Thinking about opening a bet365 account? Read the latest reviews from fellow GBS visitors here: Bet365 Review
The Shell Houston Open is now the traditional curtain-raiser for The Masters. Played on a 7,400 yard Par 72 track in Humble, Texas, the Rees Jones design will never quite be Augusta, but undoubtedly the course has been modelled over recent years to throw up similar challenges to those the world's best will face next week. For those who simply can't wait for next week here is our pre-event 2015 Masters Preview and here are some of our Augusta stats across the very latest field pre-Houston: Course Form | Top 20 Finishes.
For the 3rd year we're running a cracking Majors Competition in association with bet365 with an increased £225 free bet prize fund. You can enter via our Facebook Group, twitter or via email - full details are here.
2015 Punters League
Congratulations to Ollie Beech who landed the Ramsay/Walker Trans-Atlantic double last week. He also had the audacity to have George Coetzee and Chris Wood in his team as well who contributed place money. The stuff of legend! Sean Colgan remains in the overall Punters League lead after 12 weeks. New entrants are always welcome, so enter your 3 players for the Shell Houston Open on our facebook group now.
The Golf Club of Houston course is set up to play as firm and fast as possible. The last Masters invite is also up for grabs for any non-qualified winner this week so here's my Shell Houston Open preview which walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
Course Guide: The Tournament Course at the Golf Club of Houston is a 7,441 yard Par 72. An original Rees Jones design, the course has gone through a transformation over recent years with key features being minimal rough, fast overseeded Bentgrass/Poa Trivialis greens which are large at an average 6,950 sq.ft. The green complexes themselves are surrounded by shaved grass areas, designed to capture errant approach shots and send them into collection areas and it's noticeable that 3 of the past 5 winners here have ranked in the top 5 for scrambling the week they captured the title. That's no mean feat on a course that continually ranks as the hardest course on the PGA Tour for scrambling from the rough.
Champions Course, Golf Club of Houston, Humble, Texas: Designer: Rees Jones 2005; Course Type: Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,441 yards; Fairways: TifSport Bermuda with Perennial Rye; Rough: TifSport Bermuda with Perennial Rye 1.5"; Greens: 6,950 sq.ft average Miniverde Bermuda overseeded with Bentgrass and Poa Trivialis (plays like Bentrgrass); Tournament Stimp: 12.5-13.0 ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 71.45 (-0.55), Difficulty Rank 34 of 49 courses. 2013: 71.87 (-0.13), Difficulty Rank 25 of 43 courses. 2014: 72.25 (+0.25), Rank 23 of 48 courses.
Course Overview: Rees Jones' first ever original golf course design (he's famous for high profile re-designs of classical golf courses) is an interesting test to classify. Yes the course is scoreable with Matt Jones (-15), D.A. Points (-16) and Hunter Mahan (-16) winning with fairly low totals. But look at the average scores across those renewals and the Tournament Course has become increasingly more difficult after Phil Mickelson won here in 2011 with a typically heroic -20/268 total to win by 3 shots. The course features wide fairways, large bentgrass overseeded greens and water hazards on half of the holes. Scrambling here is tough and naturally, as we're in Texas, wind will be a feature across all 4 days of the tournament. I'm also thinking that the course is likely to be softer than we've had here in a while and rain could be a factor on 3 of the 4 days of play, making conditions more receptive than we've seen in recent years.
Winners: 2014: Matt Jones (-15); 2013: D.A. Points (-16); 2012: Hunter Mahan (-16); 2011: Phil Mickelson (-20); 2010: Anthony Kim (-12); 2009: Paul Casey (-9); 2008: Johnson Wagner (-16); 2007: Adam Scott (-17); 2006: Stuart Appleby (-19); 2005: Vijay Singh (-13).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published Shell Houston Open predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players included in the Top 5 of the Predictor include Matt Kuchar (Predictor number 1), Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Jimmy Walker. Graham Delaet, who has a Top 5 finish here, sits in the Top 10 at 100/1.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the Humana Challenge / Qatar Open weekend and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2014: Jones 125/1; 2013: Points 250/1; 2012: Mahan 22/1; 2011: Mickelson 18/1; 2010: Kim 25/1; 2009: Casey 40/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Houston is here. I'm expecting a relatively soft course as this part of Texas has taken almost 100mm of rain in March compared to 50mm prior to last year's renewal. Add the threat of rain on Thursday prior to first tee-off, thunderstorms throughout Friday and persistent rain on Sunday and the course is likely to become increasingly receptive. Wind on a par to last year's levels will also be a factor, but that won't stop the course from yielding plenty of birdies.
Nappy Factor: Here's a list of players in this week's field who've recently become fathers. This is an interesting angle that his historically delivered numerous winners. If you know of further players don't hesitate to email us or add new names to the thread on our facebook group: Bill Haas 27.2.2015 (Won Humana Challenge 25.1.2015); Hunter Mahan 6.2.15; Robert Streb 3.2.15; D.A. Points 20.1.15.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Pre-Major tournaments always have a slightly strange feel to them and the week prior to The Masters is difficult to read. Most of the field are ignoring Augusta on the basis they haven't qualified and this was the exact scenario that saw Matt Jones win here 12 months ago. Extrapolate that to TPC San Antonio in 2013, which due to a quirk in the PGA Tour schedule hosted the pre-Augusta event that year, where Martin Laird again grabbed a last minute invite to the first Major. This non-qualifier winner scenario though is not set in stone as 2012 saw Hunter Mahan win a few outings after capturing the World Matchplay and 2011 saw Phil Mickelson destroy the field after a sluggish season opening.
As ever then, this week for me is all about player desire. Some players will undoubtedly go for the win, whilst others (Phil Mickelson is always the exception!) will know their Masters history and will use the week as a great warm-up for the rigours of Augusta National. Towards the top of the betting market I have no doubt that the likes of Matt Kuchar, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley and Hunter Mahan will make a 100% effort to grab their first victories of 2015 as it's clear they aren't where they want to be in terms of form or 2015 wins right now. Naturally 2015 winners Patrick Reed and Bill Haas also have real chances as they're clearly playing well enough, as is the nearly man of the season so far J.B. Holmes who I came close to supporting this week. But if you look at the winners list here, it's rare that a player arrives in scintillating immediate form and wins the tournament.
So I'm avoiding the obvious form horses this week and instead going with a team that includes 3 Augusta qualifiers and 2 non-qualifiers. The Tournament Course itself is scoreable, but ultimately winners here need to hit a high number of greens in regulation and that's possible with above average green sizes. I'm also thinking that the course will play softer than in recent renewals, especially as rain and even thunder could be a factor across 3 of the 4 days of the tournament. Wind-positive players are a must, but for me the golf course rewards aggressive play as players need to score well on the short Par 4 12th and on 3 of the par 5s which are reachable.
Key Bookmaker Offers: Paddy Power have again gone 6 places each-way at the Houston Open, full details here, as have Stan James - you can check their latest prices here. 888sport have gone Augusta crazy by offering new customers triple odds on anybody in this or next week's field on their first bet - full details here!
My selections are as follows:
Lefty has always been a nightmare to predict and his form since the PGA Championship last August has been poor, but I'm on him this week at an attractive price for 4 main reasons: 1) His game is ever so slowly improving. TPC San Antonio was ideal practice for St Andrews rather than for Augusta, but Lefty was in contention after 36 holes and the putter started to warm for the first time in 2015. 2) His record over the past 4 renewals at a GC of Houston track that rewards aggressive play reads 1-4-16-12. 3) Phil openly states that he needs to have been in contention in the build-up to The Masters (and a Major full-stop) to be competitive. 4) Phil comes alive on soft golf courses. I'm hoping the thunderstorms and rain forecast materialises by the bucketload!
A confident Louis Oosthuizen can bully receptive golf courses to a level that very few others can. A horribly out of sorts (back injury) Oosthuizen went into Sunday at Valhalla last year within 4 shots of Rory McIlroy in 6th place, but I prefer to remember his stellar 2012 when the Open Champion (he shot -16 at St Andrews) had an amazing string of results. 3rd here at the GC of Houston was followed a week later by his Augusta play-off defeat to Bubba Watson. Later in the summer 4th at Firestone, 21st at Kiawah Island and 5th at Bethpage Black (Rees Jones re-design) was followed by that unforgettable duel in receptive conditions at TPC Boston with Rory McIlroy, where ultimately even -19 wasn't enough to beat the soft course king McIlroy. A lightly raced Oostie has shown both at Doral and Bay Hill this season that his all-round game is sharp and providing he remains fit, I see him as a real threat both this week and next.
I, like many, tend to give defending champions - especially first timers - the swerve. However Matt Every's Herculean performance 2 weeks ago will undeniably give Matt Jones confidence, and I can't resist the Australian this week in the Lone-Star State where Aussies undeniably play well. Jones, after a strong 2015, has missed out on a Masters invite by 4 OWGR places, but the Sydney man will undoubtedly want to defend his first PGA Tour title this week and I was really impressed by just how well he played last week at TPC San Antonio on a technical type track that he traditionally struggles on. A resort course and bentgrass green specialist who topped the birdie table at a receptive Bay Hill a fortnight ago, Jones has always been a momentum player who can hold form over a number of tournaments. Soft conditions will only enhance his chances this week and Matt had proved himself as an excellent wind player prior to his victory here 12 months ago.
Buoyed by qualifying for his first Masters since 2012, I can see Paul Casey going really well this week on the course that witnessed his one and only PGA Tour victory back in 2009. Despite a couple of wins in Abu Dhabi, Casey has always been Bentgrass green positive and in a way the build-up to 2015 has been similar to 2009. Back then he won in Abu Dhabi and finished 4th in Dubai before reaching the final in the World Matchplay at Dove Mountain. Early 2015 has been extremely productive for Casey who finished in a play-off at Riviera before holding his nerve in horrible conditions at PGA National to finish 3rd and effectively grab his Augusta spot. Being realistic, Paul will have no huge expectations for next week in Georgia, but undoubtedly he knows he's playing well enough to contend this week and his limited record in Texas is impressive enough. The only player in the field to tick absolutely all of the key stats I was looking for.
Scott Piercy has been quiet of late and I always think of the Las Vegas-based World Number 99 when we need an aggressive player on bentgrass green putting surfaces. Refreshed after only playing PGA National on the Florida swing (he finished 31st), Piercy earned a further $25,000 at an unwelcoming TPC San Antonio last week. However if receptive conditions are a reality this week in Humble then I think that Scott will be a factor on a course where he contended on debut back in 2009 and where he has a 4/4 record in terms of weekends made. That's not very Scott Piercy! 2nd as recently as Waialae, Piercy's soft course record is top-notch and if he can find the large greens on the Tournament Course over 70% of the time this week then while the putter is working well he could contend.
Our predictions for the 2016 Shell Houston Open will be published here on the Tuesday before the event.