Shell Houston Open: Preview

2014 03 165128384

A field containing 11 of the world’s top 20 will compete at the Shell Houston Open this week, the final PGA Tour tournament before the Masters.

Last year’s winner, D.A Points, above, returns to defend his title but faces competition from some of the world’s best if he is to succeed.

The American’s victory last year secured him a place at the Masters, but this year his form has been rather poor. In his last two outings he has missed the cut, with a tie for 28th his best finish so far in 2014. He'll need to rediscover his best form quick if he is to become a repeat winner.

The highest-ranked player in the field is last year’s runner-up, Henrik Stenson. The Swede came so close to victory a year ago and he returns in fine form, having played his way to No.3 in the world.

Stenson also leads the European Ryder Cup Worlds Points List and finished fifth in his last tournament - the Arnold Palmer Invitational - so is clearly a player to watch. Victory could also see him jump to the top of the world rankings for the first time in his career.

Another player enjoying a rich vein of form is FedExCup leader, Jimmy Walker. The American has won twice this year already - three times on the wrap-around schedule in total - and he will make his Masters debut next week.
"Only two players have won the week prior to the Masters and then gone on to win at Augusta."

Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson is, at the time of writing, still scheduled to compete in this year's Shell Houston Open, despite being forced out of last week's Valero Texas Open after sustaining a pulled oblique muscle in the third round. Assuming he does play, Mickelson would be making his tenth career start in a tournament he won in 2011 and finished fourth in a year later.

Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, ranked seventh and eighth in the world respectively, are also both expected to mount a challenge in Houston. Garcia has finished in the top 20 in his past 12 events, whilst, although McIlroy hasn’t managed a win yet this year, two-second place finishes may demonstrate that his game is getting close again.

As things stand, there are 44 players in the field who are scheduled to compete in the Masters.

Incidentally, only two players have won the week prior to the Masters and then gone on to win in Augusta: Scotland's own Sandy Lyle (who won the Greater Greensboro Open) in 1988 and Mickelson (who won the BellSouth Classic) in 2006.

If you like a flutter, meanwhile, never mind spending your money on the tournament winner. Instead, stick a wedge on the Shell Houston Open being decided by a play-off. It has 21 of them in its history - more than any event on tour, with the exception of the US Open, which has seen 32 play-offs.

Shell Houston Open: Your predictions

Who will challenge for the Shell Houston Open? Leave your thoughts in our 'Comments' section below.

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