10 Players to Watch: Shell Houston Open

1. Henrik Stenson, Sweden — The big Swede is well-rested after skipping the WGC-Dell Match Play because he is pacing himself following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in December. He tied for third in his last start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational after also playing well on the European Tour in the last few months, tying for third in both the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and the BMW Masters, finishing second in the Nedbank Challenge and tying for sixth in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Stenson has not won since successfully defending his title in the 2014 DP World Tour Championship-Dubai, but Houston might be where he ends the drought. He tied for third in 2009, two strokes out of the playoff in which Paul Casey beat J.B. Holmes, and tied for second two years ago, one shot behind D.A. Points.

2. Jordan Spieth, United States — Having lost the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings this week to Jason Day of Australia after holding it the last 20 weeks, the Texan would love to get it back with his first victory in the Lone Star State this week before heading to Augusta to defend his title in the Masters. His game has not been especially sharp since he won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January, but he did win three matches in the WGC-Dell Match Play before having a bad day when Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa beat him in the Round of 16. Spieth is making his fourth start in Houston, and he couldn’t hold sole possession of the lead in the final round last year before losing out in a playoff won by J.B. Holmes.

3. Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa — Oosthuizen made a somewhat surprising run through the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship before losing to Jason Day in the final, going 3-0 in pool play before beating Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rafa Cabrera Bello to get to the title match. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise because he won the ISPS Handa Perth International, tied for seventh in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, tied for seventh in the Valspar Championship and has three other top-15 finishes this season. Oosthuizen is making his seventh start in Houston, and even though he missed the cut each of the past two years and three times overall, he also tied for 16th in 2011 and seemed to be heading for victory a year later before he shot 75 in the final round and slipped from the lead to solo third.

4. Patrick Reed, United States — This is a home game for the native Texan, who lives not far from Houston in Spring, Texas. Surprisingly, this is only his third start at the Golf Club of Houston, and he missed the cut in 2013 before tying for 17th last year — falling out of the top 10 with a closing 73. Even though Reed has not won since claiming his fourth PGA Tour victory in 17 months in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January 2015, he is off to another strong start this season. He has placed in the top 10 on six occasions, including second in his title defense in the TOC, and in his past two outings, he tied for seventh in the Valspar Championship and tied for ninth in the WGC-Dell Match Play, losing to Dustin Johnson in the Round of 16.

5. Rickie Fowler, United States — Trying to regain his form from earlier in the season after posting a 0-1-2 record in pool play of the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship, Fowler is making his fourth appearance in Houston. He cracked the top 60 only once in those previous starts at the Golf Club of Houston, finishing solo sixth in 2014, six shots out of the playoff in which Matt Jones of Australia beat Matt Kuchar. Fowler, ranked fifth in the world, won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on the European Tour in January and has four top-10 finishes in his past five-stroke play events — losing to Hideki Matsuyama of Japan in a playoff at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, finishing fifth in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, tying for sixth in the Honda Classic and tying for eighth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

6. Phil Mickelson, United States — Mickelson continued his solid play early in 2016 when he posted a 2-1 record in the WGC-Dell Match Play, losing to Patrick Reed in the match that determined the winner of Group 9. That translated into his fifth top-25 result of the year, including solo second in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, a tie for third in the Career Builder Challenge and solo fifth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Mickelson is making his ninth straight appearance and 11th overall in Houston, and he won the title by three strokes over Chris Kirk and Scott Verplank in 2011, when he played the weekend in 63-65. He tied for fourth in his title defense, when he took the lead with an opening 65 but could not break 70 the rest of the way, and he has not finished outside the top 20 in Houston in the past five years.

7. J.B. Holmes, United States — The defending champion in Houston struggled in his past two starts, going 1-1-1 in pool play at the WGC-Dell Match Play after finishing 59th in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, where he opened with a 77 and closed with an 80. However, Houston might be the place for him to regain his form, because he lost in a playoff there to Paul Casey in 2009, tied for eighth in 2012 and tied for 12th in 2014. Last year, Holmes came from six shots behind leader Jordan Spieth with a 64 in the final round and beat Johnson Wagner with a par on the second playoff hole. Holmes played well earlier this year when he tied for sixth in both the Farmers Insurance Open and the Waste Management Phoenix Open before tying for 11th in both the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the Northern Trust Open.

8. Dustin Johnson, United States — Consistency is the name of the game for Johnson so far in the 2015-16 season, as he has finished in the top 15 in six of his seven outings. After winning Group 8 in the WGC-Dell Match Play, he beat Patrick Reed in the Round of 16 before losing to Louis Oosthuizen in the quarterfinals, leaving him with a tie for fifth — his fourth top 10 of the season. Johnson, No. 8 in the world, is playing in Houston for the fifth time. After missing the cut in 2008 and 2009, he came back to tie for fourth in 2013, closing with a 65 that left him two strokes behind winner D.A. Points. Last year, Johnson shot 80 in the first round and promptly withdrew because of what he called stiffness in his back.

9. Rafa Cabrera Bello, Spain — Many Americans might not have even known who the Spaniard was before he went 5-0-1 in the WGC-Dell Match Play last week, losing to Louis Oosthuizen in the semifinals before bouncing back to beat third-ranked Rory McIlroy in the consolation match. He has never played in the Ryder Cup, but that performance had to open the eyes of European captain Darren Clarke. Cabrera Bello, who is making his first appearance in Houston, was in the hunt most of the way a few weeks earlier in the WGC-Cadillac Championship until shooting 74 in the final round to slide to a tie for 11th. Earlier this year on the European Tour, he tied for second in both the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in addition to tying for 14th in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

10. Charl Schwartzel, South Africa — Coming off his playoff victory over Bill Haas in the Valspar Championship, Schwartzel continued to play well in the WGC-Dell Match Play when he posted a 2-1 record in pool play but lost to Brandt Snedeker in the match that determined the winner of Group 15. The South African has eight finishes in the top 20 on both major tours this season. He has won three times since the end of November, also capturing the Alfred Dunhill Championship for the third time in four years and the Tshwane Championship on the European Tour. Schwartzel is making his seventh appearance in Houston. His best result there was a tie for third in 2010, when he played the weekend in 67-67 and wound up one stroke out of the playoff in which Anthony Kim defeated Vaughn Taylor.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

Related Articles

Stay Connected


Latest Articles