Shell Houston Open Preview and Picks – 2008

2008 Shell Houston Open, Mar 3-6, Redstone GC (Tournament Course) Humble,TX, The Golf Channel/NBC.
by Matt of

The PGA makes its final regular Tour stop before the first Major of the year this week as the Shell Houston Open kicks off from Humble, Texas. The Rees Jones designed Tournament Course at Redstone serves as host to the event which is the last chance for any golfer trying to gain exemption to the Masters. Adam Scott defends his ’07 title against a strong field out for the winner’s share of the $5.6 million dollar purse. All the early action coming to you on the Golf Channel, with NBC taking over on the weekend.

The Tournament Course was designed specifically for a PGA event and is a balanced test of shot making, length and putting. The par-72 track measures 7,457 yards with four par-3 holes to go along with four par-5’s. The par-4 fourth will test the players early with two long accurate shots needed to negotiate the 480 yard hole. The 12th hole, a 338 yard par-4, will give players the opportunity to drive the green while, but water waits to gobble up any drive to the right. Coming home, numbers 15 and 18 will serve as stern tests to golfers looking for good finishes. The par-5, 15th, plays 608 yards and requires three solid shots to have a legitimate birdie opportunity and the 18th at 488 yards plays long for a par-4 and is guarded by water on the left the entire hole.

Tiger is absent from the field this week, opting for his typical pre-Major rest/prep, leaving Phil Mickelson as the favorite on the boards at the golf sportsbooks. Phil is listed at 8 to 1 for the win and 3 to 2 to take any top-5 spot. Lefty has had a solid ’08, finishing inside the top-25 in all 6 events in which he made the cut (1 MC) including a win at Riviera. Phil will certainly be a factor this week if he can find the fairways and take advantage of his 292.3 yard average off the tee. Ranking 5th on Tour with 3.84 birdies per round, Phil has the game to go low, and look for the focus to be there as Augusta looms.

Adam Scott is next up, listed at 11 to 1 to win and paying 9 to 4 for a top-5. Scott has the ’07 success to fall back on along with top-20 finishes in all three events he has played in ’08. Scott’s 69.6 scoring average would rank second to Tiger if Scott had enough rounds in to qualify. It is difficult to defend championships on Tour, but Scott is swinging well and obviously likes the way the course lays out.

Another Euro Tour star, Padraig Harrington, is a 16 to 1 shot to win, and 3 to 1 for the top-5 bet. Harrington was in contention at last week’s Zurich Classic in New Orleans, eventually tying for 4th. Paddy has a 3rd at the Northern Trust as well, and has not finished outside the top-20 in any of his four starts. Paddy makes more birdies a round (4.14) than any other player, due in part to his stellar putting, which ranks 2nd at 1.68 per hole. Look for success this week if the GIR% numbers are above average.

Geoff Ogilvy is an identical 16 to 1 and 3 to 1 bet alongside Harrington. Ogilvy is hitting his stride after struggling to three missed cuts to start the season. The last three weeks have brought two top-15’s at the PODS and Palmer, and a victory at the WGC-CA Championship. Ogilvy is getting it done with superior iron play, ranking 28th in greens hit at 67.9%, and is among the eagle leaders on Tour (28th). Averaging 70.8 per round, Ogilvy will look to hit a few more fairways this week to take advantage of his GIR numbers and shave a few strokes off that average.

K.J. Choi is down the list a bit at 20 to1 to win, and 4 to 1 for a top-5. Choi won at the Sony early in the year and has notched 4 top-20’s in his last four starts. K.J. is deadly accurate, hitting a second ranked 72.7% of greens, leading to 3.19 birdies per round. Choi is solid from tee as well, averaging 286.7 yards en route to a 56th rank in total driving and ranks 9th in scoring at 70.0.

Stuart Appleby may be longer at 22 to 1 to win, but may be the favorite based on past results here. Appleby has a win here in ’06 to go along with seconds in ’07 and ’03. Going back further finds another victory in ’99, albeit on a different course. Anyway you cut it, results like this are hard to ignore. Appleby has 5 top-10’s this year in 7 starts, with a 4th at the FBR highlighting the list. The putting has been the key so far, Stuart is the Tour’s 14th ranked flatstick at 1.74 per hole. Appleby is 4 to 1 to notch a top-5 spot.

Another player who has had some Shell success is Steve Sticker at 22 to 1 for the win, 4 to 1 for the top-5 finish. While not as impressive as Appleby’s run, Stricker is looking for a third straight top-10 here at Houston. Stricker did miss the cut at last weeks Zurich, but that was only the second MC in his last 18 starts. Steve has the 4th best scoring average on Tour at 69.8 and always seems to be on the first page of the leaderboard.

Taking a look at a couple of matchups, look for victories out of Padraig Harrington and Steve Stricker. Harrington is on the board against Geoff Ogilvy and Stricker takes on K.J. Choi. All golfers in these matches are at -120 at Bodog along with outright win/top-5 bets.

Harrington and Ogilvy are nearly identical in terms of tee block stats, so this on comes down to GIR and putting numbers. While Ogilvy has the edge in hitting greens, 67% to 62%, Harrington makes far more putts and therefore more birdies. Ogilvy’s 123rd ranked putting leads to 2.6 birdies on average, 1.5 less than Harrington per round. Look for Paddy to take this one.

The Stricker v. Choi match is a virtual dead heat when broken down. Neither golfer has a significant advantage on the other in any major statistical category, so lean on recent results to pick your horse. Last week was a hiccup for Stricker, he has been in the top-15 in 6 of his last 8 and has gone low recently with a 63 at the WGC-CA. It won’t be flashy, but Stricker pulls this one out.

For the Win:

Short: Phil Mickelson 8 to 1 – looking to roll into Masters

Middle: Stuart Appleby 22 to 1 – hard to ignore Shell success

Long: Chad Campbell 50 to1 – home crowd support as a Texan.