The azaleas are blooming over in Georgia. But first, some final business to attend to in Texas.
Course: Golf Club of Houston
Humble, Texas, is the site of the final tune-up before the Masters. The Golf Club of Houston hosts the PGA Tour this week. It's a 7,441-yard par-72 track. The theory of the course setup is that it's supposed to imitate the conditions at Augusta National. Minimal rough and shaving around the greens do call to mind ANGC, as well as the larger-than-average greens running at top speeds. However, players won't see undulations in the same ballpark as the Masters' surfaces.
In other to prosper at the Golf Club of Houston, good total drivers (distance plus accuracy) top pure power players. While the rough isn't long, strategic fairway bunkering and water in play place a greater premium on accuracy than the average PGA Tour track. Finding greens and putting are more important than proximity from any distance range or work around the green at the Rees Jones-designed track this week.
Creme de la creme
Rickie Fowler: $10,000
Spieth and Stenson will be the most highly owned golfers this week, and not without good reason. Consider fading them for the cheaper Rickie Fowler, who has been on a tepid march lately with a win and a trio of top-20 finishes in his last four starts. He's never missed the cut in Houston and has a pair of top-10 finishes. Fowler is 12th in strokes gained: approach-the-green, 11th in strokes gained: putting, fifth in strokes gained: total.
Phil Mickelson: $8,900
Lefty should be priced a little higher, shouldn't he? He's notched top-10 finishes in his last two starts and is a past winner in Houston. He's also finished inside the top-20 here the past six seasons. Mickelson was fifth on Tour in strokes gained: approach-the-green last year, ninth in strokes gained: putting, and eighth in strokes gained: total. He's fifth in birdie average in his 23 measured rounds this season. Have to like him much more than J.B. Holmes or Matt Kuchar, both of whom are priced just higher than the left-hander.
Jimmy Walker: $7,600
At No. 22 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Jimmy Walker's pedigree should command something higher than a $7,600 salary. He hasn't missed a cut in his past six starts in Houston. The adoptive Texan has three top-25 finishes in his last five events. While he only has 23 measured rounds this season, Walker is 23rd in strokes gained: approach-the-green, which should serve him well at this GIR-centric venue.
Jhonny Vegas: $7,300
Vegas tied for 19th a the SHO last year, and he hasn't missed a cut in his last four efforts at the event. Speaking of not missing a cut, the Venezuelan hasn't missed out on the weekend in his last 11 PGA Tour starts. Vegas is 29th on Tour in greens in regulation and 34th in strokes gained: tee-to-green, indicating the quality of his ballstriking.
Kyle Reifers: $6,600
Hopefully Reifers found something in Puerto Rico, where he tied for 17th at 14 under. He tied for seventh at the SHO last year, so recency in both season play and course history make him a worthy punt. Reifers is 45th on Tour in greens in regulation, which places him in the top 20 in the field in that crucial quantity this week. He's also 66th in total driving. A top-25 or top-30 finish could be in the cards.
Andrew Johnston: $6,600
Getting no respect after a tie for 10th at the Puerto Rico Open, consider Beef as a hot hand in his first turn at Golf Club of Houston. He's an excellent driver, presently 22nd in strokes gained: off-the-tee, and he hits nearly 70 percent of greens in regulation.