HUMBLE, Texas – After careful consideration, Augusta National has decided that it will still host the Masters next week, even without Tiger Woods.
That’s good news, because there is no mourning here at the Shell Houston Open. Players are too busy multitasking. One eye on the Golf Club of Houston, the other on Augusta.
A few similarities exist between the two tracks, which helps explain why 46 players in this week’s field will also head to Georgia on Sunday night.
You might have heard that the Golf Club of Houston is long (7,400 yards) and fairly generous off the tee. That there is virtually no rough. That the greens are quick and shaved down toward the water. That the fairways are mowed from green to tee.
But let’s not get carried away. This golf course is flatter than Augusta. There is water on more than half the holes. Players are hitting just as many drivers as 3-woods. Augusta has lots of chipping areas around the green; here, there is lots of sand and water.
If these guys truly wanted to spend their week playing a course that simulated the holes and conditions at Augusta National, they would probably just, you know, go play Augusta National.
“They do as much as they can to replicate it,” Steve Stricker said Wednesday, “but it’s tough. It’s one of the most unique places in the world.”
OK, so the players are here for something else.
That reason: Because it’s one final chance to test their game under tournament pressure … assuming, of course, that they can move into contention.
“And,” Rory McIlroy said, “that’s ultimately what you want to do again next week.”
Sure, that’s the ultimate goal, but recent history shows that good play here doesn’t exactly portend Masters success.
Consider this: Of the seven Houston Open winners since 2007, Anthony Kim (2010) is the only one who went on to finish in the top 10 at Augusta.
Or how about this: Only once in the past six years – and just five times since 1997 – has the Masters champion had a top 10 in his final start before Augusta.
And, OK, one more: Fifteen of the last 28 major winners have played the week before a major. Five had top 10s in those tune-up starts. Only two, Tiger and Phil, have won back to back.
The double dip is even more rare at Augusta – Mickelson is the only player in the last 25 years to accomplish the feat. Previously, Sandy Lyle (1988), Art Wall Jr. (1959) and Ralph Guldahl (1939) won the Masters after also winning the previous week.
That’s not to say that an 80-80 start at this tournament won’t lead to a similar implosion at Augusta because, well, it probably will. Rather, consider this a history lesson, a reminder not to pick your Masters favorites based on the first page of the Houston Open leaderboard. If forced to choose, players would like to peak next week.
Oh, and speaking of Masters favorites, McIlroy is one of five top-10 players in this week’s field.
A year ago, he played Houston, failed to break 70 and signed up for the Texas Open at the deadline, desperate for more reps.
Now? He arrives with eight top 10s in his last 10 stroke-play starts, no longer worried about his contracts or his equipment, and the odds-on favorite for the Masters.
“Everything is just more settled,” he said.
In three previous appearances at the Golf Club of Houston, McIlroy hasn’t finished better than 19th. Despite that sub-par record, he praised the Augusta-like setup, describing it as “brilliant.”
Even more brilliant? If Houston serves as a springboard for Masters glory.