Shell Houston Open: A preview and best bets for this week's PGA Tour event in Texas
By Dave Tindall
Last Updated: 02/04/14 2:47pm
Those in the Shell Houston Open field who are heading to Augusta next week will be pleased to see this event back in its usual pre-Masters slot.
The course in Humble, Texas, shares several traits with Augusta National - shaved banks off its greens and lightning fast putting surfaces - so, with the exception of 2013, has provided excellent preparation for the year's opening major since 2007.
Fred Couples probably summed it up best a couple of years ago when he said of this week's course: "It's certainly not Augusta National, but they do their best to make you feel like you're there."
A look at the list of past winners here supports the idea that the two venues require similar skills. Current Masters champ Adam Scott was the first winner at this venue in 2007 while three-time Masters champ Phil Mickelson took the title in 2011.
Paul Casey, another who has thrived at Augusta, won in 2009.
An ownership change means the course is now known as the Golf Club of Houston rather than Redstone Golf Club but the layout remains exactly the same so all past course form is relevant back to 2003 when this piece of land first played host.
As usual, Sky Sports has live coverage of all four days.
The Rees Jones-designed Golf Club of Houston is a 7,441-yard par 72 (which virtually mirrors the yardage and par of Augusta National). Even the last three pars fives are positioned in the same place they are on the Augusta scorecard (8, 13 and 15) so Couples certainly has a point. As you might expect, though, it does play easier than Augusta National and the winning scores here for the last five years read -16 (DA Points 2013), -16 (Hunter Mahan 2012), -20 (Phil Mickelson 2011), -12 (Anthony Kim 2010), -11 (Paul Casey 2009).
The leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Rory McIlroy (9/1): Rory has played here three times and his results haven't been as good as he would have hoped - 19th on debut in 2009, a missed cut in 2010 and a tied 45th last year. Despite that he said last year that "Redstone is a course that I've always enjoyed playing", so there seems no reason why it won't click one year. McIlroy's last start produced a modest tied 25th in rough conditions at the WGC-Cadillac Championship but prior to that he was runner-up at the Honda Classic. He was also second in Abu Dhabi back in January so his game is right there.
Dustin Johnson (14/1): After missed cuts here in 2008 and 2009, DJ showed he could flourish on this track by finishing fourth last year after rounds of 69-70-70-65. He also occupied that position on his last start (the WGC-Cadillac Championship) while his other three strokeplay starts of 2014 show two second places (Northern Trust Open, Pebble Beach) and a sixth (Hyundai). Although the odd wonky shot pigeonholes him as inconsistent, his final results suggest otherwise. The 29-year-old tops the Greens In Regulation and Scoring Average stats on the PGA Tour this year.
Henrik Stenson (16/1): The Swede has a record of playing well going into a major - he was third the week before last year's Open Championship and second the week before the US PGA. Wind back 12 months ago and he was also runner-up in this event which was his last start before The Masters. After looking unstoppable at the back end of 2013, he dipped at the beginning of this year but has improved from 16th (Cadillac) to fifth (Bay Hill) on his last two starts so everything looks primed for Stenson to have a big week.
Matt Kuchar (22/1): The ultra-consistent American looked set to post his first win of the campaign last week but stumbled in Sunday's final round and had to settle for fourth. Still, it was more evidence that he's a top 10 machine and, lo and behold, his last two starts in this event show finishes of tied eighth. Nine of his last 10 starts in Texas have produced finishes of 26th or better (seven are in the top 16) so it's a virtual guarantee that he'll be there or thereabouts this week. .
Sergio Garcia (25/1): The Spaniard has drifted a little off the radar due to a lighter schedule but there's been nothing wrong with his results. He was very much to the fore in December and January when winning in Thailand and Abu Dhabi and since that latter success he's made the last 16 of the Accenture Match Play, finished eighth in the Honda Classic and 16th in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. His one start here (in 2009) saw him start with a 69 but end with an 81 to finish tied 77th.
Having last year finished second twice and third once in his final start before a major, it's fair to say that Henrik Stenson is able to keep his eye on the immediate job in hand.
So when you add that to his second place here 12 months ago and his current form which is gathering place by the week he looks a very obvious but still fairly priced pick at 16/1.
Stenson topped the Driving Accuracy and Greens In Regulation stats at Bay Hill on his last start so make him the first name on your team list.
Jason Kokrak, another big hitter, showed his liking for this course when tied ninth last year and is coming off two good weeks in Florida where he was 14th in the Valspar and fourth at Bay Hill.
A third round 77 kept him down in 31st last week but he's clearly on the upgrade and three top 20s in his last four starts in Texas bodes well too. Add him in at 50/1.
Charley Hoffman has made the top 20 in each of his last six starts in Texas while in this event he has a sixth in 2008 and further top 25s in 2011 and 2013.
As for current form, his game looks strong after a pair of top 10s (Humana, Farmers) at the start of the year and a run of 11th-25th-12th in his last three outings.
That all looks good for a 66/1 chance who knows how to win on the PGA Tour.
Keegan Bradley won the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational the week before his defence of the US PGA so, like Stenson, has shown he doesn't get distracted by the ultimate prize ahead.
He's a big fan of the course, proving it with a fourth in 2012 and a 10th last year, and goes into this week's event on the back of a second place at Bay Hill.
Take him each-way at 22/1.
3pts win Henrik Stenson at 16/1
1pt e.w. Jason Kokrak at 50/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Charley Hoffman at 66/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
2pts e.w. Keegan Bradley at 22/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)