Houston Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
WHEN Ian Poulter teed it up at the Houston Open in April last year he was an angry and frustrated golfer. He had been mistakenly informed the previous week that he had done enough to secure his place in the field for The Masters but quickly discovered that he hadn’t.
He contemplated not bothering to play in Houston and ended up winning the tournament in dramatic circumstances thus making it to Augusta. He holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to force a playoff with Beau Hossler, and then he won with a par on the first extra hole to earn the last spot in The Masters. But he has decided not to defend his title, which comes as a surprise, to say the least.
When he reached the quarterf-inals of the Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, he was told that it was enough to get him into the top 50 in the world rankings, the cutoff for qualifying for The Masters. It turned out he needed to win his quarterfinal match, and Poulter was informed of the mistake before he teed off. Kevin Kisner beat him, 8&6.
When Poulter opened with a 73 in a first round of low scoring at Houston, he packed his bags and prepared to go home to Florida the next day. Instead, he bounced back with a 64, and shot 65-67 on the weekend.
Hossler, who also shot 67, overcame a three-shot deficit with four straight birdies on the back nine and had a chance to win on the 18th in regulation with a 30-foot birdie putt that trickled over the right edge of the cup.
That set the stage for Poulter, and the Englishman duly lived up to his nickname as "The Postman" by delivering his biggest putt in years. Poulter pounded his chest five times when the putt dropped, and all Hossler could do was smile.
In the playoff on the 18th, one of the more daunting finishing holes off the tee with water down the left side and a bunker to the right, Hossler found the bunker for the second time. He hit into a greenside bunker, and his third shot flew over the green and into the water. Poulter was safely on the green as Hossler took his penalty drop, chipped onto the green and took two putts for a triple bogey. They finished at 19-under 269.
Poulter won for the third time on the PGA Tour, and his first in America since the Match Play in 2010 at Arizona. It was his first stroke-play victory in America, and the timing could not have been better. It was his first victory of any kind since the HSBC Champions, a World Golf Championship event at Mission Hills in China in 2012. That was a month after Poulter led Europe to a stunning turnaround in the Ryder Cup by making five straight birdies to win a fourball match in partnership with Rory McIlroy and give Europe momentum to overcome a four-point deficit.
Poulter also secured a two-year exemption, which was critical because he nearly lost his card the previous season until he was spared by a clerical error by the tour. So it comes as a huge surprise that instead of returning to Texas to defend his title, Poulter has chosen to cross the Atlantic and play instead in the Italian Open.
Hossler did everything right until the playoff. His four straight birdies included a 30-footer on the par-three 14th to tie for the lead, and a wedge that finished four feet below the hole that gave him the lead with three to play. Jordan Spieth closed with a 66 and tied for third with Emiliano Grillo (68).
This year’s tournament, staged much earlier in the season, will honour legendary coach and TV pundit Butch Harmon. “The Houston Open is about celebrating golf and celebrating Houston,” said Astros Golf Foundation President Giles Kibbe. “Butch and his family have a long history and strong connection to Houston. He has made an indelible mark on golf in Houston and throughout the world. It is our great privilege to honor him and have him as part of the Houston Open.”
“Butch has been in golf a long time. He is tied to Houston and has been the number one golf instructor for years,” said Astros Owner and Chairman Jim Crane. “To put his name on the tournament gives us another reason to have a successful tournament and bring us one of the best tournaments on the tour, which is our goal.”
Harmon has a long successful history in teaching the world’s best golfers and has left his mark on the golfing world over the past 30 years. Harmon has been ranked as the number one golf instructor by Golf Digest every year for the past 16 years. He retired from teaching on the PGA Tour in 2019 but continues to teach from his own instruction centre in Las Vegas, as well as overseeing the Butch Harmon Learning Centre at The Floridian, Jim Crane’s prestigious golf club in Palm City, Florida.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to help this city and help this tournament,” said Harmon. “Houston means a lot to me, it is a great golf community and always has been. Having the Astros get involved is the greatest thing that could happen to this tournament. What Jim Crane has done with baseball in this city is incredible and I am excited to work with him, Giles and the Astros to do the same for the Houston golf community and make the Houston Open the greatest tournament on the tour.”
It was won in 2011 by Phil Mickelson, in 2012 by Hunter Mahan, in 2013 by DA Points, in 2014 by Matt Jones, in 2015 by JB Holmes, in 2016 by Jim Herman, in 2017 by Russell Henley and last year by Poulter
Scottie Scheffler. Fantastic young player
Sangmoon Bae. Prodigious talent
Henrik Stenson. A big fan of this part of the world
Scottie Scheffler. Could become a serial winner
Sangmoon Bae. Should be a regular winner
Henrik Stenson. Still a fantastic ball striker
Sebastian Munoz. Living the dream
Cameron Champ. Looking for second win of the season
Lucas Bjerregaard. Hugely underrated
Keegan Bradley. Love him or hate him…
Tom Lewis. Enjoying a career renaissance
Jimmy Walker. Desperately seeking his best form
Cole Hammer. Steller amateur career
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