HUMBLE, Texas -- Ben Curtis won the Valero Texas Open last year to secure a spot in the Masters, but it wasn't enough to get him into the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a 15-minute drive from where he lives in Ohio. The Texas Open had such a weak field that Curtis didn’t earn enough world ranking points for the winner to qualify for Firestone.
That won't be the case this year, and not just because Rory McIlroy – the No. 2 player in the world – made a last-minute decision to play.
Because of how the calendar falls, there were two weeks between Bay Hill and the Masters. And because of a deal that the Texas Open cannot end on Easter Sunday, it now occupies the final week before Augusta National. That spot had belonged to the Houston Open.
With so many players wanting one last tournament before going to the Masters, the Texas Open has attracted the likes of Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, Charl Schwartzel, Ian Poulter and Peter Hanson, along with European Tour members Jamie Donaldson and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, all of them in the top 50.
Curtis earned 24 ranking points for winning last year, the same amount for winners of opposite-field events. The winner this year is likely to earn in the neighborhood of 44 points, putting it on par with the Humana Challenge.
It debunked the theory of one agent who predicted both fields – the Houston Open and Texas Open – would suffer because of the date change.
The Houston Open was still attractive enough to get Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker, Steve Stricker and Keegan Bradley (not to mention McIlroy). D.A. Points won the tournament and earned 56 points, an increase from 50 points a year ago. Even with the date change, the Houston Open attracted 27 players who already were in the Masters, comparable with previous years.
The Texas Open has 16 players who will be in the Masters. Not only is its field strong enough to send the winner to Firestone, he might qualify for another World Golf Championship, the HSBC Champions in Shanghai at the start of the 2013-14 season.
There again will be two weeks between Bay Hill and the Masters next year, but with Easter Sunday the week after Augusta, the Houston Open will return to its normal spot a week before the Masters.