Since moving to Redstone’s Tournament Course and this April slot in 2006, the Houston Open has established itself as the ideal Masters warm-up. With this course presenting a very similar, albeit much easier, challenge to Augusta, a high-class field is always guaranteed. This year is no exception, with eight of the world’s top 13 ranked players lining up.
 
As the fields have got stronger, the leaderboards have generally become more predictable, though Johnson Wagner’s huge upset in 2008 shows outsiders can win. All other three champions on this course were high-class overseas stars, with Australians faring particularly well. Stuart Appleby and Adam Scott won this title in 2006 and 2007, and a variety of Aussies have made the places.
 
Course and key stats
 
Rees Jones and David Toms have created the ultimate Augusta practice venue, as all the same characteristics are in play. Redstone is a fairly long par-72, with huge putting surfaces of a similar pace to those at Augusta, without so much complexity.
 
The fairways are wide, and with the rough here of little consequence, Redstone is a long-hitters paradise. One only needs to study recent top fives including names like JB Holmes, Bubba Watson and Robert Garrigus to see that. Given the fast nature of the greens, putting average is also a significant stat. Those trends could be accentuated this year, as rain is forecast for the weekend, placing even greater emphasis on distance through the air and birdie accumulation.
 
Betting selections
 
2pts ew HUNTER MAHAN @ 25/1 (GENERAL, 28/1 EXPEKT)
 
This week’s test will be quite different from the type we’ve become accustomed to over the past month. Before the Florida Swing begun, a section of the schedule where Mahan has never thrived, he was celebrating a long overdue second PGA Tour win at Scottsdale. Now back in his home state, at a venue where he’s made the top 11 on three out of four attempts, I expect Hunter to swiftly return to that pre-Florida level. There were few more consistent players throughout the big events last summer, and with further progress likely, Mahan could be one of the players to follow in the weeks ahead.
 
2pts ew GEOFF OGILVY @ 25/1 (GENERAL)
 
If there’s to be a third Australian winner in the fifth renewal on this course, Ogilvy looks by far the likeliest candidate. His two previous results here were sixth and second, confirming once again just how well he plays courses with very fast greens. Geoff has disappointed a couple of times recently when tipped by this column, but I’m happy to overlook them given the distraction of the birth of his first child. Hopefully, any rust will have now been worked off, and he can resume the world-class form shown at the beginning of the year.
 
2pts ew ANTHONY KIM @ 25/1 (GENERAL, 28/1 SPORTINGBET)
 
One of the earliest signs of Kim’s great potential came when he finished fifth at Redstone during his rookie season. Everything about this course suits Kim. He hits it further than most, is generally seen to best effect when attacking fast greens and usually makes a stack of birdies. Furthermore, there have been strong signs of a revival in recent starts. Before finishing second at the Honda Classic, he’d hit three excellent rounds out of four at Phoenix, only to blow a great chance with one disastrous day.
 
2pts ew MARTIN KAYMER @ 28/1 (GENERAL, 33/1 SPORTINGBET)
 
Unlike all the other picks, Kaymer has no previous course form to speak of, finishing a distant 42nd on last year’s debut. I doubt that has much relevance though, as the German has vastly improved in the meantime. Third place at Doral, following on from winning in Abu Dhabi and also challenging strongly in Dubai, proves Kaymer is capable of winning in any company. I’m determined to stick with him whilst available at these type of odds, and again he ticks all the right boxes for Redstone in terms of driving distance and putting on fast greens.
 
1pt ew ADAM SCOTT @ 55/1 (TOTE, 60/1 BET365)
 
Any bet on Scott carries a strong element of risk, because his putting woes have resurfaced in 2010. However, there is a fine line between success and failure in these matters, as we saw when he put a disastrous 2009 campaign behind with arguably the most impressive performance of his career to land the Australian Open title. Even during the recent bad run, his long game has looked pretty good and the man himself is on record as saying his game is ‘close’ to where it needs to be. It may be worth taking a chance on a return to form this week, as Adam has a fine previous record at Redstone. He won here in 2007, and opened up his defence with a course record 63, before having to withdraw.