(Reuters) - Australian Matt Jones executed two near-miracles in quick succession to win the $6.4 million Houston Open in a playoff on Sunday.
He dramatically earned a last-minute ticket to the Masters when he sank a 40-yard birdie to beat American Matt Kuchar at the first extra hole at the Golf Club of Houston.
“I told my caddie I would chip it in, so it was nice to do it,” Jones told NBC TV after an Australian won in Houston for a ninth time.
“It’s been a while coming. I’ve been out here for seven years now so it’s good to finally get one. I’ve had a few chances.”
Minutes earlier, Jones birdied the same par-four 18th by sinking a 45-foot putt that at the time seemed like it would be too little, too late.
But Kuchar, playing behind, pulled his approach shot from 216 yards into the water hazard at the same hole and, after taking a penalty stroke, did well to salvage a bogey thanks to a deft pitch and force a playoff.
Jones earns $1.152 million for his first PGA Tour victory and becomes the fourth player from his country to win in the past seven weeks, joining Jason Day (WGC Match Play), John Senden (Tampa Bay Championship) and Steven Bowditch (Texas Open).
The 33-year-old from Sydney has never played in the Masters, and he needed nothing less than a victory in Houston to secure the final spot in the first major of the year next week.
Jones started the final round six strokes behind Kuchar and fell further adrift when he bogeyed the first hole.
He also bogeyed the 17th after driving into a hazard, but still carded a 66, while Kuchar shot 72. They finished at 15-under-par 273, two strokes ahead of Sergio Garcia.
Spaniard Garcia, the halfway leader, will arrive at the Masters with confidence. So will Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, whose closing 65 matched the low round of the tournament.
He finished equal seventh on eight-under, while Phil Mickelson also had a solid week, a further stroke back heading to a tournament he has won three times.
Kuchar also will travel to the Masters in good form, though mindful he has failed to close the deal the past two weeks.
The six-time PGA Tour winner led halfway through the final round of the Texas Open last week but finished equal fourth, and took a four-shot advantage into the final round in Houston.
Kuchar needed only to par the par-four 18th to win in regulation but his second shot, with a hybrid, was doomed for a watery grave the entire way.
“That’s in the water. Golly, Matty,” Kuchar said angrily while his ball was still in the air. He subsequently sank a three-foot putt to stay alive.
In the playoff, Jones drove into a fairway bunker and then sprayed his second shot short and right of the green, his ball stopping in light rough.
As a steady rain fell, he calmly pitched over a greenside bunker and his ball rolled forward inexorably into the hole.
Kuchar had a chance to extend the playoff, but his bunker shot came up well short.
“I’ve been working hard on the chipping and putting. As soon as it came out, it was exactly where I wanted,” Jones said of his winning shot.
Jones will have to change his travel plans to Augusta, but he has no complaints.
“I have a lot of tickets to buy right now,” he said.
Reporting By Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Gene Cherry