Expert Picks for Shell Houston Open
Since 1922, Houston has served as an annual stop for the PGA Tour. The event has endured various changes in sponsor support and various host venues, but one thing has remained true throughout: the fans of Texas have come out and supported the professional golfers for decades, and more than a few of the game's elite enjoy the stop. Reading the list of previous winners reflects the game's history. Arnold Palmer was a regular winner in Houston while many others – including Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Gary Player (including a 1978 win), Chi Chi Rodriguez, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson (including a 1946 win), and more – have been squarely in the competition for oversized checks. The list of more recent champions – including Payne Stewart, David Duval, Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, Fred Couples, Vijay Singh (touting multiple wins in Houston), Adam Scott, Paul Casey, and Anthony Kim – is just as impressive. This year's host venue, the Redstone Golf Club, was built in 2003 specifically to serve as the home for this event. Built by Rees Jones with golfer David Toms serving as a consultant, Redstone was opened in 2005, serving as the longest course the Houston Open has ever seen (7,457 yards). Sixteen of the holes on the course border the adjacent Greens Bayou, and while the swamp serves as a unique and luscious backdrop to the action on the course, the professionals know this track is about sand. The bunker location and configuration of this course provides one of the more disturbing challenges faced by the long-hitting duffers on the Tour today. It takes well-placed work off the tee to stay in contention this week. Match that with distance and putting and you'll be in the hunt.
Hunter Mahan [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #22
Not only has Mahan performed at a top level this season (finishing near the top of several Sunday leaderboards over recent weeks), but he also happens to own an outstanding Redstone resume that would have put him on our short list without the positive momentum.
Phil Mickelson [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #10
Mickelson has struggled to meet lofty expectation this season but he remains one of the most talented duffers on the planet. He's a regular in Houston, he's played this Redstone track as often as any golfer in the field, and he's more than capable of posting low numbers.
Matt Kuchar [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #9
Kuchar continues to push for a 2011 win, and while he has yet to break through, he’s been knocking on the door nearly every time he hits the links. There’s no denying his potential, and while his history at Houston has been humble, Kuchar currently works as a guy you target every week regardless of venue.
Lee Westwood [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #11
Westwood has struggled a bit in terms of solidifying his place at the top of the world golf rankings (thus falling out of the world’s top spot), but he continues to post low scores, he continues to push for wins, and in Houston, he continues to target American tracks he knows and loves.
Ernie Els [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #24
Els has been as active as any of the game’s elite this season, and more often than not, he’s finishing among the top names on the final leaderboard. He knows this Redstone track, and while it has not served him well in the past, his talent and experience cannot and should not be ignored.
Not only is Allenby serving as a former Houston champion, but he also serves the fantasy golf community as one of the more active members of the upper crust coming into Redstone, and many of those starts have brought positive results. Best of all, the Houston win was not a fluke as he has been in the fight for others since.
It seems the Molinari brothers are taking turns seeking triumph on the PGA Tour, and while Edoardo is taking the week off from American golf, Francesco returns on a course that appears to be a perfect match for his skills. There’s no doubting his talent and it may be enough to overcome the lack of Houston experience.
Charl Schwartzel [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #16
The rising talent from South Africa continues to push his services on American soil and, as we’ve seen in most of his appearances, he has the bag to challenge the best in the game. His momentum is alluring, though a slight fall at the Arnold Palmer last week leaves doubt.
Kim returns to Houston as the defending champ and he faces similar circumstances in 2011. He hasn’t been terribly busy in terms of competitive golf and he hasn’t been terribly competitive when he has hit the links. Still, it is clear he enjoys this course and a limited field puts him on the fantasy radar.
Couples has tabbed Houston as one of his favorite courses on the Tour and thus he continues his campaign to earn an oversized check from the PGA Tour. He’s done well in stops made with the kids thus far and this particular track may be his best bet to break through and compete for a win.
It may be hard to justify Stricker’s place outside of the top ten based on talent but the man rarely plays, he has yet to support tall expectations based on performance, and he has struggled at Redstone in the past. Stricker deserves consideration but we would warn of undeniable risks.
Jason Day [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #35
Day has been one of the most rewarding fantasy commodities on the Tour over the past two seasons and he continues to rise with top performances against the game’s best. His last two appearances have ended with frustration and thus we hesitate to jump in without worry and his history at Redstone fails to boost that confidence.