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

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

The Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider will take you inside Houston Sports each Friday because #WeAreHoustonSports!

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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With their closer revealed, here are the Astros top bullpen X-factors

Houston Astros skipper Joe Espada wasted no time this week at spring training by answering one of the most talked about questions of the offseason.

Espada revealed that newly-acquired free agent Josh Hader will be the team's closer and will pitch the ninth inning, with Ryan Pressly working as the setup man.

Bryan Abreu will be tapped to pitch the seventh inning, but it wouldn't shock anyone if he had the best season of the three. But after Abreu, things get interesting in the bullpen.

Who pitches the sixth inning?

Astros GM Dana Brown gave Rafael Montero a vote of confidence, saying he's “legit.”

While we have our concerns about Montero after he finished with an ERA over five last year, there's reason for hope. The nature of relief pitchers halving up and down seasons from year to year could work in Montero's favor.

And with the salary that's already committed to him, Brown will likely give him every opportunity to justify his contract. It will be fascinating to see how Espada deploys him early on. You have to think with the boss man backing Montero, Espada will be on board too.

But if he does struggle, will Espada quickly stop using him in critical situations? The good news is, the team won't often have to turn to him in high leverage situations with Abreu, Pressly, and Hader ready to handle those duties.

Be sure to watch the video above for the full discussion about the Astros 'pen, and much more!

Don't miss Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every week on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel!

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