Photo: For The Chronicle
Jim Herman refused to flinch Sunday despite pressure from more accomplished players like Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson, holding on to win the Shell Houston Open for his first-ever PGA Tour victory and a spot in the Masters this week.
Herman, the 54-hole co-leader with Jamie Lovemark, shot a 4-under-par 68 to beat the Swede Stenson by a single stroke, finishing 15-under par to claim the $1,224,000 first prize check. That’s more than the 38-year-old pro from Cincinnati has earned in any of his five full seasons on the Tour.
He seized the lead for good by chipping in from the fairway for a birdie on the 600-yard par-5 15th hole. Stenson, who is seventh in golf’s world rankings, likely cost himself a shot at hanging on to force a playoff with a bogey on 15, but he recovered to birdie 15 to keep the pressure on Herman.
The new Houston champion, who broke 70 all four days and made only one bogey on the weekend, safely reached the green in regulation on the treacherous 18th hole, considered to be one of the most difficult finishing tracks on the Tour, then left himself with an easy three-foot putt for his breakthrough victory.
“I thought I did a good job of managing the pressure,” said a teary-eyed Herman, who once worked in the pro shop at one of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s golf courses. Trump encouraged him to give the PGA Tour one more try, then helped support him financially. Herman still wears the logo of a Trump golf club on his shirt.
He joins 2014 champion Matt Jones and Johnson Wagner in 2008 as winners of the Houston tournament to secure Masters starts on the last possible opportunity.
Also sharing a piece of the lead during the final round, played under bright sunshine with very little wind, would be Russell Henley, who briefly pulled even with Herman at 13-under with a birdie on No. 7. But bogeys on two of the first three back-nine holes knocked Henley out of contention, leaving only Stenson as an obstacle.
Lovemark, a 28-year-old former NCAA champion who has had to come back from major back surgery, fell by the wayside early with bogeys on the second and third holes. He staggered to a 76 and wound up eight shots behind Herman.
Johnson’s bid for a 10th Tour title – he has claimed at least one in each of the last eight seasons – took a serious hit with a double bogey on the 11th hole, but he locked up third place with three birdies the rest of the way, finishing at 13-under with his 69.
Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello, a regular on the European PGA Tour, posted the day’s best round, battling into nominal contention with a 7-under 65 to wind up fourth at 12-under. Henley and Daniel Berger, who posted a 66, tied for fifth at 11-under.