Houston Open won't precede Masters in 2013

Hunter Mahan watches his tee shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the Houston Open.

Hunter Mahan watches his tee shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the Houston Open.

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Barely have the roars died down from the Masters when a golfer’s fancy turns to next year’s tournament.

Yes, that is the appeal that the tournament has, so it’s worth noting that the first change to the 2013 Masters landscape can be revealed: The Shell Houston Open won’t have its coveted spot on the PGA Tour calendar as the lead-in tournament, something that’s been in place since 2007.

Instead, the Valero Texas Open will be held April 4-7, the week before the Masters.

Though the 2013 PGA Tour schedule will not be released until the fall, the Shell Houston Open’s move to March 28-31, two weeks before the Masters, was confirmed to Golfweek.

“We were told last week, during the pro-am day of our tournament,” SHO tournament director Steve Timms said. “We were a little surprised.”

Andy Pazder, the PGA Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations, said “this was the best alternative” for a less-than-ideal situation that was brought about by a number of extenuating circumstances. First and foremost, the 2013 Masters will be as late (April 11-14) as possible, “and whenever that happens, we end up with an extra week (on the PGA Tour schedule) between the Florida swing and the Masters,” he said.

The first solution would be to slide the Valero in two weeks before the Masters, then give April 4-7 to the Shell Houston Open. But Easter will be March 31 next year, and Pazder confirmed that Valero has it written into its contract that the tournament can’t be held Easter weekend. That provision is tied to a Monday-after-Valero event whereby golfers take to some two dozen courses in the San Antonio area and raise upwards of $8 million for charity.

(A similar situation arose in 2011 when Valero got the week after the Masters, knocking the Hilton Head folks out of their usual date and onto Easter two weeks after the Masters.)

The disappointment for SHO officials is that the event loses a niche it has worked hard to cultivate. When the FedEx Cup playoffs debuted in 2007, the Shell Houston Open drew what many thought was the short straw, being the week before the Masters. But Timms his staff committed to a proactive campaign built around a simple premise: Prepare Redstone Golf Club’s Tournament Course to play as much like Augusta National as possible, a sort of “prep it and they will come” mentality.

By all accounts, it has been a big hit. Phil Mickelson has been there every year since 2008 (he won in 2011), and particularly with international names such as Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington, Houston has been an attractive warm-up.

Chubby Chandler, whose ISM group manages a number of players who have used Houston to get ready for the Masters, said it’s too far out to know for sure, but he didn’t see any positives to the move. “It will kill Houston, and it will kill Valero, too,” he said.

Adam Scott has won at Redstone (2007) and TPC San Antonio (2010), so he’d be a fair judge of the way those courses prep a player for Augusta. He gave the nod to Redstone. “I think it’s the best-conditioned golf course of the year,” he said, adding that he wasn’t sure whether TPC San Antonio could pull it off.

Pazder said Redstone would be prepared similarly in 2013 so that players would still have that “prep for Augusta” concept, and he viewed the future optimistically. “Some players might like the Houston tournament if it weren’t the week before the Masters,” he said. “So maybe now, two weeks before, they’d play.”

One player whose name was bandied about was Tiger Woods, who never plays the week before the Masters, but might possibly consider the Shell Houston Open next year. If he did, it would help soften the disappointment of losing that date before the Masters and also getting a Sunday finish on Easter, which is a significant factor, especially in the South.

Said one person with close ties to the Shell Houston Open: “Here in the South, the Bible Belt, Easter will have a significant effect; it will turn Sunday into Thursday.” Then he paused and added: “There aren’t many people who can trump Easter in the Bible Belt, but (Woods) could.”

As if losing its date for 2013 and getting an Easter finish weren’t enough of a 1-2 punch for the SHO, a third factor will make it tough for the event: The annual Tavistock Cup will be played in Orlando, Fla., on March 25-26, the Monday and Tuesday of the Shell Houston Open. Given the way that charity event which involves 24 of the world’s best players has impacted the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Transitions Championship, it’s easy to understand why Shell tournament officials think they will have serious challenges in 2013.

(No decision has been made for 2014, when the Masters will be played late again, April 10-13, but Easter will be April 20 that year.)

“We were surprised,” Timms said. “But like we’ve always done, we’ll embrace it and make the most of it.”

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