Shell Houston Open preview: Henrik Stenson looks to get over hump after series of near misses

Stenson won his first major championship last year at the British Open and will try to win his second in "hay fever heaven."

The Shell Houston Open has developed a firm identity as the tournament before the Masters.

A strong field is once again ready to tune up its game before heading to Augusta National where fresh azaleas will be blooming on the course'shallowed grounds.

Before talking about green jackets and a tradition unlike any other, the PGA Tour will headto the Golf Club of Houston, which is a challenging7,441-yardspar 72.Now beginning its second decade as the lead-in venue for the Masters, the Shell Houston Open provides a similar test that Augusta National presents.

Last year, Jim Herman fended off Henrik Stenson by one shot in one of the most shocking results of the year. Stenson has finished runner-up here two of the last four years, but has never won the event.

Jordan Spieth is back in action this week trying to keep up with Dustin Johnson's unrivaled form. He will be trying to collect his first top-10 finish since winning at Pebble Beach in February.

Here are the top golfers teeing up in Houston this week:

Henrik Stenson (world ranking: 5) — Stenson has done everything here but win. Though he's been dealing with some back and knee injuries this year, he's still recorded three top 10s in five starts. Unfortunately, the other two starts were a WD and a missed cut.

Jordan Spieth (6) — Spieth has not finished outside the top 30 in a start since last year's U.S. Open. His putter is back this year, which is why he lapped the field at Pebble Beach and finished third at both Hawaii stops. Ball-striking is still s small concern for Spieth, but his iron game has looked sharp this season.

Rickie Fowler (9) — After a rough 2016, Fowler has re-gained his form with four straight top-16 finishes including a win at the Honda Classic. Despite struggling in majors since his great 2014 season, Fowler remains a dark horse at Augusta next week. It will be interesting to see how he putts, because these greens will be similar to Augusta's.

Adam Scott (7) — It's been a while since we've seen Scott compete (t-45 in Mexico). The sweet-swinging Aussie usually plays a light schedule early in the year, but it was important for him to play this week. A former winner here, Scott should be able to round his game back into form before trying to win his second green jacket next week.

Justin Rose (13) — With three top-4 finishes already this season, Rose could be a bit underrated heading into this crucial stretch. Already a provenmajor winner, Rose could soon add to his total if he can gain confidence with his putter this week.

Patrick Reed (12) — Since the Ryder Cup, where he was a hero, Reed has posted just threetop-25 finishes in 11 starts worldwide. Ball-striking has been a major issue for Reed this season. He ranks just 131 in strokes gained: tee-to-green and 180th in greens in regulation. Luckily he is 21 in strokes gained: putting.

Jon Rahm (14) — The young rookie has a win, runner-up, third and a fifth-place finish in four of his last five starts. With a short, compact swing that allows him to blast it past the longest hitters and a magical short game, Rahm has the makeup of a future world No. 1.

Phil Mickelson (19) — With top 10s in his last two starts — both WGC events — Mickelson looks poised to make some noise in Houston and Augusta.

MORE: Tom Brady plays Augusta National alongside Jordan Spieth

Others to watch:

Tony Finau, J.B. Holmes, Jimmy Walker, Peter Uihlein and Bernd Wiesberger

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