Fantasy Island: Shell Houston Open

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 29, 2011, 8:57 pm

GolfChannel.com experts offer up their picks for the the Shell Houston Open. Each week a panel of experts will offer up their picks from three groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard and Randall Mell; contributors John Hawkins and Charlie Rymer; editorial director Jay Coffin; 'Morning Drive' hosts Gary Williams and Erik Kuselias; contributor Win McMurry; writer for NBCSports.com's ProGolf Talk, Ryan Ballengee; and RotoWorld.com's Rob Bolton.


You can battle the experts and play along as well. Just click here to get into the game.

2007 Shell Houston Open

*Ranking among the 16 GolfChannel.com experts

Rex Hoggard

Rex Hoggard
Score (Rank*):
3,687,489 (3)
Group A:
Hunter Mahan

Group B:
Steve Marino

Group C:
Johnson Wagner

After Nick Watney, Mahan may be the circuit’s most consistent player and we like the transplanted Texan’s odd-year trend in Houston (T-5 in 2007, missed cut in 2008, T-6 in 2009, missed cut in 2010).

Forget Sunday’s struggles at Bay Hill, Marino is quickly establishing himself as the best Tour player without a title; and, like Dustin Johnson, Marino’s best asset may be a very short memory.

Showed signs of coming out of his post-Mexico victory funk at Bay Hill with a closing 69 and won by two in 2008 at Redstone to get into the Masters so the place is filled with good vibes.

Randall Mell

Randall Mell
Score (Rank):
1,638,356 (15)
Group A:
Lee Westwood

Group B:
Anthony Kim

Group C:
Fred Couples



Time to step it up and show he's ready to win his first major.
 
Winning memories spark a return to Kim's better form.
 
Houston this week, the Masters next, Couples has some serious mojo working.



Charlie Rymer

Charlie Rymer
Score (Rank):
2,566,260 (10)
Group A:
Matt Kuchar

Group B:
Tommy Gainey

Group C:
Fred Couples

Kuchar is the most consistent player on the PGA Tour. He certainly will pick up another top-10, and isn't a win a top-10?

Gainey has been close a couple of times this season and if he can drive the ball just a bit better he will pick up that first win.

Couples in Houston is always a solid pick.


John Hawkins

John Hawkins
Score (Rank):
3,298,804 (7)
 Group A:
Hunter Mahan

Group B:
Anthony Kim

Group C:
John Rollins





Texas guy will have on gameface before year's first major.

If Houston's strip clubs don't floor him, he just might repeat.

It just feels like one of those weeks when he resurfaces.





Jay Coffin

Jay Coffin
Score (Rank):
2,550,715 (11)
Group A:
Matt Kuchar

Group B:
Steve Marino

Group C:
Kyle Stanley
I need some cash so I'm going with Mr. Consistent. Even if he doesn't win he should top-10, which I'll take at this point.

This pick may backfire, but he was close last week at Bay Hill and I'm betting he'll jump back on the horse and contend quickly.

Makes a ton of birdies and has had a great season with only one missed cut, and he tied for 12th last week at Bay Hill.

Gary Williams

Gary Williams
Score (Rank):
3,038,332 (8)
Group A:
Matt Kuchar

Group B:
J.B. Holmes

Group C:
Roland Thatcher

This top-10 machine has five of them in seven starts in 2011 but is due for a win. Finished T-8 at Redstone in 2010.

Has not played in the Masters since 2008 and missed out at the last moment in 2009 in his playoff loss at Redstone. Maybe the most motivated guy this week.

Has quietly posted a pair of top-10s in 2011, including a T-5 at Innisbrook. He would love to play in his first Masters next week.

Erik Kuselias

Erik Kuselias
Score (Rank):
3,922,455 (2)
Group A:
Lee Westwood

Group B:
J.B. Holmes

Group C:
Fred Couples


A pair of top-11 finishes at Redstone Golf Club in the last two years and he is the highest ranked player in the field. Can’t forget about this guy.

After failing to move up the world ranking at Bay Hill, this is his last chance to earn an invite to Augusta. Lost in a playoff at Redstone in 2009

Two top-4 finishes at Redstone in the last three years and has shown he can still play on the PGA Tour with his T-7 at Riviera last month.

Win McMurry

Win McMurry
Score (Rank):
5,936,866 (1)
Group A:
Hunter Mahan

Group B:
D.J. Trahan

Group C:
Chad Campbell
It’s been feast or famine in Houston for the newlywed who now has Texas roots (his wife is a former Dallas Cowboy cheerleader). Mahan has racked up top-10s this year in half of his eight starts.
 
He’s teed it up at the SHO two times since 2007 with T11 in 2010 and a eighth-place finish in 2007. He’s coming off his best finish of the season, a T12 at Bay Hill.
 
The Texas native has a T-2 and a T-25 in his last three starts in Houston and I think we’ll see him play well this week in his return to the Southwest.

Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee
Score (Rank):
451,083 (16)
Group A:
Lee Westwood

Group B:
Steve Marino

Group C:
Fred Couples

HeIn the last two years in this event, he has gone T-11 and then T-8. That's a great record. Add in Westwood's drive to make the Masters his first major title and he seems keen on succeeding.

His finish at Bay Hill was impressive, even if in defeat. And he has two top 20 finishes in this event the last two years. When I say he could win any week, I mean it.

Call it sentimental, but Couples in a hometown event seems like something to lock onto this week. He wasn't great last year, but was a top 5 finish in the two prior years.

Rob Bolton

Rob Bolton
Score (Rank):
2,525,763 (12)
Group A:
Matt Kuchar

Group B:
Marc Leishman

Group C:
Bobby Gates


Co-leads the PGA Tour with five top-10s. Ranks 10th in putting and eighth in scrambling, both premiums this week.
 
Proven affinity with: 1) the Lone Star State, where he recorded his lone Nationwide Tour win and has three top-12 paydays on the PGA Tour; 2) wind, which will blow this week. Also coming off a T-3 at breezy Bay Hill.
 
Lives nearby, in The Woodlands. Texas A&M product proved that he can handle the wind at the Mayakoba (T-5) and in Puerto Rico (solo sixth). Ranks 18th in distance off the tee, which is beneficial this week.



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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

Getty Images

McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.