PGA Tour Houston Open Preview: Final Warmup for Masters

houston open

Brady Kannon

Wednesday, March 28, 2018 2:20 PM GMT

Wednesday, Mar. 28, 2018 2:20 PM GMT

For a few golfers, this week's Houston Open is their final chance to get their games in order for The Masters. For most players, this is their final shot to get into the field at Augusta.

For the 13th year in a row (but maybe the last), The Houston Open will be staged at The Golf Club of Houston in Humble, Texas. Sitting on the Tour schedule a week prior to The Masters, the golf course was intentionally designed and is set up to look, feel and play like Augusta National. In theory, this is a great idea. It makes for an attractive stop on Tour when the final tuneup before a major gives one a taste of what the major might look like. A practice round before the practice round of sorts. From a sports betting or handicapping perspective however, The Houston Open becomes a tough nut to crack.

Less than 20 players in the field this week already have an invitation to play The Masters. The rest will be trying to win this week and secure that final spot in next week's gala. For the players already in, though, how do you figure they will approach this week? Phil Mickelson admittedly likes to try to set-up shots on this course that he believes he will need to utilize next week at Augusta. Despite having an excellent track record here in Houston and a win in 2011, is he going to try to grind out a victory or is he really just trying to get his game perfectly honed for what lies ahead? Do make note that he won The Scottish Open in 2013 the week before he went on to win The Open Championship.

Jordan Spieth missed the cut here last year. Was he just trying to get a few swings in before heading off to Georgia to begin working on the real prize? Again, there is the flip side as he did finish 2nd in Houston in 2015 before going on to crush the field the following week at Augusta and get his first green jacket. Maybe the best advice from a sports betting angle is to avoid the players already in the field for the Masters. It is tough to gauge what their game plan is this week. The rest of the field? We know they are 100 percent all in for the win.

Following Mickelson's triumph in 2011, we have seen players from farther down the board claim victory: Russell Henley, Jim Herman, J.B. Holmes, Matt Jones, D.A. Points and Hunter Mahan. What they have all shared statistically are high marks in Greens in Regulation, Par 4 Scoring, Putting, and Scrambling. The challenge this week will be to do all of this at a high level while at the same time having "Georgia on My Mind."

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Last three winners @HouOpen in Par-4 Scoring:
Russell Henley - 1
Jim Herman - T2
J.B. Holmes - 1

👀 more stats to help set your lineups this week.https://t.co/wGCbrlhUpP

— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 28, 2018
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The Favorites

Justin Rose (+1192 Pinnacle): Matching his ranking of 5th in the world, so too is Rose 5th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting. Phenomenal considering that is typically is weakness. He has three Top 10s in 2018 and finished 15th in Houston last year.

Rickie Fowler (+1082 Pinnacle): Conversely, Fowler's putting has dipped as he's now 127th on Tour in Strokes Gained. He's recorded three Top 10s here in the last four years.

Spieth (+1301 Pinnacle): Tough to know what The Masters maestro will deliver here this week. Oddly enough, it is his putter that has been the problem this season. His track record in Houston reads: Cut-13-2-Cut-50. At Augusta it is 11-2-1-2.

The Contenders

Mickelson (+1400 Bovada): Lefty will be making his 11th straight appearance at this tournament, and after winning in 2011 he reeled off five straight Top 20 finishes. He may not win this week, but you can expect that his "Masters practice session" will have him near the top of the leaderboard.

Henrik Stenson (+1409 Pinnacle): Stenson's first appearance in the U.S. this season was at The Valspar, where he missed the cut. He was his usual self at Bay Hill in finishing 4th. He's had three Top 10s here in six tries.

Daniel Berger (+2500 5Dimes): The Bermuda whisperer. Berger is indeed one of the best putters on Bermuda Grass greens and that's what he'll find here in Houston, a place where he's finished 5-5-25 the last three years, his only three visits.

The Long Shots

Steve Stricker (+5000 Bovada): It is an odd occurrence to see Stricker, Brandt Snedeker and Bill Haas NOT in field for The Masters. Each will be gunning for a win this week and a golden ticket to Magnolia Lane. Stricker has won his last two starts on The Champions Tour, and speaking of Bermuda Greens he took 31st in Phoenix earlier this year and was 12th at The Valspar four weeks ago.

Snedeker (+6922 Pinnacle): He has never made the cut at this golf course in three tries and yet he has three Top 10 finishes at Augusta. He'll need to change things in a hurry as he's missed the cut in two of his last three starts on Tour.

Haas (+12500 Bovada): Haas suffered the tragedy of losing a family friend just before The Genesis Open. He returned to action at The Valspar and took 49th. He's missed the cut here in Houston five times in seven tries. He's never missed a cut at Augusta in eight trips.

The Pick

Charles Howell III (+4500 5Dimes): The Augusta native will be trying to earn a trip back home here this week in what will be his 14th appearance at The Houston Open. He's played this golf course 10 times and has three Top 10 finishes in the last five years. Howell is coming off of a 9th at The Match Play and a 14th at Bay Hill. He's 10th on Tour in Greens in Regulation, 74th in Par 4 Scoring, and 57th in Scrambling. In the last five years, Howell at Houston is a total of 32-under par. That is 4th best behind only Berger, Mickelson and last year's champ Henley. If he can get the putter going this week he could find himself in the winner's circle for the first time since 2007.

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