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Henrik Stenson is back to defend his title at the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston as the FedExCup …

Shell Houston Open

The Golf Club of Houston

Tournament Course

Humble, Texas


The Golf Club of Houston

Tournament Course

Yards: 7,441 per the scorecard

Par: 72 (36-36)

Greens: Miniverde Bermudagrass over-seeded with Bentgrass

Rough: TifSport Bermudagrass and ryegrass at 1.25”;

Stimpmeter: 13+’

Water Hazards: 13

Bunkers: 60

Course Architect: Rees Jones/David Toms (2005)

Purse: $6,400,000

Winner’s Share: $1,152,000

FexExCup Points: 500 to the winner

Defending Champion: D.A. Points held off Henrik Stenson and Billy Horschel by one shot to claim the title.

Dates:  April 2-5

Format: Stroke play

Notes: The SHO returns to its normal position on the calendar as the tournament before the Masters. Last year, it was played after Augusta because of the Easter holiday. This the final chance to play into the Masters with a victory.

Recent History Lessons

After winning 31 of 40 tournaments in 2013, the USA has now won the first 17 of 20 events of 2013-14. Harris English, Jimmy Walker (THREE), Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed (TWO), Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler, Bubba Watson, Russell Henley, Chesson Hadley and Matt Every have collected the hardware this year for the stars and stripes. Steven Bowditch now joins John Senden and Jason Day as only Australia is representing the rest of the world with the other three victories. You wouldn’t think it’s a Ryder Cup year with the absence of Euro victories!

Steven Bowditch joins Matt Every, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Stadler and Chesson Hadley as the first-time winners this season. There were 12, first-timers in 40 events last year. As we hit the halfway point of the TOUR season, last year’s number looks safer and safer.

Walker (three wins) and Patrick Reed (two) are the only two players on TOUR with multiple victories this season.

Young Guns Versus Prime Time Versus Old Guys

Jimmy Walker (34) started the season out on the right foot for the Prime Time guys and has since added two more wins to lead the FedExCup standings. He has been joined by Ryan Moore (30) in Malaysia, Zach Johnson (37) at Kapalua, Kevin Stadler (33), at WMPO and Bubba Watson (35), joined them at Riviera. For the second week in a row a 30-year old joins the party as Steven Bowditch joined Matt Every in back-to-back weeks for the Prime Timers. This victory levels the ledger with the Young Guns at nine victories apiece.

Scott Stallings (28), Patrick Reed TWICE (23), Chris Kirk (28), Webb Simpson (28), Dustin Johnson (29), Harris English (24), Jason Day (26) and Russell Henley (24) are the twenty-somethings on the board.

The Old Guys fired last week with Jerry Kelly and Jim Furyk finishing at T6. Australian John Senden, 42, has the only victory for the Old Guys. #AustraliaAustraliaAustralia

Pay Attention: It’s FREE

The city of Houston has been hosting golf tournaments since 1946 and the SHO is the 10th oldest on the TOUR schedule.

Even though the name of the course is new, the SHO has been played on this ground since 2006.

Gamers, please remember that the current “style” of the Golf Club of Houston was introduced in 2007 when it was moved on the calendar to the week before the Masters.

Course history before 2007 is irrelevant to me because the setup did not mirror Augusta.

The tournament low round is 63 set by multiple players. #golowyo

Past Champions

2006 Stuart Appleby -19

2007 Adam Scott -17

2008 Johnson Wagner -16

2009 Paul Casey -11

2010 Anthony Kim -12

2011 Phil Mickelson -20

2012 Hunter Mahan -16

2013 D.A. Points -16

Adam Scott is not in the field this week. Again.

The average winning score is 16-under-par.

Only Johnson Wagner has broken his maiden on this track. Paul Casey won his first TOUR event on this course but had victories previously in Europe.

Paul Casey is the only European to win.

This week’s winner will punch the final ticket to Augusta if not previously eligible. #nopressure

Inside the Ropes

Here’s where the SHO has ranked, relative to par, since the opening of the Golf Club of Houston and setting it up like the Masters:

2013: 25th-most difficult; -.132 below par (of 43 courses used)

2012: 34th; -.548 (of 49 courses used)

2011: 29th; -.260 (of 51 courses used)

2010: 14th-most difficult; +.596 (of 52 courses used)

2009:22nd; +.202 (of 51 courses used)

2008: 30th; +.068 (of 54 courses used)

2007: 29th; +.050 (of 55 courses used)

Keeping track of the SHO keeps all of us #fantasygolfnerds on our toes.

First, the tournament moved to Redstone in 2006. The following year, it moved on the calendar to fill the week before the Masters. The course subsequently was molded and shaped to feel like Augusta in hopes of bringing premium players to town. The rough was shrunk to minimal levels; the greens were slickened up; the areas surrounding the putting surfaces were shaved down and the rough dispersed. Heck, they even started mowing the grass the same way to give the players as close as a replication to Augusta as possible.

In 2009 closely-mown areas were added on nine more holes to give the players more chances to “practice” if they missed the green. In 2012, the closing holes also had areas of closely-mown areas added as bunkers were reduced in size.

As we can tell from above numbers, the more the players have seen this “new” course, the more comfortable they have been playing and scoring on it.

With the average winning score sitting at 16-under-par, TOUR pros know that birdies and eagles will be the order of the week. With minimal rough surrounding the fairways this will be a second-shot course which should favor the ball-strikers in the field. The greens running at 13’+ will give the premium putters a chance to have their voices heard as well.

It’s a shifting of the gears this week as five weeks of playing difficult courses subsides. It’s time to make shots, take chances and SCORE again! Last year, even par was T65; last week it was T26. #parbreakers

Phil Mickelson set the tournament record of 268 in 2011.

The Chalk


The players who should be atop the leaderboard come Sunday sunset; Yahoo! group in ( )

Dustin Johnson (B): Blazed home in the final round last year with 65 that included TWO bogeys to finish T4. His 2014 has been pure class as he’s finished no worse than sixth in four stroke play events. He’s playing his schedule on his time and his private life hasn’t been a distraction that the naysayers said it could have been. He leads the TOUR in GIR, birdie average and scoring average. Oh, and par breakers. When he’s dialed in like this, I have no problem putting him on top of the heap. The performances speak for themselves and if the wind blows, he’s not going to be bothered.

Henrik Stenson (A): If ball-striking is one of the major requirements this week, then Stenson should be on everybody’s list. Sure, he could be the next major player to WD during a tournament with his lingering wrist issue but I’m going to assume all is well. He put the pedal to the metal starting at API last year and never looked back. He was T5 at API two weeks ago and I could see him taking off again. He’s had plenty of success on this track (T3-2009; T21-2012; T2 last year) and doesn’t have a round over par in his 12 rounds. He made a whopping four bogeys last year.

Jordan Spieth (B): #SpiethBoner will be looking to get off to a better start than he did last week as he opened with 42 going out in round one. The part the gamer should be following is not the 42, but the seven-under in three rounds that followed it. This week he’ll need plenty of birdies and as well as he hits his irons and putts, I don’t see why he shouldn’t contend again this week. He’s eighth in par breakers this season and makes plenty of birdies.

Keegan Bradley (B): All great players want to peak heading into the majors and Bradley repaid gamers faith last time out at API with a solo second finish. The good was his 67-66 Friday-Saturday but he didn’t fire on Sunday. I won’t worry too about his tee ball this week since there isn’t much rough. Stay dry, dominate the par fives and make birdies! He only has one round from 12 over par in three starts. He was T4 in 2012 and T10 last year.

Rory McIlroy (B): It looks like he’s settling in during year two of new equipment and life being engaged to a tennis star. His final nine on Sunday at Honda left gamers with a bad taste and his T25 that followed at Doral didn’t do too much to alleviate it. When McIlroy is at his most efficient he’s finding greens and dominating par fives. That’s been his success in his two, top-five finishes on TOUR since November. He only has two rounds in the 60s of 12 in three starts in his career at SHO.

Matt Kuchar (A): Beginning the back nine last Sunday all-square with Steven Bowditch, Kuchar was put on the clock and his day/round/championship was over. I found it very interesting that a player of his caliber could be affected by being on the clock. With that behind him, I expect him to squash it and get back to making birdies, like he did with his 65 on Saturday at Valero. The closely-mown areas and lightning-fast greens should be a perfect fit for Kuchar and his sweet short game. His last two tournaments at SHO saw him claim a share of eighth both times.

Jimmy Walker (C): He hits it a mile and is a tremendous putter who destroys par fours and fives. I learned plenty about Walker last week in his home town of San Antonio as he rallied from a terrible first round to almost hit the top 10. Sure, he’s no #SpiethBoner but he didn’t mail it and claim he was tired/sick/whatever. He would have had the community backing if he called it day but after hitting the cut on the number, he rallied to finish T16. Walker will get overlooked in a field like this because his name doesn’t carry the weight of others. He might have more wins on TOUR than those “others”. I’m on board this week because his weakness, hitting fairways, isn’t a big deal this week.

Sergio Garcia (C): Break time in Spain is over as Garcia returns Stateside this week to knock off the rust before the Masters next week. His consistent run of form over the last few months is just too good for me to look the other way. His ball-striking will give his pencil grip plenty of chances to hole putts this weekend. His worst finish worldwide since November is T19. This will be his first outing at SHO since 2009 so don’t be surprised if it takes him a handful of holes to get it going. He’s closed strong all season long so have patience.

Bill Haas (B): He returned to Houston for the first time since 2009 last year and racked up four rounds of par or better (T11). The last time Haas was on a track that surrendered a ton of birdies he finished T6 at Humana at 23-under. His last two events were Doral (T6) and Valspar (T14) and he’s knocked out 12 weekends in a row.  

Webb Simpson (B): Another player who loves to get low and make birdies, Simpson leads the TOUR in birdies-or-better on par fives and sits fourth on the all-around.  After a tough Florida mini-swing where he was T47 (of 67) at Doral and MC at Valspar, he’ll be happy that 16-under is the average winning score. Guys who like making birdies have a way of snapping right back into form when it’s time to play courses like this.

Charl Schwartzel (C): His track record on slick greens is beyond excellent and he’s one of the best putters around. It seems like he never plays but he found 69 on Sunday at a tough, windy Doral his last time out. I like him more next week than this week but it wouldn’t surprise me if his putter carries him into the top 15. Don’t be scared of guys who are lightly raced; they’re doing this on purpose!

Chris Kirk (B): Another birdie buster that will be licking his chops to get back on a track where he put four rounds in the 60s in 2011 to finish T2 and four rounds of par or better to finish T22 last year.  Sometimes I gotta make a stretch to connect a few dots but Kirk can putt and scramble even though his numbers this year don’t show it.

Form Players

Graham DeLaet (B): He’s 12th in total driving, fourth in GIR and is coming off T8 in Tampa after opening with 75. He has finishes of T2, T2 and T8 in six 2014 starts. He only has posted two rounds of par or worse in 10 career trips at SHO.

Charley Hoffman (C): He’s registered seven top 25 in 10 weekends in 2013-14. The rust he knocked off at Valspar (T25) resulted in another excellent finish at Valero (T11). While his record is not stellar at SHO, I’ll take his current form plus his ball-striking and penchant for making birdies. He cut his hair and is still racking up big finishes.

Charles Howell III (A): In 12 weekends this season, Howell has finished outside of the top 35 twice and has five top 10s. He was T19 in 2011 and T10 last year. He’s currently 11th in the all-around and is a check-cashing machine.

Brendon Todd (C): He equaled his best career finish on TOUR last week in San Antonio, T6, after his worst three tournament stretch of the season. The part of the game he struggles with is driving accuracy but still sits 14th in the all-around ranking. He’ll be a great roster-filler in deep leagues this week.

Seung-Yul Noh (C): He’s made 11 cuts on the bounce and he keeps sniffing around the top 10. He would have been right in the middle of it last week at Valero except for his 76 in round two. Again, he’s only 22 so gamers will have to take some lumps and bumps along the way. He’s the only Sean Foley player on TOUR that’s currently not injured in some form!

Jason Kokrak (B): He had a chance last week to break through and hit the top 25 for the third week in a row but fell just short with T31. His 77 on Saturday was the difference but he only made seven bogeys on the week so I like the direction he’s heading.

Freddie Jacobson (B): He’s my white whale! He’ll stay in the preview column because he just keeps banging on the door, only to find it locked and dead-bolted on Sundays. After disastrous events to start 2014, the Junk Man has rattled off T12, T20, T10 and T16 in his last four starts with every Sunday round OVER par.

Daniel Summerhays (A): He tied his career-best finish last week with T2 at Valero. He’s trending in the right direction at SHO. He’ll be lost in the shuffle in this large field but his ball-striking and solid putting could surprise.

Horses for Courses

Lee Westwood (A): With nothing better than T20 to show this season I almost hesitate to put the former World No. 1 in this category. BUT, the title is Horses for Courses and that’s why he’s mentioned. In the last five years he’s finished T30 or better and that includes three T11 or better. Westwood also has an excellent record at Augusta so I’ll be watching to see if he fires this week.

Louis Oosthuizen (C): He tweaked his back during his quarterfinal loss at the WGC-Match Play and it’s hindered his play in his next two events. He was the 54-hole leader in 2012 before a final round 75 knocked him to T3. He rebounded last year to fire nine-under on the weekend to claim a share of 10th. His course form is excellent; his back and current form are worrisome.

Brian Davis (A): Similar to Oosthuizen, Davis fired 74 in 2012 to finish T4 and fired 71-67 to finish T6 last year. He’s 27-under in his last two starts at SHO. #sizzle

J.B. Holmes (C): He’s knocked out two top 10s in his last three starts.

Ben Crane (B): He’s five of his last six at SHO with all finishes of T29 or better, including T4 last year.

Cameron Tringale (C): He was T16 last year and T8 in 2012. He’s also made nine cuts in a row. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Longshots

David Hearn (B): With two top 10s in his last four, the Canadian has found a nice vein of form. His putting numbers will come in handy this week.

Jamie Lovemark (C): It’s five on the bounce but he’s never posted better than T28 on TOUR. Hey, it’s a LONGSHOT!

Fades

Buyer beware!

Steve Stricker: I am aware that he makes his own schedule and he’s comfortable with his lifestyle but I’m not crazy of the results from THIS year. I know it worked to a T last season but he’s a year older and the results aren’t in the same zip code. This field is too deep for me to reach for him.

Rickie Fowler: He’s missed more weekends than he’s made in 2014 and has zero course form.

Ryan Palmer: It’s too deep of a field to have to stretch to put Palmer in your lineup off a hip injury.

Phil Mickelson: No, thanks. I’m saving him for the majors and the FedExCup Playoffs. Congratulations on your win this week, Mickelson!

Angel Cabrera: Shoulder issues and nothing better than T52 this season.

The Man with His Own Section

Hunter Mahan

The 2012 champ is coming off a WD last time out at Bay Hill. His lower back was giving him problems at the API and he hung it up after a few holes. I’m always leery of players with back injuries but with his recent history at SHO, I have to include him this week in the column. He’s been top 10 or MC in seven events here since they started mimicking Augusta. With the studs in Group B this week, Mahan included, somebody has to be left out. I’ll go with four healthy players instead.

Jordan Spieth of the Week Last Week

The column was taken over and thrashed by the kid from Texas last year. Out of respect, I’m not changing the title of it for 2013-14. It will remind me just how good Spieth was in the last three months of the season. This year, we’ll still identify an up-and-coming player and/or rookie that fantasy players should have on their radar.

Frys.com: Hideki Matsuyama, T3; Brooks Koepka, T3; Max Homa, T9.

SHCO: Ryo Ishikawa is only 22, don’t forget, T2; Chesson Hadley, T5.

CIMB: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 24, might have enough money after this week to earn Special Temporary Membership. Pay attention!

WGC-HSBC: Jordan Spieth was 17th. Tommy Fleetwood (T18) is only 22 and plays in Europe. Matsuyama WD with a bad back.

McGladrey: Scott Langley turned 24 last April and is in his second season on TOUR. He finished T22 last week and No. 124 last season. #slimpickinngsthisweek

OHL Mayakoba: Harris English turned 24 last July. He won.

HTOC:  Er, Jordan Spieth, solo second.

Sony: Hudson Swafford and Will Wilcox both finished T8. Both played on the Web.com Tour last year and are rookies on TOUR this season.

Humana: Patrick Reed won. He’s 23. You need to pay attention.

FIO: Ryo Ishikawa, 22, bagged another top 10 finish. That’s his sixth in his last 10 events on TOUR or the Web.com Tour. He’s an alternate this week as of Monday afternoon.

WMPO: Hideki Matsuyama is 21. In 11 events the last two years, he’s hit the top 25 in NINE of them, including T4 last week. #ALLRIGHTYTHEN

Pebble Beach: Er, Jordan Spieth, T4. Patrick Reed, 23, finished T13 and he’s won twice since August. Golf is good hands, again.

Riviera: Harris English won’t be 25 until July. He was T10; Spieth was T12.

WGC-Match Play: Victor Dubuisson is 23 and was second. Jordan Spieth was T5. #youthmovement

Honda: Russell Henley is now the fourth player on TOUR under 25 with two wins. He joins Patrick Reed, Harris English and Rory McIlroy in this very elite club of pups.

WGC-CC: Patrick Reed is 23. He’s now won three times in eight months on TOUR.

Puerto Rico Open: Rookie Chesson Hadley, 26, took home his first title on the big boy circuit.

Valspar: Chesson Hadley backed up his first win with T14 on a tough, tough Copperhead Course. Scott Langley, a second year player from Illinois (see above) was third.

API: The young Japanese lad Ishikawa racked up another top 10 (T8) this week. Yep, he’s still just 22.

Valero: He’ll be remembered for all of the wrong reasons but Andrew Loupe, 25, finished T4 in only his eighth start on TOUR. #slowgolfclap

 

 

Coming Later TUESDAY Afternoon

 

Playing the Tips will be up and running this and every Tuesday afternoon and will list all of the Rotoworld experts picks in the GolfChannel.com game, the Yahoo! Fantasy Golf game and my One-and-Done feature. Look for it around 5 ET every Tuesday for the rest of the season.

Coming Wednesday

 

And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat Wednesday at NOON p.m. ET. We will be breaking down the field at the SHO and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.

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