Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Houston golf event lands most top players

HUMBLE, Texas – The Shell Houston Open has gotten exactly what it wanted, three years after having the event moved to the weekend before the Masters.

OK, the tournament still couldn’t lure Tiger Woods, who’s sticking to his usual routine of not playing the run-up event to a major.

But 15 of the top 20 players in the world rankings did come to The Tournament Course at Redstone for their final tuneup before Augusta, including Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Geoff Ogilvy and Padraig Harrington. Former top-ranked players Greg Norman and Fred Couples are also among the star-studded field, the best in the tournament’s 63-year history.

“Word of mouth has been good and important to us,” tournament director Steve Timms said. “The golf course’s reputation is growing, the players all seem to enjoy it. It’s what we hoped for.”

Organizers have tried to simulate conditions at Augusta – fast greens, light rough and fairways mowed toward the tee – and the Masters-like setup has generated enough positive buzz to lure top players from both the PGA and international tours.

A tournament-record 39 foreign-born players will play, including 21 who’ve already qualified for the Masters.

“They’ve definitely done a magnificent job preparing it, as close as it can be, from what we might see at Augusta,” said Garcia, playing in Houston for the first time. “There are definitely a lot of similarities you can find.”

Harrington, who’s won the last two majors, has made Houston an annual stop since 2006, when the Tournament Course became the host. He also appreciates the Augusta-like conditions, but said the Houston Open has gained prestige of its own.

“Nobody’s turned up this week who doesn’t want to win this tournament,” Harrington said. “The idea, when you build your schedule, is to peak for the majors. But you’re never going to complain if it happens to be this week as well.”

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