Shotgun Start: Previewing the Shell Houston Open

Jonathan Wall
Devil Ball Golf

It's tournament time! We head to the Lone Star State for the Shell Houston Open, the final tuneup before the Masters.  Here's a tournament primer to get you prepared for the week.

The course: Redstone Golf Course's Tournament Course has never claimed to be Texas' version of Augusta National, but for one week out of the year, the course in the town of Humble does its best impersonation of the legendary track, ramping up the greens and tweaking the course conditions, all in an effort to give the tournament a major championship feel before players head to Augusta for the first major of the year. With the greens running 13 on the Stimpmeter, players in this week's Shell Houston Open field will certainly be in for a Masters-esque test. It's one of the reasons Redstone has been such a big draw right before the first major of the year. At 7,457 yards, the course is almost identical to Augusta National's current yardage (7,435 yards) and boasts some incredibly tricky greens that should give players a sense of what they'll be up against next week. The par-4 18th hole is the toughest on the course at 488 yards. With a lake running down the left side, players will be forced to not only hit a precise drive, but also contend with an approach shot to a green that has a lake on the left and bunker on the right. There's a reason why the hole ranked as the 35th most difficult on tour last year with an average score of +0.305 over par.

The schedule: The tournament runs Thursday-Sunday. It'll be broadcast on the Golf Channel from 3 to 6 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday, and 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday; and on NBC from 3:00 to 6 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday.

The field: Getting the slot right ahead of the Masters would make most tournament directors cringe -- because a majority of the top players are already on their way to Augusta -- but the decision to make Redstone as close to major championship conditions as possible, especially the greens, has paid dividends. Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker and Charl Schwartzel give the Shell Houston Open three of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Throw in Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Johnson Wagner, Kyle Stanley and Hunter Mahan, who also be in the field for one final tuneup, and you have a tournament with a solid group of stars.

The video: Check out some of the memorable moments from the Shell Houston Open's history.

Your turn. Who are your picks for this week? Swing away!