One year ago this week, Shell Oil Company announced a five-year renewal as title sponsor of the Shell Houston Open through 2017. Shell is the third-longest running tournament sponsor on the schedule. The event to which its name is attached possesses some serious roots dating back to 1946 when Byron Nelson won the inaugural.
World Golf Hall of Famers have claimed 22 victories in the 64 editions of the tournament. That's over one-third of the list of champions. After Nelson, the other winners already in the World Golf Hall of Fame are Bobby Locke (1947), Cary Middlecoff (1950, 1953), Jack Burke, Jr. (1952, 1959), Arnold Palmer (1957, 1966), Bob Charles (1963), Roberto de Vicenzo (1968), Hubert Green (1971), Gene Littler (1977), Gary Player (1978), Curtis Strange (1980, 1986, 1988), Ray Floyd (1985), Payne Stewart (1995) and Vijay Singh (2002, 2004, 2005).
After three years at Redstone's Member Course, the event shifted to the Tournament Course in 2006. One year later, it assumed the role as a primer for the Masters. And make no mistake, Redstone and the Shell Houston Open have embraced their position on the calendar.
The similarities between the setup of the Tournament Course and Augusta National Golf Club are well-documented, and its course profile fulfills the intent. For example, at 7,457 yards, Redstone measures only 32 yards longer than ANGC. Both are par 72s with premiums on hitting greens in regulation, scrambling and scoring on the par 5s.
A year ago, Redstone ranked 35th of all PGA TOUR events in GIR at 70.10 percent. That translates into plentiful birdie opportunities on surfaces that average a healthy 6,700 square feet. However, the overall scoring average was just 71.74, and that was the first time in its brief tenure that it has checked in under par.
Redstone isn't without its perplexities either. Its last two champions have split an aggregate 53 (of 112) fairways (47.32 percent). Anthony Kim infamously hit a field-worst 23 en route to his playoff victory in 2010. Mickelson found 30 last year, second-fewest of the six winners. However, his 17-under 271 for the week is the tournament low at the course.
Further emphasizing the premium on hitting greens, Redstone has ranked as the hardest course in scrambling from the rough in each of the last three years. Additionally, it sat a sturdy 15th in scrambling overall at 54.72 percent last year. It was inside the top 10 in both 2009 and 2010.
The makeup for success is varied as it is at most of the longer tracks on TOUR, but contenders will likely share a high percentage of greens hit and a tidy week with their putters. Meanwhile, anyone in the hunt in the final round is unlikely to win with a birdie at the par-4 18th hole. There were only five on Sunday last year. For the week, the hole averaged 4.305, eighth-highest among finishing holes in non-majors. The par-4 17th is no bargain either as it averaged 4.139 last year and yielded only two birdies in the finale.
The omnipresent winds of south Texas are perennially a concern, but they weren't much of a challenge until the final round last year. This week's forecast appears similarly benign, but locals know better. The threat of rain and thunderstorms enters the picture on Friday and could linger throughout the weekend.
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|Power Rankings: Shell Houston Open|
In 2012, our expert will be publishing his list of players who didn't quite make the top 10 for that particular week. Here are five other players Rob Bolton likes at the Shell Houston Open:
11. Kevin Stadler ... Hasn't played since sharing seventh in Puerto Rico. It was his sixth consecutive finish that improved on the previous. Top 25s in his last five starts. Ranks 11th on the PGA TOUR in scrambling. Tied for sixth here in 2010.
12. Louis Oosthuizen ... Took a breather after sharing 20th place at the Transitions where he closed with three consecutive 68s and only one bogey on his last 54 holes. Tied for 16th here last year.
13. Henrik Stenson ... Found a groove in his last four starts, with a T3 in Puerto Rico and three other top 25s, the first of which occurred in Dubai. Given his two-year tailspin, it also qualifies as a surprise. Would rank 43rd on TOUR in greens hit and second in scrambling.
14. Hunter Mahan ... Hasn't posted a top 10 in his last four stroke-play starts, but he's logged three top 25s. He's alternated three top 10s with two missed cuts at Redstone since 2007. Currently second on the PGA TOUR in total driving and 29th in greens in regulation.
15. John Senden ... Cooled with a T38 at the Transitions where he couldn't get putts to drop in his last three rounds. Currently fourth on TOUR in total driving and third in greens hit. That helps explain why he's 4-for-4 at Redstone with a pair of top 25s.