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Jim Herman outlasts challenges to win Houston Open

By Steve Habel, The Sports Xchange

HUMBLE, Texas -- Jim Herman, who entered the week as the 191st-ranked golfer in the world and was without a win on the PGA Tour, got a boost in confidence on the Saturday before Easter when he played a round at Trump International-West Palm Beach with a certain presidential candidate.

Perhaps Donald Trump tutored Herman on how to expect to win and to revel in a front-running position. Whatever Trump shared, it certainly helped the journeyman pro.

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Herman was the co-leader after the third round and fashioned a nerveless 4-under-par 68 in the final round on Sunday to finish at 15-under 273 and post a one-shot victory in the Shell Houston Open, played under sunny and calm conditions at the Golf Club of Houston.

Herman's victory was his first in his 106th career PGA Tour event and automatically garnered the 38-year-old Cincinnati native the final spot in next week's Masters Tournament. He had never even held a 54-hole lead until Saturday and now he is headed to Augusta National for the year's first major.

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"Sorry for the tears, but I'm pretty happy," the dew-eyed Herman said on the 18th green after his par on the final hole. "We had a good game plan and we really did a good job keeping our game plan.

"We hit a lot of 3-woods and we wanted to give ourselves as many birdie chances as we could and keep it low stress. And, jeez, look what happened -- I never thought this was possible."

It turns out Trump has more than a casual interest in Herman. Herman played mini-tours until he was 27 and was a professional at Trump National-Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey in 2006 when he and Trump first played a round together.

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"I played really well that day," Herman said. "Mr. Trump has been a supporter ever since. He's even helped me financially -- he's written me a check."

Herman qualified for the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour the next year, and in 2011, he earned a spot on the PGA Tour when he was 34.

Herman has played in majors before, teeing it up in the U.S. Open three times with a best finish of 47th in 2010. He has never played in either the British Open or the PGA Championship, and this will be his first trip to the Masters as a constant.

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He played a round at Augusta National as the guest of Jay Haas -- an investment banker Herman is friends with, not the PGA Tour pro -- and he shot a 1-under 71 after a bogey on the 18th.

Sweden's Henrik Stenson finished second in the Houston Open at 14-under 274 after his own 4-under 68 in the final round. Stenson had a chance to send the tournament into a playoff on the final hole but his 18-foot birdie putt snuck past the hole on the right side.

"I played a solid last round here," Stenson said. "One or two iron shots on the way in I could have played better, but I saved myself when I was in a bit of trouble there on most of them and missed a good chance on 12, really. Maybe could have pushed the momentum forward a bit more, but all the credit to Jimmy. He did really well."

Dustin Johnson (3-under 69) was third at 13-under 275.

"I'm hitting the shots that I want to hit, and I feel like I'm controlling my ball very well," Johnson said. "I'm putting really well. Today I hit a lot of good putts and they just didn't go in the hole. The greens are so good so you got to make putts out here."

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The best score of the final round belonged to Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello, who posted a 7-under 65 on Sunday and finished in fourth at 12-under 276. Cabrera Bello, who was in danger of missing the cut on Friday, played his last 40 holes without a bogey.

Daniel Berger (6-under 66) and Russell Henley (1-under 71) tied for fifth at 11-under 277.

If Herman was feeling any pressure, he never showed it despite being chased by some of the world's best golfers. He racked up five birdies, including a cool-as-a-cucumber chip-in on the 16th from the rough 40 feet left of the hole when his tee shot on the par-3 stopped on the upslope between two bunkers

Herman's lone bogey came on the fifth hole, when he pushed his drive into the trees to the right of the fairway but, thanks to taking just two putts from 60 feet after his approach, had the wherewithal to lose just one shot on the hole.

Third-round co-leader Jamie Lovemark was never a factor in the final round as he had two bogeys and a double bogey in his first six holes, ballooned to a 4-over-par 76 and ended up in 18th place at 7-under. Charley Hoffman, who led this event after the first two rounds, ended up at 4-under and tied for 33rd after going 6-over in the last two rounds.

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Reigning Masters and U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth put a charge through the massive gallery by recording five birdies in his first seven holes and getting within a stroke of the lead before faltering and finishing tied for 13th at 8-under 280.

The wheels came off for Spieth when he bogeyed the ninth, 11th and 12th holes before getting two shots back with birdies on the 15th and 16th. He ended his round with a double bogey on the 18th after he hit is approach into the lake left of the green.

"I need to put it together and not hit every ball in the water," Spieth said. "I had eight water balls this week -- give me eight more shots and we win the golf tournament. Don't hit it in the water, we win. It's unfortunate.

"The good news is, I got myself in contention, I felt the nerves," Spieth added. "I know what I need to work on under pressure now for next week and everything is there."

NOTES: Sixteen players have now made the Shell Houston Open their maiden Tour title. ... With Herman's victory, nine third-round leaders or co-leaders have gone on to win during the 2015-16 season. ... Since the Shell Houston Open moved to the Golf Club of Houston's Tournament Course in 2006, six third-round leaders or co-leaders have parlayed that position into a win: Phil Mickelson (2011), Anthony Kim (2010), Paul Casey of England (2009), Johnson Wagner (2008), Australia's Stuart Appleby (2006) and now Herman.

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