There is but one week left until the GLORIOUS official start of the real golf season at Augusta National. This week, we are in the GLORIOUS metropolis of Houston, known for the wide strut and jangling spurs of its oil men, hats that can hold ten gallons of a fella’s favorite liquid (oil), and probably some office buildings made of glass.
Honestly, I’m not sure how glorious Houston really is, but if you ask an actual Texan, they will tell you that it’s not as awful as Dallas. Which, I can confirm, is awful.
And sure, the Shell Houston Open is no Masters, but the field is actually pretty solid this year. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson pulled out after his marathon five-match win at the WGC-Match Play last week, but the field still boasts big names like Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, and Adam Scott.
In fact, it’s shockingly loaded for a minor Tour event, especially at a time of year when many big names prefer to head to Augusta a week early to get a few practice rounds in, hoping for an early edge in the hunt for a green jacket.
The fact that so many are choosing to play Houston this year speaks to a bit of wisdom that has become widespread, which is that Augusta changes so completely on the eve of the event – it’s almost literally a different course on Thursday than Wednesday – that showing up early is not only useless, but actually counter-productive.
At the same time, players want their games to be fresh and ready for intense competition, so it doesn’t make sense to stay home and rest for the week. Who benefits? Voila—the Houston Open, now a perfect solution for aspiring Masters champs.
Paddy Power is paying 7 places this week, so let’s take a look at who can actually win the damn thing. I’ve got a few names in mind – one week out from Augusta!
1. Henrik Stenson
Our favorite wry Swede has been very selective about his tournaments since winning the…Open…Championship…(so hard for me as an American not to say “British Open”) last year, but don’t lose sight of how good he’s been when he actually plays.
He took the silver medal at the Olympics, finished seventh at the PGA Championship, second at the HSBC this year, and seventh at the Valspar. Also consider this: He really likes Houston. He’s never won, exactly, but he’s finished as runner-up twice, including last year, and it would be a big surprise to see him fade outside the top 10 in 2017.
2. Rickie Fowler
You don’t really need much of an explanation here. The guy is all over every single leaderboard at every single tournament he plays, and it seems like he always has a chance to win. With two top tens in the last three years at Houston, you’d be a fool not to throw your hard-earned money in his direction. A fool, I say!
3. Adam Scott
I wanted to pick Phil Mickelson here, but Phil Mickelson is wild and unpredictable, like a beautiful but dangerous stallion. Adam Scott LOVES Texas. He’s the only man to win the so-called “Texas Slam,” which consists of this event, the Byron Nelson, the Texas Open, and the Colonial.
Maybe it’s because the scorched earth reminds him of the Australian deserts, and he gets a warm feeling of nostalgia that propels him to great feats? Hard to say. But he’s in solid form this year, and solid form plus Texas soil almost always equals great results.
4. Charley Hoffman
Hoffman doesn’t get very much attention despite being a very successful PGA Tour golfer, and that’s fair because he doesn’t win very much. And aside from wearing brightly-colored gloves on occasion, he’s kinda boring.
But the dude is a steady hand – he finished second at the Arnold Palmer two weeks ago, and fourth at Riviera two weeks before that.
He’s played at Houston every year since 2011 without missing a cut, and if I had my guess, we’re going to see him on Sunday at the Masters. Not winning, mind you, but merely existing somewhere near the top of the leaderboard and forcing Jim Nantz to talk about him. He won’t win a green jacket, but whatever they give out for winning in Houston (an oil bath?), sure, he could definitely win that.
5. Rafa Cabrera-Bello
What kind of golf hipster would I be if I didn’t make a semi-obscure European pick? All eyes will be on fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm this week, and Rahm is indeed extremely good. However, Cabrera-Bello has put up terrific results for two years straight without attracting a fraction of the attention. He’s poised for a big win, and if it doesn’t happen at Houston, he’s at least going to get close.