Shell Houston Open Preview

With the golfing season upon us and the Masters just around the corner, here at TSZ we assess the stats for the final PGA tournament before Augusta to see whether those who decide to play the Shell Houston Open are at an advantage in their preparation for the first major of the year.

In 2007, the championship was moved in the rota so that it would be the final PGA Tour event before the Masters, and to allow players one last opportunity to get into the following week’s field. As a result, tournament officials decided to set-up the Golf Club of Houston Tournament Course (7,441 yards, par 72) to allow players a better chance of preparing for Augusta by closely mowing the banks and mounds around the greens, making the fairways grain flowing from green to tee and providing firm and fast greens reading 13 or more on the Stimpmeter. Consequently, field quality has improved over the years, but has this actually helped the players prepare better for the season’s first major?

Let’s firstly look at the tournament winners and runners-up since 2007:

  • Since 2007, the Shell Houston Open has seen 10 different champions, with no repeat winners.
  • Both J.B. Holmes and Johnson Wagner have recorded a win and runner-up finish each, with Henrik Stenson recording two runner-up placings.
  • Total winning score has ranged from -11 (2009) to -20 (2012) with an average of -15.
  • Margin of victory has averaged just one stroke during this time period, with four of the last 10 editions being decided by a play-off.

Now let’s see where they finished in the Masters that year:

Note that if a player didn’t make the cut, they were assigned a position of 58th.

  • Of the 10 different Shell Houston Open champions, just one has gone on to contend at the Masters – Anthony Kim in 2010 who finished third at Augusta.
  • Furthermore, only one other player has finished within the top 15, with Hunter Mahan recording a T12 in 2012.
  • On average, Shell Houston Open champions have positioned 31st at the Masters, with the last three winners missing the halfway cut.
  • Players who finished as runner-up averaged 16th position at the Masters, however, just six of the possible 15 players actually qualified for Augusta.
  • Jordan Spieth, who lost in a Shell Houston Open play-off in 2015, went on to win his first Major the following week.

We’ll now flip this and see if there is any correlation between Masters champions and runners-up and how they performed in the preceding Shell Houston Open:

Note that if a player didn’t make the cut, they were assigned a position of 79th.

  • Trevor Immelman (2008), Angel Cabrera (2009), Phil Mickelson (2010), Charl Schwartzel (2011) and Jordan Spieth (2015) all played at the Shell Houston Open and went on to succeed at the Masters. However, with two missed cuts and an average finish of 45th among the five players, a strong showing the week before is clearly not a determining factor.
  • Runners-up at the Masters have a slightly better average of 42nd (of the 10 players who competed the week before). Louis Oosthuizen recorded a third place finish at Houston in 2012 and went onto lose in a play-off against Bubba Watson at Augusta.

Due to the emphasis on putting performance at Augusta National and the similar green set-up at Houston, strokes gained putting for the top five placings at the Shell Houston Open since 2007 were assessed:

Putting strokes gained putting for the top five placings at the Shell Houston Open and putting strokes gained for the players’ respective season were analysed, along with the difference between the statistics to determine player putting performance.

  • On average, players ranked in the top five gained 1.241 shots per round on the greens at the Shell Houston Open. Logically, a strong putting performance is to be expected for players in contention; however, each positioning saw a minimum of 0.833 putting strokes gained.
  • Players who positioned fourth gained the fewest strokes on the green, with Phil Mickelson during 2010 gaining just 0.053 strokes.
  • On average, players gained 0.092 strokes putting during their respective seasons, which would currently position 94th during the 2017 strokes gained: putting rankings.
  • The difference between putting performance at he Shell and during the season saw an average of 1.149 strokes-gained at Houston, suggesting putting is a key area to contending.
  • Significantly, the smallest difference (0.575) of strokes gained were from the group of players who averaged the highest strokes gained during the overall season (0.259).

In conclusion, players who have performed strongly at Houston have putted extremely well compared to their overall standard. Notably, some of the best ball strikers (Holmes, Mahan, Mickelson, Kim, Casey and Scott) in the game have won at the Shell, which could be the main factor in providing the best putting statistics.

  • During the Shell Houston Open, the previous 10 winners have averaged a formidable 77.64% of greens-in-regulation (GIR), suggesting that GIR and putting strokes gained are the two stand-out skill areas when competing at Houston.

Greens-in-regulation percentages and putting strokes gained were collated for all 2017 PGA Tour players. From these statistics, players who gained less than 0.092 strokes putting (average of past top five players) and recorded less than 68% of GIR (lowest % of past 10 champions) were discarded:

  • Of the 12 qualified players, a combined ranking of the two statistics determined an overall ranking.
  • Jordan Spieth ranks the highest with a GIR percentage of 75.69 and 0.486 putting strokes gained. Factoring in a runner-up finish in 2015 and his form around the Masters, we make the native Texan the man to beat.
  • Rafa Cabrera-Bello has hit 70.83% of greens this season and gained over half a stroke (0.519) per round on the greens. Since becoming a full PGA Tour member, his play in the USA continues to improve and it would be no surprise if he achieved his first win in America.
  • Without a win since 2007, a player of the calibre of Charles Howell III is due another triumph, and with four top 10 finishes already this season, he could be the outsider to watch.