HUMBLE, Texas – The Masters was always on D.A. Points' mind, even with the start of his year going nowhere.
He took care of that with one clutch putt.
Points sank a 13-footer to save par on the 72nd hole Sunday, winning the rain-delayed Houston Open by one stroke over Henrik Stenson and Billy Horschel.
Points' only other victory came with actor Bill Murray at his side at Pebble Beach in 2011. This one earned him an invitation to the Masters in two weeks and a two-year exemption, unexpected bonuses after missing seven cuts in his first nine starts this year.
"I never doubt that I can do it," Points said. "I certainly get down and frustrated when I make two of nine cuts. That's not making you feel real great about yourself."
No matter how he played in Houston, he was planning to play in next week's Texas Open, too. Now, at least he won't have to worry about winning there.
"I never thought that I wasn't going to make it (to Augusta)," Points said. "I just thought this is an opportunity, just like next week."
Desperate to change his luck before Houston, he brought along an old putter he once borrowed from his mother that's been sitting in his garage since about 2005. He hardly missed with it in an opening 64 and then sank the biggest putt of his career on Sunday.
"I think mom is just fine with me having it," he said.
But it was more than just the putter that worked this week. Fellow touring pro Chris Stroud set up a putting lesson for Points on Wednesday morning with Brian White, the golf coach at nearby Lamar, where Stroud played. White rescheduled a flight to meet with Points and got him to change his point of impact.
"The things he was saying, at first, I wasn't in love with," Points said. "But I knew that what he was saying wasn't wrong."
White also told him to remember to accelerate through his putts, no matter how pressurized they are. Points had already learned a thing or two about easing tension on the course from Murray and found a way to lighten the mood with caddie Travis Perkins on Sunday.
"Every time he wasn't looking at me, I'd kind of look at him with this big, cheesy grin," Points said. "He would start laughing and I would instantly laugh. That was just enough of the stuff to break the tension."
Points was 6 under on his round when the storms arrived late in the afternoon. He passed the time watching the Duke-Louisville game in the NCAA tournament and the final groups returned to the course at 6:30 p.m. He restarted in the 15th fairway with no more than a dozen onlookers and crickets starting to chirp in the fading sunlight.
He made three straight pars then hit a hybrid to the right of the 18th green from 231 yards away. He left an awkward pitch short and reassured himself as he walked up to the potential winning putt.
"Whatever happens, happens," he said. "It's not like I don't want to make it, it's not like I'm trying not to make it. If I hit a good putt and it goes, that's what's supposed to happen."
He pumped his right fist when the putt dropped, then took off his cap and thanked the die-hard fans who stuck around for the finish.
"Thank you for staying," Points said, "and Happy Easter!"
Stenson shot a 66 on Sunday, not enough for a victory but enough to move him to No. 42 in the world rankings and earn him a spot in the Masters.
"I said to my caddie walking up 18, 'No matter what, we're playing for a green jacket in a couple of weeks,'" Stenson said. "That will be nice."
Charles Howell III wasn't so lucky. He also shot a 66, but wound up four shots shy of where he needed to finish to crack the top 50. Howell, who grew up in Augusta, will miss the Masters for the fourth time in the last five years.
"I'm not going down the road of disappointment," he said. "I played good. I would love to be in the golf tournament. So would 300 million other golfers. I played well this year and I'm going to watch the tournament on TV. It's just horrible to watch on TV, to be honest."
A total of 20 players were separated by four shots going into the final round at Redstone, and seven players held or shared the lead at some point.
Rory McIlroy was never a factor, though he was encouraged about the state of his game after a 70. Now No. 2 in the world, McIlroy was headed to San Antonio to play the Texas Open and get in a few more competitive rounds before the Masters.
Phil Mickelson, the 2011 champion in Houston, stalled after opening his final round with four straight birdies. He three-putted for a double bogey on No. 14, shot a 68 and finished six strokes back.