“The place looks familiar, but I’m not quite sure I can put a name to it.”
That’s what golf fans could be saying this week, as the PGA Tour sets up shop in Houston, the same stop it has made every week before The Masters since 2007. But the name is shorter, just the plain old Houston Open, after longtime sponsor Shell Oil decided to end its relationship with the tournament.
With a chaotic last year in Houston headlined by the epic flooding from Hurricane Harvey, no new title sponsor has been secured. The Houston Open is one of three tour events this year that find themselves in that situation regarding sponsorship.
The same staff is running the tournament, though, and they promise to have the Golf Club of Houston set up the same as players have come to expect — that is, with conditions approximating as close as they can make them to what awaits the players next week at Augusta National.
Shaved banks, plentiful collection areas and green speeds in the neighborhood of what The Masters presents have helped the Shell — er, sorry, the Houston Open — draw a solid field of big names over recent years, especially some of the strongest European players.
Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood will be in action in Houston, as will American fan favorites Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler.
For all the details you need to follow the Houston Open, keep reading below.
Tournament: Houston Open
Dates: March 29-April 1, 2018
Where: Humble, Texas
Course: Golf Club of Houston
Distance: Par 72, 7,457 yards
Architect: Rees Jones/David Toms
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $1,260,000
Defending Champion: Russell Henley
Marquee Players: Henley, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Shubhankar Sharma, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker, and Ernie Els.
TV AND ONLINE
Round 1: Thu 4-7:00 pm (GOLF)
Round 2: Fri 4-7:00 pm (GOLF)
Round 3: Sat 2-3:00 pm (GOLF), 3-6:00 pm (NBC)
Round 4: Sun 2-3:00 pm (GOLF), 3-6:00 pm (NBC)
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As if to emphasize the long history this event has as a PGA Tour stop, the revised Shell-less logo for the Houston Open this year emphasizes in red letters, “Est. 1946.”
The Houston Open history runs deep with past champions including Byron Nelson, Cary Middlecoff, Gary Player, Bob Charles, Roberto De Vicenzo, Arnold Palmer, Raymond Floyd, Curtis Strange, Fred Couples, Payne Stewart, David Duval, Vijay Singh, Adam Scott, and Phil Mickelson.
Since 2007, when it was moved to the week prior to The Masters, it has offered a tempting last opportunity for those not already qualified into the Masters field to earn a spot by posting a victory in Houston.
That storyline has unfolded frequently in recent years, with four of the last five champions punching a ticket to Augusta: Russell Henley last year, Jim Herman in 2016, Matt Jones in 2014 and D.A Points in 2013.
2018: Houston Open
1992-2017: Shell Houston Open
1988-91: Independent Insurance Agent Open
1987: Big ‘I’ Houston Open
1985-86: Houston Open
1983-84: Houston Coca-Cola Open
1980-82: Michelob-Houston Open
1972-79: Houston Open
1966-71: Houston Champions International
1959-65: Houston Classic
1946-58: Houston Open
2017: Russell Henley (-20)
2016: Jim Herman (-15)
2015: J.B. Holmes (-16)
2014: Matt Jones (-15)
2013: D.A. Points (-16)
2012: Hunter Mahan (-16)
2011: Phil Mickelson (-20)
266 (-22) Curtis Strange (1980), Lee Trevino (1980), Vijay Singh (2002)
3 – Vijay Singh (2002, 2004, 2005), Curtis Strange (1980, 1986, 1988)
Russell Henley recorded the third win of his PGA career by claiming last year’s title, in the process tying 2011 champ Phil Mickelson for the lowest overall score since the tournament moved to the Golf Club of Houston in 2007 at 20-under par.
The leader coming into Sunday was Sung Kang, who was four shots ahead of Henley. Rickie Fowler was also ahead of Henley by one shot after 54 holes. Henley surged to tie the lead with five birdies in his first eight holes on Sunday, then kept it going on the second nine. A string of three straight birdies put him into a lead he would never give up.
On the day, Henley made 10 birdies (and a double-bogey and a bogey) to set up a final round 65. By round’s end, that was good enough to be three shots clear of second-place finisher Kang.
FINAL TOP 5
1 Russell Henley (-20)
2 Sung Kang (-17)
3 Rickie Fowler (-16)
3 Luke List (-16)
5 Daniel Berger (-13)
A solid field will contest the 2018 Houston Open, with six of the world’s current top-20 players in the field, along with a host of other recognizable names.
Houston is headlined by three players currently in the top eight worldwide — No. 4 Jordan Spieth, No. 5 Justin Rose and No. 8 Rickie Fowler. Also teeing it up will be No. 15 Henrik Stenson, No. 18 Phil Mickelson and No. 20 Matt Kuchar.
A strong international contingent has always been a tradition for the Houston event, and this year, the field includes 44 international players who hail from 20 different countries. Shubhankar Sharma from India, the current leader in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai standings, will make his Houston debut. World No. 22 Rafa Cabrera Bello from Spain is also in this year’s field. Germany’s Martin Kaymer, the 2014 U.S. Open champ and 2010 PGA winner, will play in the United States for only the third time since last year’s U.S. Open.
Steve Stricker, now age 51, won his second straight Champions Tour event over the weekend with the Rapiscan Systems Classic title in Mississippi, and he will now play the Houston Open with an eye towards winning and earning a Masters invite. Ernie Els and Lee Westwood are familiar veterans playing in Houston who are in the same boat regarding their Masters’ status as Stricker.
Last week’s winner of the Tour’s alternate event in the Dominican Republic, Brice Garnett, will play in Houston. Other Tour regulars who have played well in 2018 and will be worth keeping an eye on include players like Keegan Bradley, Ian Poulter, Jason Dufner, Charles Howell III and Brandt Snedeker.
Along with defending champion Henley, other past Houston Open champs teeing it up this week include J.B. Holmes (2015), Matt Jones (2014), D.A. Points (2013), Hunter Mahan (2012), and Johnson Wagner (2008).
Credits: PGA Tour Media, Getty Images