PGA Tour's Shell Houston Open Acts as Masters Warm-Up

Brady Kannon

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 4:47 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017 4:47 PM UTC

With one final chance to earn a spot into the Masters for the winner, this week's PGA Tour Shell Houston Open provides both major championship preparation and possibly an invitation.

The Shell Houston Open has made quite a nice home for itself. In nine of the past 10 seasons, the event has played host to the final Tour stop prior to the Masters. This makes for a pretty attractive field and many story lines. There are 30 players in the field who already have a spot reserved for Augusta next week, the first major championship of the year. The other 114 players in the field at Houston have one more chance to earn a victory and an invite to Augusta. It makes for an opportunistic place in the schedule for the Houston Open, and what's more is that the course, the Golf Club at Houston, is set up to resemble many of the playing characteristics of Augusta National. Not only can this be somewhat of a practice round for many but it will test the players in areas of skill that can translate to Augusta.

The fairways are very wide in Houston, as they are at the Masters. There is not much rough to speak of here, just like Augusta. Driving Accuracy is not paramount but length is a real bonus. Greens In Regulation is very important, and maybe the biggest similarity to what the players will find next week is the set up on and around the greens. The greens have some undulation and will be very fast, like Augusta, and the run-off areas around them are shaved down, making the scrambling element very similar between the two venues. Again, it is a very wise position the Houston Open has taken, attracting a good field, providing plenty of incentive and acting as a nice warm-up or prep course to what the players can expect to find at next week's big prize.

A total of 36 of the Top 100 players and 15 of the Top 50 in the world rankings are in Houston this week, but No. 1 Dustin Johnson has withdrawn. Understandably so after playing so many holes last week at The Match Play in capturing the win, his third straight victory in as many times out.


The Favorites

Jordan Spieth (+858 Pinnacle): Spieth's success at Augusta and in Houston are evidence that his game is suited for this type of set up. He lost in a playoff in 2015 and was 13th here last year. He leads the PGA Tour in Greens In Regulation.

Jon Rahm (+1144 Pinnacle): Rahm could be a bit worn out after going all the way last week at the Match Play, ultimately losing to Johnson on the final hole of the tournament, but you can't knock his recent success finishing 1st at Torrey Pines and 16-5-3-2 since. This will be his first appearance at the Houston Open.

Henrik Stenson (+1456 Pinnacle): It was a surprise to most when Stenson missed the cut at Bay Hill two weeks ago, a course that he has owned in the past. Same story here as he has two 2nd-place finishes and a 3rd and has never missed a cut in five tries.


The Contenders

Rickie Fowler (+1560 Pinnacle): Fowler has had a tremendous year so far with a win at the Honda and he leads the Tour in Scrambling. Rickie was 10th here last year and finished 6th in 2014.

Phil Mickelson (+2184 Pinnacle): Mickelson often uses the week prior to a major to simply work on his game and not necessarily focus on winning the tournament. However, whatever he is doing in Houston has worked. Since winning the event in 2011, he has followed that up with a 4th, 16th, 12th, 17th, and a 13th-place finish.

J.B. Holmes (+3600 5Dimes): The big hitter won the Shell Houston in 2015 and has two Top 10s and a 12th-place finish in addition. He also finished 4th at the Masters last year. Obviously this set up suits his eye and his game.


The Long Shots

Daniel Berger (+4200 5Dimes): This will be just the 3rd time Berger has played the Houston Open and in those two prior tries, he finished 5th and 25th. Berger is 10th on Tour in Scrambling and 18th in Strokes Gained Putting. In his Masters debut last year, he finished 10th.

Charley Hoffman (+5305 Pinnacle): Hoffman is coming off of a 4th at the Genesis in Los Angeles and a 2nd at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. He's never missed a cut here in 10 visits and has racked up five Top-25 finishes.

Lucas Glover (+7000 5Dimes): A bit of a mixed bag of results here for the former U.S. Open winner as he's sprinkled in a few missed cuts to go along with a few Top-25 finishes, but he has been in excellent form as of late with a 21st at the Honda, an 18th at the Valspar and a 7th at the Arnold Palmer.


The Pick

Charles Howell III (+5000 BetOnline): It has been 10 years since Howell tasted victory on the PGA Tour, but 2017 has been one of the best years he's had. He is 13th in The FedExCup standings and has gotten there with four Top-15 finishes and four Top 10s, including a 9th last week at the Match Play. Here in Houston, he has three Top 10s in the last four years. Howell is 15th on Tour in Scrambling, 41st in Greens In Regulation, drives it a long way and is 26th in Par-4 Scoring. I think he puts it all together this week and the Augusta finds a way to play back at home next week.

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