The Shell Houston Open is one of my favorite events on Tour. The course is fantastic, and we have a stacked field of guys tuning up for the Masters. We have Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, John Rahm, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, and J.B. Holmes, to name some headliners. The golf course for the Shell Houston Open is Golf Club of Houston, a par-72 that stretches out to 7,441 yards. One cool thing about this event is that the venue does its best to replicate the course conditions that players are going to see next week at the Masters. Greens will be running around a 12 or 13 on the stimpmeter, and if the wind picks up (which it will) and the course can stay dry, the greens could get extremely greasy by Sunday. Distance will be at a premium this week because the rough isn't too long and bad drives won't be as penal as errant shots on some other courses. Also, many of the holes favor a draw for right-handed players or a fade for the left-handers (another similar aspect to Augusta).
One other thing to consider this week is narrative street. This week's winner will earn a spot into the Masters next week. Some of the high-caliber players who are not yet in the field at Augusta include: Charles Howell III, Graham DeLaet, Billy Horschel, Tony Finau, and Keegan Bradley. Finau is one that most intrigues me, but I'll be taking a close look at these players. Furthermore, there's the Texas narrative, with this field littered with players from Texas, who make their homes in Texas, or who went to school in Texas. Jordan Spieth jumps out of course, but also guys like Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker, Ryan Palmer, Hunter Mahan, and JJ Henry. Don't play Hunter Mahan.
*Note: Players who are in the field at next week's Masters could potentially WD or mail it in after a poor opening round. Dustin Johnson has already pulled out this week, and he likely won't be the only casualty.
I think scaling back your DFS exposure this week is a good idea, since we have great contests lined up for next week's Masters. But if you do play, focus on guys in solid form, and who have played well in the windy Texas conditions over the years. The main stats I'll be focusing on this week will be driving distance, strokes gained off-the-tee, strokes gained approach, and par 5 scoring.
Birdie or Better % (BoB%): There are really not many weeks where we aren't going to target birdie or better percentage, because that's what fantasy golf scoring is all about. Guys like Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, and Luke List come to mind in this week's field when targeting birdie makers. It's possible to have a player finish top-10 in fantasy points while not finishing anywhere close to the top-10 in the actual event.
Strokes Gained Approach (SG:APP): There's no doubt that ball-striking and GIR% are huge at this venue, and that's clear in past leaderboards. Because of the firm and windy conditions, the iron play is going to be a major key this week. There's going to be a slight edge to bombers, but targeting solid iron players is equally as improtant for me this week. If you have a player who sticks approach shots inside 10' consistently, he's going to shoot up the leaderboard and contend on Sunday. Some names that stand out in the field are Jordan Spieth, Kyle Stanley, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm, and Nick Watney.
Par-5 Scoring (P5): Par-5 scoring is going to be key this week, and I think the winner will be the player who leads the field in par-5 scoring. This could mean a bomber who makes a couple of eagles, or an elite wedge player. Either way, I think looking at par-5 scoring on the season will be a great pointer towards success this week. Some players who popped out to me were (again) Jordan Spieth, Kyle Stanley, Luke List, and Dustin Johnson. Also target Phil Mickelson and Hudson Swafford.
Strokes Gained Off-The-Tee (SG:OTT): I wanted to target driving distance alone this week, but I think SG:OTT is a more comprehensive metric overall. You're going to see an edge towards bombers in this stat, but it also considers extremely accurate drivers. I think it's a much better metric than total driving or even good drive percentage. Names that stood out to me in this field were (again) Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Kyle Stanley, and Hudson Swafford. Also consider Tony Finau and Justin Rose.
1. JON RAHM [YAHOO CLASS C] - WORLD RANKING: #26
1st, 16th, 5th, 3rd, 2nd in his last five starts (is that good?), so Rahm is the favorite here in Houston. Two of places were in World Golf Championships, so we know big fields don't intimidate us. No matter how I tweak my statistical model, Rahm is going to come out near the top. He's a dynamic ball-striker and birdie-maker, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him get win number two this week.
2. JORDAN SPIETH [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #6
Spieth is always extra motivated playing in his home state, but I have a little concern that he's looking ahead to Augusta. He finished 13th here last season, and 2nd the year before, so maybe that narrative is a little overblown. Spieth has cooled off a bit since his win at Pebble Beach, but I'm sure his game is in top shape leading up to the Masters. If this tournament becomes a chipping and putting contest, Spieth should come out on top.
3. RICKIE FOWLER [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #9
Rickie should also be looking ahead to Augusta, but I think he's keyed in on getting another win. Unlike many of the young guys on Tour, Fowler doesn't have a trophy room yet. He's still finding his closing gear, but he flashed signs at the Honda Classic. Fowler has two top-10s at Houston in the past three seasons, so look for him to be near the top of the leaderboard this week. He's sneaky long, crushes par-5s, and is a very solid ball-striker.
4. ADAM SCOTT [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #8
Scott is going a little under the radar this week, since his form has been mediocre the past two months. But any time we come to a ball-striker's venue, Scott should be at the top of your list. He's also a past winner here, so there are obviously good vibes for the Aussie in Houston. It's possible that Scott is focused on next week, but I think he'll be one of the studs taking this week's tune-up very seriously.
5. HENRIK STENSON [YAHOO CLASS C] - WORLD RANKING: #5
Like Scott, Stenson hasn't been in great form recently. He battled an illness and some poor iron play the past few weeks, resulting in a WD and a MC. Stenson needs to put a solid week together to get his confidence back for Augusta, so I think he'll be very focused this week. He's posted two runner-up finishes and a 3rd place finish at the Shell Houston Open previously.