Shell Houston Open: Course specialist Mickelson can go well again, says The Punter

Phil Mickelson - The Punter's fancy in Texas this week
Phil Mickelson - The Punter's fancy in Texas this week

With just one week to go before the US Masters, we've got just one event to enjoy this week so read our man's in-depth preview of the Shell Houston Open here...

“Phil Mickelson’s form figures here read 23-MC-35-1-4-16-12-17 and given how well he’s playing this year, it’s hard to see him not contending again. I would have happily taken 20/1 so the 24.023/1 I’ve taken on the exchange is more than acceptable.”

Tournament History

The Shell Houston Open was first staged back in 1946 and since 2007, with the exception of 2013, it's always been played the week before the US Masters.


Golf Course of Houston, Humble, Texas.

Course Details

Par 72, 7441 yards, stroke average in 2015 - 70.86

Formally known as Redstone, the Golf Course of Houston was Rees Jones' first 'from scratch' design. It was built specifically to host this event and will be doing so for the 11th time in-a-row this year.

The fairways are wide with little rough to speak off and water is in play on half the holes. The Bermuda greens are larger than average and in an attempt to simulate conditions at Augusta National, home of the US Masters next week, they'll be playing fast. Most years they aim for around 13 on the stimpmeter.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports, starting on Thursday.

Last Five Winners

2015 - J.B Holmes -16 (playoff)
2014 - Matt Jones -15 (playoff)
2013 - D.A Points -16
2012 - Hunter Mahan -16
2011 - Phil Mickelson -20

What Will it Take to Win The Shell Houston Open?

Big hitters, Adam Scott, Paul Casey, Anthony Kim and Phil Mickelson won four of the first six renewals at this venue, and the likes of Bubba Watson, Robert Garrigus and J.B Holmes all placed so this looked like a course where length off the tee would forever prove beneficial but the winners between 2012 and 2014 - Hunter Mahan, D.A Points and Matt Jones - were all relatively short off the tee. That clouded the waters somewhat but last year's winner, Holmes, was certainly one for the big bombers. He ranked number one for Driving Distance and dead last for Driving Accuracy so I'd definitely favour length over accuracy.

Avoiding the water and finding plenty of greens in regulation has been the key of late. Holmes ranked 10th for Greens In Regulation but the two he beat in the playoff, Jordan Spieth and Johnson Wagner, ranked tied third for GIR and Russel Henley, who finished fourth, hit more greens than anyone else. The 2014 playo-ff protagonists, Matt Jones and Matt Kuchar, ranked one and two for greens hit and the 2012 winner, Hunter Mahan, also ranked first for GIR.

Holmes ranked number one for Par 4 Scoring last year and Spieth ranked second and in the last ten years, since the event switched to this venue, nine of the ten winners have ranked inside the top-10 for that stat and all ten have ranked inside the top-10 for birdies made. And finally, Holmes had 55 putts inside six feet last year and he made every one.

Is There an Angle In?

One event that may be worth looking at closely is the Phoenix Open, staged at TPC Scottsdale. Holmes is a two-time winner there, the 2011 Shell winner, Phil Mickelson, has won there three times and Hunter Mahan has also taken both titles in the last six years.

Huge outsider, Mark Wilson, the Phoenix Open winner in 2011, was in-the-mix at halfway last year and so was Graham DeLaet, who traded at odds-on in Phoenix two years ago before getting edged out by Kevin Stadler. Both venues have plenty of water in-play, nice wide fairways, and little rough and the results certainly suggest they correlate nicely.

The now defunct WNB Golf Classic on the Tour may be worth looking at too. It was staged in Midland Texas until 2014 and two of the last three winners were very much involved here last year. Andrew Putnam, who won the WNB in 2014 and the 2012 winner, Luke Guthrie, were both in-the-mix and they would have made for terrific trading vehicles.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Australians often play well in Texas, with the usually dry and windy conditions tending to replicate the sort of conditions experienced Down Under. Stuart Appleby and Adam Scott won here in 2006 and 2007 and Matt Jones became the third Aussie to take the title in 2014. They're very thinly represented this year but don't write them off - the mob from Down Under are on an incredible run on both tours this year.

Keep One Eye on the US Masters Market

With the Augusta showpiece now just days away, what happens here will have a huge impact on the Masters market and every year big moves are made.

It's always difficult to gauge how hard those in the reckoning for next week's major will be pushing this week but I've come to the conclusion it's best not to even think about it. Winning any PGA Tour title is a big deal and should someone start well, they'll never take it easy because they're protecting themselves for a potentially gruelling tournament in a week's time. A win's a win and if you fancy someone here don't leave them out because you think they may be saving something for next week. In reality, that just doesn't happen.

In-Play Tactics

Given Holmes was the first winner on the PGA Tour to come from six back with a round to go since Matt Jones had done so in this event 12 months earlier, it's clearly possible to win from some way off the pace here.

Both results were unique in their own way though. Jones benefited from a really poor finish by Matt Kuchar, who had led by four through 54 holes, and Holmes not only got lucky with the weather, we knew he was capable of such low scoring.

He'd fired an incredible opening 62 in tricky conditions at Trump International the month before his final round 64 here and he was helped out considerably by the conditions...

Rain had softened the course nicely and the fact that he started out way before the leaders was most advantageous. As the day wore on the air appeared heavier and making birdies wasn't quite as easy as it had been when Holmes embarked on his final round. All the stars aligned for Holmes, as they had done for Jones 12 months ago and in the fullness of time, these two results could well be viewed upon as freakish.

Prior to 2014, Adam Scott in 2007, who benefited from a late Stuart Appleby collapse, had been the only winner not to be within two off the lead with a round to go and three of the ten winners here have led after round one. Two of the three- Stuart Appleby and Johnson Wagner - won wire-to-wire.

The short par 4 12th is easy enough and the par 5 13th ranked the easiest on the course again last year but after that the finish to the course is tough enough with the par five 15th the only easy hole coming in. That averaged 4.76 last year and it was the fourth easiest hole encountered. The 14th and 16th are demanding par 3s and 17 and 18 both average over par every year, with the par four finishing hole, with water very much in play throughout, consistently ranking as the hardest on the course. Last year it averaged 4.3.

Market Leaders

Last year's runner-up, Jordan Spieth, heads the market but he's not for me. He was in sparkling form 12 months ago and he trotted up at Augusta the week after he'd finished second here. He doesn't appear to be playing anywhere near as well this year and I get the feeling he played well here despite the course not being ideal and not because it suited him. In his two previous effort, he finished 50th in 2013 and he missed the cut in 2014.

Henrik Stenson decided to sit out last week's WGC-Dell Match Play and that will be in his favour. He finished third here in 2009 and he was runner-up in 2013, so we know he likes the venue but what always puts me off about Stenson is his inability to finish the job off in the States. He hasn't won on the PGA Tour since he won the FedEx Cup in 2013 and at the prices, I'm happy to leave him out of my plans again.

Rickie Fowler has gone off the boil after a blistering start to 2016 and that puts me off. He should have won the Phoenix Open a couple of months ago so that's a strong pointer but his course form isn't terrific. In four starts he's finished 65th, 63rd, 6th and 71st. A combination of poor course form and poor current form isn't great but there isn't any reason why he shouldn't play well here and I wouldn't be surprised if he figured.

Dustin Johnson played really well at the WGC-Dell Match Play, beating two tough opponents in Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson before getting edged out 2&1 by eventual runner-up, Lois Oosthuizen. Similarly to Fowler, DJ has a mixed bag of results here that read MC-MC-4-WD and just like Fowler, he's hard to back at the prices.


I don't quite know what happened to Phil Mickelson on the front nine in Austin on Friday but he didn't give himself a chance against Patrick Reed in his final group match. He'd won his two opening ties with ease though and he's been in cracking form throughout 2016. His form figures here read 23-MC-35-1-4-16-12-17 and given how well he's playing this year, it's hard to see him not contending again. I would have happily taken 20/1 so the 24.023/1 I've taken on the exchange is more than acceptable.

Adam Scott and Jason Day have both won back-to-back tournaments on the PGA Tour and at a triple-figure price, it might be worth chancing Tony Finau to repeat the feat. He was half the price when he won in Puerto Rico last week and although he only finished 42nd on debut 12 months ago, this course might just suit the big-hitter and I thought 100.099/1 was fair. Last week's victory will have given him a massive confidence boost and he could just carry the momentum forward.

Phil Mickelson @ 24.023/1
Tony Finau @ 100.099/1

I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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