Russell Henley (pictured) emerged as a potential major champion in the early weeks of the 2013 season. He won his first event as a full member of the PGA Tour, claiming the Sony Open in January. That win qualified him for the US Masters and even at this stage of his career Henley looks a potential contender.
Henley won two tournaments on the Web.com Tour at the end of 2012 and finished third in two other events. At the Sony Open he completed 20 successive rounds of competitive golf under par in which excellent putting was key to his low scoring. His appearance in this week’s Honda Classic marks the first time he contested the first leg of the Florida Swing.
Henley won his two feeder Tour titles after a play-off. On both occasions he holed medium length clutch putts to qualify for extra holes. He then beat his opponents in the play-offs to prove he can play at his best under intense pressure.
In winning the Sony Open Henley had three rounds of 63 and another round of 67. He led from the first round and never looked like being caught even though several well established Tour professionals figured on the leaderboard.
Augusta is characterized by wide fairways but lightening fast greens. Generally players must be above average for driving distance to set up plenty of birdie and eagle opportunities, especially on the four par 5s.
The Masters is often decided over the back nine on Sunday. There are two reachable par 5s coming home but these are classic risk/reward holes. Henley appears to have the temperament to play his natural game when in contention.
By winning the Sony Open, Henley has earned full exempt status until the end of the 2015 season. His world ranking should get him into the majors and World Golf Championship events. He could become the first debutant to win the US Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
It will be interesting to see how Henley copes with the special demands of major championship golf. He was tied for leading amateur in the 2010 US Open and he could well improve on his finishing position of 15th in this year’s Masters tournament. Before then he looks set for a good tournament this week in Florida.