Before you scramble for more information on the Golf Club of Houston, host course to the Shell Houston Open, it's the same track on which the event has been contested since 2006 and the same layout organizers have set up to test its field similarly to August National since 2007. The short story is that the old Redstone GC, a 36-hole facility, changed ownership. It's just a name change.
The third reshuffle of the season for Web.com Tour Finals grads will occur at the conclusion of the tournament. However, all of the nine remaining open events will host 156 golfers, so it would be unusual if everyone inside this category didn't qualify on merit for each of those stops. The only exception, technically, is the Reno-Tahoe Open because it reserves space for only 132 golfers, but it's played concurrent to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and always goes deep into the Past Champion category, so it's all but a guaranteed stop for the reshufflers.
With Tiger Woods sidelined for several weeks after having surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back, the very real concern over whether he'll qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs is now on the table. If I simplify his owners' decision-making process in full-season formats today, it's to compare a potentially severely reduced schedule months from now against current free agents. You don't score if you don't play, but there's only one Woods, who should return refreshed, rested and ready whenever that time comes. I can't speculate on when that will be, but I'd like to believe that the word "soon" is on his uber-competitive mind.
You can find my selections for PGATOUR.COM's fantasy game in Expert Picks.
Power Rankings Wild Card
Jimmy Walker ... While he shares the course record with a first-round 63 in 2011, the T30 he collected that week is his best result in seven appearances. However, the FedExCup points leader is simply too dialed in to ignore right now. Since his third win of the season at Pebble Beach, he's finished no worse than T25 (Doral) in four starts. It's always easier said than done, but if he can sidestep the big number at the Golf Club at Houston, the course will showcase his skill set.
Chris Kirk ... It's unfair to expect a repeat of what he did here in 2011, but that's the hope. In his debut at the Golf Club of Houston three years ago, he arrived having missed four of his most recent five cuts before sharing runner-up honors. His recent form this time around is better, but he has just one top 35 in his last five stroke-play starts, and he was bounced in the first round of the Match Play. Also tied for 22nd here last year.
Andrew Loupe ... Solid selection for weekly salary gamers. Wayward game off the tee plays here and he's long to boot. Also 42nd in strokes gained-putting. Arrives with three successive career-best finishes in tow capped by a T4 at TPC San Antonio.
Daniel Summerhays ... Fresh off a T2 at TPC San Antonio and this close to being a weekly option across the board. Not quite ready for the limited lineups but undervalued in salary games and full-season formats.
Brendon Todd ... Manhandled TPC San Antonio on Sunday for a field-low 68 on a day when the field averaged 73.803. It boosted him into a tie for sixth for his first top 30 in seven starts. He was a top-20 machine during all of 2013 and the first several events this season, so what happened on the weekend at the Valero will prove to be a rekindling or an anomaly. However, he ranked T3 in fairways hit, T2 in GIR, 12th in strokes gained-putting, T3 in par-4 scoring and T1 in par-5 scoring last week. An all-around attack like that from a guy that was dealing not too long ago is reason to hop aboard again.
Seung-yul Noh ... Continues to pay dividends in all formats. Eleven consecutive cuts made. Ranks T15 in red numbers (27). Also 36th in greens hit and first in sand saves.
J.B. Holmes ... Without a T10 recently at Bay Hill, he doesn't land here. It marked just his second top 50 in eight starts this season and only in his last seven. He missed last year's SHO due to the mishap while rollerblading, but he tied for eighth here in 2012. Also lost in a playoff in 2009.
Ryo Ishikawa ... Since all golfers experience even mini-slumps, most gamers will take seven top 25s among eight cuts made in 13 starts. That's his record this season. Sits 37th in greens hit, 61st in adjusted scoring and T12 in par-5 scoring.
Paul Casey ... Great value at the back end of weekly lineups. Entered March with enough mojo to deserve a look at the SHO where he broke through for his only PGA TOUR victory. The 2009 champion has stumbled of late, but forgettable efforts at Copperhead and Bay Hill fell in line with his track records at each. Six top 20s in an eight-event stretch concluding with a T12 at PGA National.
Nicolas Colsaerts ... If there's a track where he could make some noise, the Golf Club of Houston fits the bill. He's T167 on the PGA TOUR in fairways hit, but finding fairways is all but irrelevant as it's primarily a second-shot golf course. His distance off the tee and proficiency in hitting greens (T57) and putting (17th in strokes gained) sets him up as a sleeper.
D.A. Points ... The defending champion hasn't registered a top 50 in a full-field, PGA TOUR event since a T6 at The Barclays in August.
Steven Bowditch ... Even if he didn't win, his inconsistency is documented. Congratulations if you were on board for his inspiring win last week, and he spoke like he was taking it in stride, but you can understand if he's looking ahead to his first Masters.
Phil Mickelson ... Withdrew from the Wednesday pro-am. Pulled an oblique muscle during his third round of the Valero Texas Open and withdrew one hole later.
Ryan Palmer ... A veritable roll of the dice. He's 3-for-7 at the SHO with all cuts made going for a top 25, but he blew up for an 82 on Sunday at TPC San Antonio and was televised receiving treatment for a sore hip.
Geoff Ogilvy ... The last thing I want to do is drop him in here on the heels of a T11 at TPC San Antonio, but he hasn't linked top 30s on the PGA TOUR since August of 2012. Also missed the cut at the SHO in his last two trips (2010, 2013).
Russell Henley ... Shaping up as the classic case of a guy that got hot at the right time when others folded. His playoff victory at The Honda Classic remains his only top-45 finish in a full-field event since July.
Louis Oosthuizen ... Trap. He'll be a popular choice among those that look only at course history what with top 20s in the last three editions, but he's been dogged by a back injury that flared at the Match Play and forced him out prior of the Honda. Then tied for 40th in the no-cut WGC-Cadillac and missed the cut at Copperhead.
Ernie Els ... Unfortunately, the form that a solo fourth at the Match Play masked in the first three rounds in which he was over par has continued. The Big Easy is over par in his last nine stroke-play rounds dating back to the Northern Trust Open. He's 4-for-4 at the Golf Club of Houston with two top 15s, but current form will corner course history buffs that love a Hall of Famer.
Rickie Fowler ... Still scuffling in stroke play. His solo third at the Match Play accounts for over 70 percent of his season's earnings as he finished outside the top 30 in seven of his other nine starts, four of which resulting in a missed cut. He's 2-for-2 at the Golf Club of Houston, but sans a top 60.
Brendon de Jonge ... Hasn't really missed a beat despite a rib injury, but hasn't logged a top 30 in his last seven starts. A T10 at last year's SHO was his first top 30 in six tries.
Jeff Overton ... Returned to competition last week following a wrist injury, but missed the cut by six. It extended his dry spell without a top 35 to six consecutive starts. Note this before leaning too heavily on a T4 at the Golf Club of Houston in 2012.
Martin Kaymer ... First appearance since missing the cut in 2010. Zero top 30s in six starts in 2014.
Johnson Wagner ... Course history buffs will take it back to 2008 when he recorded his first PGA TOUR victory here, but he's 3-for-11 this season with no better than a T25 at the Humana Challenge. Also hasn't cracked the top 25 in any of his five return trips since his breakthrough.
John Huh ... In the 2014 portion of the season, he's 2-for-7 with one top 70 (T35, Northern Trust). Hasn't broken par in his last three rounds at the Golf Club of Houston.
Keep an Eye On
Charl Schwartzel ... Hasn't competed since sharing ninth at Doral due to the birth of his first child. Only notable finish at the Golf Club of Houston was a T3 in 2010. New daddies tend to appreciate hitting the road to find a normal sleeping pattern again, but there's another level of emotional motivation that goes with the life experience.
Webb Simpson ... After a sparkling start to the season, he's hit a wall sandwiching a third-round knockout at the Match Play with no better than a T47 in three stroke-play starts. Only top 40 at the Golf Club of Houston was a T16 in his last appearance three years ago.
Steve Stricker ... Just his third start of the season, all since the Match Play. This week's objective is to warm up for the Masters, so we'll take advantage of the viewpoint. Four top 15s among six cuts made at the SHO.
Ben Crane ... With top 30s in each of the last four editions of this tournament, he'll be a popular choice in weekly salary games, but he's gone six consecutive starts this season without one. And while he survived the cut in the five during that stretch, he hasn't closed with anything better than a 73 at Copperhead.
Returning to Competition
Erik Compton ... Officially withdrew from the Valero Texas Open with an illness, but his Facebook page stated that it was not "due to health reasons." Whatever the case, he's ready to avenge a WD from last year's Shell Houston Open that he acknowledged was, indeed, an illness ("fighting a cold"). As noted in this space last week, he's never recorded a top-30 finish in Texas.
Bryce Molder ... Withdrew at the turn in his second round in San Antonio, citing personal reasons. After starting the season with eight consecutive cuts made, he's 1-for-3 with a T35 at Bay Hill. Both of his cuts made in five starts at the Golf Club of Houston are top 20s.
Tommy Gainey ... Made it 26 holes into the Valero Texas Open before departing with an elbow injury. Shortly thereafter, he tweeted a photo of his 5-iron that was damaged while aggravating the injury and wrote, "Hit a rock on 8 and it took a piece of club with it. Hurt my elbow again." He withdrew during the Puerto Rico Open with the same issue, but snuck a T44 at Copperhead in between.
Morgan Hoffmann ... Food poisoning forced him out prior to the third round in San Antonio last week. Making his debut at the Shell Houston Open.
Ricky Barnes ... Called it quits in San Antonio before his second round due to a sore back. Only notable finish of late was a T9 in Puerto Rico. Nothing better than a T40 (2009) in four looks at the Golf Club of Houston.
Nick Watney ... A back injury forced him to withdraw before the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, and then his first child (a daughter) was born the following day.
This is one of those weeks in which I'm distributing the wealth evenly across my lineups. Some label this as hedging, and I understand the stereotype, but hedging is for wimps. My decisions are geared to the formats. For example, I'd have loved to wiggle Henrik Stenson -- No. 2 in my Power Rankings -- into my four-man crew in the PGATOUR.COM, but I went with youth, form and an added angle to make noise to climb in the Experts where I'm attempting to defend my 2013 title.
Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth are my picks in that game, the first two of whom are also available to me in a one-and-done. While tempted by both, I'm plugging in the Swede, who will turn 38 years of age on Saturday. That he slowed down following a historic 2013 cannot be criticized. Sometimes when you climb two mountains in the same season, you need to enjoy the views and exhale. In this global sport, there isn't much time for that, but he's firing on all cylinders again. His success at the Golf Club of Houston clinched my decision.
There's a plethora of dynamite choices on the board. In addition to the aforementioned, you can just go down the line in my Power Rankings. If there's any reason to withhold pulling the handle on any, consider holstering Luke Donald and Hunter Mahan for later. Donald is pure class, but there will be spots later where he'll sit atop your short list. And Mahan is rebounding from lower back pain. Of course, he'll be handy to have later as well.
Two-man games would be wise to take a look at the likes of Charley Hoffman and Seung-yul Noh. If you need a spark, then burn Steve Stricker now instead of during the John Deere Classic when everyone else will.
Valero Texas Open: Jordan Spieth; 10th; $167,400.00; 75.000 FedExCup points
Overall Record: 17-for-20
FedExCup points: 920.129
Top 5s: 2
Top 10s: 7
Top 25s: 11
Missed Cuts: 3