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Shell Houston Open Preview

   by Matt Fargo - 03/30/2010

The Shell Houston Open is the final tuneup before the Masters next week and while a pre-Major event usually lacks in quality, it is not the case this week. This is the fourth consecutive year that the SHO has preceded the Masters and the course itself has undergone changes to make it a true tuneup of Augusta National. This is one of the reasons why the field is as potent as it is and even though it is far from the real thing, it is a good practice week for some. For others, it is really big as the winner gets the final spot into the Masters.

Redstone Golf Club has hosted this event since 2003 and was ranked as the 22nd hardest course on tour last year. You won’t see blooming azaleas and there is no Hogan Bridge or Butler Cabin but Redstone’s course conditions do help in preparations for next week. Heavy rye overseeded fairways and bentgrass/rye combination greens are very quick. The rough is light and surrounds and banks around greens and water hazards are shaved, creating many of the same tight, quick conditions you get at Augusta.

This is one of the best fields and recent ones have been solid so that is saying something. Six of the world’s top ten are teeing it up this week with five of those being international players. The lone U.S. top ten golfer is Phil Mickelson as Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, the three other American top ten players, are sitting this one out. In addition, 16 of the top 35 are in play this week highlighted by Rory McIlroy, Geoff Ogilvy, Luke Donald, Hunter Mahan and Lucas Glover.

Winner beware. It has been 32 years since the winner of the Shell Houston Open has also won the Masters which was last done in 1978 by Gary Player. The course is long so it is no surprise that Redstone has shown a lean towards the big hitters of the PGA Tour. However, precision is always key and hitting greens is a must. Those greens are relatively big so consistency in hitting them in regulation will produce plenty of birdie opportunities.

Last years champion Paul Casey (+1200) is catching s short number this week. He won the 2009 SHO in a playoff over J.B. Holmes and is once again playing outstanding. In seven worldwide starts this season Casey has finished inside the top 11 in six of those including a T4 at the Honda and a T6 at Doral. He also was a runner-up for the second straight year at the Accenture Match Play so he is a threat yet again.

Ernie Els (+1000) is coming off a win at Bay Hill on Monday, his second win in as many starts and is obviously once again at the top of his game. He is the first player since Tiger Woods in 2001 to win twice on the Florida swing. Winning three straight is going to be a challenge and don’t be surprised to see Els not going all out this week as fatigue is going to be an issue. He tied for 14th here last year.

Tournaments without Tiger usually favor Phil Mickelson (+1200) but that isn’t the case this week. He is close to top chalk but his inconsistent play has dropped him down some but he still remains a threat. He has not missed a cut in six events this season and he has four top 25 finishes but he has cracked the top ten only once. His 75-77 weekend at Bay Hill is a definite concern.

Hunter Mahan (+2500) is not part of that top ten grouping but he has a win already this year and his history at the SHO is solid. In four starts at Redstone, he has finished in the top 15 three times including a T11 last year. He led the field in greens hit and as mentioned, that is a huge edge and can be taken advantage of. Since his win in Scottsdale he has a T30 and a T25 so a big finish will help heading into next week.

Don’t count out the old man. Fred Couples (+3000) has won three straight evens, albeit on the Champions Tour, but that is still quite an accomplishment. He isn’t playing just to play because he knows he can still win at this level. He went to college in Houston so he is very comfortable here and it doesn’t hurt that he has finished T3 and T4 the last two years at Redstone.

Tournament Win Bets (All for ¼ Unit)

Paul Casey +1200

Hunter Mahan +2500

Anthony Kim +2500

Martin Kaymer +2500

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