Our golf scribe provides his tips for this week's PGA Tour event, the Shell Houston Open.
The Lone Star state is the destination this week as the PGA Tour heads to Houston, Texas for the final event before Georgia’s on their mind - a Ray Charles cross Masters reference to get you into the swing of things. It represents the final opportunity for players to fine tune their games before the hallowed fairways of Augusta. Generally speaking, this tournament fails to garner a particularly strong field due to that very same proximity. But this year seems to be bucking the trend somewhat, with five of the world’s top 10 players in attendance.
The withdrawal of red-hot Dustin Johnson will come as some relief to the field, with Johnson winning his last three events in ominous fashion for the Masters. He would have stood a great chance of making it four in a row in Houston at a course that tends to reward heavy hitters. Four of the last seven winners have been distance merchants, with the likes of Scott, Mickelson and Anthony Kim in that milieu.
Jordan Spieth has played in the last three instalments of this tournament, a clear indication that participation here is not a telltale barometer of failure at Augusta. He goes in as the bookies favourite and will be looking to take advantage of a course that will aim to simulate the conditions at Augusta. The greens will be lightning fast and will have extensive run-off areas that will be punishing on even the most frivolously loose iron shot.
The Shell Houston Open | Thursday 30 March - Sunday 2 April | Golf Club of Houston, Texas
2016: Jim Herman (-15) | 2015: J.B Holmes (-16)*playoff | 2014: Matt Jones (-15)*playoff | 2013: D.A Points (-16) | 2012: Hunter Mahan (-16)
To Win Outright
Jordan Spieth 13/2 | Jon Rahm 11/1 | Henrik Stenson 14/1 | Rickie Fowler 16/1 | Justin Rose 18/1
Russell Henley - To Win 35/1 & To Place 15/2
Henley has been playing solid golf, with five finishes inside the top 16 thus far this season. The reliable Georgia native has two top 10 finishes in there (including at Valspar earlier this month) and has tremendous course history. He has three consecutive top 10 finishes here in the last three seasons. He currently sits inside the top 20 for putting on tour and sits a remarkable fifth in three-putt avoidance, which is an extremely valuable commodity to possess on these lightning surfaces. He looks a solid bet in the place markets on recent form and course history.
Billy Horschel - To Win 45/1 & To Place 19/2
The last time that Horschel played this tournament was in 2013, where he finished in a tie for second. Why, do you ask, has he eschewed the event since? Since becoming a PGA Tour winner and winning the Fed Ex Cup one year, he has had his Masters' position guaranteed. Now he needs a win to qualify. But he is in good form, with a fourth place finish at the Honda followed by a 13th place finish at Bay Hill. He ranked second at Bay Hill in scrambling and has a great record putting here: a facet that often lets down his general performance. He led the field in putting here in 2013, showing his preference for faster surfaces. He also boasts an excellent overall record in Texas, having four top five finishes in his last six visits.
Ryan Palmer - To Win 90/1 & To Place 19/1
Looking for an outsider this week, I’m opting for the Texan Ryan Palmer. Palmer loves playing in Texas, with six top 10 finishes in his last 10 starts in the Lone Star state, including a seventh place finish at this very tournament in 2014. The Texan recently tweeted a picture of himself as a kid wearing a Shell Houston Open cap, showing how close to his heart this tournament is. He would be a poetic winner as he also looks for a Masters return. He played well at Rivera, where he was second place at the halfway stage before his putter gave him the heebie-jeebies. Local knowledge and a proven record makes him a good call at 90/1.
The Man to Beat
Rickie Fowler - To Win 16/1 & To Place 7/2
Rickie Fowler seems to have somewhat shed that moniker of a great player who doesn’t win, and I think he looks good for this week. Considering the fact that no one had fewer putts then he did at Augusta in 2013 and 2014, it’s clear to see why he will thrive on a course that will have electric greens this week. He is also currently first in scrambling this year, which bodes well at a tournament that will have shaved off greens as opposed to thick rough alongside the greens. He has two top 10’s here in his last three attempts and has also performed well at corollary events: The Phoenix Open and the Wells Fargo Championship.