Humble, TX (April 2, 2017) – Twelve years ago the Tournament Course at the Golf Club of Houston, home to the Shell Houston Open, was designed by Rees Jones with help from David Toms. Soon after that, the course greenskeepers were dispatched to Augusta National and returned with identical grass types, growing and mowing patterns. It was love at first sight for Phil Mickelson.
“I think playing here really helps me,” Phil said after his three-birdie, three-bogey opening round. “Helps me to get sharp so that I don’t have a day like this next Thursday, that I get focused and dialed in a lot easier when I only have three days in between tournament rounds rather than ten days or more. I like the fact the course is set up similarly. Certainly the fairways and the first cut are much like Augusta.”
Except that many of the narrower fairways in Houston are dotted or lined with water hazards on one or both sides. Phil hit a few foul balls through the week, but his iron play, usually a strength, was the surprising disappointment. He had played at Augusta the Monday and Tuesday of Shell week and did some good work there.
But after Friday’s round his second 72 he said, “I haven’t been quite that sharp where I’m hitting it, 20 feet instead of 6 feet.”
Phil ended the tournament, Shell’s last as sponsor and possibly the last stop for the Tour at Champions, in a tie for 55th place. Still, in the 11 years since it modeled Augusta National’s signature features, Phil leads all contestants in most rounds under par (27), is second overall in birdies and is 65 under par for the event.
Now it’s on to Augusta this week for Phil’s most cherished event on one of his favorite courses, one he knows as well as anybody and better than most, where he’s won three times, where his focus is sharpest.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ll get some rest, go through my routine, and be ready on Thursday.”