Shell Houston Open 2013: Highlighting Major Champions with Best Shot at Victory
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The Shell Houston Open is extremely tight at the top, with 2009 British Open champion Stewart Cink leading the way at 11 under along with Bill Haas through three rounds.
Every golfer in the top 20 is within four strokes of the lead, and several big names with at least one major to their credit are in hot pursuit. Cink may hold a share of the 54-hole advantage, but he hasn't won an event since that breakthrough at Turnberry.
Therefore, it's worth power ranking the players who have won golf's biggest tournaments and have the best chances of translating that success to capture a victory in Humble on Sunday.
5. Angel Cabrera (-9)
El Pato has fallen off the radar since snagging a green jacket at The Masters in 2009 to back up his maiden major triumph at the U.S. Open almost two years prior.
The long-hitting Cabrera can drive the ball with the best players in the world but hasn't won at all recently. Entering the 2013 season, the Argentine had only made 17 of his previous 47 PGA Tour cuts.
Things do appear to be looking up for Cabrera, though, and he capped off his round on Day 3 with a wonderful approach shot to No. 18 for an easy birdie.
Cabrera's triumph at Augusta came in a playoff over Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell, so he has valuable experience to draw on for a tight tournament like this one. However, he hasn't shown any consistency to indicate that he is ready to win again.
The biggest reason is that it's unlikely Cabrera will duplicate the ball-striking prowess he displayed on Saturday, when he hit 17 out of 18 greens in regulation. With only four birdies to counter one bogey in that scenario, Cabrera will need a sudden hot streak on the greens to have a chance.
4. Phil Mickelson (-6)
Lefty got hot at the end of his round on Saturday, birdieing five of his last seven holes to card a round of 67.
The momentum generated by a runaway victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier in the season hasn't translated to much more success for Mickelson.
Is Phil Mickelson going to threaten the leaders on Sunday?
A change in putting style has finally allowed him to become more comfortable this week, though. The trademark forward press that Mickelson does right before he strikes his putts was becoming too exaggerated, which caused him to switch to the claw method.
Now, Mickelson has a thicker grip and is holding the flatstick conventionally, which has his hands more properly aligned at address. That helped him gain over 2.4 strokes on the field in putting during the third round.
The only reason the four-time major champion is near the bottom of this list is due to how far off the lead he is. Five strokes is definitely not insurmountable for someone who can get as hot as Mickelson, but he will need an extraordinary effort in the final round to leapfrog all the quality players in front of him.
3. Stewart Cink (-11)
As mentioned before, it's been a while since Cink has closed the deal. PGA TOUR Media's official Twitter page notes just how long Cink has gone between first-place finishes:
Since entering the Top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings following his lone major win, Cink has sunk to No. 272.
Cink obviously has a chance to bolster that status in a big way by holding onto his lead, but with such a log-jammed top of the pack in pursuit, it doesn't seem as feasible as it might be at another event.
The round Cink posted on Saturday was solid at four under, but several missed birdie opportunities prevented him from snatching the outright lead. If he can't get the putter going on the lightning-fast greens of Redstone, it will be a difficult final 18 holes.
Unlike previous years when his long game was the problem, the veteran has begun the year ranking 132nd on Tour in strokes gained putting (h/t PGATOUR.com).
It doesn't matter how well Cink is striking it, because it's drive for show, putt for dough. Cink is 12th on the career money list, so he's proven that he can get it done before. That said, another win doesn't look to be in the cards just yet, but this result will be a fantastic sign for Cink moving forward.
2. Louis Oosthuizen (-9)
The South African captured the Claret Jug the year after Cink and has done a far better job of backing it up. He lost in a playoff at last year's Masters and is beginning to show the form to possibly contend again in the year's first major.
Before that occurs, Oosthuizen has a great chance to grab the trophy this weekend. He boasts one of the most beautiful, rhythmic swings in the game, which makes it a mystery as to why he's so streaky.
A bogey-free round of 65 featured six birdies on the final 11 holes, so Oosthuizen enters the last day as one of the hottest players.
Other than Mickelson, no one else has won this season amongst the major title clan that defines this leaderboard.
Oosthuizen is also very underrated around the greens and in the bunkers. The shaved collection areas that flank the surfaces in Humble should give him favorable opportunities to save pars in the rare instances that he misfires on his approaches.
1. Keegan Bradley (-9)
Few players have been as hot as Bradley has in 2013. In his past three starts, the 2011 PGA Champion hasn't finished outside of the top seven and appears due for another win.
Bradley displays such fierce intensity on the course, which allows him to grind through rounds and make putts in critical moments. There is no doubt that he is one of the brightest young American stars, and he should add another win to the three he already has on Tour sooner rather than later.
A bogey at the 18th was a bitter finish to what was otherwise a stellar Saturday showing for Bradley, as he vaulted up the leaderboard thanks to a five-under 67.
Few players have the length Bradley has, and that has been a big key to why he's figuring into the mix. The rough at this venue is not particularly punishing, so Bradley can let it rip off the tee without finding too much trouble.
All the encouraging recent results and the lack of pressure due to so many golfers hovering around the lead will allow Bradley to play loose in gunning for the leaders.
As long as Bradley can notch a few birdies on the front nine and use good judgment in attacking pins, there is no reason that he can't overcome a two-shot deficit and come out on top.
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