The Shell Houston Open features an all star field this week with names like Spieth, Mickelson, Rahm, Fowler and Reed. World No.1 Dustin Johnson, who just won the Dell Match Play in Austin last week with a 1 up victory over Jon Rahm, is taking this week off. Dustin never trailed in the 112 holes he played last week at the match play. Wow. He's the best right now and certain favorite heading into the 81st Masters next week. Dustin has won all 3 events he's played in this season; the Genesis Open, the WGC-Mexico Championship, and last week at the Match Play. Talk about stellar. Through the roof good. His length is always there, he's a surprising 2nd to Rory in driving distance at 316.2. Rory leads at just over 318. Both are totally large hitters. Dustin pulled out this week from the Shell Houston due to fatigue. He'll be ready next week for "The tradition unlike any other," as Jim Nantz says of the year's classic tournament.
Shell Houston Open
Golf Club of Houston, Humble, TX, 7,441 yards, par 72
Defending champion: Jim Herman. Won in a pretty emotional way last year. Jim was emotional talking to Todd Lewis of Golf Channel after his victory. He had played in 112 tournaments before winning at Houston. He had even quit golf in 2004 to become a teaching pro. But he hung in there and kept scrapping, and his hard work paid off. The winner here if the player hasn't qualified for the Masters will get the last spot for the first major of the year.
Weather: Thursday, Sunny, windy, S 15-28 mph.
Friday: sunny, 86, 8-14 mph.
Saturday: sunny, 83, 12-17 mph.
Sunday 77, chance for severe weather, hopefully not.
Today is pretty dangerous in Houston with a severe weather alert and a chance for a tornado. Hoping that won't happen also.
TV: Thursday-Friday: Golf Channel, 3-6 PM CT, 4-7 PM ET.
Saturday-Sunday: Golf Channel, 12-2 PM CT/1-3 PM ET. NBC: 2-5 PM CT/3-6 PM ET.
No.9, 238 yards, par 3
Lengthy par 3. Big sand traps on both the right and the left. Getting in the left side bunker with a left side pin, will lead to a difficult up and down as the player will be short sided and not have much green to work with to make par. Challenging hole.
No.15, 609 yards, par 5
Three shot hole for most players. Trees on the right and left if you draw it or cut it too much. Second shot needs to favor the right side close to a big bunker to have the best angle of attack to the green. Long green and pretty narrow and surrounded by sand. Birdie here is good and definitely attainable. Par is not terrible, though on Sunday the contenders will probably need a birdie. Herman shot 69,69, 67, 68 last year for -15 to win it.
No. 17, 487 yards, par 4
There's a fairway bunker on the left that the players will want to carry to have a good approach shot to the green. Clearing the bunker can be challenging and getting in it can be trouble because the face of it is very steep. Small green that has a fair sized bunker front left and a large bunker on the right.
No. 18, 484 yards, par 4
This hole, to me, is one of the toughest finishing holes on the PGA Tour. It's underrated in its difficulty. A lake borders the entire left side of the hole. The tee shot challenges the player to carry as much water as possible while avoiding the large bunker on the left side of the landing area. There is a large bunker on the right that will cause the player problems if he overcooks his cut. Can't overcook the right to left drive either, or you're probably going to be out of contention. The competitor's second shot needs to avoid the water on the left and the large bunker on the right. This is quite a finishing hole. I really love this hole, which will set up for key drama on Sunday.
I would have picked Vegas for my sleeper, but I have somebody else in mind. Vegas can win this tournament. He's long, a good putter, and won the RBC Canadian last year with some stellar golf on Sunday. The 32 year old from Venezuela has 2 career victories on tour. To go along with the 2016 Canadian, he also won at the then Bob Hope Classic in 2011 in Palm Springs, now the Humana Challenge.
Johnny Miller loved Wagner's mental toughness and clutch play 2 years ago when he lost to J.B. Holmes in a playoff here. The 37 year old won here in 2008 and he's a native of Amarrilo, so he knows this course well. Wagner also has won at the 2011 Mayakoba Golf Classic in Cancun, and at the 2012 Sony Open in Hawaii.
Won the Honda Classic a month ago and playing well. Rickie has 4 PGA Tour victories, including the 2015 Players. The 28 year old from Murrieta, California is still knocking on the door for a major, and looks primed to potentially capture one this year. There have been 12 winners on tour this season who are in their 20's. Wow, these guys are studs. Not only the 20 year olds, but the vets too.
The 23 year old has won 9 times on tour now, including a victory in February at Pebble Beach. Spieth is another player who is primed to win at Augusta National next week, which would be his 3rd major championship title to go along with the 2015 Masters and 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Like where Jordan's game is at. The competition at Augusta National next week will be major league intense. Can't wait.
I'm going with the 22 year old from Barrika, Spain by way of Arizona State University, who's making a huge statement this season as he's already won at Torrey Pines and had a masterful performance at the Match Play last week before falling to Dustin in the finals, losing to Dustin, who was 1 up. This guy is another guy who will for sure be in the thick of things next week. I expect greatness here. I see him capturing PGA title number 2 this season and having major momentum heading into Augusta National next week.
Phil won the BellSouth Classic in 2006 at Sugarloaf, just outside Atlanta, part of his 9th all-time 42 PGA Tour wins, then the following week, moved over 2 a1/2 hours away and won at Augusta National. So there is precedent for winning the week before the Masters and then winning at Augusta National. Going with the Spaniard.
I'm going with somewhat of a blast from the past. This 48 year old from South Africa shot 64 on the final day of the Puerto Rico Open last week to finish T-2nd, at -18, 2 back of winner D.A. Points. He's won 40 times as a professional including 7 times on the PGA Tour highlighted by the 2001 and 2004 U. S. Open titles. I like this guy to be a heavy contender this week and to possibly pull it off.