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Shell Houston Open Preview and Picks

   by Matt Fargo - 03/27/2012

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 sixth 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 24th 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 banks around greens and water hazards are shaved, creating many of the same tight, quick conditions you get at Augusta.

This is another strong field this week and that has been the case in recent years. Two of the world’s top ten are teeing it up this week as well as five of the OWGR top 20. The only U.S. top ten player is Steve Stricker while Hunter Mahan and Phil Mickelson round out the top 20 Americans. In addition, there are 15 former Major winners teeing it up including three of last year's winners, Charl Schwartzel, Darren Clarke and Keegan Bradley. Seven former Shell Houston Open champions are also in the field.

Winner beware. It has been 33 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.

Defending his championship will be Phil Mickelson (+1,200) who finished at -20, which was the lowest winning score ever at Redstone, three shots clear of Chris Kirk and Scott Verplank. He tied the course record with a Saturday 63 and he heads into this year's version in about the same form as the start to the year has been inconsistent despite a win at Pebble Beach.

The favorite this week is Lee Westwood (+1,000) who is coming off a T29 at the Cadillac Championship, his first finish outside the top 20 in his last seven worldwide starts. He has been very solid at the SHO with finishes of T11, T8 and T30 the last three years. He has never missed the cut at Redstone in four appearances and he will likely be in the hunt come Sunday.

Hunter Mahan (+2,000) has not done much since his win at the Accenture Match Play Championship and he is coming off a disappointing T42 last week at Bay Hill. He has been in contention quite often at Redstone however as over the last six years he has missed the cut only twice while finishing T11 in 2006, T5 in 2007, T6 in 2009 and T8 last year. Expect a bounce back this week.

Graeme McDowell (+2,500) is getting some excellent value this week as if not for Tiger Woods last week, he would have won at Bay Hill. Prior to that, he finished T13 at the Cadillac Championship and T9 at the Honda Classic so he seems to be back following a disappointing 2011 season where he logged just one top 20 in his last 13 PGA Tour events. His last start here was in 2006.

Johnson Wagner (+3,000) is no longer flying under the radar and rightfully so. The moustache is still in place and there is no reason to shave it now after a win at the Sony Open, a T2 at the Humana Challenge the following week and then a T4 at Bay Hill last week. He finished T36 at Redstone last year which followed a 71st and an MC the previous two years but he won this event in 2008.

It was 2008 when Padraig Harrington (+5,000) won two Majors and it is hard to believe he has not won over here since then. His last start was at the Transitions where he fired an opening round 61 and finished T20 which was his second best finish since a T7 at Pebble Beach. He has never missed the cut at Redstone which is a good sign and his T8 last year was his best ever finish, a better sign.

Recommended Tournament Win Five Pack at the Shell Houston Open (all for One Unit)

Lee Westwood (+1,000)

Hunter Mahan (+2,000)

Graeme McDowell (+2,500)

Johnson Wagner (+3,000)

Padraig Harrington (+5,000)

Record to date after 11 events: -4.9 Units

Sony Open -5 Units

Humana Challenge -6 Units

Farmers Insurance Open +22 Units

Waste Management Phoenix Open -5 Units

AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am -5 Units

Northern Trust Open -5 Units

Accenture Match Play +7.1 Units

Honda Classic -5 Units

WGC-Cadillac Championship -5 Units

Transitions Championship +6 Units

Arnold Palmer Invitational -4 Units (Bo Van Pelt did not start)

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