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‘Dawgs on Tour: Houston, We Have A Problem.

Lack of title corporate sponsorship will not prevent UGA’s own Russell Henley from defending his title this week, and won’t prevent this week’s winner from getting an invite to The Masters.

Shell Houston Open - Final Round Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Tournament: Houston Open, March 29-April 1, 2018

Course: Golf Club of Houston (Tournament), 7,441 yards, par 72

Purse: $7,000,000

Defending Champion: Russell Henley. Even a bogey on the final hole couldn’t stop Henley from capturing the title, as his 10 birdies on the day overcame a 4 shot deficit and gave the Macon native a 3 stroke victory.

Fun Fact: This is the last possible way to obtain an invitation to The Masters next week. One of the ways to get an invite is to win a PGA Tour event, and The Masters Tournament Committee grants one to the winner of this event, a scant 4 days before The Masters begins. 4 of the last 5 winners of this tournament have gained entry to Augusta by winning, including Russell Henley last year.

Television: Wednesday-Friday, 2-8 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (GC), 2-6 p.m. (NBC). Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (GC), 3-7 p.m. (NBC).

Former 'Dawgs in the Field ( Four ): Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Harris English, Keith Mitchell

The course has been praised in recent years for it’s simulation of Augusta National’s green speeds, roll, and even the run-up and run-off areas around the green. Being in Houston, the course is flat, but it does play about the same yardage as The Masters. And having been relegated to a sometimes prime, sometimes not slot immediately before The Masters, it found an identity by mimicking the Augusta National putting surfaces. Players who are invited next week are then more likely to attend in Houston so they can get used to the speeds and conditions. Though let’s be honest... NOTHING can perfectly imitate Augusta National greens.

But this is a solid tournament with a good field (some top players take the week off to practice at home or squeeze in a practice round in Augusta if they’re allowed to). And it’s part of the early season “Texas Two-Step” - part 1 being the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play (won by Bubba Watson). The Tour will return to Texas in the summer for a few weeks. Shell Oil Company was the title sponsor for the past decade or so, but did not renew their sponsorship so the tourney is simply the “Houston Open” this year.

Here is who is playing and who you’re rooting for:

Russell Henley. 3 time Tour winner, and was not eligible for the 2017 Masters until the great Sunday come-from-behind victory which got him an invite to Augusta along with $1.26 million in prize money. Not bad.

Harris English. The Valdosta native had a top 5 finish in the alternate field event last week, and has 3 other top 25 finishes so far this season. He is not eligible for The Masters, so he could use a win.

Chris Kirk. The smooth and languid Kirk has 4 top 15 finishes this season, which has been his best in a couple of years.

Keith Mitchell. The PGA Tour rookie snagged a 2nd place finish in the alternate field event last week, which is his 2nd top 25 finish and his first inside the top 10. He’s been pretty steady and with a few more good weeks will secure his Tour card for next season.

The weather is finally warming up in my neck of the woods, so we’ll see how much golf I watch versus a honey-do list at the GlimmerEstate. But I know I’ll be following our ‘Dawgs as they try to strike it rich in Oil Country.

And as always….