By Richard Dean
HUMBLE, Texas – While most of the talk centered upon Sung Kang and Rickie Fowler over the first three days of the Shell Houston Open, it was Russell Henley, who shot a final-round 65 and walked away with the big prize on Sunday.
Actually, Henley breezed past the competition. Aided by 10 birdies in his final round, and finishing at 20-under-par, Henley won the 2017 Shell Houston Open by a commanding 3 shots over second-place Kang, who led after the second and third rounds.
Four shots was the deficit Henley faced entering Sunday’s final 18 holes. The threat of severe weather never materialized. The only force blowing in at the Golf Club of Houston was Henley, who picked up his third career PGA TOUR win in impressive fashion, piling on birdie after birdie.
“I made 10 birdies today? Oh, wow,” said Henley, who also birdied the final two holes in Saturday’s third round. “I tried to go into the mentality that I know I can do it, I know I can win if I play well.”
And play well Henley did, having rounds of 67-67-69-65 for a 268 total. His last 13 rounds at the SHO have been under par.
The win put the Georgia native into the Masters for the fourth time.
Henley made the turn in 33, and at 16-under was 1 shot back of Kang, who finished the final round at even-par 72 and played the final two rounds in 1-under after shooting rounds of 65-63 over the first two days.
Playing at a high level, Henley, who reached as high as 21-under, never went more than two holes without a birdie. His only missteps were a double-bogey 5 on the par-3 fifth hole and bogey 5 on the closing hole, statistically one of the most difficult holes on the PGA TOUR.
“This is a great experience for me to win,” said Henley.
Henley was 6 shots back of Kang going into the 17th hole on Saturday. But Henley felt he had to keep plugging away.
“I was walking up the (17th) fairway and I said, you know everybody is real happy right now and it’s a nice day out, everybody is watching golf,” said Henley. “And it seems like Sung is going to win this thing. Let’s bear down, you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“I didn’t know what Rickie was going to do or Sung. I try not to pay too much attention to the leaderboard. I just tried to win by 10.”
Fowler and Luke List shared third place at 16-under. List shot a final-round 68 and Fowler closed with a 70.
Fowler, who opened the tournament with a 64 and carded a 67 on Saturday, dropped out of the chase early on in the final round.
A huge crowd favorite throughout the tournament, Fowler amassed 22 birdies over the first three rounds. But he managed only one birdie on the front nine on Sunday, shooting a 38. Fowler collected four birdies on his back nine on Sunday. But by then it was too late to catch Henley, who earned $1,260,000 for the win and picked up 500 FedExCup points.