Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Golf [Print without images]

Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Updated: March 27, 8:00 AM ET
Shell Houston Open experts' picks


Each week of the season, our experts will share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: The Shell Houston Open at Redstone Golf Club in Humble, Texas.

Horse for the Course

Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: Hunter Mahan -- Not only is he defending champion, he is feast or famine in Houston. Since 2006 he either finishes inside the top 11 or misses the cut. And he only missed the cut in '08 and '10.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Phil Mickelson -- Since the Shell Houston Open moved to the Redstone Golf Club in 2003, the 42-year-old lefty has posted the second lowest 72-hole total with a 20-under par score to win the 2011 tournament. In that victory, he shot 63-65 on the weekend. Last year, he had a tie for fourth in the event.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Hunter Mahan -- He has four top-10 finishes in Houston, including a victory last year.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Steve Stricker -- Part-time player Stricker stands fourth on the PGA Tour money list with just three starts so far this season. The next-highest player in terms of cash with that number of starts? That would be Rory McIlroy at No. 109. In his past six starts at the SHO, Stricker's finished inside the top 11 four times.


Birdie Buster

Michael Collins: Phil Mickelson -- In 2008, Lefty figured out that playing Houston prepared him for Augusta. For some reason Phil loves putting on the greens of Redstone. Expect another top-5 finish even though we all know he's looking past the event towards the Masters.

Farrell Evans: Keegan Bradley -- The former PGA champion who made the anchored putter a cause célébre with his surprise win at the Atlanta Athletic Club in 2011 has had top 10s in his past three events, including a tie for third at Bay Hill.

Bob Harig: Keegan Bradley -- He's coming off a tie for third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and although he hasn't won this year, he has three top-five finishes.

Kevin Maguire: Keegan Bradley -- After notching a third-straight top-10 finish at Bay Hill with his T-3 showing, Bradley heads to the Shell Houston Open, where he finished T-4 in 2012.


Super Sleeper

Michael Collins: Jordan Spieth -- And you think what Bud Cauley did in 2011 was impressive getting his tour card as a temporary member in seven starts? Jordan Speith is gonna have his tour card locked up in FIVE!! A week off to recharge the batteries at home means three top-10s in a row after this week in Houston.

Farrell Evans: Charles Howell III -- The 33-year-old Augusta native needs a good finish in Houston to get inside the top 50 in the world rankings to make it back next month to his hometown event, where he finished T-19 last year. He is 57th in the world.

Bob Harig: Steve Stricker -- He's done nothing but play well in limited appearances this year and Houston is a venue he likes. Stricker was second three weeks ago at Doral.

Kevin Maguire: : Jordan Spieth -- One of the PGA Tour's newest special temporary members, the 19-year-old Spieth tees it up at the Redstone Golf Club this week looking for a third-straight top-10 finish. If he were to accomplish that feat, he'd likely lock up his job for next season.


Winner

Michael Collins: Rory McIlroy -- Many people who said, "How could you say Rory turned a corner after one round?" are the same people who will say, "Yeah but it was a weak field right?" It may have taken some time to figure it out, but did you think he wouldn't figure it out?

Farrell Evans: Steve Stricker -- Nowadays, the 46-year-old Wisconsin native doesn't play much, but when he does he's close to the leaderboard. Stricker has two seconds and a tie for fifth in three starts in 2013. He has had a third, a T-4 and a T-9 at Redstone.

Bob Harig: Phil Mickelson -- Lefty wants to atone for that poor performance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational -- where he shot a second-round 79 -- and get his game ready for the Masters. He's shot 10 straight rounds under par at Redstone Country Club and won there two years ago.

Kevin Maguire: Lee Westwood -- The streak of American winners to start the season comes to an end this week as the Englishman claims just his second PGA Tour title, which will put him in an excellent frame of mind as he prepares for the Masters.