Shell Houston Open

What otherwise would be the PGA Tour’s annual swing through Houston has turned into a pretty significant tournament. It’s two weeks to the Masters and the only thing standing between its breathless hopefuls and immortality is this tournament and next week’s Valero Texas Open in San Antonio.

So for guys looking to play their way into readiness for Augusta, this tournament is perfect. Last year it was the lead-in tournament, so they know what they need to do in order to prepare the course for an ersatz Augusta National experience. The greens will be lightening fast, all the chipping areas around the greens will be shaved to the nubs and the rest of the 7,457-yard Redstone Golf Club’s Tournament Course will be prepared like it was the first day on Centre Court at Wimbleton. They may have lost their honor in the pecking order, but their effort will be no less.

San Antonio has always been the weak sister of the Texas tournaments, but they have been rewarded with this year’s lead-in as a reward to their longtime sponsor, Valero Energy Corporation. The tournament’s successful move in recent years to the Greg Norman-designed TPC San Antonio was the last piece that fell into place. But this is next week’s story.

We have some big names playing in Houston and here are the marquee local tee times:

7:50 AM* – Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Geoff Ogilvy

8:00 AM  – Charlie Beljan, Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood

12:50 PM – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley

1:00 PM  – Brandt Snedeker, Bill Haas, Steve Stricker

* 10th Tee Start

There are a number of other upper echelon players in the field to include: Aaron Baddeley, Ben Crane, Russell Henley, Charles Howell III, John Huh, Martin Laird, Justin Leonard, Carl Pettersson, Nick Watney and the beloved Boo Weekley.

So the primary mission for this week’s players is to play really well without getting too jacked up if they do…or if they don’t. We don’t know yet who from this field is entered in San Antonio, but I would guess that many of them will want to have another shot at playing really well, particularly since they’ll be staring at the reality of Augusta the week after that.

And some, like Tiger, are going to invest everything on just showing up at Augusta early and just work on high-quality practice. There are a number of changes to greens that will need to be charted and studied. And in Tiger’s case there’s the need to work on being able to hit his tee shot right-to-left.

I speculated to a friend I was speaking with this evening that Tiger has been playing everything left-to-right off the tee for weeks now. He’s not hitting a lot of fairways, but neither is he double-crossing himself a lot. He just takes whatever club seems right — with few drivers — starts it left edge of the fairway and cuts the ball back into play.

So that’s all we’ve seen; cuts, cuts and more cuts. But in those weeks where he has been home practicing, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that he’s been playing a lot and working on drawing the ball. He just wanted to save the demonstrations until everyone’s up at Augusta. And then to roll out these beautiful draws as his arrival present to the rest of the field. He does stuff like that a lot..or maybe it’s just that he keeps his own counsel.

The Golf Channel has the broadcast on Thursday and Friday from 4:00 – 7:00 ET. On Saturday and Sunday, they have it from 1:00 – 3:00 ET.

NBC brings it to conclusion on Saturday and Sunday from 3:00 – 6:00 ET.

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