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Houston Open Preview: Masters Prep Class

Greg Vara

Greg Vara

Vara is the lead golf writer at RotoWire. He was named the 2013 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. In addition to producing the weekly preview and the bulk of the draft kit content, Vara participates in Yahoo!'s "Experts Picks" where he routinely dominates. He also picks college football games against the spread in his "College Capper" article.

Ask and ye shall receive. It was just a week ago that I was lamenting the state of the PGA Tour and the inability of anyone to close on a Sunday afternoon. Just one week later, all is well in the world of golf, thanks to ... Steven Bowditch? The quality of golf differs from player to player on the PGA Tour, but for the most part, they each fall into a general category. They are, of course, the best players in the world, and the tier below that and further down the line you have those guys that pop up on the leaderboard every now and then, eventually making their names known to our subconscious even if we aren't quite sure we could pick them out of a crowd. Well, Bowditch was on the level below that entering last week. I'm sure he had his moments on the PGA Tour prior to last week, but I can honestly say I've never heard Jim Nance utter his name, and for those who don't know, that's how I determine a player's worth.

That won't be a problem anymore, though, because just a week from now Nance and all the others stationed in Augusta will be talking about this guy. This guy, that for once, showed us all how to play with a lead on a Sunday afternoon. In a perfect world, Bowditch would have scored better than a 76 last Sunday, but in the end, it's not the amount of strokes that matters, it's the amount of strokes better than the next guy.

This week:
Shell Houston Open - Golf Club of Houston, Humble, Texas

Last Year:
D.A. Points shot a final-round 66 on his way to a one-stroke victory over Henrik Stenson and Billy Horschel.

Players to Consider:

Henrik Stenson

Stenson reentered our collective consciousness last year around this time when he finished just one stroke behind eventual winner D.A. Points. That finish was no fluke, however, as Stenson also played well at this event in 2009 when he finished T3. His only other start here resulted in a T21. In all, that's three starts here and three top-25s.

Lee Westwood

Not the first name that comes to mind when you think Texas, but Westwood has shown the ability to get around this track with relative ease over the years. Westwood has three top-15s over his last five starts here, and his worst finish during that span was a T30 in 2011.

Matt Kuchar

Surrounded by a bunch of no-names last week, Kuchar became NBC's only hope for a semi-star to come out on top. While that didn't happen, he did flash some good form last week on his way to a T4. Although he hasn't played here in a few years, his track record remains impressive with two top-10s in his two most recent appearances.

Steven Bowditch

Certainly a precarious spot for Bowditch this week, one week removed from his first PGA Tour win and one week prior to his first start at the Masters. But Redstone is said to be a great preparatory course for Augusta, and what's more important than anything at Augusta? The short game, of course, and did you see how well Bowditch played around the greens last week?

Phil Mickelson

It might be wise to wait just one more week to use Mickelson, but for those who want to get creative, this week might be the spot to use him. Sure, he's bound to have one eye on Augusta next week, but that hasn't mattered the last three years as he's finished in the top 20 each time, including a win here in 2011.

Players to Avoid:

Jimmy Walker

If you missed out on Walker's run earlier this season, it might be wise to just wait a while before using him. Walker is a Texas native, but that hasn't mattered much at this event. In fact, Walker has only one top-30 here since this event moved to its current location in 2006.

Rickie Fowler

Fowler has been inconsistent this year, but that hasn't been the case here where he's just been pretty bad. Well, not bad necessarily, as he's made the cut in his only two appearances, but he's finished no better than T63. Fowler is definitely one guy who's looking ahead to next week.

Scott Verplank

Verplank has traditionally played his best golf during the Florida/Texas swing and finished runner-up here in 2011, but he's just not that guy anymore. Verplank has been on a steady decline for a few years now, and although he might play well for a round or two this week, its doubtful he can sustain a good pace over four rounds.

Angel Cabrera

This is the time of the year Cabrera enters the mix. He's played well here the last two years, but he simply saves his best for Augusta. Redstone is supposed to mimic Augusta, which is why Cabrera has played well here, but in the end, it's just another stop on the PGA Tour, and Cabrera knows that.

Rory McIlroy

The fifth spot on this list is again reserved for a player who might do well this week, but is not a good one-and-done candidate. McIlroy has only one top-25 at this event in three tries, but that's not the reason he's listed here. The Masters is next week, and McIlroy will be on the short list of players to choose from, so it would be wise to save him.

ONE AND DONE GOLFER

Last week:
Charley Hoffman (T11) - $136,400; Season - $1,974,228

This week:
Henrik Stenson - There may be better places to use Stenson this season -- perhaps a WGC event or somewhere during the FedEx playoffs -- but his track record here is pretty solid, and I don't plan on using his during a major, so I'm pulling the trigger now.

YAHOO PICKS

Points:
1,833
Rank: 17,357

This Week:

Group A:
Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood

Group B:
Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Jordan Spieth, Keegan Bradley

Group C:
Ryan Palmer, Steven Bowditch

SURVIVOR PICK

Last week:
Charley Hoffman; Streak - 4

This week:
Henrik Stenson - I'm doubling-up again this week on Stenson for two reasons. First, he's played at this event, on this course, three times and made the cut with ease each time. Second, my first pick was Westwood, but he's too valuable in this format during the majors, so I'll hold onto him for at least another week.

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