Author: Paul Atkin
Published: 08:25 01/04/2014
The Shell Houston Open returns to its pre Masters slot on the PGA Tour schedule, and in doing so has attracted a world class field, who are trying to fine tune their games on a course that is set up to emulate the Augusta National test that awaits them next week. Although the Redstone Golf Club Tournament Course, in Humble,Texas has changed hands/name since last years renewal, and is now called the Golf Club of Houston, this 7,441yd Par 72 layout is a well established venue which has played host to this event since 2003. The track is fairly generous from the tee, but will certainly test the short game prowess of the assembled field, with lightning quick undulating putting surfaces (officials are hoping to get the speed to around 13 on the stimpmeter), shaved banks and collection areas around the greens. The signature hole and statistically the toughest hole, is the 488yd Par 4 18th hole, which has water running along the entire left hand side, and consistently ranks amongst the toughest holes played on Tour, in running punters beware!
Unsettled conditions and possible thunderstorms are forecast for the four days, with winds of 10-15mph.
The field and market is headed by world No 7 Rory McIIroy, who despite showing real signs of returning to top form, has still found it surprisingly difficult to finish a tournament off on a couple of occasions this year. With very little previous course form, and Augusta very much on his mind, I just have a feeling this week will be a sharpener in preparation for next week. At the current odds, he looks poor value in my opinion.
My main fancy this week is the in form Dustin Johnson, who other than a first round exit in the Accenture Match Play Championship, has not finished worse than 6th on his four other PGA outings, including runner up spots at both the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Northern Trust Open. He looks supremely confident this year, and proved his liking for this track with a Tied 4th finish last year, so expect a bold show this weekend.
Another fancy is Henrik Stenson, who after a slow start to the year has showed a welcome return to form with Tied 16th and Tied 5th place finishes in his last two starts. It was always going to be difficult to follow up last years stellar year, especially with new equipment and greater media hype, but the likeable Swede seems to be peaking at the right time for Augusta next week. He likes this venue, with a Tied 2nd last year. and Tied 3rd place in 2009, so he should hopefully be in the mix come Sunday afternoon.
At a bigger price, Louis Oosthuizen is worth a small interest on course form alone, with his last 3 form stats reading 10-3-16. The South African has been plagued with back problems since the middle of last year, but the 2012 Masters runner up is simply too good a player to be chalked up at around the 66-1 mark. A few quid each way is recommended.
Paddy Power are paying 6 places this week, though the odds may be reduced for some players, for this concession.
Dustin Johnson 14-1 E/W Coral
Henrik Stenson 20-1 E/W Betfred
Louis Oosthuizen 66-1 E/W Betvictor