Masters tune up at Houston Open

A group of the best golfers in the world will compete at the Shell Houston Open beginning Thursday in the hope of getting the best preparation for the conditions they'll see the following week at the Masters.

Each year, golfers flock to the Golf Club of Houston's Tournament Course in the northern suburb of Humble, Texas, to test out their prowess on a layout that mimics those at Augusta National. It features big-shouldered holes bordered by relatively light rough and tight lies around the sloping, and super-quick, putting surfaces.

A full field of 144 players, including four of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings, will vie for a total purse of $7 million -- with $1.26 million and 500 FedEx Cup points going to the winner.

The group is highlighted by world No. 5 and reigning British Open champ Henrik Stenson of Sweden, No. 6 Jordan Spieth, No. 7 Adam Scott of Australia and No. 9 Rickie Fowler. Patrick Reed (No. 12), 2016 Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose of England (No. 13), Spain's Jon Rahm (No. 14) and Phil Mickelson (No. 19) are also in the field.

Rahm, a rookie who won earlier this season at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego and finished second last week to Dustin Johnson at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, is still learning his way around the tour. He decided that playing in Houston would be better than spending more time at Augusta and welcomes another week of preparation for this year's first major.

"I've heard many different things of how to get ready for Augusta or any other major," Rahm said. "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 there 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, get in three practice rounds and try to think of it as one more week. It's as simple as that."

In all, 15 of the top 30 golfers in the FedEx Cup standings will be playing in Houston this week.

D.A. Points, the 2013 Shell Houston Open champion, is also in the mix after capturing last week's Puerto Rico Open.

Points joins nine other past Shell Houston Open winners in the field: Jim Herman (2016), J.B. Holmes (2015), Matt Jones (2014), Hunter Mahan (2012), Mickelson (2011), Johnson Wagner (2008), Scott (2007), Stuart Appleby (2006, 1999) and Robert Allenby (2000).

As the week started, 29 players in the Shell Houston Open field are scheduled to compete at the Masters. The event serves as the final opportunity for players not exempt for the Masters to play their way into the year's first major championship.

Spieth, 22, will be competing in this tournament for the fifth time.

"I love this tournament and this golf course and it's a fantastic event and one I grew up watching," Spieth said. "I played this course as a junior from when I was 14 -- it was a very big course for me then; I couldn't reach a few of the par-4s in two. I received an exemption to play here on my first year on tour. You have to hit the right shots under pressure coming in on the last few holes to be successful here."

In 2008, Wagner became the first player to capitalize on the win-and-you're-in berth into the Masters. The most recent player to play his way into the Masters was Herman, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last year before posting a final round 4-under 68 and earning his first career PGA Tour title in his 106th start.

This is the 26th and final tournament with Shell Oil Company as the title sponsor and is the 69th PGA Tour event hosted by the Houston Golf Association. The tournament is the 10th-longest running event on the schedule.