It’s late on a Wednesday night here in Western Massachusetts, and I’ll be honest — there’s nothing I’d like to do less than write this piece about the Shell Houston Open.
My heart is already in Augusta, Georgia. My head, filled with dreams of pimento cheese sandwiches and Jim Nantz-isms. I know you’re all there, too.
Sadly, we still have seven days and a handful of hours to go before Christmas in April kicks off. Fortunately, we can still make some money and learn some stuff about our horses before the main event next week.
The Shell Houston Open is the last chance for unqualified players to get in — and for those stumbling to find their groove. Here’s a look at who will make a splash in Houston — and who has their head in the Augusta clouds already:
Phil Mickelson — I’m not picking Phil Mickelson to win this week in Houston — mostly because I want him to win next week where I have money on him. No player has won the Shell Houston Open and chased it with a Masters victory, so I can’t have it both ways. Mickelson, however, does figure to be a big player this week in all fantasy formats. Not only does he come in playing as well as he ever has, he’s also got a fantastic track record at the Country Club of Houston.
Luke List — Looking for a sleeper this week? Look no further than Luke List. Sure, he got bounced early last week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship thanks in part to a damaged putter — but List has been playing some phenomenal golf in 2018. He finished runner-up to Justin Thomas at the Honda Classic about a month ago and collected a T-3 in this event last year. Any time you can combine recent form and a solid track record, you’ve got the recipe for success.
Steve Stricker — Don’t sleep on Steve Stricker this week! You may have missed it — but Stricker has been hot, winning two consecutive starts on the Champions Tour. In between those W’s, Stricker picked up a T-12 at the Valspar Championship. In Houston, he’s finished inside the top-11 four times in nine starts. Still major-less, the Wisconsin native isn’t qualified for the Masters next week. A win — or special exemption — is the only hope for him to get into the field.
Jason Dufner — One of my favorites any time he tees it up, Jason Dufner is once again a great fantasy option in any format this week at the Shell Houston Open. Dufner hasn’t been spectacular in 2018, but he has picked up four top-20’s. His putter has been hot and has done much to keep him relevant. With that said, it’s hard to imagine that a ball-striker as good as Dufner won’t get it figured out sooner rather than later. I’m going to roll the dice on the Auburn-alum in Houston — and I think you ought to, too.
Russell Henley — Last year’s champion, Russell Henely, has certainly been a horse for this course in Houston. In five career starts, the Georgia Bulldog has never missed a cut and has finished inside the top-7 each of his last four trips. Successfully defending on Tour is one of the most difficult things to accomplish, with a track record like that, I’d be remiss to bet against Henely this week.
Rickie Fowler — One guy getting a lot of attention this week is Rickie Fowler. Most think the Orange one has a legitimate opportunity to pick up the win at the Shell Houston Open. I, however, disagree. Fowler has put together a decent track record at the Country Club of Houston, notching three top-10’s in the last four years — but his putting in recent weeks has been too suspect for me to spend a start.
Matt Kuchar — Despite a bit of a bump last week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, I’m still not sold on Matt Kuchar having returned to form — yet. With the Masters one week away, I really, truly want to see Kuch get his (stuff) together in time for a run at a green jacket. Kuchar is in the midst of his worst start to a season in years. The normally steady Kuch has been a rough choice for fantasy owners all year and should remain on the shelf until he figures it out.
Keegan Bradley — Another player this week who is getting some buzz — but probably shouldn’t — is Keegan Bradley. I’m a big fan of track records, but generally speaking not unless they’re accompanied by some type of recent form. Bradley hasn’t really demonstrated much to suggest he’ll be returning to the form that made him a major champion. Being a Massachusetts native, I’d love to Keegs get it figure out — I just don’t think he does so this week.