The Shell Houston Open is the last call before the Masters, and J.B. Holmes returns to Golf Club of Houston to defend his title. Joining him in the field is last week’s winner in Puerto Rico, Tony Finau. Bombs away!
The Golf Club of Houston has experienced a name change over the last few years, but it has been the same layout since 2006. All course history referenced below is from 2006 through 2015. It plays to a par of 72, with the expected number of par 3s, 4s and 5s. Two of the par 5s are of moderate length and the other two above average. It should be noted that three of the par 4s are of 480 yards or longer.
This tournament has embraced the role of the final tune up for the Masters. In doing so, it tries to mimic the green speeds of Augusta National. It is also extremely forgiving off the tee.
The Stats Say
Typically, success in this tournament requires length off the tee, landing greens in regulation, and converting par breakers on the par 5s. It would seem obvious that driving distance, GIR, and par 5 scoring average should be considered.
While it is not as prominent, there is a quiet trend of very good putters performing well here at times. Call it a minority report. These players would fly in direct contrast to the majority of the contenders, so some feel has to be given. Some of this could be because scrambling is very difficult at GC of Houston, so a smooth putter would help those missing greens.
One final trend that we will consider after the power ranking is the number of course horses in terrible form entering this event. It is often the case that certain guys with a great track record can trend into a sweet spot rather poorly, but it’s a noticeable number this week.
Here we go!
1. Henrik Stenson – He’s got it all. He’s cashed in all four of his trips to the Golf Club of Houston, racking up a pair of top-three finishes. Strategically skipped the WGC-Dell Match Play last week after a solid T28-T11-T3 run. It’s clear he’s in full Masters prep mode, but that doesn’t prevent him from showing up big this week.
2. Louis Oosthuizen – The runner-up in Austin last week was already playing very well, with a T14 and a T7 leading to his big haul. While he’s been hot-and-cold at GC of Houston, Oosthuizen’s T16-T3-T10 run from 2011-2013 proves he can tame this course when in form. Has plenty of length when needed, and ranks 20th on TOUR in GIR.
3. Jordan Spieth – It will be very interesting to see how he responds to Jason Day taking over the top spot in the OWGR. Spieth was a playoff loser here last year, and has played what would be considered well for the majority of TOUR players. Just not up to his 2015 standards. He ranks 153rd in GIR, which could put immense pressure on his short game and putting this week.
4. Phil Mickelson – Lefty had a great first two days at the Match Play before completely falling apart and being dominated by Patrick Reed in the deciding match of pool play. Lefty has a history of peaking a bit too soon and winning the week before a major, so he’s on the short list. He is a past winner of this tournament and has plenty of top 20s to go around.
5. Sergio Garcia – The Spaniard is a rather emotional player, so take solace in his fun weekend pictures on Twitter last weekend. He’s a perfect three-for-three in this event, including a third in 2014. Recent form is also attractive, going 2-T11-T18 in his last three starts.
6. Rickie Fowler – One would think his game is a great match for this course, but history has proven the opposite. Despite being 29th in driving distance, fifth in GIR and first in par 5 scoring average, his top 10 in 2014 is his only top 60 in four tries.
7. Charl Schwartzel – Followed up his Valspar win with a T18 in the WGC-Match Play last week, narrowly missing out on winning his pool. He’s only missed the cut once in six tries at the GC of Houston, scoring a T3 in 2010 and a T19 in 2014.
8. Dustin Johnson – Another surprise in terms of course history, DJ’s only made one of his four cuts in the Shell Houston Open. Granted, it was a T4 in 2013. Two of his last three starts have resulted in top-five finishes leading into this week so he’s a wise investment in most formats.
9. J.B. Holmes – We mentioned above that he has a playoff win (last year) and a playoff loss (2009) in his biography at GC of Houston. Been a little shaky of late, with a T59 in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and failing to win his pool at the Match Play.
10. Patrick Reed – Performed well at the Match Play, winning his pool, and is a decent fit for contention in this week’s Shell Houston Open. Back-to-back top 10s are perhaps the biggest reason to consider him this week.
11. Rafa Cabrera-Bello – Really upping his stature in the golfing world with a T11 at Doral and a third-place finish at the Match Play last week. With that, he earned himself a spot in the Masters.
12. Brooks Koepka – The Shell Houston Open first-timer has the proper game for success at the GC of Houston, considering his length off the tee. Lost in the quarterfinals of last week’s Match Play.
13. Tony Finau – Broke through for his first title in the Puerto Rico Open last week. He ranks first on TOUR in driving distance, so GC of Houston could fit his eye nicely as he comes down from the high of his maiden win. He tied for 42nd in this event last year, perhaps meaning that the greens were too much for him to negotiate.
14. Graham DeLaet – Made the cut in four of his five Shell Houston Opens, including a T3 in 2010. Went T5-T11 in his last two starts. He’s proven himself unable to win on TOUR up until this point, but a top-15 finish is not a problem.
15. Scott Piercy – Quietly trending well, going T17-T18 in his last two starts leading into this week after a T10 last year on the GC of Houston. Edged out Ryan Palmer for the final slot in the power ranking.
What do we do with these guys?
Johnson Wagner – Anytime a player has a win and a runner-up on a course, he’s automatically under consideration. Right? Problem is, Wagner hasn’t made a cut in 2016.
Keegan Bradley – Owns two top five and a third top 10 in five visits to Houston, but has struggled mightily this year thanks to the standard-length putter. He missed three cuts before a T36 at the Arnold Palmer.
Russell Henley – Event history has trended steadily, with a T45 giving way to a T7 and a T4 in the last two. The only cut he’s made in 2016 was a T49 at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
We will return Tuesday evening with this week’s edition of Playing the Tips. Also, the goal is to have a new Top 125 feature out later this week in preparation for leagues that begin with the Masters.
Best of luck to all!