Expert picks: Shell Houston Open


The PGA Tour heads to the Lone Star state as players make their final preparations before Augusta. Each week a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four 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, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin;'s Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' hosts Gary Williams and Erik Kuselias; and Golf Talk Central contributor Ryan Ballengee.

Ryan Ballengee

Group 1: Steve Stricker: In his last five starts, he has been in the top 11 four times. He was T-8 in his last start at Doral.

Group 2: J.B. Holmes: He closed with a 68 in very tough conditions at Bay Hill to finish T-29. Was runner-up here in 2009.

Group 3: Bud Cauley: Has found his form again with T-16 and T-4 finishes in his last two starts.

Group 4: Brian Harman: Harman has top-15 finishes in two of his last three starts. He's playing some of the most consistent golf on Tour.

Win McMurry

Group 1: Steve Stricker: Going with a sure-bet pick in Group 1 this week (I need the points!). Stricker has three top-10s in four starts this year, plus four top-11s in his last five starts at Redstone.

Group 2: Seung-Yul Noh: I love the solid play we've seen from him since the Sony. Only two missed cuts in nine starts, plus he is coming off a strong T-20 finish at Bay Hill.

Group 3: Bud Cauley: Can't believe Bud is in Group 3 - great value here as he enters Houston off a T-4 at Arnie's and a T-16 the week before in Tampa. Wouldn't be surprised to see him surge to the top of the leaderboard Sunday, just in time for that last Masters' invite.

Group 4: Colt Knost: This Texan showed us a glimpse of his stellar game last month in Mexico where he tied for third. Back in his home state this week, Colt has the opportunity to flourish.

Gary Williams

Group 1: Hunter Mahan: It's been feast or famine for him in eight career starts in Houston, finishing in the top 11 half the time and missing the cut the other half. He's looking to recapture the form that won him the WGC Match Play as he looks forward to Augusta National.

Group 2: Seung-Yul Noh: This accomplished Tour rookie has made the cut in seven of nine starts in 2012, including a T-20 finish last week. He made the cut in all three majors he played in 2011 and is well aware that a win this week will earn him an invitation to his first Masters.

Group 3: Bud Cauley: He's gone from college to the PGA Tour without Q-School, and he too is looking for an invitation to his first Masters with a win. With three top-5 finishes in his first 18 starts on Tour, Cauley is knocking at the door of his first win.

Group 4: Brian Harman: Another impressive rookie who has played very well this year. Harman has four top-26 finishes in his last five starts, with the highlight being a 61 at PGA National en route to a T-12 finish.

Erik Kuselias

Group 1: Ernie Els: Of everyone in the field not already invited to the Masters, Els is the most motivated of all of them. His best finish in Houston is T-14 but I would not be shocked to see him win this week as he has been in the top 21 each of the last four weeks.

Group 2: Chris Kirk: After starting the season with a T-7 in Kapalua, Kirk has struggled to find the form he had in 2011. Last year, he finished runner-up here after almost three months without a top-10 finish; I would not be shocked to see him do it again in 2012.

Group 3: Bud Cauley: Been talking up this kid all year long and after a bit of a slow start in 2012 he has played well recently. He now has three top-5 finishes in just 18 career PGA Tour starts and I think his good play will continue this week.

Group 4: Fred Couples: Going from youth to experience on this pick in Couples. He won on the Champions Tour last week and is getting ready for the Masters where he has finished in the top 15 each of the last two years.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Hunter Mahan: A victory at the Shell Houston Open would give swing coach Sean Foley four victories in the last six weeks. Mahan has had success here, having finished in the top 10 in three out of his last five starts.

Group 2: Chris Kirk: Finished runner-up at Redstone last year when he led the field in greens in regulation and is re-energized following the birth of his first child earlier this month.

Group 3: Chad Campbell: A Texas native who has played well in Houston before (runner-up in 2008). Expect him to have a good week here.

Group 4: Brian Harman: The rookie has been solid all spring, with top-30 finishes in four of his last five starts including a stellar Sunday at Bay Hill that featured one of just two sub-70 scores (68) on a demanding golf course.

Jason Sobel

Group 1: John Senden: Ball-striker supreme is quietly having a very solid season, with three top-10s in his last five starts.

Group 2: Brian Davis: Walking the course during his practice round last week, I was told to keep an eye on Davis. Should have listened; he finished T-4.

Group 3: Henrik Stenson: Slowly but surely earning his way back into relevance on the PGA Tour, he could be a surprise to claim that last Masters spot.

Group 4: Brian Harman: Coming off a strong final round at Bay Hill, the rookie could be a popular final-group selection this week.

Rob Bolton

Group 1: Steve Stricker: In a game where each golfer represents a quarter of your roster, you grab the sure bet and hang on. They don't get any more reliable than this guy. Four top-11s in five starts at Redstone and still humming along at age 45.

Group 2: Jimmy Walker: In a surprisingly top-heavy-absent Group 2, I'm employing the same strategy as above. Walker has top-25s in four of nine starts this year and co-owns the course record at Redstone (63).

Group 3: Henrik Stenson: Nice find here given that he has top-25s in his last four starts worldwide, including a T-15 last week at Bay Hill. Shared third place in his only appearance at Redstone in 2009.

Group 4: Anders Hansen: I've leaned on him a couple times already this year, and he's a diamond in Group 4. First appearance at Redstone since 2008, but he has seven top-25s in his last 10 starts worldwide.

You can watch complete coverage of the Shell Houston Open Thursday-Friday live on Golf Channel from 3PM-6PM ET.