The final round of the 2014 Shell Houston Open was chock full of excitement. A surging Matt Jones quickly climbed the leaderboard to challenge Matt Kuchar, who was steady throughout the tournament.
After 72 holes, Kuchar and Jones found themselves at 15-under par, forcing a playoff. Jones had great momentum entering the 73rd hole and ended the tournament in dramatic fashion, holing out from 42-yard out to become this year's champion.
Here's how the final standings look:
*Click here to view the complete leaderboard via PGATour.com.
Round 4 Recap
What a performance from Matt Jones on Sunday. He entered the day in fourth place and six-shots back from Kuchar.
Jones started his day with a blemish, recording a bogie on the first hole. He quickly regained his form and birdied four of his next eight holes to make the turn with a three-under 33.
After record three more birdies in the next seven holes, he entered the final two holes trailing by two strokes. All hope seemed to be lost after he recorded a bogie on the 17th. Maintaining his resilience, he birdied the 18th by draining a 46-footer from just off the green to finish the round with a 66.
He was still one-shot back.
Kuchar stumbled on the 18th hole and was forced to salvage a bogie. His even-par round was good enough to force a playoff with Jones, who was already waiting in the clubhouse.
After his drop, Kuchar hit a beautiful high spinner into 18 and will have 3-4 feet left to force a playoff with Matt Jones. #PGATOUR— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 6, 2014
The playoff only took one hole.
After finding trouble early, Jones miraculously holed out from 42-yards away to snatch victory from a stunned Kuchar.
This win marks Jones' first million-dollar payday and secures him a trip to the 2014 Masters.
Sergio Garcia finished with a 70 in the final round; however, that was only good enough to finish at 13-under par and secure a third-place finish.
Rory McIlroy finally began to heat up on Sunday. He finished the week by shooting his first sub-70 round of 65. That was the low round of the day and propelled him up the leaderboard to finish tied for seventh.
His performance on Sunday certainly bodes well for the upcoming Masters.
Round 3 Recap
With a four-under-par 68 on Saturday, Kuchar leapfrogged Sergio Garcia to take a four-shot lead into Sunday's final round. He also matched Rickie Fowler for the low round of the day, and he's excited to be in contention for the second weekend in a row, as relayed by SXM PGA Tour Radio:
Matt Kuchar looks forward to going into the final round in contention for the 2nd week in a row https://t.co/vC9lIjRuq5— SXM PGA TOUR Radio (@SiriusXMPGATOUR) April 5, 2014
Hitting 17-of-18 fairways on the day, Kuchar was razor sharp from the tee and took advantage of it with a few brilliant approach shots like this one on No. 1, via PGA Tour:
If not for an unfortunate hiccup on the 18th—a three-putt bogey—then Kuchar would have carried a nearly insurmountable lead into the final round. As it stands, it's going to take another final-round collapse from the veteran to match last weekend's for someone to catch him.
Don't expect him to relent the lead without a brutal fight, though. Here's an interesting comment that speaks to his fighting spirit, per Mike O'Malley of Golf Digest:
Matt Kuchar, 54-hole leader: "Never say, 'It's just not my day.'...The next time, giving up will become even easier." http://t.co/80RQcow8Ev— Mike O'Malley (@GD_MikeO) April 5, 2014
Sergio Garcia struggled with consistency on moving day, shooting a one-over 73 to drop into a tie for second place with little-known Cameron Tringale, who fired a 69 on Saturday.
A bogey on the first hole got his round off on the wrong foot, and he hit his tee shot into the drink on No. 10. Two birdies saved Garcia from falling too far behind Kuchar, but he'll need to likely match his second-round 65 to have any shot at taking the lead back on Sunday.
Phil Mickelson had his fair share of difficult moments in Round 3.
He opened up with a 38 on the front nine, thanks to a couple of bogeys on No. 2 and 3 but bounced back nicely on the back nine with three birdies in a row between No. 11 and No. 13. Here's a look at his first birdie of those three, per PGA Tour:
Unfortunately, Lefty made bogey on the 17th hole to drop him back to even par for the day, and he's well outside the lead, though still in the top 10.
While there are many notable names playing this tournament, there doesn't seem to be many capable of charging up the board in the final round to catch Kuchar.
He's been playing outstanding golf all season long, with seven top-10 finishes and one victory, leading golf coach Andy Morrison to opine about his status among the top golfers heading into Augusta:
Matt Kuchar playing himself firmly onto the Masters shortlist....— Andy Morrison (@AMGolfMindCoach) April 4, 2014
It will take a meltdown by Kuchar and a strong finish by one of the leaders on Sunday to keep him from winning his second tournament this season. While that's certainly possible (see last weekend's collapse at the Valero Texas Open), my money's on Kuchar to seal the deal with another round in the 60s.
Round 2 Recap
Garcia was in good shape with a 67 on the first day, but he pulled away from the competition with an impressive 65 in the second round.
The veteran was nearly flawless in his performance, avoiding bogeys while adding five birdies and an eagle. Most of this was thanks to some consistent putting, as noted by the tour's official Twitter account:
Sean Martin of PGATour.com points out that Garcia has played extremely well lately:
Sergio Garcia has 12 consecutive top-20 finishes worldwide, including 2 wins. Last finish outside top 20 was T37 at The Barclays in August.— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) April 4, 2014
If he can continue to play this well over the next two days, there is little doubt he can come away with his first win of 2014.
Of course, this competition is far from over. Matt Kuchar had his second strong day in a row, finishing with a 67 to get to one stroke back after the second round. He actually tied Garcia with a birdie in the 17th hole, but he fell behind on No. 18:
There are four golfers hanging around in third place as Matt Jones, Cameron Tringale, Shawn Stefani and Jimmy Walker all sit four strokes off the lead. However, there are a few bigger names sitting just behind this group.
Phil Mickelson is arguably the most intriguing figure near the top of the leaderboard, ending the day tied for ninth place with a minus-six for the tournament. He was able to get to this by doing what he does best; going up and down to get birdies like on No. 13:
Steve Stricker, Retief Goosen and Rickie Fowler all remain in contention after 36 holes.
On the other side of the coin is Bill Haas, who struggled in his second round after leading coming into the day. After scoring seven holes under par on Thursday, he only had one on Friday and finished with a 74 to drop to nine strokes off the lead.
Rory McIlroy was also only mediocre with a 71. This was his second day in a row under par, but he has not taken advantage of a relatively easy course and has fallen behind the competition. His putting has been especially disappointing through two rounds.
The good news is that there are two rounds remaining to turn things around. McIlroy or Haas can get back onto the leaderboard and anyone at the top could catch the leaders.
However, it will take a big effort to pass Garcia based on the way he has played so far this tournament.
Round 1 Recap
Following a slow start, Haas caught fire late on Thursday, recording an eagle on No. 4 and birdieing three of his last four holes to conclude the round, per PGA Tour on Twitter:
Here's a look at Haas' eagle from nearly 30 feet out:
Meanwhile, Hoffman was steady from start to finish, birdieing three of his first five holes and concluding the round with four birdies on the front nine. He would birdie three of the four par-fives.
Like Haas and Hoffman, Keegan Bradley, Matt Kuchar and J.B. Holmes all started on the back nine on Thursday and it worked out for each as all three started fast.
Bradley and Kuchar were locked in from the opening tee, each knocking in four birdies within their first nine holes. Holmes also started strong, recording two birdies within his first four holes. However, the two-time PGA Tour winner was at his best down the stretch, birdieing four of six holes on the front nine before finally suffering a letdown on No. 7.
Holmes' bogey late in the round was the only one among the early leaders on Thursday.
Afterward, Bradley talked about the benefit of playing alongside a five-time major winner in Phil Mickelson, per the tournament's official Twitter account:
Mickelson, who was grouped with Bradley and Webb Simpson, quickly discovered a rhythm himself. After recording his first birdie on No. 12, he patiently settled for five consecutive pars before closing out the back nine with a birdie on No. 18.
Lefty would only birdie two holes on the front nine, but capitalized on the par-fives, something he hadn't done earlier in the round.
Simpson birdied only one par-five for the round, but still managed to finish with a four-under 68 to match Mickelson, per PGA Tour on Twitter:
Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Phil Mickelson were paired together today. They were a combined 14 under par and made zero bogeys. #PGATOUR— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 3, 2014
Mickelson's success on those holes could prove key as he gears up for Round 2. Just three strokes off the lead and well within striking distance, the 43-year-old must be considered a contender heading into the final 54 holes.
A lot will depend on how his body responds the rest of the way, though. On Thursday, Mickelson talked about the strained oblique muscle that has been bothering him of late, per PGATour.com's Brian Wacker on Twitter:
Phil Mickelson on his oblique injury: "I travel with a light machine. It expedites the healing process." Can't make this stuff up. #pgatour— Brian Wacker (@pgatour_brianw) April 3, 2014
GolfChannel.com's Jason Sobel believes Mickelson's impressive first-round outing suggests he's ready to get past the injury:
Phil Mickelson opens with 4-under 68. Obviously oblivious to any obsessing over his oblique.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) April 3, 2014
Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy flew under the radar on Day 1, starting off strong but fading on the back nine en route to a two-under 70. McIlroy's fourth birdie of the round was sandwiched in between two bogeys.
He'll begin the second round five shots off the lead, but could certainly propel himself into contention heading into the weekend's final rounds if he can clean up some things on Friday. McIlroy birdied three of the four par-fives and can build off some of his early successes on Thursday moving forward into the weekend.
While Haas and Hoffman are currently sitting pretty, there's plenty more golf to be played. And with a handful of golfers just one shot back heading into Round 2, you can bet the leaderboard will look much different come Friday night.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.