A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: It's Houston Open time

The Houston Open begins play next week. Houstonopen.org

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If you’re like most of us, you’ve caught your mistake the second it rolled of your tongue.

Are you going to The Shell next week? I mean Houston Open?

Old habits die hard. Especially ones that date back to the early ‘90s. As in 1992.

Shell Oil Company stepped in as title sponsor of Houston’s PGA TOUR event in 1992 and stepped out at the close of the 2017 event. And, yes, the search is still on for a title sponsor.

The last time we called next week’s PGA TOUR event the Houston Open was 1986 when feisty Curtis Strange beat Calvin Peete to win the second of his three Houston Opens.

Houston was between sponsors then, too. Coca Cola had bowed out and the Independent Insurance Agents had yet to bow in for a five-year run that ended in 1991.

As with other events, sponsorship is cyclical and Steve Timms, the Houston Open tournament director and president of the Houston Golf Association, is making the best of his search for a new title sponsor and the tournament’s last – for the near future – time as the lead-in to the Masters.

He’s already got a strong group of headliners coming to the Golf Club of Houston including Texan Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and fan favorite Phil Mickelson, all of whom will be intriguing storylines here as well as at the year’s first major.

And he’s putting Houston front-and-center too.

“We’re celebrating Houston,’’ Timms said earlier this month. “The Houston Open is here for Houston and we’re showcasing the city on national television. We want to put a great foot forward hopefully if we don’t have a title sponsor by then we’ll have some prospects who will be impressed by what we’re doing in the community.’’

In addition to the tournament, the HGA has almost completed the renovation and restoration of Gus Wortham Park and runs hugely successful junior programs through its Junior Golf and First Tee programs.

But the place to be this last week in March is at Golf Club of Houston for this 2018 Houston Open, an event that dates back to 1946 when Byron Nelson beat Ben Hogan and Sam Snead finished third. It was the only time those three golf legends finished in that order in any event.

This year’s legend is Mickelson who beat Justin Thomas last month to win the WGC-Mexico Championship to win the 43rd tournament of his career and his first since the 2013 British Open. He is now fourth on the 2018 Ryder Cup points list and needs just seven wins to hit the magic 50 mark.

“Seven more wins and I'll be there,’’ he said after the WGC win. “I don't have the month or the time, but I will get there."

Mickelson has been a regular here since 2008 and won the Shell Houston Open in 2011 – the year after he won his third Masters.

Spieth won three times last year, including the British Open where he beat Matt Kuchar by three shots. In 2015, Spieth and Johnson Wagner lost a  three-way playoff at the Shell to eventual winner J.B. Holmes, but Spieth went on to win his first major the following week in Augusta.

Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champ, won the 2018 season opener – the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions—and just had back-to-back top five finishes at the Valspar Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational. Fowler won the 2017 Hero World Challenge, but hasn’t finished in the top 10 since a tie for fourth at January’s Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Timms could still pick up a few more big names Friday since the deadline to commit is Friday night.

The event has done a great job of attracting players the week before the Masters by setting the course up with quick greens and recreating the quick green speeds and special mowing. The course has different turf than Augusta National, but the similarities help players prepare.

But Houston loses that spot in 2019. Next year, San Antonio’s Valero Texas Open will be the week before the Masters. It’s all part of a schedule shakeup for next season that will include moving the PLAYERS Championship to March and the PGA Championship to May.

And Houston? The full schedule has yet to be determined, but Houston would be played sometime after the Masters.

“We’re just not sure how deep into the spring we’ll be,’’ Timms said.

No matter what, Timms plans to put on a great show in Houston next week.

See you next week – at the Houston Open.




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Framber Valdez injured his ring finger on Tuesday. Composite image by Jack Brame.

That sure escalated quickly. The news on Framber Valdez went from bad to vastly worse for the Astros with the fractured ring finger on his pitching hand concerning enough that season ending surgery is on the radar. Valdez is/was no sure thing to have been a first time quality full season starting pitcher, but seemed a decent bet after his maturity-driven albeit short season breakout 2020.

37-year-old Zack Greinke is the only member of the Astros' starting rotation to have thrown even 130 innings in a big league season. Greinke showed notable slippage in 2020. A by-product of the funky short season, or Father Time making a move? If Greinke further erodes, uh oh. It's all question marks behind him.

Lance McCullers got to the big leagues in 2015. Six years later McCullers has zero seasons under his belt in which he both pitched well and stayed healthy. If he hits that exacta in 2021 it's great for the Astros of course, greater for McCullers with free agency arriving at season's end. Particularly confounding with McCullers is that over his career he's been outstanding at Minute Maid Park, and basically sucked on the road. Career earned run average at MMP: 2.51. Career ERA everywhere else: 4.99. That's absurd. It's certainly not as if MMP is some great pitchers' park.

"Crafty" is typically applied to left-handed pitchers. Jose Urquidy seems a crafty right-hander. But since missing the 2017 season recovering from Tommy John surgery Urquidy has topped 100 innings worked once. Cristian Javier has some electric stuff and showed very well as a rookie. Javier has never thrown 115 innings in a professional season.

The odds are long against McCullers, Urquidy, and Javier all pitching well and staying healthy all season. Valdez didn't come close to making it to Opening Day. The best internal candidates to replace Framber (or anyone else) are Luis Garcia and the extremely-hyped thus far dud but still just 23 years old Forrest Whitley.

Woeful Rockets

It certainly isn't paying homage to James Harden that has the Rockets on a 13 game losing streak as they mercifully take their All-Star break. They're just that bad. Watching them is like watching a helpless fly tossed into a spider web game after game. Out of the break the Rockets play at Sacramento Thursday. The Kings are no good, but the Rockets are worse. A loss there all but guarantees matching the Houston Rockets' longest ever losing streak of 15 since the following night they play at Utah. If you care about them the Rockets are painful to watch. Hapless, helpless, hopeless. Their best shot at accelerating what might be a years long path back to relevance is to keep on stinking. The Rockets have the third worst record in the NBA. The three worst teams have equal chances at getting picks one through four in the draft. It's a 14 percent shot at number one, a 52 percent shot of being in the top four. The fourth worst team has a 48 percent chance of picking in the top four. If the Rockets are not in the top four, they lose their pick to Oklahoma City as a payoff of the awful Chris Paul-Russell Westbrook trade.

Watt signs with Cardinals

J.J. Watt could have least acknowledged "Of course the money the Cardinals offered had plenty to do with me picking them!" Off an 8-8 season in which they faded down the stretch the Cards have an interesting squad with some serious upside, especially if Kyler Murray makes a leap in his third season at quarterback. But no way are the Cardinals presently a first tier Super Bowl contender. We don't know for certain who Watt's other "finalists" were and what they offered. Seems a lock that none of them offered 23 million dollars guaranteed or two years 31 million total. Money is another scoreboard and J.J. is a huge winner on it. No one should ever blame a player for going for every dollar he can get. But Watt can't honestly say the best shot at a Super Bowl was his top priority then sign with a team which last had a winning season in 2015 and in Kliff Kingsbury has a guy who has accomplished nothing meaningful as a Head Coach at either Texas Tech or Arizona. Doesn't mean it can't happen in the desert, but there had to be better teams interested if a ring shot was of paramount importance.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Les Miles, what a slimeball. LSU, what a slimy institution in its handling of serial sexual misconduct in its football program

2. NBA All-Star Game Sunday. In 1993 more than 22 million people watched. Last year, 6.8 million. Not sure 5 mil watch Sunday.

3. Greatest ever NFL free agent signings: Bronze-Packers, Reggie White Silver-Buccaneers, Tom Brady Gold-Saints, Drew Brees

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