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Shell Houston Open Preview + Picks

   by Matt Fargo - 03/29/2011

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 fifth 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.

Redstone Golf Club has hosted this event since 2003 and was ranked as the 14th 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. Four of the world’s top ten are teeing it up this week with only one of those being international, Lee Westwood. The U.S. top ten players are Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker. In addition, 14 of the top 40 are in play this week highlighted by Ernie Els (13), , Retief Goosen (18), Hunter Mahan (19), Louis Oosthuizen (24), Charl Schwartzel (26), Robert Allenby (28) and Padraig Harrington (35).

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. And only twice has any player won the previous week in any event and then won the Masters. The course is long so it is no surprise that Redstone has shown a lean towards the big hitters. 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.

Reigning champion Anthony Kim (+3000) won in a playoff over Vaughn Taylor and he nearly used that as a sparkplug, finishing third at the Masters the following week. The surprising thing about the Kim victory was that he finished dead last in the field in fairways hit. This season he has just one top ten as he is taking a long time to come back from his injured thumb.

Matt Kuchar (+1500) is the co-favorite this week along with Lee Westwood and despite no wins this year, he is seventh on the money list thanks to five top seven or better finishes in seven events. Kuchar has not missed a cut since Quail Hollow at the end of last April. He is second on tour in the all-around while sitting 10th in putting and he finished T8 at Redstone last year.

Steve Stricker (+2000) has played sparingly this year as he has only five events under his belt but he has two top tens and is coming off a T18 in his last event at the Cadillac Championship. He did not play here last year and missed the cut in 2009 but at the time, it was his ninth even so the rest this year may pay dividends. He does however have three top 11 finishes here in his career.

Spencer Levin (+4000) is a name not too familiar by most but with the way he has been playing, that will soon change. He is coming off a T6 at Bay Hill last week no thanks to a final round 76 but that still gave him his third top ten finish in his last six events. After finishing fourth or better in his last two events last season, he is starting to heat up again. Levin leads the tour with 164 birdies.

There is excellent value in this number for Steve Marino (+4000) despite narrowly missing out on a win last week yet again. He had a late three-stroke lead and a double-bogey on 17 did him in but the fact he came back with a birdie on 18 showed his resiliency. He finished T14 at Redstone last year after a T19 finish in 2009 and T66 in 2008 for he is trending in the right direction.

J.B. Holmes (+3000) took some time off following the Accenture Match Play Championships and came back last week with a T47 at Bay Hill as a tune up for this week. He did not play here last year which was surprising as he finished second at Redstone in 2009, losing to Paul Casey in a playoff. He has not missed a cut this season and has four top 13 finishes or better.

For a longshot, we will take a chance with Jhonattan Vegas (+6000). Vegas started the season hot with a win at the Bob Hope Classic and followed that up with a T3 at the Farmers. He has two top 20 finishes since then and is coming off a missed cut last week so he has definitely cooled off but he is a University of Texas grad so playing here should give him some added boost.

Shell Houston Open Win Bets

Matt Kuchar (+1500)

Steve Stricker (+2000)

Spencer Levin (+4000)

Steve Marino (+4000)

J.B. Holmes (+3000)

Jhonattan Vegas (+6000)

Shell Houston Open Matchup Bets (All from sportsbook.com) – All for 2 Units

Steve Stricker +115 over Lee Westwood

Charl Schwartzel -110 over Francesco Molinari

Marc Leishman -120 over Robert Karlsson

Jhonattan Vegas +105 over Brendon de Jonge

Jason Day -120 over Aaron Baddeley

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