Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shell Houston Open - Fantasy Picks

One of the TOUR's hottest players, Jordan Spieth is always a fan-favorite in his home state. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

For years now, when considering the skillset necessary to win the Shell Houston Open, it's almost a default to loop the Masters into the conversation. Even casual golf fans know by now that the tournament officials at the Golf Club of Houston's Tournament Course prepare the 7,441-yard, par 36-36=72 in Humble, Texas, as a primer for Augusta National Golf Club. But what does that mean?

When thinking ahead for a moment, so much emphasis is on a right-to-left ball flight at ANGC. While there have been exceptions to that requirement in Masters' history, the more relevant test at the SHO is a combination of precision with creativity. For six consecutive seasons, GC of Houston has ranked as the hardest course in scrambling from the rough. The average was 37.05 percent in 2014, or just a tick shy of three out of every eight greens missed in regulation. Even though "rough" takes on a different meaning both this week and next, that fact places an elevated importance on piling up scoring opportunities.

Matt Jones authored one of the shots of the 2013-14 season en route to his breakthrough victory here last year. His hole-out from off the green for birdie to defeat Matt Kuchar in a playoff was only possible because he buried a 46-footer for birdie on the same hole in regulation. The duo set the tone for what it took to get there in the first place. Kuchar led the field in GIR (62). Jones ranked second (58) but led in strokes gained: putting and par-3 scoring. He also went 61-for-62 inside 10 feet, sinking all 58 tries from eight feet and in.

Rainy if not stormy conditions are likely at times throughout the tournament. A mild threat will linger through Saturday before it increases on Sunday. High temperatures in the 80s are expected through Friday after which a cold front will cap highs in the upper 60s. Persistent winds from the south are forecast to blow from an easterly direction on the weekend.
  1. J.B. Holmes - Missed cut at Bay Hill ended run of four straight top 25s; two were runner-up finishes. P2 here in 2009, T8 in 2012 and T12 last year.
  2. Jordan Spieth - Can't win every week, but he comes the closest. Solo second at the VTO is fifth top 10 in last seven starts. Leads TOUR in fewest putts.
  3. Patrick Reed - First start since P2 at Valspar. Sixteen consecutive cuts made. Ranks 13th in adjusted scoring and second in scrambling from the rough.
  4. Ryan Moore - Top 10s in last two starts; top 25s in last four. Currently 17th in strokes gained: tee-to-green and 21st in the all-around ranking.
  5. Jimmy Walker - Don't expect a letdown following win at home. Only two-time champ this season. Survived last five cuts at the GC of Houston; T24 in 2014.
  6. Brendan Steele - T8 at Valero was 15th consecutive cut made. Third top 15 in last four starts. T5 in par-4 scoring; 10th in strokes gained: tee-to-green.
  7. Matt Jones - Defending champ finally regained form of late. Top 15s in three straight starts prior to T26 at VTO. Sits 25th in strokes gained: putting.
  8. Sergio Garcia - Rode the 36-hole lead here last year to a solo third. T31 in his only two starts on the Florida Swing. Ranks eighth in adjusted scoring.
  9. Lee Westwood - Seven consecutive top 25s worldwide. All six cuts made on 2014-15 PGA TOUR are top 25s. Top 25s in five of last six trips to Houston.
  10. Matt Kuchar - Last year's playoff loss piggybacked T8 in previous two trips (2010, 2011). T15 at last week's Valero. Fourth in scrambling from the rough.
  11. Bill Haas - Off since a T7 at the WGC-Cadillac, his first start since the birth of his second child. T14 in scrambling from the rough. T10 here in 2013.
  12. Jason Kokrak - One shot at VTO thwarted third straight top 10. Sits 49th in both strokes-gained stats; 23rd in adjusted scoring. Solo ninth here in 2013.
  13. Louis Oosthuizen - Ultimate injury risk, but recorded two top 10s on the Florida Swing. Trio of top-16 finishes in last four editions of the SHO.
  14. Shawn Stefani - Home game. In a sense, the 2014 SHO is where momentum was sparked: solo fifth on last start of medical. Currently 18th in FedExCup points.
  15. Phil Mickelson - 2011 champ hasn't placed worse than T16 in three return trips. Showing only flashes of late, but sits 27th in strokes gained: tee-to-green.

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This article was written by Rob Bolton, originally posted on PGATOUR.com. (Connect with Rob on Twitter @RobBoltonGolf)

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