Hunter Mahan returns to Redstone to defend his Shell Houston Open title. (Sullivan/Getty Images)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
FIELD: Shell Houston Open
• COURSE: Redstone Golf Club (Tournament), 7,457 yards, par 72. The 2005 Rees Jones design, built over the site of an earlier country club, earns praise for its ability to approximate Augusta National’s setup in the days leading to the Masters. Redstone features shaved banks, collection areas around the greens and a Stimpmeter reading of 13 or more. The 484-yard 18th, with water running along the entire left side, consistently ranks among the PGA TOUR’s toughest closing holes.
• FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 500 points.
• CHARITY: The Houston Golf Association, which has funded more than $860,000 in college scholarships since 1996. Proceeds also support the HGA’s junior golf program and The First Tee of Greater Houston.
• FIELD WATCH: Current world No. 1 Rory McIlroy returns to Redstone for the first time since 2010, joining defending champion Hunter Mahan in a field that features 11 of the top 25 in this week’s world rankings. … Reigning FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker also added Houston to his schedule, playing back-to-back in his return from a rib injury. Other top-10 entrants include 2011 champion Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen and Steve Stricker. … International players using Houston as a Masters tuneup include South Africa’s George Coetzee and Branden Grace, Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen and Ireland’s Shane Lowry.
• 72-HOLE RECORD: 266, Curtis Strange and Lee Trevino (1980 at Woodlands CC), Vijay Singh (2002 at TPC Woodlands). Redstone record: 268, Phil Mickelson (2011).
• 18-HOLE RECORD: 62, Ron Streck (3rd round, 1981 at Woodlands CC), Fred Funk (3rd round, 1992 at TPC Woodlands). Redstone record: 63, Johnson Wagner (1st round, 2008), Adam Scott (1st round, 2008), Jimmy Walker (1st round, 2011), Phil Mickelson (3rd round, 2011).
• LAST YEAR: Hunter Mahan became the first two-time winner of 2012, using a 1-under-par 71 to overtake a faltering Louis Oosthuizen and win by a stroke. Oosthuizen took a two-shot advantage into the final round, but two double bogeys on Redstone’s front nine knocked him out of the lead. Mahan grabbed a share of the lead with a birdie at No.9, then stood alone after Carl Pettersson bogeyed No.10. Ernie Els finished six shots back, missing his last-ditch bid to get into the Masters. He left without an invitation for the first time since 1993.
• STORYLINES: Making his final start before the Masters, McIlroy hopes to build momentum from his finish two weeks ago at Doral. A final-round 65 lifted him to a tie for eighth. … Oosthuizen, who followed Houston with a playoff loss at Augusta National, also is running out of time to kick his game into gear. He has missed two of three cuts on U.S. soil this year and tied for 33rd at Trump Doral, where they don’t have a cut. … This is the final week for players not already in the Masters field to qualify via the top 50 in the world ranking. No.57 Charles Howell III and No.58 Henrik Stenson have longshot chances.
• SHORT CHIPS: Jordan Spieth makes his first start as a special temporary member. The 19-year-old Texan gained status with a runner-up finish and tie for seventh at Tampa Bay. … Mark O’Meara will play on a sponsor exemption, his first start in Houston since 1994. The Champions Tour pro moved to the area three years ago. … The Shell Houston Open has crowned a winner 21 times in playoffs, trailing only the U.S. Open. Two winners were decided in extra holes since the event moved to Redstone – Paul Casey (2009) and Anthony Kim (2010). … Though the tournament dates back to 1922, it has seen just one back-to-back winner – Vijay Singh in 2004-05.
• TELEVISION: Thursday-Friday, 4-6 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 1-3 p.m. (GC), 3-6 p.m. (NBC).
• PGA TOUR NETWORK: Thursday-Friday, 1-7 p.m. ET. Saturday-Sunday, noon-6 p.m.