Houston.
Kang, like Henley needing a win to qualify for the Masters starting on Thursday, never got his final round off the launch pad, battling to a 72.
The South Korean preserved solo second place by sinking a 15-foot par putt at the last to finish at 17-under, a stroke better than Americans Rickie Fowler and Luke List.
A spot in the Masters was reserved for the Houston winner, if not already exempt, and Henley heads to Augusta, Georgia for the year’s first major championship, not far from his hometown of Macon.
“It gives me chills,” Henley, 27, said. “I’ve been trying not to think about it today but obviously it went through my head.”
He hopes to defy history in his fourth appearance at Augusta. Only four players have won the Houston PGA Tour event and then gone on to also claim the Green Jacket the next week, most recently Phil Mickelson in 2006.
Mickelson, one of 18 Augusta-bound players who made the cut in Houston, tied for 55th in his final tune-up for what he hopes will be a fourth Green Jacket.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Gene Cherry)