Shell Houston Open
Golf Club of Houston
Yards: 7,441 as per the scorecard
Par: 72 (36-36)
Greens: Miniverde Bermudagrass over-seeded with Bentgrass; 6,950 square feet on average
Rough: Bermudagrass & perennial rye grass at 1.25 inches
Water Hazards: 8
Course Architects: Rees Jones (2006) with player-consultant David Toms.
Winner’s Share: $1,188,000
FexExCup Points: 500 to the winner
Defending Champion: Matt Jones rolled in a monster birdie putt on No. 18 to force a playoff with Matt Kuchar. He holed on the first playoff hole from the bunker (on No. 18) to win for the first time on TOUR.
Dates: April 2-5
Notes: 144 players; stroke play; top 70 and ties play the weekend.
Notes II: The Golf Club of Houston (GCH) was renamed in 2014. It had previously been called Redstone Golf Club and has hosted this tournament since 2006.
Notes III: This is the final “win-and-get-in” chance as the Masters is next week! There is no other way.
Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker, Bill Haas, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day, Brandt Snedeker, James Hahn, Padraig Harrington, Alex Cejka (PRO) and Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Matt Every are the first 12 winners of calendar 2015. Hahn (No. 297), Harrington (No. 297), Cejka (No. 285) and Every, No. 96 were the only players outside the top 70 in the OWGR to win this year. Walker’s win last week at Valero makes him the only multiple winner on TOUR this year.
After 28 wins in 45 events last season the USA has won with Snedeker, Koepka, Haas, Walker TWICE, Reed, Hahn and Johnson, Spieth and Every in 2015. The USA already picked up wins in 2014 portion from Charley Hoffman, Bubba Watson, Ryan Moore, Robert Streb and Ben Martin. The USA has won 15 of the first 20 events. Cejka, Harrington and Jason Day make up the rest of foreign legion who have won in calendar 2015. They join Sang-moon Bae (Korea) and Nick Taylor (Canada) from the 2014 as the international winners.
After 13 first-time winners in 2013 there were only 10 last year. Through 20 events in 2015, Hahn, Koepka, Martin, Streb, Taylor and Cejka have broken their maidens.
After the Florida Swing the TOUR wraps up their FIRST Texas-Two-Step this week in Houston after watching Walker win at Valero last week. This week will bring a totally different mindset, skillset and course set-up than gamers and players have seen in the last six weeks. From playing six of the toughest TOUR stops over the last six weeks (Riviera, PGA National, Doral, Innisbrook, Bay Hill and TPC San Antonio) the GCH will bring a welcome change.
Tournament Course Ratings
2014: 23rd; +0.245
2013: 25th; -0.132
2012: 34th; -0.548
2011: 29th; -0.260
2010: 14th; +0.596
2009: 22nd; +0.202
2008: 30th; +0.068
2007: 29th; +0.050
It wasn’t until 2007 that the course was going to mimic the set-up at Augusta. It wasn’t until 2009 that the total transformation became complete. The angle was to manicure the course similarly to how Augusta lays out for the Masters to draw the top players as a preparation round. The GCH stopped growing rough and instead mocked the “first cut” at Augusta by growing it at 1.25 inches. Closely-mown areas replaced thick-rough collars. The bunkers were toughened up and the greens were made to be as slick and perfect as possible.
The defense of the GCH is water-lined fairways, deep bunkers, slick greens and the closely-mown areas. And don’t forget about the weather. Houston has some of the most volatile weather this time of year and that could factor.
2014: Matt Jones -15
2013: D.A. Points -16
2012: Hunter Mahan -15
2011: Phil Mickelson -20
2010: Anthony Kim -12*
2009: Paul Casey -11
2008: Johnson Wagner -16
2007: Adam Scott -14
2006: Stuart Appleby -19*
*not entered this week
If 16-under is the average winning score gamers know immediately that their lineups will need to be filled with guys who make tons of par-breakers and avoid bogeys. Last year Matt Jones holed 22 birdies against only four bogeys (one triple). He’s not short off the tee. Neither are many guys on that list. Guys who hit it a mile, straight or not, will be rewarded as there is minimum rough. They’ll have lesser clubs in their hands and better chances to put the ball on the green in the proper positions.
Those without the length, like Kuchar, will need to avoid bogeys on big greens with their premium short game or iron play. Remember, last year only five of the top 15 were in the top 20 in fairways. Only four were inside the top 20 in 2013. Conversely, 13 of the top 15 last year were T22 or better GIR so the approach and short game will be on display.
If weather is a factor, the greens might not run as hot as the TOUR would like so be sure to check with #WeatherManRob later in the week. Hell, I do! If the greens aren’t as slick as they would like, ball-strikers will have the upper hand again this year.
The SHO (1946) is the 10th-longest running event on TOUR.
Since moving to the GCH no player has defended their title or won more than once. Last year’s defending champion D.A. Points MC (71-74).
Last year 42 players finished the week under-par.
Only five players put all four rounds at par-or-better; No pro played all four rounds in the 60s so it’s not THAT easy!
No player put both weekend rounds in the 60s last year and that was with tee times moved way up to avoid bad afternoon weather.
Tournament and Course Records
Phil Mickelson fired 268 (-20) to set the GCH record in 2011.
Mickelson and Jimmy Walker both shot 63 that year (2011) to be the last two players to tie the course record since the move.
Bizarre Stats of the Week:
In 20 events this season there have been 19 different winners.
Rory McIlroy was the last player to win the week on TOUR before a major as he won the WGC-BI before winning last year’s PGA Championship at Valhalla. Before that, it was Phil Mickelson at the Scottish Open in 2013. Before that it was Tiger Woods (WGC-BI/PGA) in 2007. That’s LARGE company to keep and some feat to accomplish.
In order, these are the players that I believe project the best this week (Yahoo! group in parentheses).
Jimmy Walker (B): Last week’s winner lit up some of the most difficult par-fives on TOUR and will get a crack at four more per round this week. His kryptonite is accuracy off the tee (No. 175 in fairways) but he’s still No. 21 in GIR. That’s mainly on courses WITH ROUGH! I’d mention he’s third in SGP but gamers know that as he rolls in birdies for fun. Folks didn’t think he’d win multiple times again this year but he’s the only one to do so. He’s posted nothing better than T24 (2014) in seven starts but he’s coming off a win and shares the course record (63). I hope I have enough starts on him left to get to the U.S. Open! *** ALERT: Walker withdrew on Tuesday. ***
Patrick Reed (C): After T7-T23-P2 at PGA National, Doral and Innisbrook in his last three, form is the least of my concerns with Reed entering the week. Another bomber who can really roll it, GCH should fit nicely into the HTOC winner’s wheelhouse this week. He’s 13th in strokes gained tee-to-green and 11th in SGP. It’s hardly a surprise he checks in at No. 13 in scoring average. He’s also 22nd in par-breakers.
Matt Kuchar (B): He did everything but win here last year. He made amends with gamers for chipping in to win at Harbour Towne two weeks later but his water ball on the final hole here last year still stings. I’ll ignore that and remember that he’s excellent around shaved greens and is a superior putter. In his last three at GCH he’s finished T8-T8-P2 and none of his 12 rounds are above par. His solid 69 last Sunday at VTO doesn’t go unnoticed either.
Sergio Garcia (A): He was 12-under last year entering the weekend but 73-70 cooled him of to finish solo third. If ball-striking and short game will be required this week, I’m hitching up to the Spaniard as he’s proven commodity in those areas. He’s found the weekend in 14 consecutive TOUR events as well.
Jordan Spieth (B): It was interesting to hear his press conference last Sunday after the round for a couple of reasons. One, he said that GCH is a bomber’s course that doesn’t favor his eye and he’s just looking to trim some fat this week before Augusta. The other part that was interesting that he was really happy for Walker on his win only after the tournament was over. He boils to win. I love it. #SpiethBoner. I’m not sure if he knows how to trim the fat or work on anything besides trying to win. With WIN and solo second in his last two, I’m not exactly Inspector Clouseau with those observations, I know. YOUNG PEOPLE, GOOGLE IT. He’s too good to dismiss but starts are getting low! #Decisions
Jason Kokrak (C): After another excellent Valspar-API double this year, Kokrak was right in the mix until late Sunday at VTO before posting a solid T11. He’s in the best form of his career and was T2 after 36 holes in 2013 before finishing solo ninth. His best finishes recently have been on courses where he’s carried previous successes. He’ll have no problem with the length or making birdies.
Matt Jones (A): Last year was almost a fairy tale as his 66, the low round of the day on Sunday, included a monster putt on the final hole to force a playoff. Holing out a bunker shot playing No. 18 again in the playoff won him his first tournament on TOUR. A two-year exemption and a trip to the Masters later and Jones was in fantasy land. This season he’s pegged 10 weekends in a row and his last four have been T7-T14-3rd and T26 last week at Valero. Like most Aussies, he can really putt and his short game is excellent so I expect him right back in the mix again this week.
J.B. Holmes (A): After racking up a P2, T10, T22 and solo second before MC at API, I’ll cut Holmes some slack. Here’s more proof that bombers who can putt a bit do well at GCH as in Holmes’ last four starts since 2009 he has posted second, T42, T8 and T12 last year. He’s carded nothing worse than 73 and 12 of those 16 rounds are under par. #OAD? Stay tuned for Playing the Tips!
Bill Haas (A): After MC in four straight from 2006-2009, Haas took a three-year hiatus before returning in 2013. He finished T10 after co-leading after 54 holes in 2013 and was T37 after opening with 65 last year. The last time he teed it up on a course with big, smooth greens and no rough he won the Humana in January.
Brendan Steele (C): Couse history buffs won’t agree with me but that is the ONLY reason to omit one of the most consistent performers of the last 8 months this week. He’s played 15 consecutive weekends and is in the top 20 in enough categories to remove any doubt. He has one finish in his last four outside the top 14. #BUY
Ryan Moore (C): His ability to make birdies and to get hot with the putter intrigues me this week but I’m leaning on his current form even more. With back-to-back top 10s at Doral and Innisbrook on the Florida Swing, he keeps his T22-or-better finish streak intact for 2015. I know, I know, his final round scoring and his 85 in the last round he played here could scare a few off but I’m banking on his balanced schedule and the results that have come with it.
Lee Westwood (B): He’s made three starts on this side of the pond in 2015 and was T25 at Honda, T12 at WGC-CC and T17 at Valspar so he’s hardly suffering from rust. Before arriving in the States he was fifth in Dubai and sixth in Malaysia. He’s played this event the last six years and has returned T11-T8-T30-T21-T10 and T17 last year. More proof that lights-out putting is not required!
Phil Mickelson (B): Ok, I’ll bite. In his last 20 rounds at GCH he’s put one round over par. He fired 63 on his way to victory in 2011 to tie the course record. Mickelson has two things on his mind: winning another green jacket and completing the career grand slam at the U.S. Open. His game has shown signs of life but if he’s going to show gamers anything it’s going to come on a course with little rough that he can overpower. He could be a nice counter punch in Yahoo! B this week.
Louis Oosthuizen (C): Man, I’m swallowing all of the hooks this week. With many fellas taking the week off, Oosti might not be a bad gamble. His March, now that he’s somewhat healthy, has produced a solo sixth at Doral that included a 67. He MC the following week at Valspar but returned with T9 at Bay Hill. He MC last year but his power led him to T16-3rd-T10 the three years before that. When (if?) he’s healthy, he has no problem handling this layout. #CrossesFingers
Form Players and Course Horses
Rickie Fowler: His last two have been his best two since the end of the 2014 season so that’s positive. He was sixth here last year before BLOWING UP for four months so in a field this thin I can connect these dots.
Carlos Ortiz: Worried about his pedigree before the season started, I’ve been overly patient. Too patient. He’s played the weekend in six of his last seven and four of those have resulted in T21 or better. He hits it a mile (33rd Driving Distance) and can roll the rock (34th SGP).
Danny Willett: After T12 at Doral and T29 at Bay Hill, the Englishman has played his last six rounds at 71 or better so he’s in fine form heading to Houston. He has no problem getting it down the fairway and made 32 birdies total in those two events. Not bad.
Paul Casey: His struggles have been off the tee so he should be excited to see a layout like this in Houston. His only win on TOUR came on this layout in 2009 so he should be excited to get tuned up for Augusta. He feats on par fives and should get back on track this week after T38 at Doral and MC at Bay Hill.
Chesson Hadley: He started heating up where he started making noise last season, Pebble Beach, and he’s collected paychecks in his last four in a row. He defended nobly at PRO with T16 and was T4 at VTO where he was second in birdies and T2 in bogey avoidance. #Solid
Shawn Stefani: He’s played seven of eight weekends in 2015 including the last three. His last 12 rounds have seen him card 11 at 72 or better. The only exception was 79 to open last week at Valero. He rallied to play the final three rounds 70-72-70 to finish T26. He was T17 at Valspar and T21 at Bay Hill before that. He finished solo fifth here last year and has put nine of 12 career rounds at GCH UNDER par. He might be underrated here this week.
Daniel Berger: Bomb and gouge and putt? Ok! Throw Justin Thomas in here as well! I’d prefer both in the season-long games instead of trying to “time the market” but they are both fearless and have no problems getting low.
Robert Streb: After a white-hot start that consisted of six finishes of T17 or better, Streb hit the brakes when the TOUR hit the harder courses. After T8-T17-T10 to start 2015 his last four have resulted in MC-T59-T56-MC. Those last four tournaments include zero rounds in the 60s. He’ll enjoy a grip-it-and-rip-it set-up this week. He put all four rounds under par his first and only time here in 2013 to finish T22.
Keegan Bradley: Every other track where he’s been a course horse he’s let gamers down. Let’s have another week of misery together! Ok, four par fives, no rough, big hitter, decent short game and we have some hope. Right?
Cameron Tringale: With 11 of his last 12 under par here it’s not a surprise that he’s finished T8-T16 and T4 last year. It makes me forget about his 81 to close his first time here to finish T73. With only one finish in the top 25 in 2015, he lands here.
Charley Hoffman: He was a course horse last week as well and continued his streak of T13 or better at VTO (T11). His record at GCH isn’t a stout but he’s made all eight cuts in all eight tries since the move. His T6 in 2008 is the only finish inside the top 20 though. BUT THAT’S OK.
Charles Howell III: MC last week at Valero broke a streak of eight straight weekends. He’s the sentimental favorite this week as a win would get him into his hometown event next week. Like everywhere else on TOUR, he’s a bit all-or-nothing here but he makes plenty of cuts to fit in most formats.
Scott Pinckney: He’s shown he can play in windy conditions with T6 at PRO and T8 last week at VTO. Not sure his confidence can be any higher right now.
Off the Radar
Guys outside the top 100 in the OWGR and merit a look for certain formats. Rank in parentheses.
Tony Finau (172): Struggles when accuracy is necessary but that won’t be a worry this week. There aren’t too many longer off the tee and his Web.com days will get him ready to drop as many par breakers as possible. His current form has been not too hot but it’s been on courses where spraying it doesn’t help.
Scott Langley (215): He’s made six cuts in a row but nothing better than T22. He’s never made a cut here in two tries but has two rounds of those four under par. It’s a column of long shots. He qualifies.
Austin Cook (993): He was the co-medalist in the Monday Qualifier. The last time he qualified on Monday he was T13 at FESJC in Memphis. #MiniReed?
Kevin Kisner (271): T60-T49-T26 in his last three in a row the last three weeks on TOUR. That’s better than taking a flier on a guy who’s not.
John Merrick (445): With T22-MC-T15 in his last three and a perfect seven-from-seven at GCH, he falls in perfectly with the other misfit toys.
Kyle Reifers (328): Solid numbers across the board and in his three made cuts from his last six he’s posted T21, T8 and T11. #allornothing. He was T21 here in 2012.
Chris Stroud (147): Gamers won’t even read the rest of this and frankly, I can’t blame them. His last eight rounds here are par or better and the Beaumont native might just need a home game to turn his season around.
Jonathan Byrd (334): He’s played the weekend in three of his five starts to GCH and has T19-T14-T19 to show for it.
Francesco Molinari: WD with a bad wrist after an opening round 81 last week and hopes to be back this week. Ciao.
Martin Kaymer: He’s never played Augusta well and he’s never played GCH well. He’s posted nothing inside of T31 in three events in 2015 so I’m out until THE PLAYERS.
Justin Rose: His recent form has done nothing to inspire me to spend a high pick or big dollars on him this week.
Hunter Mahan: He also remains a mystery this week as he’s posted nothing better than T20 since No. 2 was born. Since winning here in 2012 he’s followed that with MC in 2013 and T31 last year.
Rookie/Up-and-Comer of the Week Last Week
Once called the “Jordan Spieth” of the week, I had to retire that name after his last two seasons on TOUR. Now, we’ll keep a broad view of newer names/faces that gamers should pay attention to as the season moves on. Some former examples in this column include Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed and Chesson Hadley.
Shriners: Finau, T7
McGladrey: Robert Streb, WIN
CIMB: Cameron Smith, T5
HTOC: Taylor played his sixth event as a pro. He’s won 1/6 of the events he’s entered. That’s worth keeping an eye on for the foreseeable future.
Sony: Blair and Thomas finished T6 in their Sony debuts.
Humana: SJ Park (T2) is new to the TOUR but is hardly a rookie; Oh, look: Thomas in the top 10 again (T7).
WMPO: Koepka won so he graduates from this column like Reed, Spieth and Matsuyama before him. Justin Thomas is now the current mayor. Daniel Berger was T10, Thomas T17 and Finau returned with another top 25.
Farmers: Blair and Ortiz were T11 and Finau and Berger were T24. Not bad on a big, bad course!
Pebble Beach: Another top 10 for Berger and Curran as they had low rookie honors at T10. Will Wilcox was T18.
Northern Trust: Barber checked in at T12 and all that took was firing a tournament-low 65 on Sunday. No shame in Ortiz’s final round 75 from the final group as he played two very tough SoCal courses, Torrey South and Riviera T11 and T20. Noted.
Honda: Berger lost in a playoff. He’s played 10 TOUR events.
PRO: Young Argentine Emiliano Grillo missed a three-footer for his first win on TOUR. Curran hit another top 10, his third this season. Grillo has three TOUR starts; Curran has 17.
Valspar: There’s that pesky Thomas back in the top 10 AGAIN!
API: Berger just missed out on another top 10 with T13 and Blair and Ortiz racked up another top 25 each on T21.
VTO: Welcome Scott Pinckney to the proceedings as his T8 was quite stout. Ortiz hit the top 20 AGAIN with T15.
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, DFS plus the European Tour! Oh, and my One-and-Done feature. Look for it around 4 ET every Tuesday for the rest of the season.
And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat Wednesday at 12 ET. We will be breaking down the field at the Shell Houston Open and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter. Don’t forget to follow Rob (http://twitter.com/RobBoltonGolf) and Glass (http://twitter.com/MikeGlasscott) on Twitter.