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The First Tee at The Shell Houston Open
Jason Day won the WGC Match Play championship by defeating Louis Oosthuizen in the finals, took back the #1 world ranking from Jordan Spieth and appeared on Feherty last night…life is good for Jason Day. Life is also good for Tony Finau, who finally broke through at the Puerto Rico Open and earned his first career tour victory. Finau had been struggling during his sophomore campaign, but he played some of his best golf of late and continued the trend of first time winners in Puerto Rico. Finau held off PGA tour veteran Steve Marino in a playoff, with Scott Brown, Will MacKenzie and Puerto Rico Amateur champion Rafael Campos, all finishing in the top 10.
The Tour will stay in Texas this week (WGC Match play was held at Austin Country Club), with the Golf Club of Houston hosting The Shell Houston Open. Last year, there were some fireworks to close out the tournament, including Jordan Spieth getting up and down from a nasty spot greenside to join a three way playoff with JB Holmes (the eventual winner) and Johnson Wagner. Holmes was a worthy champion, bookending his tournament with a 65 in the opening round and a sparkling Sunday round of 64.
The Shell Houston Open usually packs a punch with starpower, and this year is no different. World #2 Jordan Spieth will look to avenge last year's playoff loss, while Ricky Fowler, Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson all bring their world top 10 rankings to Houston. Phil Mickelson, the 2011 champion, has a stellar record at the GC of Houston, and will again be a threat to win this week. Patrick Reed, who has moved up to 10th in the OWGR, makes his home nearby and will look to build on his Tour leading six top 10's, and bring home his first victory of the year. Throw in defending champion JB Holmes, Charl Schwartzel, Brooks Koepka and Sergio Garcia, and you have the makings of a tournament with a ton of talent at the top.
As is the case these days, there is more than enough talent in the middle tier at the Shell Houston Open. Fresh off making the final four at the WGC Match Play, young European upstart, Rafa Cabrera-Bello will look to build off the momentum he's created by recording two runner-ups and another top 10 in 2016. From the veteran side, Charles Howell III, Ryan Palmer and Brendan Steele have all enjoyed some moderate success at the Shell, and are priced very fairly this week across the board.
The Golf Club of Houston's Tournament Course has been the host of the Shell Houston Open since 2006. The course was designed by Rees Jones and PGA Tour Veteran David Toms and opened for play in 2003. It is an interesting course in that it is situated in the middle of densely populated Houston, however you wouldn't know it by being on the course. The grounds hold two courses, and there is a massive amount of land surrounding the course. It is a lush layout that stays true to its Texas roots by showcasing local wildlife and vegetation, while still creating a track that is in the tradition of, yet still unique among Texas courses. That is due mainly to Rees Jones, who has a made a living out of carving beautiful courses into varying landscapes, each one highlighting key features that are unique to the area. Jones design philosophy is to create challenging, strategic golf courses, while allowing the everyday golfer to get around in a manageable time and enjoy their experience. This is accomplished (in theory) by offering tee complexes for each skill level, and multiple options for each approach shot. The most vocal Rees Jones critic is Phil Mickelson, who has stated on occasion that Jones has made several of his redesigns impossible for the everyday golfer due to forced carries and lack of bailout areas around the greens. He may have a point on the last one, as Jones famously designs bunker formations as a main defense, especially around the greens, and that is true of the GC of Houston. This is important because the Shell has embraced its spot in the rotation, and as the tournament that precedes The Masters, the GC of Houston has their greens rolling at a 13 on the SM. This makes for a nice warmup before Augusta.
The GC of Houston is a par 72 that will play at roughly 7,440 yards this week. The course plays long in large part due to the thick Bermuda rough that is grown out long for this week. The Shell has routinely placed among the hardest venue in terms of scoring out of the rough, and that won't stop this year with the news of thunderstorms and windy conditions expected for Thursday. There is some teeth to the course, and when the wind picks up it can make for very difficult scoring conditions.
I use a PP$ approach to my rankings, and the goal is to give you options that you can build your team around. I weigh the expected return of each player using DraftKings salaries, however I should note that with the nuances of DK scoring--specifically the bonus points for place finished--it is hard to make up ground on players with high win and top 10 percentages. With that said, I will be expanding my rankings to include players from lower salary tiers, just in time for the Masters next week.
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- 1) Jordan Spieth: If Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy are not in the field, Spieth is my de-facto favorite. Thrown in the fact that the tournament is in Texas, and Spieth finished 2nd in a playoff last year, and we have a clear cut favorite. With the Masters looming next week, Spieth is in full on major-mode, so his concentration will be at its highest. Spieth can win a shootout or he can win if protecting par is a good score. Don't overthink Spieth this week, this tournament is setting up very well for him and he has the added motivation of losing the OWGR top spot to Jason Day last week. Sits 1st on tour in Par 4 scoring, a metric that has been a pattern of previous winners at the Shell.
- 2) Rickie Fowler: Fowler has worked his way into the discussion as one of the best players in the world and deserves to be played as a main horse week in and week out in DFS. His last six events look this; 8th, 6th, 2nd, MC, 5th and 3rd. He has been a machine this year, but is still searching for his first tour win in 2016. I use a PP$ approach to my rankings, and despite the $1900 discount on DraftKings, Spieth narrowly edged out Fowler due to his win percentage and course history. You need to score well on the par 4's at the GC of Houston, which is right up Fowlers alley. He sits 3rd on Tour in par 4 scoring.
- 3) Patrick Reed: Has the local knowledge to be a factor this week, and he's priced favorably on DraftKings which helps his cause even more. Reed has been a model of consistency in 2016, recording six top 10's in his first ten events. Reed will be playing the event for the third time, and as a local resident, he should have enough experience to game plan his way around the course and be in contention on the weekend. His scrambling stats are cumulatively one of the best our Tour this week, something that should come in handy with windy conditions expected.
- 4) Phil Mickelson: I have been wrong previously about Phil, but I've definitely learned my lesson in that you cannot count him out even as he gets older. There are courses where he has a virtual cheat-code in his yardage books, due to years and years of he and Bones charting the course and refining their notes. The GC of Houston rewards the strategic golfer, and Phil is certainly that. Mickelson won the Shell in 2011, and has recorded top 20's in every edition since. Much like Spieth, Mickelson is in major-mode, so I would expect a top showing out of him this week.
- 5) Dustin Johnson/Charl Schwartzel: I lumped these two guys together because I had a hard time choosing between them. The course sets up very well for DJ, despite his 1 for 4 record at the GC of Houston. His one made cut resulted in a 4th place though, so the opportunity is definitely there. DJ's length gives him a sizable advantage, even more-so with inclement weather and the resulting soft fairways. Schwartzel has made five cuts in six appearances at the Shell, but doesn't have much to show for it outside of two top 20's. His current form is the reason why he's on this list though. Schwartzel has two wins worldwide in 2016, one coming in his native South Africa, and the other coming at the Valspar Championship several weeks ago. Schwartzel's impressive consistency aside, his salary allows you to pair him with another stud (or even two), making him a very easy choice and someone I will have heavy exposure to.