Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Shell Houston Open - Fantasy Picks

After sitting out a year as the table-setter for the Masters due to a provision for the Valero Texas Open not to end on Easter Sunday, the Shell Houston Open cozies back into its customary position as the red carpet event for the season's first major. And if that sounds too connected with what's on tap next week, well, that's the point. Tournament organizers of the SHO purposely set up the Golf Club of Houston as an preparatory ground per se for those headed to August National. It worked again as several of the elite are among the 144 in the field.

The Rees Jones design is a traditional par 72 measuring 7,441 yards. Its scoring average of 71.868 marked its third consecutive year in red numbers (-0.132 strokes to par) despite some modifications, most notably on holes 16 and 18. The field registered a greens-in-regulation percentage of 70.13, which falls in line with recent history. However, in each of the four 25-yard ranges from 100-200 yards, Golf Club of Houston ranked inside the top-10 longest in proximity to the hole (also typical). It's a track that showcases a strong touch on and around greens.

In 2013, Golf Club of Houston was 13th-most challenging in scrambling (55.54%) and extended its run to five years as the hardest track on the PGA TOUR in scrambling from the rough (40.85%). That fact in conjunction with collection areas around undulating putting surfaces place the premium on hitting greens on approach shots. The par 5s are strong as a set, checking in at 4.78 last year, good for a share of the 10th-hardest of the season.

Defending champion D.A. Points ranked T10 in GIR, 10th in strokes gained-putting, fifth in scrambling and eighth in average distance of putts made (90 feet, 2 inches). He also led the field in par-4 scoring at 3.75.

Rain and storms cannot be ruled out at any time during the tournament. In fact, there is an elevated risk for severe weather on Thursday when it may not hit 80 degrees, but it's expected to be the warmest day for play. As it often does in Texas, the wind will blow throughout.

  1. Dustin Johnson - Top 10s in all five stroke-play starts in 2013-14. T4 in last start at Doral. Leads TOUR in many stats. Shared fourth at Golf Club of Houston last year.
  2. Henrik Stenson - Coming off a T5 at Bay Hill where he co-led field in fairways hit and hit the most GIR. T3 at Golf Club of Houston in 2009 and a T2 last year.
  3. Keegan Bradley - Took the week off after a season-best solo second at Bay Hill. Placed T4 here in 2012 and T10 last year. Sixth in scrambling.
  4. Rory McIlroy - Ends a three-week break after a T25 at Doral. It ended a string of six top 10s in stroke-play events. P2 at The Honda the week prior.
  5. Jordan Spieth - Reeled in a solo 10th at TPC San Antonio despite an opening 75. Four top 10s of 2013-14. Ranks 22nd in adjusted scoring.
  6. Graham DeLaet - Perfect fit for Golf Club of Houston, where he tied for third in 2010. Surged for a T8 at Copperhead three weeks ago after a first-round 75.
  7. Sergio Garcia - Hasn't played Golf Club of Houston since debut in 2009. Twelve consecutive top 20s. Would sit second in adjusted scoring if eligible for rankings.
  8. Matt Kuchar - T4 at TPC San Antonio was his fifth top 10 of 2013-14; 17th in adjusted scoring. Placed T8 in his last two starts at Golf Club of Houston (2010, 2011).
  9. Bill Haas - Top 25s in last four starts; T14 in his last at Copperhead. T10 at Golf Club of Houston last year. Ranks 21st in the all-around and 17th in scrambling.
  10. Luke Donald - First appearance since 2010. T4 in last start at Copperhead. Would lead TOUR in strokes gained-putting if he logged enough rounds.
  11. Hunter Mahan - Return from a lower back injury. The 2012 champion here is third in all-time earnings. Three other top 10s and a T11 (2006).
  12. Jason Kokrak - Settled for T31 at the Valero due to a third-round 77, but ranked ninth in total driving and GIR. Solo ninth at Golf Club of Houston last year.
  13. Charley Hoffman - He's 7-for-7 at Golf Club of Houston with one top 10 and another three top 25s. Three top 10s and another four top 25s this season. T11 at Valero.
  14. Freddie Jacobson - Top 20s in his last four starts -- six on the season -- but over par in each of those final rounds. Seventh in strokes gained-putting.
  15. Charles Howell III - Top 20s in his last two starts at Golf Club of Houston, including a T10 last year. Five top 10s this season. Seventh in GIR; sixth in adjusted scoring.



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This article was written by By Rob Bolton. Rob is the Fantasy Columnist for PGATOUR.COM. Got a question for Rob? You can contact him viae-mail: FantasyInsider@charter.net or on Twitter @RobBoltonGolf