The Shell Houston Open presents a fun and never-ending exercise for us as gamers and observers.
As familiar as we are with how a golfer describes how to score on a golf course, it's always imperative to take every bit of rhetoric with a grain of salt. Is he referring to the strengths of his game? Maybe his weaknesses? Maybe what he saw in his group, or read about? Maybe he's trying to fuel confidence by going public with his game plan. And so on.
If there's a face with the narrative, it's how we'll occasionally hear about a golfer winning despite losing strokes to the field in putting. It sounds wrong because how we've been educated on the merit of the stroked-gained data, but even that new-age approach isn't airtight.
Rory McIlroy clinched the 2016 FedExCup with a victory at the 2016 TOUR Championship where he lost fractions of a stroke to the field in putting. It's one of any number of ways to prevail on the PGA TOUR, as it should be. Now, he still ranked 13th among what were only 29 who completed the tournament, but when he sits down for his pre-tournament presser this year (assuming he qualifies, of course), don't be surprised if he emphasizes the value of hitting greens in regulation and knocking it close. He checked in at a respective second and fourth in GIR and proximity to the hole at East Lake en route to victory.
The Golf Club of Houston notably has hosted a pair of winners who finished last in their fields in fairways hit. Both Anthony Kim (2010) and J.B. Holmes (2015) ranked last in driving accuracy the weeks the won the tournament, both surviving in a playoff to boot. They are two of the dozens of touring professionals who are comfortable pretty much no matter where they find their ball, so keep an ear out for anyone interviewed this week who says it's crucial to find fairways this week. Statistically, it isn't and gamers are not advised to pour any value into it, but if anyone playing for his livelihood is comfortable in proclaiming that that's what it takes to succeed, understand his perspective.
Depending on the golfer, short and straight can work just as well and long and wayward just as well as a balance of both. This is proven by reviewing the formulas of just the last three winners in Houston.
Stat Jim Herman (2015) J.B. Holmes (2015) Matt Jones (2014) Distance of All Drives T56 1st 27th Driving Accuracy T16 71st T25 Greens in Regulation T10 T10 2nd Ball-Striking 10th T19 4th Proximity to the Hole 2nd 37th 51st Putting: Birdie-or-Better % 9th 10th 1st SG: Off-the-Tee 38th 13th 15th SG: Approach-the-Green 8th 3rd 29th SG: Around-the-Green 10th 50th 34th SG: Putting 4th 11th 1st SG: Tee-to-Green 8th 4th 20th Scrambling T4 T36 T28 Bogey Avoidance 4th T11 T1 Par-3 Scoring T11 T43 1st Par-4 Scoring T2 1st T5 Par-5 Scoring T12 T39 T14
Despite how a singular route is taken to the top, we still need to play to values in the aggregate. Although the Golf Club of Houston is a fair test, the ubiquitous wind in Texas is its primary defense, so it can be quite gettable in calm air. It's a par 72 with four par 5s and no intermediate rough, so it's bombs away, but piling up scoring opportunities is still the first checkpoint. This is why distance off the tee in any form is omitted from the identifiers below.
Undulating greens that could run as fast as 13 feet on the Stimpmeter step up as a close second in terms of defense, thus underscoring confidence upon arrival with the putter. The combination of distance control and accuracy on approach with paying off those shots is the ticket. And before you argue that it's the ticket every week, the Golf Club of Houston supports it with data that rules out splitting fairways and hitting it super long.
Golfers in this week’s field inside the top 10 in the following categories in last year’s Shell Houston Open:
* - Currently inside the top 50 on the PGA TOUR in the stat. (Golfers who haven't logged enough rounds are not tagged.)
Greens in Regulation
Rank Golfer (Tournament Finish)
1 *Rickie Fowler (T10)
T2 *Rafa Cabrera Bello (4th)
T2 *Charles Howell III (T7)
6 Henrik Stenson (2nd)
T7 *Lucas Glover (T57)
T7 Si Woo Kim (T13)
T7 Ben Martin (T52)
T10 Zac Blair (T38)
T10 *Russell Henley (T5)
T10 *Jim Herman (Win)
T10 Geoff Ogilvy (T46)
T10 Chez Reavie (T7)
Strokes Gained: Putting
Rank Golfer (Tournament Finish)
2 *Russell Henley (T5)
3 Kyle Reifers (T7)
4 Jim Herman (Win)
5 Johnson Wagner (T13)
6 *Phil Mickelson (T13)
7 *Daniel Berger (T5)
8 Chez Reavie (T7)
9 Si Woo Kim (T13)
Putting: Birdie-or-Better Percentage
Rank Golfer (Tournament Finish)
1 Andrew Loupe (T46)
3 *Daniel Berger (T5)
4 *Phil Mickelson (T13)
5 *Jordan Spieth (T13)
6 Kyle Reifers (T7)
7 Henrik Stenson (2nd)
9 Jim Herman (Win)
10 Kyle Stanley (T19)
The Golf Club of Houston has hosted the Shell Houston Open since 2006, so the data below reflects on the tournament history since.
It's rare that I slot a golfer with only one top 10 in Horses for Courses, but Charley Hoffman's overall record is too good to hide in Other Signs of Comfort. He's a worthy complement in any fantasy lineup this week.
NOTE: The groups below are comprehensive to assist in data mining. Inclusion doesn't imply endorsement in any fantasy game.
Horses for the Courses
Selected golfers with multiple cuts made sorted by rank on the tournament's money list.
Rank Player Cuts Made/Starts Top 10s Best Finish 1 J.B. Holmes 5/6 3 Win 4 Phil Mickelson 8/9 2 Win 5 Henrik Stenson 5/5 3 2nd/T2 13 Matt Kuchar 4/5 2 P2 16 Cameron Tringale 6/6 3 4th 17 Russell Henley 4/4 3 4th 23 Charles Howell III 7/9 3 T5 27 Keegan Bradley 5/6 3 T4 28 Charley Hoffman 10/10 1 T6 42 Rickie Fowler 5/5 2 6th
Sorted by best finish, selected golfers who are either finally finding form on the course or are still relatively new to the tournament but have enjoyed some success.
Player Cuts Made/Starts Best Finish Jim Herman 4/6 Win (2016) Jordan Spieth 3/4 P2 (2015) Rafa Cabrera Bello 1/1 4th (2016) Daniel Berger 2/2 T5 (2016) Chez Reavie 5/7 T7 (2016) Kyle Reifers 4/4 T7 (2016) Ryan Palmer 5/9 T7 (2014) Sean O'Hair 3/5 T10 (2016) Patrick Reed 2/3 T10 (2016)
Other Signs of Comfort
Sorted by most recent top 10s, selected golfers for whom it's been a few years since their last.
Player Cuts Made/Starts Top 10s Last Best Finish Johnson Wagner 7/10 3 2015 (P2) Win Matt Jones 2/7 1 2014 (Win) Win Shawn Stefani 3/5 1 2014 (5th) 5th Retief Goosen 3/4 1 2014 (T7) T7 D.A. Points 6/9 1 2013 (Win) Win Billy Horschel 1/2 1 2013 (T2) T2 Ben Crane 7/9 1 2013 (T4) T4 Stewart Cink 4/5 1 2013 (T6) T6 Kevin Chappell 2/5 1 2013 (T6) T6 Jason Kokrak 2/5 1 2013 (9th) 9th Lee Westwood 7/9 2 2013 (T10) T8 Hunter Mahan 7/11 4 2012 (Win) Win Carl Pettersson 5/7 1 2012 (2nd) 2nd Bud Cauley 2/2 1 2012 (T8) T8 Aaron Baddeley 5/10 1 2011 (T4) T4 David Hearn 3/6 1 2011 (T6) T6 Robert Allenby 3/7 1 2011 (T6) T6 Greg Chalmers 3/5 1 2011 (T8) T8 Vaughn Taylor 5/8 1 2010 (P2) P2 Bryce Molder 3/8 1 2010 (T8) T8 Jason Bohn 4/7 1 2009 (T6) T6 Geoff Ogilvy 3/6 2 2009 (T6) T2 Chad Campbell 6/8 1 2008 (T2) T2 Bob Estes 6/7 3 2008 (T6) 2nd Adam Scott 2/3 1 2007 (Win) Win Stuart Appleby 6/10 2 2007 (T2) Win Robert Garrigus 5/6 1 2007 (T5) T5 K.J. Choi 4/6 1 2006 (T6) T6