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Aussies chase final Masters spot in Houston

THE final invite to the US Masters is up for grabs but a handful of Australians have more than the year's first major in mind.

TWO Australians in the field at the Houston Open have already secured Masters invites, but for the seven others the tournament presents the last opportunity to secure an invite to next week’s first major of the year.

The final place in the Masters field at Augusta National will be given to the winner of the Houston Open, if not already invited to the tournament.

Steven Bowditch and Cameron Smith are already assured of their tee times, the former courtesy of a win at the Byron Nelson Championship last year and the latter after his stunning T4 at the US Open at Chambers Bay. 

But it’s not just an invite to the Masters on the line, stuttering 2016 PGA Tour campaigns have put a handful of Australians at risk of losing their status on the world’s best tour.

Sydney’s Matt Jones won the Houston Open in 2014 after holing out with a chip in during a playoff with Matt Kuchar and snatched that year’s final Masters invite.

However, it’s been an underwhelming 2016 for Jones since winning the Australian Open in December. 

Jones returned to the PGA Tour at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January and finished T34. His best finish since then was a T11 at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and he then missed three consecutive cuts before failing to win a match in last week’s WGC-Match Play.

Like Jones, it’s been two years since Queenslander John Senden has won on the PGA Tour when he triumphed at The Valspar Championship. 

Senden’s last start on the PGA Tour came at that tournament this month, but the former champion failed to make the cut for the second consecutive year. 

A T10 at The Honda Classic in February is Senden’s best finish on Tour this season and he currently sits outside the FedEx Cup’s 125 players who regain their full Tour status for next season. 

BUBBA'S GRAVITY DEFYING BASKETBALL SHOT:

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The Australian with arguably the most on the line this week is Lismore’s Rhein Gibson.

After graduating from the Web.com Tour last year, Gibson’s rookie season on the PGA Tour has been disappointing and his poor performances led to him falling down the pecking order when the Web.com Tour graduates' rankings were reshuffled.

Another reshuffle occurs after this week’s Houston Open and Gibson will be gunning for a good performance so as not to fall even further down the rankings.

Gibson has teed it up 10 times on the PGA Tour this season, missing the cut in seven of those starts and his best performance was a lowly T58 at November’s RSM Classic.

Two Australian veterans teeing it up this week are four-time Tour winner Robert Allenby and 2006 US Open winner Geoff Ogilvy.

Of the 21 tournaments played between them they’ve each made only one cut, Ogilvy at February’s Phoenix Open where he finished T51 and Allenby when he was tied for 68h at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. 

Both sit below 200th on the FedEx Cup rankings and will more than likely have their careers on the PGA Tour in mind rather than an invite to Augusta when they begin their Thursday rounds at Golf Club of Houston.

Stuart Appleby returns to the PGA Tour on a medical exemption and needs $US506,993 in prize money during his remaining 12 starts this season. 

The most in form player of the Australian contingent in Houston is Victoria’s Aaron Baddeley.

At last week’s Puerto Rico Open, Baddeley had a chance to break his victory drought until difficult scoring on Sunday saw him fail to make ground on the leaders.

2015 was an underwhelming season for the three-time Tour winner and he eventually lost full playing rights and is currently relying on conditional status to gain entry into tournaments.

However, he has used most of those to his advantage, accruing three top 10s in 11 starts and currently sits 76th on the FedEx Cup rankings. Another solid performance this week will go a long way to regaining his full status on the PGA Tour for next season.

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