Shell betting guide
Dave Tindall's in-depth preview and best bets for this week's Shell Houston Open at Redstone in Texas
By Dave Tindall. Last Updated: 26/03/13 2:48pm
Who will in this year's showdown in Texas?
Over to you Rory....
Having lost his world number one slot to Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy gets an immediate chance to get it back when he tees it up in this week's Shell Houston Open in Texas.
This is McIlroy's final start before The Masters - as it is for several others in the field including Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson wishes it wasn't. For several years this event had been the final tournament before Augusta and many had seen it as ideal preparation with the course being set up in a similar style.
However, it's moved back a slot on the calendar and been replaced by the Texas Open. Mickelson describes that venue, TPC San Antonio, as "windy, tight" and "not really conducive to getting ready for Augusta" which means he won't tee it up there and hence he's denied his preferred warm-up of playing the week before a major.
Back to this week though and, despite the calendar shift, Redstone will again be set up to mimic Augusta.
As usual Sky Sports have live coverage of all four days, with the first broadcast beginning at 8pm (SS3 HD) on Thursday.
The 18th hole at Redstone
Obviously, it's impossible to entirely replicate famed Augusta National, but Redstone Country Club will do its best by setting the greens to ultra-quick (13 on the stimp) while players will be required to play lots of chips around the big and undulating putting surfaces. Like Augusta, par is 72 and the total yardages of the two course are virtually identical (Redstone is 7,457).
Temperatures are set to rise from the low 70s on the opening two days to 81 by Sunday although, with that, comes the threat of thunderstorms. The chance of rain on each weekend day is listed as 30%. Winds are set to be around 13mph on Thursday but falling to 8mph by the Sunday.
Last year - Hunter Mahan
Hunter Mahan: Narrow one-shot win in 2012
Victory here 12 months ago made Mahan the first player to win twice on the PGA Tour in 2012. He'd earlier won the WGC-Accenture Match Play. He'd started the day two shots behind Louis Oosthuizen but the South African, who would go on to lose a play-off at the following week's Masters, had a wretched opening 10 holes before recovering to finish third. Mahan was steady and a closing 71 was just enough to edge out Sweden's Carl Pettersson by a shot.
The leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Rory McIlroy (10/1): After his early-season troubles came to a head with his walk-off at The Honda, Rory did well to buckle down and finish eighth in the following week's WGC-Cadillac Championship courtesy of a closing 65. Whilst he continues to bed in with his new Nike clubs it may actually help McIlroy that Tiger Woods has taken the world No 1 slot, and hence some focus, away.from him. This is the Northern Irishman's third start in this tournament. He finished 19th on debut in 2009 but missed the cut the following year.
Recent form: 8-WD-L64-MC
Course form: MC-19
Texas form: MC-19
World ranking: 2
Keegan Bradley (12/1): Bradley revealed at Bay Hill last week that he was benefitting from advice given to him by NBA legend Michael Jordan to be more aggressive. It seemed to help him at Bay Hill where he finished tied for third and that added to a seventh at the Cadillac and a fourth in the Honda Classic so he's had an excellent Florida Swing. He was also fourth in this event last year and is a previous winner in Texas so the 2011 USPGA champion has plenty going for him this week.
Recent form: 3-7-4-MC
Course form: 4-51
Texas form: 24-4-1-9
World ranking: 10
Phil Mickelson (14/1): Mickelson likes this event as it helps him prepare for Augusta so, as you might expect, he's got a good record here. He won this tournament in 2011 after a sensational 63-65 weekend finish while he was fourth last year after opening with a 65. The left-hander's results are all over the place at the moment. He was sensational when winning in Phoenix, impressive when third at Doral but last week he was completely off when carding 73-79 to miss the cut by a mile at Bay Hill.
Recent form: MC-3-21-60
Course form: 4-1-35-MC
Texas form: 7-4-1-MC
World ranking: 11
Hunter Mahan (14/1): The American made an excellent defence of his WGC-Match Play crown (runner-up) so perhaps we should expect something similar here. Mahan's win here 12 months ago came as no real surprise given that he'd already confirmed himself as something of a course specialist with three other top eights in the previous five years. He hasn't finished worse than 26th in eight starts this season so, despite not really grabbing any headlines, he's playing some very solid golf at the moment.
Recent form: 21-25-2-8
Course form: 1-8-MC-6
Texas form: 37-1-10-8
World ranking: 21
Steve Stricker (14/1): It's very much a case of quality rather than quantity for Stricker in 2013. His decision to limit his schedule to around 10 tournaments this year suggested he might slowly fade into the background but from his three starts so far he's finished runner-up in his two strokeplay events and made the quarter-finals of the WGC-Match Play. There's every reason to expect more good play in Houston as he can boast a third, a fourth and a ninth in his six starts in this event.
Recent form: 2-L8-2
Course form: 36-4-MC-11
Texas form: 36-4-38-1
World ranking: 8
Steve Stricker: Benefiting from lighter schedule
Brandt Snedeker (25/1): After his red-hot early season form which produced a win, two seconds and a third, Snedeker was hoping he'd still have the magic touch when he returned to action at Bay Hill last week after a month off due to a rib injury. It didn't work out though. All his stats were poor and a pair of 76s saw him miss the cut. Hopes that he'll return to his best here are tempered somehwat by this two previous starts in this event which produced halfway exits in both 2007 and 2010.
Recent form: MC-1-2-2
Course form: MC-MC
Texas form: 16-4-59-MC
World ranking: 5
Best of the rest
Dustin Johnson (25/1): DJ started the season with a bang by winning the Hyunda Tournament of Champions and then went bizarrely quiet with a string of off-key performances. However, last time out he was a decent 12th in the WGC-Cadillac Championship so he could be on the rise again. He hasn't played here for the last three years, perhaps because he missed the cut on his only two appearances in 2008 and 2009. Hugely talented though so it may just all click this week.
Louis Oosthuizen (28/1): The 2010 Open champion played some superb golf for 54 holes here last year and led by two going into the final round. Although he disappointed badly on the Sunday, it did send out a sign that he could be a factor at Augusta and that proved the case as he came within a whisker of the Green Jacket. His recent form this year though is poor after two missed cuts in his last three starts. That's mainly due to a cold putter so he needs to sharpen that up, especially on these lightning fast greens.
Henrik Stenson (50/1): The tall Swede, who still hasn't secured a spot in The Masters after his exemption for winning the 2009 Players Championship ran out last year, played some good golf at Bay Hill last week. He broke par in all four rounds and eventually finished in a tie for eighth. Stenson was third on this track when he first played here in 2009 while last year, on his only other start, he was tied 21st. A winner in South Africa at the back end of 2012.
John Huh (80/1): The scorecard shows that Huh only finished 27th at Bay Hill last week but for most of the tournament he was a big factor. A last round 80 saw him slide away but even then the fall was exaggerated by double bogeys at 17 and 18. Johnny Miller said in commentary that Huh could become an elite player so it's interesting that he was a pretty decent tied 14th on his debut here last year. He also has some impressive form in the Lone Star state with a second in the Texas Open and a fifth at Colonial last year.
John Huh: Excellent for 54 holes last week
We shouldn't be surprised that Steve Stricker is benefiting from his lighter schedule in 2013.
A trawl back through his records shows that eight of the American's last nine wins have come when he's had at least a fortnight off.
In short, he goes well when fresh.
Stricker is returning to action after that ideal two-week break so, on a course where he's had plenty of strong performances, this looks a great time to catch him.
John Huh looks an interesting dark horse given his strong record in Texas allied to his prominence for most of last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational.
He's already a winner on Tour and could be destined for big things.
The lure of trying to get back to Augusta should spur Henrik Stenson on this week and the Swede's top 10 at Bay Hill suggests his late push is gathering speed.
Add in some good course form and he's worth a spot in the staking plan.
Rory at a double figure price? Tempting. But I still don't think he's quite there yet.
3pts e.w. Steve Stricker at 14/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. John Huh at 80/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Henrik Stenson at 50/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)