If the dress rehearsal goes badly the opening night can be a success. If a player struggles in the Houston Open that doesn’t rule out winning the US Masters. Justin Rose is the favourite for the Houston Open and a leading contender for Augusta next week. Players rarely win in the week before a major and then in the one that matters more. Winning could be a double-edged sword for Rose this week.
The tournament is being played at the Golf Club of Houston in Humble and this is a regular host. The venue was known as Redstone Golf before a name change in 2013. The course has a par of 72 and measures 7,457 yards which is about average by modern standards. It is a conventional layout with two par 3s and 5s on each nine and 10 par 4s. The long holes are all in excess of 550 yards so there are no gimme birdies.
In the past when the course was known as Redstone it was one of the longest on Tour. Other tracks have been extended to stay up to date with equipment developments so its now not above average. The course still calls on a player to use his driver regularly so the big hitters have an edge. It is a significant advantage to be taking short irons into the undulating greens. Overall, the course has a classical design, with few tricks and players get what they deserve.
The Houston Open has been played in the week before the Masters since 2007. The date in the schedule is significant for Ian Poulter who must win this week to make the Masters field. After reaching the last eight of the WGC Match Play he is 51st in the world rankings and the top 50 are invited to Augusta. Poulter has one last chance to make the field for the first major of the season but is 100/1 to win this week.
Jordan Spieth will always have an affinity with Augusta National but he also has some demons to address. He won the Masters in 2015 and looked home and hosed the following year. He made a total pig’s ear of the back nine and Danny Willett took advantage to win his first and only major to date. He could be a one-hit wonder but nobody can take his Green Jacket away and Willett goes to the Champions Dinner. Greg Norman and Rory McIlroy would give an arm and a leg for an invite.
The last five winners of the Houston Open are Russell Henley, Jim Herman, JB Holmes, Matt Jones and DA Points. None of those players would be on anybody’s short list of potential Masters champions. Spieth lost in a playoff in 2015 as a relative unknown and won the Masters the following week. However, the Houston Open is generally a poor form guide for the major a week later. Rose won’t try not to win but his focus will be elsewhere.
The 2013 US Open champion may feel he is owed a Masters. He has led over the back nine on Sunday in the past and lost in a playoff to Sergio Garcia last year. Whatever Rose produced it seemed destiny that Garcia would finally win his first major. Rose did nothing wrong in the heat of battle under extreme pressure but Garcia holed one putt more when it was crucial than his Ryder Cup colleague. It could be Rose’s turn and a solid tournament in Houston will do no harm.
Since 2008 the Houston Open has produced eight US champions, Jones is from Australia and Englishman Paul Casey won the tournament in 2009. His compatriot Rose may not emulate Casey but he could finally win the Masters Tournament.