IRVING -- The groundwork for Fort Worth golfer J.J. Henry's climb into contention at the HP Byron Nelson Championship was laid last week, when Henry had a heart-to-heart conversation with his caddie.
"He feels like I've underachieved out here. I do as well," Henry said Saturday, reflecting on some pointed words he received from a fill-in looper with major-championship credentials -- fellow Fort Worth resident Mark Brooks, who handled Henry's bag at The Players Championship.
Brooks, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour, has been a mentor to Henry in recent seasons, often sharing advice during practice rounds at Mira Vista Country Club. But Brooks, who competes regularly on the Champions Tour, wanted to observe Henry in a pressure situation, so he volunteered to tote his bag at The Players -- where Henry tied for 40th -- during an off-week on the 50-and-over circuit.
Henry said the results of that experiment have been evident at the Four Seasons Resort, where the TCU graduate played his way into today's final group with a third-round 67 that moved him to 7 under par for the tournament, one stroke behind leader Jason Dufner.
Although regular caddie Pete Jordan, a former TCU golfer, was back on the bag Saturday, Henry said Brooks' fingerprints were all over a gritty effort that featured Henry's best ball-striking round of tournament week despite battling 30 mph wind gusts.
Henry, 37, split 11 of 14 fairways, including all seven on the back nine. He reached 16 of 18 greens in regulation, including the final 10. If he can generate comparable numbers in today's final round, where more swirling winds are predicted, Henry could wind up celebrating his first PGA Tour triumph since 2006.
If not, Henry said he's at least headed in the right direction thanks to what he called "a wake-up call" from Brooks, the 1996 PGA champion.
"He doesn't sugar-coat anything," Henry said. "He showed me a lot of shots around the green. And he challenged me. ...I've kind of set the bar too low. I'm trying to take tighter lines and to take dead aim. And to work on some shots around the green. That's what we've done. And it's paid off a couple of times this week."
Whether it results in Henry's first tour triumph since the 2006 Buick Championship will be determined today. But Henry, a member of the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team, concedes he needed a kick in the pants to get things jump-started after missing the cut in his first five events of the 2012 season.
Since hooking up with Jordan, a former PGA Tour competitor, Henry has made the cut in nine of 11 events, including the last six. Henry said Jordan has been "a great asset" between the ropes because he serves as a viable sounding board on difficult shots in pressure situations.
"He played the tour for a number of years and his experience obviously speaks for itself," said Henry, who arrived at TCU well after Jordan (1982-86) departed. "There's no doubt it's good to have somebody like that who knows what it feels like to be in the hunt or what it feels like to hit the shot ...or read the green. It goes a long way, there's no doubt about it."
But Jordan acknowledged there has been something different about Henry this week at the TPC Las Colinas. There is more swagger, as well as more accuracy around the greens. He said whatever lessons Henry gleaned from Brooks last week "have been working great" in Irving.
"He's revamping his short game a little bit. He's so much better than he was," Jordan said. "When I first started with him, he wasn't chipping very good. ...Now, he's thinking he can chip them in. It's great to see. His attitude has been great this week."
Henry admits he can get down on himself too quickly in pressure situations, a trait that has limited him to one tour victory despite being a consistent money winner (more than $11.7 million in career earnings) for more than a decade.
"I'm my own worst enemy sometimes," Henry said. "I get out there and kind of get frustrated."
Insights gleaned from Brooks, said Henry, have helped him play better "grind-it-out golf." A prime example is Saturday's 67, when Henry buried six birdie putts, all from inside 14 feet.
The bigger challenge looms today, with a final-group pairing and a chance to win. Henry said he welcomes the opportunity, especially with next week's Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial looming.
"Regardless of what happens Sunday, I'm looking to build on some good things that started last week. I'm looking forward to the challenge," Henry said.
"Hopefully, this is the starting point of a momentum-builder for a nice two-week stretch."
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760