Do you smell the azaleas in the air? Do you notice you’re starting to naturally greet people by saying “Hello Friends”? Do you have an insatiable appetite for pimento cheese lately? Well fear not, there is no need for alarm. All that means is that your body has sensed that The Masters is just around the corner. Unfortunately, we have to wait one more week before we feast our eyes on the vibrant green turf of Augusta National. However, the good folks who run the Shell Houston Open will give everyone who tunes into the broadcast a nice appetizer to next week’s main course.
The Shell Houston Open is one of the oldest tournaments on the PGA Tour, first played back in 1946 at River Oaks Country Club. The event bounced around the Houston area for years, never seeming to find a permanent home until 2006 when the event landed at the Golf Club of Houston. The club first opened in 2002 and was designed by Rees Jones and 2001 PGA Championship winner David Toms, running about 7,500 yards on the scorecard with overseeded rye and bentgrass greens. The tournament directors realized that as the event immediately preceding The Masters there was a good chance the top players would skip out in favor of an extra week of rest and preparation. To entice a more attractive field, though, they looked to set up the course to similar conditions of Augusta National to create a de facto warm up round before they head off to Golf Mecca. That means a firm and fast track with tightly mowed collars around the lightning fast greens to simulate an Augusta set up as best as they can.
The strategy has proved to be successful, as several big names are set to tee it up this week to try and perfect their game before they head to Augusta. This week also marks the last chance for players to try and earn a spot in the field at Augusta National, as only a win will give someone a golden ticket to The Masters. In addition, big names like Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker, and Brandt Snedeker currently aren’t on the VIP list at Augusta National next week, and they’ll shoot for one last opportunity to gain access into the club at the Shell Houston Open.
Typically, this event favors guys who hit a lot of greens, putt well on fast surfaces and can navigate the ball left and right through the gusty winds. While the weather will play a factor this week, it’ll play opposite to how the tournament has fared in recent history. The Houston area is seeing a lot of rain early this week, so the course should play longer than the scorecard yardage and the greens won’t have quite as much bite to them. And with relatively benign winds this weekend, the course should be a bombers paradise and favor the longer hitters on tour.
Here’s who I’m eyeing this week on my betting tickets and DraftKings Lineups (with odds courtesy of mybookie.ag).
- Rickie Fowler: 8/1, $11,500
- Justin Rose: 8/1, $11,400
- Jordan Spieth: 9/1, $11,100
- Phil Mickelson: 9/1, $10,200
- Henrik Stenson: 10/1, $10,500
While I tend not to put a lot of stock in looking for golfers peaking the week before a major, I’ll certainly have my eye on Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler on two different aspects in each’s game. For Fowler, I want to see if he can take advantage of the Par 5’s for good scoring opportunities. If you want to win the Masters, you have to score birdies on the Par 5’s, particularly on 13 and 15. Fowler’s struggled a bit on Par 5’s this year, partially due to struggling off the tee to diminish his chances of scoring on longer holes. He ranks 106th in Par 5 Birdie or Better % on Tour this year, but if he scores well on the Par 5’s this weekend we’ll have to reevaluate his chances at Augusta. As for Spieth, his putting woes continue. Right now he sits 172nd in Strokes Gained-Putting on the PGA Tour and hasn’t shown much improvement in that area of late. As I’ll talk about next week, putting stats are a little overrated when trying to handicap The Masters, but it’d be nice to see any positive signs in that area of his game before next week.
As for Phil Mickelson, he’s a former winner of this event when he took home the trophy in 2011. He probably will be a popular DraftKings play this week as having the lowest value of all the top guys, but I’m going to be fading him. Admittedly, trying to get into the head of the mad scientist himself is always a dangerous proposition, but I think he’ll take the tournament’s as a warm up to the Masters a little too literally. Phil’s on record of saying that sometimes he’ll hit a shot during a tournament not because it’s the best shot in the circumstance, but that it’s a shot he’ll need to hit the following week at a bigger event. He’s probably a safe play to make the cut, but I’ll be shying away from him anyways and building lineups in favor of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. Both should fare well in this course set up as each is green in regulation machines and are long enough off the tee to set up shorter irons on their approaches.
- Luke List – 25/1, $9,600
- Tony Finau – 25/1, $9,000
With all the rain the course will have this week, I like these two long hitters to be right there at the top of the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon. Tony Finau is still searching for his first real win on the PGA Tour, as his only trophy on the mantle thus far is the opposite field Puerto Rico Open back in 2016. Finau ranks 1st in driving distance and 10th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, and with the rain taking a little speed off the greens he should score well as long as he’s not kicking the ball around the short grass all weekend.
It’s a little unfair that Luke List isn’t qualified for The Masters given how well he’s played this year. Despite six Top 30 finishes in his last seven starts, including taking Justin Thomas to a playoff at the Honda Classic, List didn’t reach high enough in the Official World Golf Rankings to make the cut. But List has an eye for the course by finishing 3rd in this event last year, and he checks all the boxes on guys you want to target as a potential winner – 3rd in Driving Distance, 11th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 11th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 23rd in Par 5 Birdie or Better %. He should have a sense of urgency as only a win will get him into the Masters, and I think he has a great chance of doing so. Unfortunately, he’ll probably be a fairly chalky play in a lot of DraftKings lineups, but I’d be fine putting him in one and surrounding him with a few less trendy names or throwing 25/1 on him to win the tournament outright.
Honorable Mention: Daniel Berger (23/1, $9,400), Byeong Hun An (33/1, $8,700), Charles Howell III (40/1, $8,900),
- Keegan Bradley – 55/1, $8,600
- Ryan Palmer – 65/1, $7,900
Keegan Bradley is another big name on the tour that finds himself on the outside looking into the Masters next week, needing a win to secure a spot in the first major of the year. Bradley’s played good, not great golf of late, but he’s making cuts week after week with the lone exception of the Genesis back in February. His driving stats are all pretty good in 2018 and like Luke List he should have an extra chip on his shoulder to try and make the Masters at a course that suits well for him.
Texas native Ryan Palmer should feel right at home this week in Houston. Palmer’s best attributes in his game have always been off the tee, and 2018 is no exception to that. Ryan Palmer sits 5th in Driving Distance, 21st in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 10th in Strokes Gained off the Tee on the PGA Tour this season. Palmer finished in the Top 10 of this event in 2014, and I expect another solid performance for him this week as well.
Honorable Mention: Emiliano Grillo (50/1, $8,500), Jason Kokrak (58/1, $7,300), James Hahn (65/1, $7,100)
- Aaron Wise – 100/1, $7,400
- Corey Conners – 110/1, $7,600
- Matt Jones – 140/1, $7,300
Both Aaron Wise and Corey Conners win odds are a little out of whack with their DraftKings prices, but each is still cheap enough flyers at the end of your lineups to be very useful this weekend. Both guys are some of the drivers on the PGA Tour, ranking 40th and 51st in Driving Distance and 69th and 20th in Strokes Gained Off the Tee, respectively. On top of using them in DraftKings, I think each could be nice plays on a Top 20 bet if your book offers it. I like both to outpace their values and linger around the top half of the leaderboard by the end of the weekend.
Matt Jones provided one of the most dramatic endings in PGA Tour history with this winning chip back in 2014:
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 28, 2018
That started a nice two year run for Jones, including another win at the Australian Open the following season and he held the 36 hole lead at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Since then, Jones has slipped down the world rankings, but I’m optimistic about his chances by playing at a course he’s had good success at. Despite his struggles, Matt Jones still ranks as one of the best drivers on the PGA Tour in both driving distance and Strokes Gained off the Tee. I don’t think he’ll be a very popular play, but given his odds and DraftKings value, he provides a lot of sleeper potential for backers this weekend.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Harkins (100/1, $7,000), Dominic Bozzelli (110/1, $7,200)
Shell Houston Open DraftKings Lineup #1
- Henrik Stenson: $10,500
- Luke List: $9,600
- Ryan Palmer: $7,900
- Corey Conners: $7,600
- Kevin Streelman: $7,200
- James Hahn: $7,100
Shell Houston Open DraftKings Lineup #2
- Daniel Berger: $9,400
- Tony Finau: $9,000
- Keegan Bradley: $8,600
- Emiliano Grillo: 8,500
- Jason Kokrak: $7,300
- Brandon Harkins: $7,000
Shell Houston Open DraftKings Lineup #3
- Justin Rose: $11,400
- Charles Howell III: $8,900
- Aaron Wise: $7,400
- Lucas Glover: $7,400
- Matt Jones: $7,300
- Russell Knox: $7,300