It’s just 17 days until the Masters, and guess who ends today with his 3rd win in four events this year? That’s right Tiger Woods! There is not a more prolific winner on Tour than this man, not only this year but almost all of his career. Tiger has won all four major trophies and when he won the 2001 Masters, he was the holder of all four of them at the same time. In 2000 he won six consecutive events and he also finished the year with 9 wins, after entering only 20 events that year. When he gets on a run he is a hard man to beat, and he is looking to be in that form again, just in time for the Masters. This week, fortunately for every other player on tour Tiger is sitting out presenting yet another opportunity for players to pick up a win and find their game before Augusta in a little over two weeks time.
Last weeks tips were largely disappointing with both Brandt Snedeker & Ernie Els missing the cut and Graeme McDowell not ever looking to be in contention. The only person who showed glimpses of posing a challenge in the top 5 was 200/1 tip Ben Kohles who in the end flattered to deceive and finished on -4 in a tie for 14th. Kohles is certainly a player to keep an eye on this year as eventually his consecutive good finishes should start to pay off, and it would not surprise me in the slightest if he wins a tournament this year. As for one his fellow rookies it was almost another good finish for Luke Guthrie who until the last day had a good shot at another top 20 finish.
On to this week and we are in Humble, Texas and the Redstone Golf Club for the Shell Houston Open. The Redstone Golf Club has played host to this event for since 2003 so a considerable amount of time. Of the players still on Tour there are two multiple winners of this event, Vijay Singh and Stuart Appleby who are both yet to find any real form this season. Consequently Vijay has decided to withdraw this week and as for Appleby, I don’t expect him to be much of a factor. He has been cut at this event on his last two attempts and has also only made 4 of 7 cuts in 2013, with T61 being his best finish. So with these two former winners off the radar my attention turns to more recent winners, and especially the last two. Hunter Mahan won last season and Phil Mickleson the year before that. Mahan has been in good form all season, making all of his 8 cuts and finishing outside the top-25 just once in Week 1 at the Hyundai TOC. Mahan resides in Texas and will be keen to use some of that “home advantage” to get one up on the competition here, the same players he will be facing in just over two weeks time in Augusta. Mickelson himself has played his part this season in true Mickelson style, winning the Phoenix Open out of nowhere in terms of his previous two events. Since then he has also posted a T3 finish at the WGC-Cadillac three weeks ago. Although he missed the cut last week at Bay Hill, his game looks to be in fairly good shape and at an event he is known to love he will look to post yet another strong finish before Augusta. Mickelson has expressed his disappointment at the Shell Houston Open no longer being the penultimate event before the Masters as the course is set up to post a similar challenge to that of Augusta.
The Course: Redstone Golf Club is a par 72, 7,457 yard course. It has a course rating of 75.8 in tournament times and is considered perfect preparation for Augusta in two weeks time. This is largely down to it being a par 72, just like Augusta and being extremely similar in length. Mickelson has always said that he likes to use this tournament as momentum heading into the Masters and many other players will share that opinion here this week, even if it is a week earlier than previous years. Mickelson also shares the course record shooting a 63, a score also posted by Adam Scott (08′), Johnson Wagner (08′), Jimmy Walker (11′) and Mickelson also in 2011. Interestingly, all but Mickelson shot their 63s in the 1st round, whereas Mickelson shot it in his 3rd round. Wagner went on to win in 08′, whereas Scott withdrew after the 2nd round. Mickelson used his 3rd round 63 to win in 11′ and Jimmy Walker finished in a tie for 30th following up his fantastic 1st round with a 74, then 72 and 73. One hole that the players may have every reason to fear is the 18th which is a 484 yard par 4 which features water down the left side and is often regarded as one of the toughest closing holes all season.
Defending Champion: Hunter Mahan. Mahan has, as previously mentioned been in fantastic form yet again. He is currently 7th in the FedEx Cup standings and the only player above him without a win is Steve Stricker, directly above him in 6th. Playing 8 tournaments and making 8 cuts is always impressive, and had it of not been for Matt Kuchar catching fire at the WGC Match-Play he would of had a win of his own this year. He excels in big fields and this week should be no different. Apart from winning the event in 2012, Mahan came T8 in 2011 and T6 in 2009, a fantastic record. He is one of just a number of favourites at the top of the market coming in at a top price of 18/1 (Coral). He was 1st in Greens in Regulations here in Texas last season, he is 9th overall in that stat on tour this season and 1st in GIRs between 75-100 yards. He will certainly have a part to say here this week and I wouldn’t put anyone off of backing him.
With all of this taking into account, I bring you my picks for this week. Now World No.2 Rory Mcilroy is the favourite this week at 10/1. Closely followed by Keegan Bradley, Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson who are all available at a best price of 14/1. There is some value to be had just like there was last week down to Rory being back in the field, and the other high quality players who have made the trip. This week has been tough to narrow down my picks, especially the one at the top of the market but I have made my decisions and I hope it can help some of you this week.
Steve Stricker 14/1 (General) 4pts win: Stricker has changed his approach this season choosing to play a limited schedule, and boy has this paid off. In his three appearances he has come 2nd, T5 and 2nd. Bearing in mind T5 at the WGC Match-Play means he reached the quarter final stage they are all superb finishes. Many people have criticised Stricker recently for giving Tiger Woods putting tips, which saw him eventually beat him at the WGC event in Doral, he however played down all the talk and it did not seem to concern him. The choice to play a limited schedule is they key reason I picked him over some of the other favourites and I hope that pays off. He leads the Tour in multiple departments due to his high % of success in such few events. He is 1st in Greens in Regulations, 1st in Sand Saves and 2nd in Strokes Gained-Putting. His course form is also pretty impressive, he came T36 in 2012 and 4th in 2011 in his last two attempts and between 2006-2008 he came in the top 25 each time finishing T11 (08′), T9 (07′) and 3rd in 2006, so it’s fair to say he can play here in Texas. Although he is a short price, it’s hard to see him not being involved come Sunday evening.
Chris Kirk 45/1 (StanJames) 40/1 (6 places PaddyPower) 1pt e/w: Kirk has had a pretty good start to 2013, coming 2nd in Pebble Beach and 5th at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Other than that he has two other top 25 finishes, one at the Phoenix Open (T24) and the other last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational coming in a tie for 16th. He is 6th on tour in both Strokes Gained-Putting and also Scoring average, and more impressively he is 1st in 2013 for approaches between 125-150 yards, brilliant considering the competition he has in that area. On top of all of this Kirk finished T2 in his last and only attempt here in 2011 and didn’t get the chance to go better in 2012. With the Masters just two weeks away, nothing less than a win would secure him a spot at Augusta and I’m sure it would be a dream come true for the Georgia resident to play in the state he was raised and arguably the most famous tournament in golf. He has only played in two majors in his career finishing T78 in the 2008 U.S Open & T34 in the 2011 PGA Championship. With all this motivation and his current form he has every chance to better his 2nd place finish in 11′ and win this week.
Ben Kohles 125/1 (General) 100/1 (6 places PaddyPower) 1pt e/w: Tipped at 200/1 last week I thought that could be the end of his three-figure odds, but yet again we see him over 100/1 and in my mind that is too hard to ignore. His last two finishes are T7 and T14 and last week he was in some big company. He looks to of adjusted better to the tour than other rookies, such as Scott Langley, James Hahn, and even early winner Russell Henley. Henley has the advantage over all of them as he won on his very first attempt but since then hasn’t really been involved, he missed the cut last week and it looks as if the pressure may of got to him. Hahn and Langley both have brilliant finishes both posting a tie for 3rd at one event each, but have both struggled ever since. Kohles is 5th in Driving Accuracy and also 3rd in Greens in Regulation from both 200+ and 175-200 yards. He will take confidence from two consecutive strong finishes and would he to finish high again this week, the value on him may finally be gone.
Brian Stuard 125/1 (StanJames & PaddyPower) 1pt e/w: Stuard has been on fire this season posting three top 10s, most recently T4 in Puerto Rico, T5 in week one in Hawaii and T10 at the Humana Challenge. He also finished T16 last week at Bay Hill in one of the strongest fields of the season. He is 1st on Par 3 Performance, 1st in approaches > 200 yards and T10 in Total Putting. These can all help him significantly this week and in the form he is in, there is no reason why he cannot keep it up and try and work his way into the top 5 yet again, challenging the leaders in the process. He graduated again from the web.com tour in 2012 and it has proven that players are now better prepared than ever coming from there, to the PGA. He has taken full advantage of being back on tour this year and hopefully he can repeat his good form once again.
PGA Tour points staked this week: 10
Total points staked this week (inc European Tour tips): 18
This is my tips over for the week, if you have not already please check out the Trophee Hassan tips which is this weeks European Tour event. With just two weeks until the Masters the PGA Tour is of the highest interest and players form needs to be followed. Good luck to everyone this week, and please get in contact via my Twitter @TomJacobs8 for any questions you may have or experiences you wish to share.