By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM fantasy columnist
For the first time during the FedExCup era, the Shell Houston Open is not scheduled the week before the Masters. This is because of an agreement next week's Valero Texas Open has with the PGA TOUR not to finish on Easter Sunday, which is March 31. Despite this one-time wrinkle, Redstone Country Club's Tournament Course will be crafted to mimic the setup at Augusta National, host of the season's first major in two weeks.
For most intents and purposes, the similarities will be seen and felt on and around the green complexes at Redstone. Undulating putting surfaces average 6,700 square feet and could exceed 13 on the Stimpmeter. Chipping areas are prevalent around many greens. In fact, this feature was expanded around the right side of the 18th green where the bunker was reduced. The fairway bunker at 18 was also minimized. Areas behind the greens at the final two holes were raised. All changes result in better viewing for those onsite.
The par-3 16th hole has been shaved by 16 yards on the scorecard. Now a 188-yard hole with a new player bridge from tee to green, Redstone's overall yardage of 7,441 is just six more than Augusta National. It's also the first time in its eight-year run as host that Redstone has experienced a modification in distance anywhere. This commitment went hand-in-hand with Shell's announced extension two years ago as title sponsor through 2017.
Redstone's scoring average last year was 71.45, lowest in its history at host. It ranked as the sixth-easiest course last year in greens in regulation, registering a clip of 71.77 percent. When guys missed GIR, they found comfort in a scrambling rate of 57.88 percent, the highest yield since the Tournament Course was first employed in 2006.
Any course advertising itself as a primer for Augusta National isn't without its challenges on one's irons and short game. During each of the last four seasons, Redstone has ranked as the most difficult track on TOUR in scrambling from the rough. Last year's clip of 41.20 percent is the highest of the span. Redstone also ranked fourth-most difficult in one-putt percentage at 35.07. This suggests that a strong combination of hitting it close and dialed-in putting will prove more valuable than it already is.
Its quartet of par 5s -- holes 4, 8, 13 and 15 -- serves as one of the more daunting sets of three-shot holes on the schedule. Collectively, they averaged 4.80 in 2012, ninth-highest on TOUR. Redstone also ranked as the sixth-easiest course in three-putt avoidance at 2.26 percent, but that could be an anomaly since it hadn't checked in lower than 3.27 percent in any of the first six editions.
Customarily breezy conditions are expected throughout the week while a gradually increasing threat of inclement weather enters the picture on the weekend. High temperatures in the upper 70s will help temper the impact of early-spring humidity.
NOTE: For similar characteristics among all winners at Redstone since 2006, please look for an entry in The TOUR Report on Wednesday.
|Power Rankings: Shell Houston Open|