A week from today is Masters Eve, which means the Tour is making its final stop before the year’s major season begins. Despite World No. 1 Dustin Johnson withdrawing due to fatigue, this week’s field at the Shell Houston Open is filled with top-flight players and serious Masters contenders.
At last year’s SHO, Jim Herman held off a stacked leaderboard that included Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler to win his first PGA Tour title and earn a spot in the Masters. Herman’s win was one of the best stories of 2016 when you consider he had once given up his pursuit of the PGA Tour and taken a job as a club professional being convinced to give it one more go. The rest is history and now he will look to succeed in his first title defense.
PGA Tour hole of the week
Here’s our first crack at a new weekly deep-dive that will look at one interesting hole at each Tour stop. Golf Club of Houston’s 12th hole is a short par four that forces players to decide between laying up and going for the green. Over the years, the majority have chosen to play it safe and lay up, but the results point to the aggressive play being the wiser of the two. Learn more about the 12th and how its design influences play here.
Originally built as an 18-hole facility, the Golf Club of Houston saw an opportunity to snag a PGA Tour event and hired Rees Jones to build them a golf course that could stand up to the world’s best. Jones obliged by building a lengthy, hazard-filled test of golf with tight fairways that tests a player’s driving ability and nerve. GCoH gets a lot of praise for its Augusta like conditions, a vision their old superintendents Roger Goettsch and Randy Samoff had in late 2006. This idea was put into action first at the 2007 championship and slowly turned the SHO from an event often skipped by the world’s best to one of the Tour’s most popular stops. Today players find it to be a great way to tune up for the Masters. I have played the GCoH a handful of times. It’s a course that stresses precise shots from tee-to-green and definitely favors a player who moves the ball from right-to-left.
Paulie broke down who a few of those players might be in this week’s Picks...
Storylines to watch
A number of big-time Masters contenders will make their final start before Augusta and look to build some positive mojo heading into next week. Some players in the field to keep an eye on are Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and last week’s runner-up Jon Rahm.
One remaining spot
The Shell Houston Open offers players one last chance to earn a spot in next week’s Masters field. Some recognizable names in the field that have yet to qualify include Bryson DeChambeau, Augusta native Charles Howell III, former FedExCup Champion Billy Horschel and long-hitting Tony Finau.
The early favorite for comeback player of the year is Patrick Cantlay, who satisfied his medical exemption after a second-place finish at the Valspar Championship. With a big hurdle cleared, Cantlay will now look to reestablish himself as one of the game’s most promising young players.
The Beau Show
The former University of Texas star will continue his quest to earn his PGA Tour card via sponsors exemptions. So far, Hossler has used three of his seven allowed exemptions and has only made one cut, finishing T49 at the Farmers Insurance Open. Hossler was arguably a better college player than now-PGA Tour star Jon Rahm, but a shoulder injury sustained in last year’s NCAA championships derailed the start to his professional career.
The times they are a-changing
On Tuesday, the PGA Tour announced that it would be rolling out a four-event test on the Web.com Tour to study the use and impact of range finders. The test will span four events starting with the BMW Charity Classic and running through the Air Capital Classic. This represents another effort in the PGA Tour’s ongoing battle with slow play. While I expect the range finders to help some in that regard, the reality is that it is a small band-aid on a wound that needs stitches.
Taking the leap
The LPGA heads to Palm Desert for the ANA Inspiration and its first of five major championships in 2017. World No. 1 Lydia Ko will look to defend her title and again take the leap into Poppy’s Pond, but will face the challenge of rebounding from a missed cut at last week’s Kia Classic. Challenging Ko’s title defense will be World No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn, who looked to have last year’s title locked up before a late collapse allowed Ko to come from behind. Full preview and storylines.
Golf Course Architecture 101: Part III
Our series continues with a look at the purpose and implementation of hazards on a golf course. Hazards can provide players with a lasting memory of a golf course. If used correctly they infuse strategy, provide thrills and enhance a design. Read more about the different types of hazards and the proper way for architects to utilize them here.