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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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”