It cannot be easy for golfers poised to make their Masters debut to focus on the task at hand at the Houston Open, but that's part of the learning curve of being a touring professional.
As of Monday afternoon, 19 in the field at the Golf Club in Houston are exempt into the season's first major. Three will be first-timers at Augusta National — Tony Finau, Dylan Frittelli and Shubhankar Sharma. The winner of the Houston Open will also secure the final berth into the Masters, if not already eligible.
Not unlike how a few ballparks in spring training are constructed similarly to their Major League counterparts, the Tournament Course at the GC of Houston mimics and even replicates challenges that Masters qualifiers will face next week. The tournament in Humble, Texas, has entirely embraced its position on the schedule. Scroll beneath the ranking for more on the course and what it will take to prevail.
Thomas Pieters, Martin Kaymer, Brandt Snedeker and Corales champ Brice Garnett will be among the notables in Tuesday's Fantasy Insider.
It seems that we can't go a week without escaping aftermath of the historic hurricane season of 2017, but the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the Houston area was unfathomable. Almost 40 inches of rain fell at GC of Houston as the storm stalled over southeastern Texas. Amazingly, only the bunkers required rebuilding.
Now with Mother Nature’s cooperation, the over-seeded bermudagrass greens should touch at least 12 feet on the Stimpmeter as usual this week. It may be a day before the field of 144 feels it, though, as rain is all but guaranteed to fall on Wednesday. The forecast for the tournament proper is promising. Dry conditions will be accompanied by moderate-to-gusty winds and daytime highs in the upper 70s.
While it's a fair and consistent test as host of a stand-alone competition, the Tournament Course doubles down on its role as a Masters tune-up around the greens. Collections areas are prevalent around putting surfaces that average nearly 7,000 square feet. The greens are inviting as targets, but with noticeable undulations there are penalties to pay if missed. That includes when landing an approach in the wrong segment of the shortest grass. Last year's par-breaker conversion percentage (26.09) after hitting greens in regulation ranked seventh-lowest among all courses.
Russell Henley perfected the formula for success en route to his three-stroke victory in 2017. He missed only 15 greens in regulation all week and led the field in strokes gained: putting. He also ranked T4 in fairways hit, but that has never been a prerequisite on the stock par 72 that tips at 7,441 yards. With primary rough trimmed to just 1-1/4 inches, it's no wonder why Anthony Kim (2010) and J.B. Holmes (2015) captured victory despite finishing last in their respective fields in accuracy off the tee.
The par 5s are among the tougher sets among all courses on the PGA TOUR. That would seem to contradict the expectation of the par 5s at Augusta National, but as relative as those holes are connected to success at the Masters, the par 5s on both courses present a direct relationship in scoring average. That also contributes to the explanation as to why last year's field at the Tournament Course averaged just 71.982 for the week despite Henley's course-record-tying pace of 20-under 268.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton covers numerous angles in between tournaments. Look for his following contributions this week.
MONDAY: Rookie Ranking, Qualifiers, Reshuffle, Medical Extensions, Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: Facebook Live, One & Done
* — Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf presented by SERVPRO, which also publishes on Tuesdays.