Fact Pack: Shell Houston Open


This week the PGA Tour heads to Texas for a final tune-up before the year's first major. Many players will look to make adjustments on a course designed to imitate conditions they will encounter at Augusta National; some players will be focused on winning the event and earning an invite down Magnolia Lane if they don't already have one. Whatever their mindset, players will be met with a stern test in Redstone GC, a lengthy course that will require accuracy on and around the greens. With that in mind, here is a look inside the numbers to see which players may contend for the title and help your Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge team in the process:

When it comes to this event, no one can match the track record of Fred Couples. The University of Houston alum has made the cut 18 times in this event, missing only in his debut in 1981. He has six top-10 finishes here, including a win in 2003. Coming off a Champions Tour win last week, Couples will hope to rekindle the form he had here in 2009 when he led after 54 holes before finishing T-3.

• Much like at Augusta National, the focus this week in Houston will be on par-5 scoring. Last year, Phil Mickelson played the longest holes on the course in a collective -14 for the week en route to victory, and capitalizing on the par-5 holes at Redstone has always been a prerequisite for success. Players like Johnson Wagner, who leads the Tour in par-5 scoring and won here in 2008, should be more than ready for the test.

• Mastery around the greens has been of great importance here in recent years. Each of the last three seasons, this event has ranked as the hardest on Tour for scrambling from the rough. This bodes well for Steve Stricker, who is currently second on Tour in that sub-category and has four top-11 finishes in his last five Houston starts.

Ernie Els takes one more shot at landing an invite to the Masters this week, as his strong play has continued since upsetting Luke Donald in the WGC Match Play event last month. Els is certainly in good form with two straight top-5 finishes, but his 'win or else' mentality may make him a risky fantasy start this week.

Bud Cauley continues to impress during his first full year on Tour, backing up his T-16 finish at Transitions with a T-4 showing at Bay Hill. Unlike some players in the field, Cauley will not be playing in the Masters. Should he rank in the top 20 in the field in driving distance and strokes gained putting, though - as he did last week - Cauley could contend for the final Augusta invite that will go to this week's winner.

• For the first time since 2009, Paul Casey will make a stop in Houston as part of his preparation for Augusta. That year, Casey averaged only 28.5 putts per round en route to a playoff victory over J.B. Holmes, to date his only PGA Tour win. Casey is still looking to regain that winning form, having made only two starts since returning from an off-season injury.

Brian Harman has been one of the most impressive rookies on Tour in 2012 - and not simply due to the 61 that he put up at the Honda Classic. Closing with a final round 68 in difficult conditions at Bay Hill on Sunday, Harman secured his fourth top-30 finish in his last five starts. A large key for Harman has been the flat stick; in three of his last four events he has been in the top 10 for the week in putts per GIR.

• Quietly, Kevin Stadler has compiled a rather consistent start to the 2012 season. Dating back to Pebble Beach, Stadler has posted five consecutive top-25 finishes, including a pair of top-10 showings in his last two starts. He is currently one of only 16 players on Tour with a stroke average below 70, and ranks in the top 20 in both overall scrambling and scrambling from the rough.

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