Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Shell Houston Open - Preview

The last PGA Tour stop before the Masters will have an Augusta-like feel to it this week at the Shell Houston Open.

First off is the quality of the field: Houston boasts four of the top 10 players in the world rankings, and six of the top 12: Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Adam Scott, K.J. Choi, Geoff Ogilvy and Padraig Harrington.

World No. 1 Tiger Woods is not playing this week, as he rarely does in the few weeks before a major, and No. 3 Ernie Els pulled out due to a virus.

In addition, the folks at Redstone Golf Club are tailoring their course as best they can to look and feel like Augusta next week. The greens are prepared to run at very fast speeds and there are areas around the greens where there is little rough in an attempt to recreate Augusta-like conditions.

This week’s winner qualifies is the final qualifier for the Masters - if he hasn’t already done so.

However, since 1934, only five players have won the week before they earned a green jacket.

Mickelson, in the field this week, was the latest to do so in 2006, when he won the BellSouth Classic. He is joined by Sandy Lyle (1988 Greater Greensboro Open), Art Wall (1959 Azalea Open), Sam Snead (1949 Greater Greensboro Open) and Ralph Guldahl (1939 Greater Greensboro Open).

This is Lefty’s fourth career start at the Shell Houston Open. He missed the cut in his first appearance in 1995, tied for 30th in 1998 and tied for 28th in 2003.

Adam Scott is the defending champion here, capped by a 48-foot putt to get up-and-down on the 18 th and secure the victory. He was the 6th Australian to win the Shell Houston Open and was the youngest champion this tourney had seen since David Duval's win in 1998. He played his final 36 holes at Redstone without a single bogey.

Players from outside the U.S. have won seven out of the last nine in this event, dating to 1999.

Aussies have won this event on four occasions in the last nine years with Stuart Appleby winning twice and Scott and Robert Allenby once each. So maybe that bodes well for Geoff Ogilvy, who is playing this week for the first time since ending Tiger’s win streak at Doral.

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