Slumping Spieth headlines Houston field as Masters looms

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The Houston Open is Jordan Spieth's last chance to generate some much-needed momentum ahead of his Masters defence.

This week's Houston Open, which tees off on Thursday, is the only remaining way for some golfers to qualify for the upcoming Masters.

While 2015 Masters champion Spieth is already assured of a spot at Augusta next week, the 22-year-old American - who dropped down to second in the world rankings following Jason Day's WGC-Dell Match Play victory - is in desperate need of form, having failed to earn a top-five finish since January.

And he will be looking to go one step better in Houston after losing to J.B. Holmes in a three-way play-off at the PGA Tour tournament last year.

The likes of Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson are also in the field, which consists of 34 players set to feature at The Masters.


FINAU TARGETING TWO IN A ROW, OOSTHUIZEN IN FORM

Tony Finau outlasted Steve Marino to win last week's Puerto Rico Open via a play-off. It was his maiden Tour title and elevated him up to 72nd in the world golf rankings, an improvement of 31 spots. The breakthrough victory may not have secured a Masters invite but the American clinched a Tour exemption through the 2017-18 season. As for Louis Oosthuizen, he is fresh from reaching the WGC-Dell Match Play final. Only high-flying Australian Day stood in the way of the South African and a second PGA Tour win.


IDEAL CONDITIONS EXPECTED IN HOUSTON

While a strong weather system, which is likely to bring rain and storms, will pass through on Thursday, the Golf Club of Houston is expected to be in pristine condition come Friday and the weekend.


ANOTHER PLAY-OFF?

In each of the past two years, the Houston Open has been decided by a sudden-death play-off. Prior to Holmes' three-way triumph, Matt Jones edged Matt Kuchar in 2014. A total of 23 play-offs have taken place at the tournament, the most of any event in PGA Tour history.


ALL EYES ON SLUMPING SPIETH

It has been slim pickings for Spieth since taking out January's Tournament of Champions, after losing the world number one ranking to Day at the WGC-Dell Match Play last week. He tied for 21st at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February and then missed the cut at the Northern Trust Open the following week. March has not been any better for Spieth, who failed to make the top 10 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship (equal 17th) and the Valspar Championship (tied for 18th) and could only manage ninth in Austin. 


BACK-TO-BACK FOR HOLMES?

Holmes returns to Houston seeking consecutive titles, having prevailed over Johnson Wagner and Spieth 12 months ago. The 33-year-old, who carded a final-round 64, won on the second play-off hole. Despite missing a birdie, he reigned supreme after Wagner's short par putt lipped out. Spieth did not make it past the first additional hole.


DETHRONED SPIETH STILL CONFIDENT AFTER LOSING TOP RANKING

"My game is solid," Spieth told the Golf Channel. "I've been working hard on it. I'll be trying to hold my consistency this week. I've got great memories here. It's a great golf course, a place I'm very familiar with. [It's] in phenomenal shape."