PGA Tour

With Masters a week away, not all stars are resting this week in Houston

Daniel Berger and Phil Mickelson at 2016 WGC-Dell Match Play.
Daniel Berger and Phil Mickelson at 2016 WGC-Dell Match Play. ( Getty Images )

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

HUMBLE, Texas — He hit a wall. Literally.

But the good news is, Daniel Berger is young and bounces back in a hurry.

Pounding balls on the range at the Golf Club of Houston, Berger, 23, took a moment to acknowledge that “it felt fine” and that all was good. A scare, but he’s ready to play in this week’s Shell Houston Open.

All square with Phil Mickelson in his group match last Thursday at the WGC-Dell Match Play in Austin, Texas, Berger was up against a wall after a wild tee shot on the 18th hole. He hit the wall on his downswing, totally whiffed on the shot, and immediately held his left wrist.

Berger conceded the hole, which gave Mickelson the 1 up win, and the next day he opted not to play a meaningless game against Matthew Fitzpatrick. (Each of them sported an 0-2 record.) It was a sound decision, given that Berger is penciled in for his Masters debut next week.

It is, of course, the aura of the Masters that dominates the golf world this time of year. But contrary to the notion that all the stars are resting up for the 80th Masters, the field at the SHO includes five of the top 10 ranked players — Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed — and nine of the top 20.

Oh, and if you stretch the list just one spot further, there’s No. 21, Charl Schwartzel, who is very much ready to go here at the Golf Club of Houston. He’s not one who adopts the philosophy that he has to immerse himself in Augusta National and the Masters this far in advance.

The course is difficult, but it’s not a mystery.

“If you’ve been there a number of times like I have (six appearances, 22 rounds), there’s not much to learn,” said Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champ.

Especially when conditions in Augusta the last few days have been wet and possibly by the time play commences April 7 it would have dried out.

But Schwartzel also doesn’t buy into the thinking that you play the Shell Houston Open because its golf course is set up just like Augusta National. “When it gets soft (and the Golf Club of Houston has been just that the last few years and might be for the first few days this year) it’s nothing like Augusta,” he said.

Yet there is something that Schwartzel definitely subscribes to: The timeless belief that competition is good.

“I feel like I can get good practice out of being in contention,” said Schwartzel. “Hit some good shots under pressure. That helps with the mental preparation.”

He cannot be alone in that thinking, because nearly a third of the field at last week’s Dell Match Play — 20 of 64 — are teeing it up at the Shell Houston Open and make the Masters the third of three in a row. The list includes five who won their groups and got as far as Saturday — Spieth, Johnson, Reed, Louis Oosthuizen and Brooks Koepka — all of whom appear to embrace Schwartzel’s thinking that the best preparation is competition.

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