The excitement is building towards the first golf major of the calendar year, The Masters, which kicks off on April 6. Who will slip into that Green Jacket, which has adorned the backs of some of the sport’s finest players?
We’ll find out soon enough, but for now we must instead focus our attention on this week’s tournament, the Shell Houston Open, and for good reason: three of the last four winners went off at odds of 100/1 or greater!
Even though a top-class field assembles each year with the simple aim of honing their game ahead of the trip to Augusta, this remains a tournament where the outsiders and dark horses have their moments. Defending champion Jim Herman, 2014 champion Matt Jones and his immediate predecessor D.A. Points all triumphed when even their closest friends and family were betting on anyone else but them. Perhaps the lure of a place at The Masters – which typically emerges for the winner here (if they haven’t already qualified) – is a key motivating factor.
Mind you, 12 months ago Herman only just got over the line – chipping in from the rough at the sixteenth – ahead of two players ranked in the world’s top ten: Dustin Johnson (before he became a winning machine) and Henrik Stenson. Perhaps there is the potential here for one of the big boys to claim a confidence-boosting win ahead of the Augusta jaunt.
So where is our money going this week? We’ve picked out four contenders at a variety of price points:
Rickie Fowler (16/1)
This event is hosted by the aptly-named Golf Club of Houston, and this stretch has been hand-chosen for its similarities to Augusta. So its long enough (7,441 yards for its Par 72) but with wide fairways and forgiving rough. The greens are bigger than average but incredibly fast, so proximity to the hole – or a red hot putter – are key.
As such, Rickie Fowler holds plenty of appeal this week. He won the Honda Classic not all that long ago, but in what is a sign of a true champion his form did not tail-off from there, with top 20 returns at the WGC event in Mexico and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Having enjoyed a week off as others were deep in match play mode, he comes to Houston refreshed and ready to rock.
He’s twice finished in the top ten here in the past, and that’s no surprise as his game appears tailor-made for this stretch. Fowler is excellent off the tee, ranking second on tour for Total Driving (an average of distance and accuracy), hits lots of greens in regulation and sits eleventh in the Strokes Gained: Putting metric.
Add into the mix his status as a proven winner, and you have a potent recipe for success this week.
Patrick Reed (45/1)
Reed is hopelessly out of form at present, but he boasts so much natural talent that a return to home soil – he is a proud Texan – could prove to be the catalyst he needs to return to his best.
His last two trips to the Golf Club of Houston have yielded finishes of tenth (2016) and seventeenth (2015), so clearly this is a track he is familiar with, and it is a venue where – if he drives well – his prowess with short irons and wedges in hand could prove very handy indeed.
The big fella has shown well in majors in the past, and just seven days ahead of The Masters he will be looking to make a huge impression.
Bernd Wiesberger (100/1)
Big Bernd is a regular performer on the European Tour but is yet to show his best Stateside; perhaps this event, which has a habit of delivering surprise winners, could be the bump he needs.
A three-time winner in Europe, Wiesberger is playing well enough to get the job done, as top-fives in two of the four events on the Middle East swing proves, and he finished 27th here on debut 12 months ago.
Hopefully, Wiesberger will do what he does best in Europe: drive well and pepper the greens. If his putter runs hot, he could announce himself to an American audience in fine style.
Chris Stroud (200/1)
Stroud looks a very generous price this week given that he ticks three big boxes: he’s in good nick, has course form to his name and is a local boy with something to prove.
A prolific green and fairway finder, Stroud finished tied for eight at the Puerto Rico Open last week, and here he will be returning home to the comfort of his home surroundings; don’t underestimate the part that can play.
He’s finished in the top-30 in his last trio of starts at the Golf Cub of Houston, including 17th in 2015 and 12th in 2015, and with the confidence gained in Puerto Rico that personal best could well be improved upon this week.