Five things I’m looking for at this week’s Shell Houston Open:
1. The Freaky Friday remake starring Rory McIlroy and Steve Stricker will begin to collapse on itself. Stricker, 46, had a T5 at the Accenture and runner-up finishes at the Hyundai and the Cadillac. McIlroy, 23, washed out of the first round at Accenture, WD’d at the Honda and finished T8 at the Cadillac. Um, which one is semi-retired again? McIlroy was recently photographed in shorts and swatting balls on a scruffy range in Miami, where he was hanging out watching women’s tennis. What’s next for Rory, the liver and onions at Denny’s? I’m not fitting him for dentures yet but if the upcoming Masters doesn’t light his fire—to say nothing of losing the No. 1 ranking to Tiger—McIlroy is in more trouble than we thought.
2. There’s a pretty good field at the Shell, including five of the top 10 in the world, so anyone could win. But I’m looking for No. 11 Phil Mickelson to prevail, and not just because he’s won (2011) and finished T4 (’12) at Redstone. I also like that he missed the cut at Bay Hill (73-79). With the Masters just two weeks out, you better believe he’s doing some serious range work. As Mickelson has done in the past, he skipped the Shell pro-am in exchange for doing a “sponsor-value” outing at a later date. Good and sometimes great in ’13, Phil should thrill again at Redstone.
3. I’m looking for Tour rules officials Mark Russell and Slugger White to get some sort of raise or a generous offer from the Weather Channel based on all the TV time they’ve been getting. Russell and White are the guys who pop up on your screen to tell you if the course is still playable despite the wind (Kapalua), fog (Torrey Pines), snow (Dove Mountain) and “tornadic activity” (Bay Hill). There’s a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms at Redstone on both Saturday and Sunday.
4. The Jordan Spieth story is going to start to gain traction now that it’s not playing opposite the Tiger Woods Show. Spieth, whose T7 at the Tampa Bay Championship gets him into the field in Houston, has made $521,893 in four starts in 2013, surpassing the earnings of the 150th player on the money list in 2012. That allowed him to join the Tour as a Special Temporary Member for the remainder of this season, so he can accept unlimited sponsor’s exemptions. You’ll see plenty of him at Redstone, where his Texas Longhorn credentials are certain to play nicely.
5. Winning doesn't take care of everything. I get that when Tiger Woods says, “Winning takes care of everything,” he was referring to his world ranking, which had fallen into the 50s during his slump. But his recent "Winning takes care of everything" advertisement for Nike dredges up his sex scandal of late 2009 and 2010. It makes Woods look imperious and a little tone-deaf. Okay, he’s No. 1 again, but this ad doesn't do him any favors.
Groups to Watch (All times Eastern)
7:50 a.m. (No. 10) Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Geoff Ogilvy
12:50 p.m. (No. 1) Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson
Complete Tee Times
Course: Tournament Course, Redstone Golf Club (Architect: Rees Jones, 2005)
Location: Humble, Texas
Defending Champion: Hunter Mahan
Purse: $6,200,000; Winning Share: $1,080,000
TV Schedule (All times Eastern)
Thursday: 4-7 p.m. Golf Channel
Friday 4-7 p.m. Golf Channel
Saturday: 1-3 p.m. Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m. NBC
Sunday: 1-3 p.m. Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m. NBC
Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio
Thursday-Friday: 1-6 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 12-6 p.m.