By Ron Patey
Jimmy Walker’s winning total of 11-under par 277 left second-place finisher, and fellow Texan, Jordan Spieth in the rearview mirror by four strokes. The triumph is Walker’s second on the PGA Tour this season and fifth in 37 starts. His first trophy presentation in 2014-2015 came at the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Hawaii. It’s the second year in a row that Walker has been the first player to be victorious in two events on the PGA Tour schedule, and he broke the streak of nine-straight 54-hole leaders that had faded out of top spot in the final round. Walker extended his FedExCup lead to 486 points over Spieth, who moved into second place ahead of Bubba Watson.
Australia’s Aaron Baddeley hit the highlight shot of the tournament on Thursday when he aced a drive from 336 yards out on the par 4, 17th hole. Unfortunately for the Aussie, the perfect effort went on his card as a birdie since it came after he took a penalty stroke because his wayward original drive forced him to take an unplayable lie.
Next On The Tee: Shell Houston Open
This week the PGA Tour closes out the Texas portion of the schedule on the Golf Club of Houston Tournament Course. Fellow Texan Patrick Reed will join Walker and Spieth in the field. The Texas trio has to be among the favorites to take the title away from last year’s champion, Matt Jones of Australia.
Among the Hunch Bunch of contenders are J.B. Holmes, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey, Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson. Although Holmes missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he strung together solid efforts in his four previous starts. (WGC Cadillac T2, Northern Trust T22, Pebble Beach T10 and Farmers Insurance T2). Stenson has been dynamite in March, showing up high on leader boards at the Arnold Palmer Invitational (solo second), the Valspar Championship (solo fourth) and WGC-Cadillac (T4). Casey, who just nailed down a spot in the 2015 Masters, made it to Augusta by going T2 at the Northern Trust Open and followed up that stellar performance with a T3 at the Honda Classic. Matt Kuchar rides into town having gone nine-for-nine in cuts made. It’s a safe bet he makes it 10-for-10 as he looks to take the final step toward winning the title after losing to Jones last year in a playoff. Dustin Johnson’s return to the tour has produced several nice highs – winning the WGC-Cadillac and going solo second at the Northern Trust Open. Those terrific performances, two other top-10s and a gut check recovery from an opening 78 at the Valero Texas Open to finish T6 make him a huge factor this week.
Two players sure to be coming into the Shell Houston Open with fire in their bellies due to shaky play are Phil Mickelson and Germany’s Martin Kaymer. Mickelson hasn’t resided among the top 15 at any event this season and is in search of an effective putting stroke before heading up Magnolia Lane on a mission to earn his fourth Masters title. Two-time major champion Kaymer went 82, 80 to miss the cut at the Valero Texas Open by a country mile, and he frittered away a 10-shot lead during the final round of the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January. Outside chance players in the field include three-time major champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland. Harrington seems to have squashed the bugs in his game as evidenced by his playoff victory over Daniel Berger in the Honda Classic. Ryan Moore has trended steadily northward after a WD at the Humana Challenge. He earned nice chunks of change in his last two starts at Valspar (solo fifth) and T9 in the WGC Cadillac. Brendan Steele picks up major consideration to be around on the weekend because he is on a run of 15-straight cuts made.
The Golf Club of Houston Tournament Course plays 7,441-yards long and is a par 72. The property has hosted the Shell Houston Open since 2003.
Favorites: J.B. Holmes, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson
Players to Watch: Phil Mickelson, Martin Kaymer, Padraig Harrington, Ryan Moore, Brendan Steele