Shell Houston Open
After the inevitable brilliance from Tiger last week at Bay Hill, we move another step closer to The Masters and the famous green jacket (Our 2013 Masters Preview is available at the top of our blog). This week sees the PGA Tour move to the Redstone Country Club in Houston, Texas for the Shell Houston Open. This is the 1st time this tournament has not been held the week before the Masters (due to an agreement with next week’s Valero Texas Open). This tournament has always been billed as the Masters warm up event with the course very similar to Augusta in many ways. Emphasis on chipping and putting is even more crucial this year after changes to the course. 11 of the world’s top 25 will be competing this week so we are expecting some great golf. But as with any tournament before a major, be wary of people using this purely as a warm up!
The course yardage is almost identical to Augusta at 7,441 yards. For us this week, the par 5’s are where the tournament will be won and lost. Redstone features 4 par 5’s, which ranked 5th hardest on the PGA Tour last year, so ability on par 5’s will be crucial for anyone expecting to win this. The Greens are very ‘Masters-like’ and on many a 2-putt is more than adequate. Having said this, the tournament winner has averaged -16 since it was formed, with the record being -22, so obviously you need to find birdies and eagles out there! With the greens being as tough as they are, proximity to the hole is another factor that has to be taken into account. Course changes this year have included reduced bunkers and increased chipping areas around the greens, which makes GIR just as important as scrambling.
Of the big players this week, you have to say Rory Mcilroy will still be piecing his game together in preparation for the Masters, Snedeker (Our Masters main pick), is still coming back from injury, whilst Mickelson missed the cut last week at Bay Hill by some margin. Stricker, Mahan and Johnson of course can all do well here, but for us this week we have found value elsewhere. We have to say, this is the most confident we have felt about our picks for a few weeks now!
Paddy Power and BetVictor are paying 6 places this week as well, so keep that in mind!
Keegan Bradley (14/1 Ladbrokes)
We have never been the greatest of admirers of Keegan and he also failed to produce when we have previously backed him (1 shot off a place), but even we can’t look any further than him. He ticks every box. In his first outing here, he finished 51st and then weighed in with a 4th place last year, so his course form improvement is there for all to see. Other than Tiger, Bradley is the form man on tour right now, 3rd, 7th and 4th in his last three tournaments is some going. The figures are as simple as that. On top of this, the American’s playing style suits this course down to a tee. It is statistics galore. He is 5th in Par 5 performance and 7th in par5 birdie or betters this year, vital for those 4 par 5’s we were talking about. 8th in scrambling, 7th in total driving, 16th in driving distance (299 yards), 8th in scoring average, 7th in total eagles, 30th in total birdies and 4th in ‘going for the green’ shows what a class act this guy is. We are going big on Bradley this week, we really do fancy him.
Henrik Stenson (50/1 Stan James)
Henrik is the type of player that when his swing works well, he will take some stopping. And last week at Bay Hill the Swede ranked 1st in driving accuracy and 2nd in GIR on the way to his 8th place last week. Now for someone who has comfortably averaged over 300 yards off the tee in his career, that is a lethal combination. It is well known that the last couple of years haven’t been kind to Stenson, suffering from injuries and problems with his swing. But saying all that, he still managed to finish 21st last year. Whilst when he was on form back in 2009, he finished 3rd… So he enjoys it in Houston. With only one missed cut this year and 4 top 25’s, it is clear Henrik is starting to enjoy his golf again. As mentioned, taking advantage of the par 5’s will be crucial and we all know he can do that averaging over 285 yards on the PGA Tour and also nearly 300 yards on the European Tour for 2013. But Stenson seems to have added even more to his game. On the PGA Tour he finds himself 1st in driving accuracy, 1st in GIR and 1st in the following 4 categories: GIR % 75-100 yards, GIR % <75 yards, GIR % 150-175 yards and GIR % <100 yards. Now for someone so good with the driver, those are some impressive iron stats, and they don’t stop there. 1st in ‘going for the green’, 3rd in scrambling and 1st in scrambling from the rough is enough to be really confident about him this week. Stenson also finds himself 53rd in the World Rankings, so he’ll be desperate for a big performance, a top 50 spot and a place at the Masters! Lets hope he hasn’t tired himself out at Tavistock Cup!
Chris Kirk (50/1 Ladbrokes)
Kirk is a young lad who we really like this week. His style again suits this course and he is used to shooting low scores. His only appearance here came 2 years ago and he came away with a 2nd place, so he’ll have no worries with the course. Other than one missed cut this year, his form has gone 5th, 24th, 2nd, 33rd, 51st and most recently 16th in a tough field at Bay Hill last week. In his 2nd place in 2011, Kirk shot 4 rounds in the 60’s and was unlucky not to win. What we like is how he certainly has a taste for low scoring, something you need when the winner averages -16 here. -16 at the Sony Open, -13 at the Waste Management and -17 at the Pebble Beach pro-am. Statistically, he is also very impressive. 6th in strokes gained by putting, 6th scoring average, 7th all round ranking, 1st in total eagles, 18th par 5 birdie or better, 4th par 4 birdie or better whilst he also averages 290 yards off the tee! He also finds himself 9th in proximity to the hole and 9th in scrambling, so enjoys getting it close! Kirk also finds himself 76th in the World Rankings, he will be pushing like mad to get a top 50 spot and a place at The Masters this week, it’s last chance saloon time for him. Again like our first 2 picks, we feel really confident about this guy!
Jimmy Walker (55/1 Stan James)
It was a close call between Stenson, Kirk and Walker and so he doesn’t really deserve to be this far down our list! Other than his course form, Walker is looking a mean prospect for this week. And even his course form is not awful, he has registered a 30th and a 44th here. But this year Walker has been a completely different animal, so don’t let course form affect you. It is quite amazing how Walker has not recorded a victory yet, he has had 7 top 30’s in 8 starts, 2 of those being a 3rd and 4th and a very respectable 8th last week at Bay Hill. And just like Kirk, he loves shooting low scores! Last week at Bay Hill he was 1st in driving distance and combined that with coming 19th in strokes gained by putting, a lethal combination. Just like our other picks, his stats are again crazy good. 3rd in par5 performance, 2nd in par4 performance, 20th in driving distance, 7th birdie average, 7th scoring average, 11th all round ranking, 3rd total birdies, 22nd total eagles and 29th in strokes gained putting, all on the PGA Tour. Impressive. We think it is only fair we coin Walker ‘Jimbo’ this week after Furyk has let us down 2 weeks running! Jimbo does lie in 67th in World Rankings, so maybe a good showing here could grab a Masters spot. Also, does anyone think Walker looks like Edward Norton (Fight Club, Hulk actor)? We’ll leave that one with you…
Carl Pettersson (80/1 Bet365)
Our last spot was again a close call, Cameron Tringale and Ben Kohles came very close to grabbing it but the Swede’s all round game has edged it for us. Firstly, Carl finished 2nd here last year, after finishes of 50th and 71st in his 2 previous appearances. Then last week he finished 21st at Bay Hill which is a good indicator of some form. His putter started to work as well last week, something that had not been there for him of late, he was 3rd in strokes gained putting and 5th in scrambling, so his game is definitely coming together. He has 5 wins already to his name on the PGA Tour so he’ll have no problem taking this title if his game works this week. Of course his stats will reflect the price that he finds himself at, but his performance at Bay Hill shows to us that he has turned a corner this season. The Swede averages 286 yards off the tee (his longest drive this year was 416yards!) so he’ll be more than happy taking those par 5’s on whilst in all areas of his game he is mid-range on the PGA leaderboards, but we expect him to make a climb up them after this week.
Keegan Bradley + Pablo Larrazabal (345/1 Paddy Power)
Keegan Bradley + Pablo Larrazabal + Thongchai Jaidee (4485/1 Paddy Power)