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Rupert Wyman 31st Mar 2010 - 15:11

An invite to The Masters anyone?

There is one week left before this year's first major. The players will be making preparations for The Masters at the Texas and the Shell Houston Open. It has quick greens and similar conditions to those faced at Augusta and will provide a perfect practice event.

A truly world-class field will be honing their skills at Redstone Golf Club, the event's home since 2006. Paul Casey will be attempting to defend his 2009, sudden-death playoff victory over long hitting J.B Holmes.

The Houston Open started in 1924 and has some prestigious winners, including Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson and Roberto DeVicenzo.

The European contingent is strong pre Masters and consists of last year's winner Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy. Big hitters have a major advantage this week, the course length is a massive 7,457 yards and landing greenies are a major bonus.

The favourite for the event is currently Ernie Els, he may regret committing to Houston because on current form, he should now be solely focused on winning The Masters at Augusta. 'The Big Easy' is the most in-form player in world golf and it is highlighted by recent victories at Doral and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

However, I am not totally convinced that the top players will not be interested in winning it because they are more focused on tweaking and fine-tuning their game pre Augusta.

Paul Casey won last year, when many critics thought he was only focused on the following week's Masters.

Tiger Woods failed to win a major last year, yet had three wins in his final warm-up matches before a major. So it is unwise to not consider the major players in the market, with one eye on Augusta.

Phil Mickelson is one player who will be desperate to win and fine-tune his play at Houston. Lefty carded a hugely disappointing final-round 77 at the Arnold Palmer, overall he was poor, although his priorities probably lie elsewhere at the moment, with both his wife and mother battling breast cancer.

He has finished in the top twenty-five in four of five events, but there is little value in backing him at 14/1 to win because he is hardly in vintage form and can play at a higher level.

Old 'Boom Boom', Fred Couples had the fans' hearts racing last year at Redstone, taking the lead into the back nine on Sunday before tying for third. In four events on the relaxed Champions League Tour this season, his form figures read 2111 and he must be of interest coming into the event. He is priced at 28/1 and plays the Redstone course well and for ¼ odds a place, he has to be an each-way interest. However, could it be that Couples is fabulous in the Champions Tour events but when he plays the regular tour his form is more realistic?

Now The Masters field is set and the only way to get an invite in the next week is to win at Houston, one of those looking for that last minute invite is Stuart Appleby. This is a golf tournament that has been good to Australians over the years and Appleby has won twice previously. Could he surprise at a monster 80/1 and earn himself a place at Augusta next week? His problem has been his form in 2010, with six missed cuts out of nine but should he putt well, his confidence could grow and he could be a major player.



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