The PGA Tour completes its Texas two-step this week at the Shell Houston Open.
What was once a run of the mill tournament on the PGA Tour schedule has grown in stature in the last decade thanks to the event moving to the week prior to The Masters. That spot was previously occupied by the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta, but when that tournament went under, the Houston event gladly took its spot.
The event organizers know they will have the strongest fields if they set up the track similar to Augusta and give the players the best possible preparation leading into the year’s first major, and that is exactly what they do.
The field also has a plethora of elite international players who like to come over the week before a major to get acclimated to the time change and conditions.
Another intriguing aspect of this tournament is the last opportunity to earn a spot in The Masters. If a player not otherwise qualified wins this week, they earn an exemption to Augusta.
As previously mentioned, the course is set up as closely as possible to Augusta, but the Golf Course of Houston does have some significant differences.
For one, there are far more water hazards in play this week, especially off the tee, than the players will face next week.
Every year like clockwork, Phil will comment on how he’s not worried about the amount of water balls he hits, because he is playing shots that will properly prep him for Augusta, not necessarily the shot that is asked of him at Houston. Only in Phil’s world does that make sense, but he did win the event in 2011.
The tightly mown areas around the green and the undulated, fast putting surfaces are just some of the ways the tournament tries to parallel The Masters.
Another aspect is the lack of primary rough. The fairways aren’t necessarily overly narrow, but if a player is wayward off the tee, he often finds himself with a doable lie and the ability to pull off a shot.
The signature hole at the Golf Course of Houston is the par-4 18th. This long par-4 has water all along the left side and if players bailout right, they find themselves in one of a string of bunkers which leaves them a difficult approach shot with a long iron.
The drive requires a player to sack up and take an aggressive line off the tee if they want to find the fairway.
Last Year’s Event:
Good friend of Donald Trump, Jim Herman, earned his first PGA Tour victory in last year’s event. Herman outlasted the likes of Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and Henrik Stenson down the stretch to take home the title.
Herman grabbed ahold of the tournament with a chip-in on the 16th hole. That clutch effort allowed Herman to navigate the final two holes without incident and record the win.
Most Memorable Moment(s):
The emotional end of the most memorable moment came at the 2003 event. Fred Couples won his 15th and final PGA Tour title in the city where he had so much success collegiately. The win snapped a long drought for the veteran and he let his emotions spill out in the post-round interview.
Another memorable moment came in 2007. Adam Scott had complete control of the tournament until his drive on 18 found the water. He was able to hit his third shot on the green and drained a 50-foot par putt to solidify the victory.
Sidenote, Adam Scott also missed left in the water in his 2004 Players Championship victory. Just something to keep an eye on whenever he’s in contention.
The most recent great finish at the Shell Houston Open came at the 2014 edition of the event. After controlling the tournament for most of Sunday’s play, Matt Kuchar’s second shot into 18 found the water on the left (sensing a theme?) and the ensuing bogey forced him into a playoff with Matt Jones.
In the playoff, Jones clinched the victory in the most improbable fashion on the first playoff hole.
Player We Should All be Rooting For:
While his game has been lacking on the course, rookie Grayson Murray has made plenty of news on Twitter this year. His most recent off-course headline came when he invited Lindsey Pelas to be his caddy for the par-3 contest at The Masters….
Hey @LindseyPelas if I win next week in Houston will you be my caddy in the par 3 tournament at The Masters?
— Grayson Murray (@GraysonMurray) March 20, 2017
Obviously ⛳️ https://t.co/LllMK3d4p8
— Lindsey Pelas (@LindseyPelas) March 20, 2017
Strong Twitter game from Murray, but there’s a catch…he’s not qualified to play The Masters. The only way the rookie can make the field in Augusta is to win this week. We’re pullin’ for ya Grayson.
Retief Goosen: This is one of the darker dark horses I’ve selected, but the two-time major champion showed signs of his game rounding into form at last week’s alternate-field event in Puerto Rico. If you’re gonna take a flyer, might as well be on a proven winner:
Otter Room Pick:
Justin Rose (-13): Rose will be playing with Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed in the first two rounds, which will give him plenty of motivation to avenge last year’s Ryder Cup. Rose started the year off well and look for him to have his “A” game with The Masters beckoning.
Stay tuned this weekend for The Otter Room’s complete coverage of the Shell Houston Open. Also, keep your eyes open for a special Shotgun Sports Masters Preview that will drop early next week.