The Houston Open offers the last chance for the world’s elite to get invaluable competition prep ahead of The Masters next week, so it may come as a surprise that the majority of the game’s top guns are turning it down.
Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose are two of the front-runners but only six of the world’s top 20 are taking to the Golf Club of Houston ahead of the first major of the year next week.Embed from Getty Images
Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar complete that list all looking to gain a final edge heading into Augusta; Mickelson ended a four-year winless drought at the WGC-Mexico Championship earlier this month.
At the end of last year Shubhankar Sharma was unheard of, but after two wins and an impressive performance in Mexico he’s earned himself a Masters invite and he is taking all the preparation he can get for his Augusta debut with an outing this week.
The Houston Open also offers the chance for Masters stalwarts Lee Westwood and Ernie Els to qualify at the last gasp and continue their impressive appearance record; Westwood has played his part in the past 13 installations of the Masters and of the last 24 installations, Els has sat out just one.Embed from Getty Images
None of the final-four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play from last week are trying to build on that success. Bubba Watson, Kevin Kisner, Justin Thomas and Alex Noren are all skipping the Houston Open despite being in the field for the Masters.
Russell Henley shot a round-of-the-day 65 on Sunday here last year to build a winning margin of three shots over Sung Kang. The two both enter again this year hoping for similar outcomes. Henley will be joined by other past winners J.B. Holmes (2015), Matt Jones (2014), D.A. Points (2013), Hunter Mahan (2012), Mickelson (2011) and Johnson Wagner (2008).
Greenkeepers at the Golf Club of Houston do what they can to set the course up as an imitation of Augusta National to offer the best preparations possible to those who visit their course. The banks are trimmed to millimetres, the collection areas are accentuated and the greens are given a Stimpmeter reading of a minimum of 13. It has hosted this event 12 years now and measures a considerable 7441 yards as a par-72.Embed from Getty Images
We are used to the exponential growth of prize-funds season-on-season on the PGA Tour but, for once, the winnings are not up on last year. The total purse is $7million whilst the winner will take home $1.26million. The FedExCup points are also a set-standard 500 for the winner.
One stat to bear in mind is that only three winners of the Houston Open have gone on to finish in the top-15 of the Masters when it has followed the week after – including Henley last year – so perhaps all the absentees have got it figured out.