Thursday 19 April 2018

Spieth and Rahm tune up in Texas

Jordan Spieth is tuning up for Augustat at the Houston Open. Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Jordan Spieth is tuning up for Augustat at the Houston Open. Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Jordan Spieth and rising star Jon Rahm are just two of the 29 players qualified for Augusta who have chosen to play their way into Masters week by competing at the $7m Shell Houston Open which starts today.

As the excitement and speculation about the 81st Masters revs up around the globe, the 'Houston 29' hope the Tour stop at the Golf Club of Houston in Humble, Texas can prime them for the challenges they face next week.

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry, the only two Irish players in the field for the first Major of the year, are not among them.

McIlroy contented himself with a visit to Augusta National on Monday and Tuesday, and is scheduled to arrive next Monday evening to tune up for the big tee-off on Thursday, April 6.

Lowry missed the cut at the Matchplay last Friday and returned home. He will fly back to the USA on Saturday.

The tricky question: "to play or not to play" the tournament which immediately precedes any Major, but particularly the Masters, can change for players year on year.

Last year, Lowry entered the Shell Houston Open, but missed the cut. He then used the weekend off for practice at Augusta, and settled for nine holes on Monday through Wednesday of Masters week.

It was only Lowry's second appearance in the tournament and that format set him up for a nice start when he shot 68 in round one. After that, Augusta ground him down with rounds of 76, 79 and 75 resulting in a tied-39th final placing.

McIlroy has played only 14 competitive rounds this year due to the rib injury he suffered in January but still feels he can benefit more by a quiet build-up rather than the full glare of a tournament this week.

Dustin Johnson, the World No 1, entered Houston but withdrew, saying he needed a rest following his WGC-Dell Matchplay victory over Spain's Jon Rahm last Sunday.

Rahm (22) the new hotshot on the PGA Tour block, took a different view, saying: "I'm trying to figure out what is best for me. This time I decided that I'm going to play the week before.

"What I didn't want to do was fly early to Augusta, and spend too much time in Augusta, and make it more important in my mind than it already is, right? By playing here this week, the earliest I can get there is Sunday night, then have three practice rounds and try to think of it as one more week. As simple as that."

Meanwhile, West Waterford's Gary Hurley aims to make good use of his Challenge Tour card this season.

Hurley can avail of €14,000 backing from the Team Ireland Golf Trust, and he will need every penny of it, given the expense of playing on Tour.

The former Walker Cup winner played his first event in the Kenya Open last week. He finished tied-45th on three under par, earning €1,078.

Assessing the prospects for the year, Hurley spoke about what he has already learned about the attitude required for the pro game, as exemplified by Peter Lawrie and Damien McGrane and his housemate and fellow Walker Cup player, Paul Dunne.

"I played a few European Tour events last year, and there's no real pretenders out there," he said.

"The guys that aren't in the superstar bracket like Rory, they just go out and do their business and get out of there. Then they go out and do it again the next day.

"Damien and Peter, they still are very good golfers and they had great careers out of knowing what they did best, and were very good at what they did best.

"Paul is very professional at what he does. He works hard and that rubs off on me. It's great to have someone like that around me."

Shell Houston Open

Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.0pm

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