Everything you need to know about the Houston Open, the last PGA Tour event before The Masters. 

By Daniel Rapaport
March 28, 2018

And then there was one. One event before The Masters, that is. 

The PGA Tour stays in Texas this week as play shifts back to a stroke play format for the Houston Open. (The tournament had been known as the Shell Houston Open from 1992-2017, but that sponsorship ended with last year's event and a new title sponsor has not been found.) It's players' last chance to get some tune-up work before the year's first major, and it's also the last chance for some players to book their ticket to Augusta. 

The Masters field is all set except for one spot, as the last spots that were held for players ranked in the top 50 in the world were determined on Monday. Earning those spots were Cameron Smith (No. 45), Satoshi Kodaira (No. 46), Dylan Frittelli (No. 47), and Chez Reavie (No. 48). The only available Masters spot is for the winner of the Houston Open (if the player isn't already qualified). 

On a separate note, this might be the last year that Houston serves as the last tournament before The Masters. The revamped 2018-19 schedule, which is set to be released by The Players Championship in May, reportedly has the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio replacing Houston as the lead-up to Augusta.

Here's everything you need to know about the final tournament before golf's signature event. 

The defending champion

Russell Henley (-20) overcame a four-shot deficit going into Sunday to get a three-shot victory over Sung Kang last year for his first PGA Tour win in over three years and third win overall. Henley's win gained him entry into The Masters, as he wasn't qualified before the week, and he followed up his Houston win solid t11 finish at Augusta. That solid performance broke a recent trend of Houston Open champions struggling at Augusta—in each of the three years before Henley's victory, the Houston Open champion (2016: Jim Herman, 2015: J.B. Holmes, 2013: D.A. Points) missed the cut the following week at The Masters.

The field

While a number of the game's biggest stars are choosing to take the week off in preparation for Augusta, there are some huge names teeing it up this week: Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Rafa Cabrera Bello, to name a few. 

One of the highlights of Houston every year is rooting for guys who need a win to get into Augusta, and there are two specific players this year to keep an eye on. Ian Poulter thought he had made it into the top 50 by Monday by reaching the quarters of last week's match play, but it turns out he needed one more victory and currently sits at No. 51. The other guy is 51-year-old Steve Stricker, who won the Champions Tour's Rapiscan Classic last week and is attempting to win again on the younger man's tour this week to get back to Augusta. 

Ernie Els and Lee Westwood, the latter of which has five top-eight finishes in the last 13 masters, both aren't in the field at Augusta but will try to change that this week.  

The course

The Golf Club of Houston's Tournament Course is a 7,457-yard, par-72 layout. It's no coincidence the course hosts The Masters' tune-up event, as the course's over-seeded rye grass and mowed runoff areas by the greens are similar to those same features present at Augusta. The course has not proven to be as tough a test as Augusta, however, as the average winning score over the last five tournaments in Houston is -16. That's mainly a product of the greens' not being as severe. 

The odds

Justin Rose +1000
Rickie Fowler +1000
Jordan Spieth +1100
Henrik Stenson +1200
Phil Mickelson +1400
Daniel Berger +2200
Luke List +2500
Russell Henley +2500
Tony Finau +3000
Rafa Cabrera-Bello +3300
Matt Kuchar +3300
Byeong Hun An +4000
Charles Howell III +4000
Steve Stricker +5000
Jason Dufner +5000
Thomas Pieters +5000
Keegan Bradley +5000
Jamie Lovemark +5000
Chez Reavie +6000
Emiliano Grillo +6600
Shubhankar Sharma +6600 

Rose has been a top-10 machine over the past six months or so and it wouldn't be a surprise at all if he picked up his first Tour win of the calendar year. Mickelson, who won this event in 2011, didn't make the knockout rounds at the match play but did go 2-1 in group play. Vegas doesn't seem to keen on Poulter's chance to sneak into the Masters, pegging the British match play specialist at +10000. 

The pick

Fowler has three top-10 finishes in his last four starts in Houston, including a t3 finish last year. He's well-rested after skipping the match play and put together a solid week in his last start, a t14 at Bay Hill that would have been better but for a disappointing 74 on Sunday. Fowler gets his first official victory of the season (he won at Tiger's Hero World Challenge last December, an event with an 18-man field) and goes into the Masters brimming with confidence in search of his first major championship. 

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