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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Not my job: Texans no match for the Ravens

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Texans fell to the Ravens 33-16 in a game they had a shot at winning. Most of you reading this will probably think I'm crazy for saying that. I assure you, I meant what I said. One of the reasons they didn't was because Bill O'Brien made a few questionable decisions that cost this team.

The first was the 4th & 1 decision. Deciding to go for it was bad enough. They were down 3-0 near the end of the first quarter with the ball on their own 34-yard line. This is not a situation that calls for a gamble or statement play. The play call itself was okay I guess: a play action bootleg with two short options. It was read and played perfectly by the Ravens defense. Deshaun Watson had nowhere to go with the ball and had to throw it at Darren Fells' back before getting sacked. That led to a quick Ravens touchdown and an early 10-0 deficit. I seriously think he has PTSD after that playoff loss to the Chiefs when it comes to fourth down calls. Bumbling Bill strikes again!

When they got the ball back, they scored a touchdown thanks to more play action passes and pre-snap motion. It was as if Bumbling Bill realized his offensive line was outmatched by the front seven they're opposing. Sure Watson is mobile and looks like a magician escaping sacks, but misdirection helps throw the defense off and keeps Watson from breaking into 177,000,000 pieces. Oh, and the quick reads were a good idea as well. Too bad Bumbling Bill went away from that and opted for longer developing routes. Or will he blame it on Timid Tim Kelly? Or was Waiting Watson holding onto the ball too long? I blame all three.

Also, can we stop starting drives with the predictable run, run, pass combo please? First down should be play action rollout with Watson having the ability to choose to run if it's there. More run/pass/option plays need to be called as well. Incorporate more things that we saw when Watson was on his way to winning rookie of the year before his knee was sacrificed for the Astros.

Credit where it's due: the end of the first half to get a field goal with a minute and change left was good to see. Typically, these situations tend to make Bumbling Bill come out. I liked the quick slant to Cobb with no timeouts. They were able to spike the ball and get the field goal up.

The game was still within reach at 23-13 in the beginning of the fourth quarter. On a 4th & 1, they gave up a 30 yard touchdown run on a direct snap to Mark Ingram. I saw gaps on both sides of the defensive line pre-snap. Sure enough, Ingram got a lead block from the Ravens human plough of a fullback and that effectively put the nail in the coffin at 30-13. I know the tendency is to quarterback sneak or run up the middle, but don't leave gaps along the defensive line trying to stack the middle. First time defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver will take the L on this one.

Overall, I'll give O'Brien and his coaching staff a C- this game. Mistakes were made that could've cost them a legit shot at winning, but the Keke Coutee fumble return for a touchdown wasn't their fault. The play calling menu was brought to us this week by Craft Pita via the "What's Eric Eating" podcast. Tune in next week for another "Not my job!"

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