Points’ win boosts his chances for returning to the Masters

The Masters is next week. Even though the PGA Tour has been conducting big-money tournaments every week for three months, this is when the golf season kicks into high gear, and that’s a good thing for D.A. Points.

Points hasn’t qualified for the Masters yet, but he’s peaking at the right time and seems the best bet of Illinois’ four PGA Tour players to earn the one remaining berth in the field at Augusta National.

The last Masters spot goes to the winner of the Shell Houston Open, which tees off on Thursday. Points, from downstate Pekin, is in the field there, as are former world No. 1 Luke Donald, the ex-Northwestern star, and Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman. Elmhurst resident Mark Wilson isn’t in the field at Houston.

While Donald and Streelman have played much better than Points the last few years, it’s Points – down to No. 254 in the Official World Golf Rankings — who has the momentum going now. He won the Puerto Rico Open on Sunday with an unusual final round – birdies on the first five holes and on four of the final six to offset some rough spots in between.

Points also is a past champion at Houston, having won the second of his three PGA Tour titles there in 2013. His other PGA Tour win was in 2011, a spectacular week in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am when he not only captured his first victory on golf’s premier circuit but also teamed with comedian Bill Murray to win the team title.

Champions of the top PGA Tour event each week get spots at Augusta. The Puerto Rico Open, though, was played opposite the more prestigious World Golf Championship-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas. The Masters berth went to the winner there, though champion Dustin Johnson – the current world No. 1 – had already earned his spot via other qualifying criteria.

Still, Points regained his PGA Tour playing privileges for two more years through his victory and also earned spots in The Players Championship and PGA Championship. He will also get into the Memorial and Colonial – lucrative small field invitational events.

“I can’t begin to tell you what this means,’’ said Points, who won the Illinois State Amateur three times between 1995-99 before turning pro. “I had a couple really awful years. I pretty much hit rock bottom. I put my family through a lot.’’

His sudden revival in Puerto Rico was triggered by his changing to a left hand low putting stroke. His 20-under-par for 72 holes there left him choked up, but also optimistic about his chances at Houston. He got into the 2013 Masters (where he finished tied for 38th) by virtue of that win at Houston.

“The way I’m playing, there’s no reason I can’t be in the hunt again,’’ he said.

Points started his collegiate career at Clemson but transferred to Illinois after two seasons. His game got tour-ready there and he could be playing with two other former Illini products, Belgium-born Thomas Pieters and veteran Steve Stricker, if he gets to Augusta. Pieters qualified for the Masters off his No. 18 world ranking in 2016 and Stricker by finishing in the top four in last year’s British Open..

Donald and Streelman come to Houston well-rested. Neither qualified for the WGC Match Play event and both opted to skip the alternate event in Puerto Rico.

Masters Week officially starts on Monday (April 3) with the tournament rounds Thursday-Sunday, April 6-9. There will be plenty of early activity at the course this Sunday, however. That’s when the nationally televised Drive, Chip & Putt finals are held to climax a year-long series of nation-wide qualifiying competitions for youngsters in the 7-15 age range.

Last year the Chicago area had an age group winner, Vernon Hills’ Christian Kim in the Boys 10-12 division. This year there will be two more local finalists hoping for the same result – Naperville’s Lisa Copeland in the Girls 7-9 division and Buffalo Grove’s Chelsea She in the Girls 10-11 category.

Lisa survived a local elimination at Cog Hill and Chelsea did the same at Randall Oaks. Then they earned their spots at Augusta by advancing through a sub-regional at Bolingbrook and a regional final at Medinah.

Chelsea played in the PGA Junior League program at White Deer Run and Lisa plays out of both Cog Hill and Mistwood.