Mar 31

Power rankings: Shell Houston Open

The Shell Houston Open is the one final tournament before the Masters. It offers the last spot in the year's first major -- that is, if the eventual winner isn't already qualified. That makes this tournament fascinating unto itself, but its Masters-inspired setup and strong field are a draw as well.

[DraftKings: Win $1 Million playing Fantasy Golf during the Masters – Sign up for free!]

Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker, fresh off their Valero Texas Open duel, headline the field. Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar are among the big names, too.

However, unlike most weeks, there are no clear cut favorites. With that, here are the best bets for the week at Golf Club of Houston.

1. Jordan Spieth — Spieth is going to be great this week (Masters Lite) and next week (Masters Heavy) because his short game is out of sight. He said this course makes him uncomfortable, but he’s been out of this world this season.

2. Patrick Reed — Patrick Reed doesn’t need a boost of confidence, but GC of Houston could help him feel very good going into a second crack at Augusta National as a pro.

3. J.B. Holmes — Holmes has been playing some great golf, a missed cut at Bay Hill aside. He’s been in the top 12 three times since 2009, including a playoff loss in ’09.

4. Jimmy Walker — Walker’s not going to mail in an event in his home state, but it’s hard not to think he won’t be tired from a hometown win. However, you have to love him at the Masters.

5. Lee Westwood — Westwood seems to have found some consistency, making all six PGA Tour cuts this season including three in the Florida Swing. Never missed a cash in Houston.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Mar 31

Report: Tiger Woods’ plane spotted at Augusta airport

There are very few reasons why Tiger Woods would fly to Augusta, Ga. Really, there's probably one: to play at Augusta National Golf Club.

That's why an Augusta Chronicle report that Woods' private plane was spotted at Augusta Regional Airport on Tuesday has fueled speculation the four-time Masters winner will compete there next week.

[DraftKings: Win $1 Million playing Fantasy Golf during the Masters – Sign up for free!]

Woods hasn't played on the PGA Tour since withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open on Feb. 6 after 11 holes in the first round, citing back pain. Five days later, Woods released a statement saying he would not play competitive golf again until his game was "tournament ready." Woods skipped The Honda Classic in his hometown of Jupiter, Fla., did not qualify for the WGC-Cadillac Championship and chose not to play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament he has won eight times.

The tea leaves seemed to suggest Woods felt "tournament ready" again as friend Notah Begay III told 120 Sports that the 14-time major winner was "50-50" to play in the Masters -- better than Begay's 1-in-10 characterization when Woods announced his hiatus.

Golf World reporter Tim Rosaforte opined Monday that Woods would play at Augusta National on the basis of good scores posted at Woods' home club, Medalist, in Florida and reports from area golf friends who said Woods had the "edge" again.

Woods is yet to announce his plans, though it might be reasonable to expect something in the affirmative on Tuesday. However, Woods is under no obligation to tell Augusta National officials of his plans before his yet-to-be scheduled tee time for Round 1 next Thursday.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Mar 31

Henrik Stenson out of Houston Open, battling illness

Henrik Stenson's final Masters prep suffered a blow on Monday when the Swede pulled out of the Shell Houston Open with the flu.

[DraftKings: Win $1 Million playing Fantasy Golf during the Masters – Sign up for free!]

Stenson announced his withdrawal via Twitter, also sharing that he won't play a previously scheduled practice round at Augusta National ahead of Houston.

The world No. 2 still intends to play in the Masters.

In his last three PGA Tour starts, Stenson has finished in the top five in them all, including a runner-up finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Stenson, who will turn 39 this week, had his best-ever finish at last year's Masters, finishing tied for 14th place.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Mar 30

Tiger Woods falls out of OWGR top 100 for first time since 1996

For the first time since 1996, Tiger Woods is not even in the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Woods checks in at No. 104 in the latest ranking, dropping another eight spots from the week prior. It's his first week outside the top 100 since Sept. 28, 1996 -- the week before Woods' first pro win in Las Vegas.

[DraftKings: Win $1 Million playing Fantasy Golf during the Masters – Sign up for free!]

This should come as no surprise to anyone as Woods has earned just 9.73 world ranking points in the last 15 months. Were it not for the remaining value from tournaments Woods playing in the closing three-fourths of 2013, he would be in the 300s. Simply put: If Woods doesn't play, he doesn't earn points.

So, when will Woods play again? Golf World's Tim Rosaforte reported Monday that Woods has been posting "good scores" at Medalist, Woods' home club in Florida. Rosaforte said several area friends reported Woods has "the edge" back. If Woods truly has found his game again, then expect to see him in the Masters.

Will he contend? Who knows. 


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Mar 30

Several players unable to crack world top 50 to earn Masters invite

Some of the final invites to Augusta National were sealed with Sunday the cut off to crack the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Anirban Lahiri, Paul Casey, Branden Grace and Bernd Wiesberger earned spots in the year's first major by remaining in the top 50. 

[DraftKings: Win $1 Million playing Fantasy Golf during the Masters – Sign up for free!]

Just one player hopped into the top 50 that was outside of it last week: Brendon Todd, who was already in the Masters by virtue of his Byron Nelson Championship victory. 

Several players had opportunities to break into the top 50, but all came up short. 

Marc Warren had to beat Todd at the Valero Texas Open to move from 52nd into the top 50, but didn't. Warren was T-35. Todd was T-30 at TPC San Antonio.

Harris English also finished T-30, but had to finish at least in the top 10, and get a little help, at the Texas Open. 

Overseas, George Coetzee had a chance to earn a Masters invite with a win at the European Tour's Trophee Hassan II. He came up two shots short of winner Richie Ramsay, finishing third and left on the outside of the gates on Washington Road. 

There's only one more way to get into the Masters: win the Shell Houston Open. 


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.