The Punter's De-Brief: Red-hot Russell punches ticket home with Shell success

Shell Houston Open winner – Russell Henley
Shell Houston Open winner – Russell Henley

Steve goes into Masters week in good spirits having backed the Shell Houston Open winner at a juicy 60.059/1 before the off. Read his look back at the event here...

“I can’t wait for the US Masters to start on Thursday but the Shell Houston Open is starting to become a favourite of mine now. I backed J.B Holmes when he won here two years ago at 38.037/1 and I backed Henley on Monday at 60.059/1 so needless to say, it’s been a good week.”

With a sensational putting display, Georgia's Russell Henley has comfortably won the Shell Houston Open to become the last man in to the field for this week's US Masters (previewed here).

Henley had trailed Korea's Sung-hoon Kang by six strokes at halfway and he was still four adrift with a round to go but a sensational seven-under-par 65 to close the event (which included a double-bogey at the ninth and a bogey at the 18th) saw him cruise to victory by three strokes.

Kang, who was matched at a low of 1.444/9 on Saturday, did very little wrong over the weekend. He was always going to struggle to get close to the level he'd played at over the first two days, when he fired rounds of 65 and 63, and there was an air of inevitability about the way the 550.0549/1 outsider was reeled in. Kang was looking for his first PGA Tour victory and it's never easy to do that from the front.

I thought world number eight, Rickie Fowler, looked the most likely winner with a round to go but he started round four as he'd finished round three, playing a stretch of six holes between the 17th on Saturday and fourth on Sunday in six-over-par. He lost by four.

My Bets

I can't wait for the US Masters to start on Thursday but the Shell Houston Open is starting to become a favourite of mine now. I backed J.B Holmes when he won here two years ago at 38.037/1 and I backed Henley on Monday at 60.059/1 so needless to say, it's been a good week.

As detailed in the In-Play Blog yesterday, I backed Fowler before the final round and I layed Henley twice yesterday, at evens and 1.21/5, but it was still a tasty result ahead of Augusta.

How Will Henley Fare at Augusta?

This will be Henley's fourth appearance in the US Masters and he's done OK previously. He missed the cut on debut in 2013, finished 31st in 2014, and he was 21st in 2015 but he's shown promise. He was inside the top-ten at halfway in 2014 and he opened with a four-under-par 68 to sit sixth after round one two years ago.

He didn't qualify last year so he'll be delighted to get in to his home state major again this time around and if his putter remains as hot as it was last week he might have a chance of emulating Phil Mickelson, who won the 2006 US Masters after hacking up in the now defunct BellSouth Classic the week before.

Henley's no bigger than 100/1 on the High Street so the exchange is the place to go if you fancy him doubling up. He's been matched at 200.0199/1 there and he's still available at 120.0119/1.

What Have We Learned This Week?

Henley was a typical Shell Houston Open winner. He ranked second for Greens In Regulation, putted brilliantly, and he played the par fours better than anyone else, in 11-under-par.

He was always inside the top-six so although he came from four back with a round to go, he was always on the premises.

With the global oil industry in a far from rosy state, long term sponsors, Shell, are to cease their sponsorship deal in Houston after 26 years but I don't see that having a detrimental effect on what is a really healthy tournament. Some big names play the event year after year now that the course is set up to replicate conditions to be encountered at Augusta and while many of the names missed the cut this time around, I suspect they'll all be back in 2018 regardless of who the sponsor is.

Player to Follow

This year's CareerBuilder Challenge winner, Hudson Swafford, went quiet after his maiden win in January. He missed his next three cuts but he's climbing out of that mini-slump really nicely now and he looks like one to keep on the right side of.

He followed a tied 38th at the Valspar Championship with a top-ten at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and his sixth place finish yesterday could and should have been better. Having sat second at halfway, he blew his chances completely with a third round 75 which was a bizarre outlier given he shot 67 in each of the other three rounds.

Given he's an in-form big hitting University of Georgia graduate, Swafford might be of interest in the top-debutant market at this week's US Masters but regardless of how he fares at Augusta he looks well worth keeping a close eye on in the next few weeks and months.

I'll be back at some point over the next few days with a look at some of the side markets for the US Masters but in the meantime, if you missed it yesterday, here's my US Masters preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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