A so so sort of week for us in the end at the WGC Matchplay and Corales Puntacana events.
We had no joy with our outright picks at the WGC with J Thomas disappointingly falling to Bubba in the Semi Finals, but we recouped back some of our outlay from the daily match bets.
Meanwhile over in the Dominican Republic Kraft brought us a full place return making that a profitable event, meaning the overall end result on the week across the two events was we lost 1pt!
Moving on and the tour heads for Houston, Texas, for its traditional pre Masters warm up.
The event has held this slot since 2007.
The first thing to note about this week is that the Houston Open is no longer the Shell Houston Open.
Shell were the third longest running sponsor of an event on the PGA Tour with their relationship with the event going back 26yrs. [AT&T Pebble Beach & Honda Classic are the longest two]. However due to the “challenging business environment in which they operate” they decided to bring their sponsorship to an end and at the time of writing no new sponsor has been found.
The field from a betting perspective is headed up by Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.
The event is played at the Golf Club of Houston, which is a Par 72 measuring just over 7400yds.
The course is a Rees Jones design.
This venue has been the host course for the event since 2003 so there is plenty of course form to look at.
The course features Bent Grass/Poa Trivialis greens, which are larger than average.
The course is known as one of the best manicured on tour all year and there is a definite effort to set the course up in ‘Augusta fashion’, with low rough, shaved run off areas and fast greens.
When looking at this event and the history it is impossible not to bring in to the conversation the ‘Augusta factor’.
With the event holding the slot of the pre Masters warm up you have the usual combination from the games big names of those who tend to skip playing the week before a major so as to fine tune their game at home, and those who feel it is better to get the competitive juices flowing whilst working on things in real tournament play.
It’s obviously the latter that interest us this week and we have clearly seen over the years that the elite players who do choose to tee it up the week before a major as a rule, whether consciously or subconsciously, end up staying of the pace and having steady if unspectacular weeks.
I guess the mindset for these players is all about not wanting to peak too early and to feel they are just bubbling nicely and ready to really catch fire at ‘the big one’ the following week.
There are of course one or two players who have been an exception to this rule over the years with the most obvious example being Phil Mickelson who is in the field this week.
Lefty has never shied away from winning the week before a major and in contrast to most players mentality of not wanting to peak too early, he takes the view that ‘if I can win by six one week it means I’m playing great, so I’m more likely to do it again the next’.
In general though the history of this event bares out the fact that it is best to avoid the really big names this week from a betting perspective.
To back this up you only need to look at the roll of honour since it moved to the pre Masters slot in 2007, which is as follows;
R Henley, J Herman, JB Holmes, M Jones, DA Points, H Mahan, P Mickelson, A Kim, P Casey, J Wagner & A Scott.
As you can see whilst there have certainly been some higher ranked proven winners in the winner’s circle only Mickelson and Scott were elite players with multiple PGA tour wins and genuine major aspirations at the time of winning.
In this time there have been 4 players who obtained there maiden PGA Tour win in this event, which were Herman, Jones, Casey & Wagner, although in Casey’s case he was of course already a multiple European Tour winner and seen as one of the games bigger names.
The winning score over these years has ranged from -20 [reached by Henley last year & Mickelson in 2011], to -11 achieved by Casey in 2009, with the average mark being around -15.
There are a couple of other significant stats to note going in to this week. Firstly none of the winners of the event since 2007 had won a stroke play event on the PGA Tour already that year.
Secondly and tying in to this is the fact that only one of the past five winners [JB Holmes] were already exempt for Augusta. Clearly therefore the motivation this week to get that win so you can head to Magnolia lane is a key factor.
The middle part of the week leading up to the event shows the potential for some storms, as does Thursday, meaning we may see a softer course than organizers would have hoped for.
After Thursday a dry, warm week is predicted.
Wind is not expected to be an issue for the first three days however at the time of writing, 20-30mph winds are in the forecast for Sunday.
As we know from experience though this will quite possibly change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
LUKE LIST – 33-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 Finished 24th
I must confess that the idea of backing a PGA tour maiden at 33-1 was of slight concern to me, however every time I went over the entry list and the accompanying data and stats I ended up with List at the top of the list [no pun intended] and ultimately I felt I just couldn’t leave him out.
The case for him this week is a fairly obvious one. Over the past 18 months or so outside of the games elite List has been one of the most consistent performers on the PGA Tour racking up 15 top 20 finishes since the start of the 16/17 season.
The only think now lacking from the Seattle native’s CV is a win and he came mighty close to this just a few weeks back when losing out in a play off to Justin Thomas at the Honda.
There was no disgrace in that loss, with JT producing a great finish on 18 to make the play off and ultimately List showed down the stretch that he has what it takes to get the job done.
Since that second place finish Luke has continued the good form with further stroke play finishes of 16th and 7th and this week he now returns to a venue he performed well at last year when finishing 3rd.
There is evidence over the years that aggressive bomber types are rewarded at the Golf Club of Houston with past winners JB Holmes, Mickelson, Kim and Casey all falling in that category and therefore it no surprise that List has played well here over the past two years and I am confident he has another big week ahead of him this week.
KEEGAN BRADLEY – 55-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 Finshed 43rd
Keegan Bradley has been knocking on the door of a comeback win for a while now and I can see him having another big showing this week.
The former PGA Champion is one of many of the games bigger names who need to win this week to make the field for the Masters and he should feel hopeful of delivering at a venue which he has had plenty of success at in the past.
In his last six trips to Houston Keegan has notched up four top 15 finishes including two top 5s so it’s clearly a venue he loves.
This season Keegan has already finished in the top 5 twice and he has ticked along nicely in the Florida swing with three solid performances.
Bradley’s long game stats this season are mightily impressive and he currently sits 4th in Ball Striking on the PGA Tour.
Not unsurprisingly for someone who was hit badly by the anchored putting ban, the area holding him back so far from revisiting the winners enclosure is the putter and to date this year Bradley sits 207th out of 214 listed players in the PGA tour’s Strokes Gained Putting stats.
Encouragingly though in his last stroke play event at Bay Hill Bradley fared much better for the week with the flat stick finishing 40th in SGP and if he can continue that improvement this week on a course he clearly loves it is hard not to see him being in the mix come Sunday.
BRANDT SNEDEKER – 66-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 Finished MDF
Unbelievably for one of the games most solid players in recent years Sneds currently also sees himself on the outside looking in at next weeks Masters field and the only thing that will get him to Augusta now is a win in Houston.
Brandt’s record in Houston is hardly one that offers encouragement with three missed cuts in three visits in the past ten years, with the most recent one being in 2013, and I was close to leaving him out on this basis.
My gut however tells me that this is a course that really should suit his game, after all it is set up with the traits around the greens of Augusta, a venue he clearly loves, it rewards good putters, which is obviously the strength of his game and it has some room of the tee.
Sneds’ recent form since his return from injury has not exactly been stellar, however until his disappointing final round he did show at the Valspar that things were going in the right direction.
Sneds has been an ever present at Augusta since 2010 and he will be arguably therefore the most motivated man in the field in Houston this week to get the win to ensure this streak remains intact, and for that reason alone I am happy to roll the dice with him this week.
BUD CAULEY – 80-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 6 Finished 18th
Like List another player who has been knocking on the door of a maiden PGA tour win for a few years now is Bud Cauley.
It’s hard to believe that the Florida native burst on to the scene as long ago as 2011 when he had two top 5 finishes in seven starts on the PGA tour.
2012 was another great year for Bud with a bunch more top 5 finishes, however things started to cool off in 2013 before a shoulder injury derailed him in the second half of 2014.
This injury kept Bud of the tour for fifteen months before he returned for the 15-16 season.
Since then Bud has continued to perform well in bursts with plenty more top 10s added to his CV.
His form so far this season has seen the usual solid weeks mixed in with the odd bad week however last time out he played nicely to finish 14th at Bay Hill.
Putting has always been the strength of Bud’s game and this venue certainly favours strong putters.
My hope therefore is that Bud can take this good week on to a venue that he performed well at twice in his early years, finishing 16th and 8th and if so he can come close to that elusive maiden win.
BEAU HOSSLER – 150-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 Finished 2nd
For my final selection this week I am going to roll the dice again with a player who we were on earlier in the year in the form of Beau Hossler.
Regular readers of my work will know that I picked Hossler as one of my players to follow for 2018 and on the West Coast swing he was certainly living up to the bill.
As a native Californian it’s not surprising that Beau cooled off a bit once the tour reached Florida however I am hoping that a trip to his adopted home state of Texas will reignite things.
Hossler had a stellar career at the University of Texas and in 2017 he received a sponsors exemption in to the field of this week’s event.
Beau rewarded this exemption by finishing 39th.
There is no doubt that Hossler has the pedigree to succeed on the PGA tour and he is certainly a player who will be fully focused on the job in hand this week.
He is sure to have plenty of local support and again like Cauley he is a very strong putter, which will be rewarded here.
On the back of his poorer efforts in Florida Beau’s price has drifted out to very juicy 150-1 and I can see him giving us a big run at massive odds this week.
UPDATED 28th MARCH
TRADER - H MAHAN Finished 43rd
Those who read my 'players to follow' blog for 2018 will know I tipped Mahan for 'comeback player of the year'.
Whilst he hasn't yet pulled up any trees exactly he has shown some glimpses of positive signs this year in mainly in the early rounds of some events.
In both the CareerBuilder & Farmers he opened with 68 whilst last week he started 70 65 at the Corales Puntacana to sit handily halfway before fading over the weekend.
He now comes to a venue he has had plenty of success at in the past with a win and three other top tens in the past eleven years.
Hunter has a nice early tee time at 7.30 and I can see him getting of to another fast start this week at one of his favourite stops on tour.
CURRENTLY TRADING 310+