Having played seven rounds and 112 holes of competitive golf en route to his WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play win last week, Dustin Johnson has withdrawn from the Shell Houston Open and followed the likes of Rory McIlroy in using rest as his preparation method for next week’s Masters.
The world-number-one, who now has three wins in his last three starts, says that his preparation for the year’s first major would be best benefited by ‘much-needed’ rest for his mind and body.
Johnson’s final opponent last week, Jon Rahm, has not elected the same strategy. Rahm too played seven competitive rounds, and 108 holes, throughout the tournament but will still tee it up in Houston this week. In stark contrast, McIlroy only played 36 holes at Austin Country Club yet believes rest will prove most fruitful for him.
With Johnson in seemingly unstoppable form, the 32-year-old would have headed into the Shell Houston Open as a hot favourite; but he was only one of five of the world’s top 10 playing at the Golf Club of Houston this week. Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler are all still opting to play. Spieth and Fowler have both had wins in the past two months, but both have also fell short of the top 10 in every outing since. There’s been no win, and only seven top 10s, in the past 23 starts for Scott, whilst it’s been a mixed bag for Stenson who has seven top 10s, including three second places, a missed cut and a withdrawal in just his last nine starts.
A further four from within the world’s top 20 – Rahm, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson – will use the event this week as a foot-finder for next week’s Masters. Scott (2007) and Mickelson (2011) are the only aforementioned to have won here but Stenson – twice, including last year – and Spieth do have runner-up finishes to show for their efforts.
Jim Herman took a one-shot victory over Stenson last year with a final round 68 for his maiden PGA Tour victory aged 38; a fairytale on his return from a hiatus from Tour golf to hone his skills as a teaching professional. Scott, Mickelson, J.B. Holmes, Matt Jones, Hunter Mahan, Johnson Wagner and two-time winner Stuart Appleby will join Herman as returning past winners.
Whilst the Shell Houston Open may offer needed groundwork for the Masters for some players, the damning stat is that only two winners of this event have gone on to finish in the top 15 at the Masters the following week.
The Golf Club of Houston, a just-under 7500 yard par 72, continues as host as it has done since 2003. Continuity does end this year, though, as Shell has withdrawn its sponsorship for next year onwards and so, for the first time since 1992, the event will take a new name next year.
Some players have opted for rest ahead of the Masters. Some players have opted for tournament practice. But for some, who currently aren’t attending Augusta National, the Shell Houston Open offers a final chance to earn a Masters invitation with a win.