The big prize for many at Shell Houston Open would be a trip down Magnolia Lane
What’s the greater incentive – a PGA Tour win and more than $1 million in prize earnings or an invitation to play golf in the Masters. It probably depends on who you ask, but five of the top six going into the final round Sunday at the Shell Houston Open at the Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club are not eligible for the Masters yet.
A win on Sunday would do just that for players like co-leader Bryce Molder (10-under par) and Vaughn Taylor. It’s an aspect that even when most of the big names in the Houston tourney have been knocked out of contention brings an added element of suspense to tomorrow.
But it hasn’t always been that way. There was a period when Augusta National Golf Club wasn’t granting automatic invites to tournament winners. But that all changed in 2007 when Billy Payne took over as chairman of Augusta. “I can remember innumerable times where winners of tournament events would be more excited to hear that they had automatically qualified for the Masters than to receive the first-prize money check,” Payne said back then.
That’s certainly a big motivator for Taylor, who grew up in Augusta and played at Augusta State. He played in the Masters twice, last time in 2008, and really wants to get back. Of course there’s a fine line between motivation and nerves.
“It’s a little of both,” said Taylor, who is tied for second two strokes behind leaders Anthony Kim and Molder. “It’s tough to get back. It’s a long process, and so I hope tomorrow I can get it done.”
Molder, a four-time all-American from Georgia Tech, said he’s been working with a sports psychologist to focus on the process, not the results. He has played practice rounds at Augusta when he was in college, but is still looking for his first Masters invitation. Sleeping on the lead for the second straight night won’t be easy, and he knows he really does have to take it one shot at a time on Sunday.
But then again? “I’d be lying if I said it (the Masters) wasn’t in the back of my mind,” Molder said.
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