With just one week before the first major championship of the year, the Shell Houston Open once again plays the role of unofficial warm-up event for the Masters. There is nowhere else on the planet quite like Augusta National but the event organisers at the Golf Course of Houston try their best to mimic certain aspects of the week ahead.
Just like Augusta, this is a golf course where distance off the tee is much more important than accuracy with the first shot. Both J.B. Holmes and Anthony Kim have won this event with the worst fairways hit percentage of any player to make the cut showing that it is all about the second shot and hitting greens in regulation. Traditionally at the Shell Houston Open, when the GIR percentage goes up, the scoring goes down even though the greens are set to run at around 13 on the Stimpmeter in an attempt to make the challenge even more Augusta-like. It is also important to make the putting surface in two because scrambling is notoriously difficult around the par 72 course which can stretch out to as long as 7,441 yards.
As well as betting on big hitters this week it is also worth considering course form. It can be hard for first timers to the Shell Houston Open to realise just how much it is possible to open your shoulders and let rip while at the other end, these are not easy greens to putt on. One man who has just about the best form lines in Houston is Phil Mickelson. The three-time Masters champion won this event in 2011 and has placed inside the top 20 ever since. One of the best left handed players in golf history, Mickelson looked to be coming towards the twilight of his career last season but he has been resurgent since changing swing coach and he looks set to have a really good crack at Augusta once again. That charge for a fourth green jacket can be boosted by a win this week at odds of 20/1 with Coral.
Henrik Stenson doesn’t quite have the winning pedigree in the biggest tournaments that Mickelson has but there is no arguing that he is one of the most consistent golfers around. The big hitting Swede made the slightly controversial decision to miss out the WGC Dell Match Play last week to ensure that he was well rested for the Masters and he is back at the Houston Open to try and add to the two top three finishes he’s already achieved here. He’s had trouble getting over the line in America but that could all change at 14/1 with Betfred.
Tony Finau became a PGA Tour winner last week at the Puerto Rico Open after being heavily predicted to go on to have a stellar career. The 26-year-old was only in his first season on Tour when he made the cut here last year. His power hitting will serve him well in Houston and with the confidence of winning, he is worth an each-way shot at 80/1 with Bet365.