It probably wouldn’t matter what the tournament the week before the Masters was, it would get the lion’s share of the players coming through for a tuneup. But the Shell Houston Open takes full advantage of its geographic proximity to Augusta and the fact that they have a superintendent capable of replicating conditions the players will find there.
They get the Golf Club of Houston in Humble, Texas, all gussied up for the boys with the fairways and rough shaved down to Augusta heights, runoff areas around the greens replicating the feel of the Augusta chipping areas and greens as close to Augusta’s speeds as possible. The players are saying they’re a little slower right now, but expect them to be like glass as the week goes on.
One other thing that they do that sounds like a small thing, but instead becomes a measure of their commitment to cater to the players’ needs for comparable conditions. They mow the fairways towards the tees, just like Augusta does. With the course playing to 7,441 yards, the last thing the players want to see is slower fairways, but that’s what Augusta does.
But after all of that effort, it looks like Mother Nature is going to serve up a typical dose of tropical thunderstorms and showers that will impact on the pace of play and the speed of the course, not to mention possible delays. Thursday calls for a 30% chance of isolated thunderstorms with winds 15 to 25 miles per hour and a 50% chance overnight. Friday looks good with just a 20% chance, but Saturday calls for a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms with Sunday looking gloomy at 90%.
Of the 156 player in the tournament, only 44 of them will be in Augusta next week. But a lot of that has to do with the Masters having a much smaller field and many of them feeling that it’s more important to be in Augusta playing practice rounds this week than honing their competitive chops in Houston. Those that do chose to come to Houston get their money’s worth and a tournament bending over backwards with Texas hospitality.
Here are the marquee morning tee times:
7:40 am – 10 – Padraig Harrington, Ryo Ishikawa, Nicolas Colsaerts
7:50 am – 1 – Steven Bowditch, Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen
7:50 am – 10 – Webb Simpson, Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley
8:00 am – 10 – Jimmy Walker, Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar
And in the afternoon:
12:40 pm – 1 – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald
12:40 pm – 10 – Bill Haas, Hunter Mahan, Charles Howell III
12:50 pm – 1 – Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia, Steve Stricker
12:50 pm – 10 – Kevin Stadler, Ian Poulter, Charl Schwartzel
In addition, there are a number of very interesting players strewn across the tee sheet, the likes of Arron Baddeley, Rickie Fowler, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Graham Delaet, Justin Leonard, Martin Kaymer, Jonas Blixt and Geoff Ogilvy.
That being said, the defending champion is D.A. Points who claimed his second PGA Tour victory (Pebble Beach was his first).
It’s the great thing about the PGA Tour: amongst the unsurprising victories of the stars, you see long-held dreams come true all the time. And it’s heartwarming.