The Masters is one week away and that means one final tune-up for Augusta National at this week’s Houston Open.
Though not particularly strong – just 48 OWGR points will be awarded to the winner – the field is highlighted by Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson, who will be joined by defending champion Russell Henley as well as a list of players trying to earn that final Masters invite, which will be handed out to the winner this week, assuming the player isn’t already eligible.
The Houston Open was first played in 1946, but moved to the Golf Club of Houston, then called Redstone Golf Club, in 2003. However, the tournament didn’t switch from the Members Course to the Tournament Course, where the event is now held, until 2006.
The rough will be short and the Bermuda-bent greens will be fast again in an attempt to replicate what some players will see at Augusta National next week. Hurricane Harvey flooded the property last August, but the course has recovered nicely, even if the tournament is still searching for a sponsor to replace longtime title sponsor, Shell.
The par-72, 7,441-yard Golf Club of Houston doesn’t favor a particular player. J.B. Holmes won here in 2015 while leading the field in driving distance. Henley led the field in strokes gained: putting (SGP) in his victory last year. So if you’re going to look at statistics, strokes gained: tee-to-green (SGTTG) and SGP should be helpful. Driving accuracy is not required this week with the rough down.
Here are my top 20 fantasy-golf options for the Houston Open:
1. Justin Rose: Picking up momentum again with top-5 showings at Valspar and API. Has finished in the top 15 twice in his last three trips to GC of Houston. Ranks fifth on Tour in SGP.
2. Phil Mickelson: Last year’s T-55 finish was his worst in Houston since 2009. During that span he had six top-17 finishes, including a win in 2011. Didn’t advance to the knockout stage at the WGC-Dell Match Play, but he has a win and three other top-6s in his last four stroke-play starts. Ranks second on Tour in SGP and 19th in SGTTG and can afford a few loose shots with the driver this week.
3. Henrik Stenson: Had posted two runner-up finishes, a T-3 and no MCs in five Houston Open starts before MC last year. Coming off a fourth-place finish at Bay Hill, another course where he’s had success but missed the cut at last year.
4. Daniel Berger: Was T-25 in Houston Open debut in 2015, and has since rattled off a pair of fifth-place showings here. Didn’t putt it well last year here, but he enters the week ranked 29th on Tour in SGP. Wasn’t sharp at Match Play, but he does have five finishes of T-14 or better in his last seven stroke-play starts.
5. Luke List: Has gotten better every year here – MC in 2013, T-27 in ’16 and T-3 last year. Ranks 11th on Tour in SGTTG. Second, T-16 and seventh in his last three stroke-play tournaments.
6. Jordan Spieth: Went 2-1 at the Match Play, looking better than he did in his MC at Valspar. Shot 77 in the second round to miss the cut here last year. Had finished T-2 and T-13 in previous two trips to Houston.
7. Charles Howell III: In 10 starts on the Tournament Course, Howell has missed just two cuts and posted three top-10s. Ranks 12th on Tour in SGTTG. Followed T-14 finish at API by advancing to the Round of 16 in Austin.
8. Rickie Fowler: He’s looked close – T-14 at API, T-11 at Phoenix – but he also has missed two of his last five cuts on Tour. His T-3 finish last year in Houston was his third top-10 in six Houston Open starts. He also has three finishes outside the top 60. Starting to hit it better as he’s climbed to 25th in SGTTG.
9. Russell Henley: Had finished T-7 or better in three straight Houston Open starts before winning here last year. And he has been in good enough form over the past two months to warrant a pick this week.
10. Rafa Cabrera Bello: Surprisingly missed the cut here last year after finishing solo fourth in his Houston Open debut in 2016. Ranks 13th on Tour in SGTTG, but needs to get the putter going badly. Was T-3 in last stroke-play event, in Mexico.
11. Matt Kuchar: Mixed bag here with missed cuts last year and in 2007, but also a pair of T-8 showings and a runner-up finish in 2014. Made it to the Round of 16 last week in Austin.
12. Keegan Bradley: In seven Houston Open starts, he has two top-5s among four top-15 finishes and just one missed cut. Ranks seventh on Tour in SGTTG. He has been good but not great since missing the cut at Riviera.
13. Bud Cauley: Coming off T-14 at Bay Hill and while he missed the cut here last year, he was T-8 and T-16 in his first two trips to Houston, in 2012 and ’13, respectively.
14. Steve Stricker: Has already won twice on the PGA Tour Champions this season and has four career top-11 finishes in Houston.
15. Tony Finau: Best finish in three Houston starts is T-34 from last year, and he hasn’t cracked the top 25 in a stroke-play event since his T-2 at Riviera. But he does rank 10th on Tour in SGTTG.
16. Jhonattan Vegas: Opened last year’s Houston Open in 66 before tying for 15th. Didn’t play well at Match Play, but looked solid in T-20 showing in Mexico.
17. Dylan Frittelli: Making Houston Open debut. Had a nice start to 2018 with five straight top-20s, including two top-6s. T-55 in Mexico and a poor showing in Austin, though.
18. Peter Uihlein: Tied for 23rd last year at GC of Houston and nearly advanced to the Round of 16 at Match Play.
19. Chez Reavie: Has cooled off since he posted back-to-back runner-up finishes, at Phoenix and Pebble. Missed the cut last year in Houston, but was T-7 the year before. Ranks 24th on Tour in SGTTG.
20. Ian Poulter: Has only played here twice, tying for 21st in 2006 and missing the cut in ’14. However, he needs a win to qualify for the Masters and he’s playing well, reaching the knockout stage at the Match Play.