It was a disappointing week for us in Vegas as despite having three of our team, Putnam, Morikawa and Burgoon in decent shape going in to the weekend none of them could do enough on Saturday or Sunday to dent the places and we came away from the week empty handed.
In the end the week will be remembered for an incredible putting display from Kevin Na, which saw him lift the trophy via a play off with Patrick Cantlay and in doing so become the first player to win a full field event with a negative ‘strokes gained tee to green’ number for the week since the PGA Tour began keeping ‘Strokes Gained’ stats 15yrs ago. [Bill [Haas won the Tour Championship in 2011 with a negative number on the week].
Moving on and the tour heads for Houston, Texas, for a new slot for the Houston Open, an event, which had previously held the pre Masters warm up slot since 2007.
As a result of this move in the calendar the event did not feature in the 2018/19 schedule at all having last been played in April 2018 as part of the 17/18 itinerary.
The tournament has been played at its current venue at the Golf Club of Houston since 2006 [formerly known as Redstone Golf Club] however this is the last year that this course will play host as from next year the event will move to Memorial Park Golf Course, a venue, which had previously hosted the event from 1951-1963.
Still without a sponsor this years tournament has really struggled to attract the star names and the biggest name in the field Henrik Stenson currently heads up the market, behind Henrik we then find Brian Harman, Daniel Berger, Cameron Champ and course specialist Russell Henley.
Let’s hope that next years change of venue leads to a new sponsor coming onboard and in turn some bigger star names teeing it up.
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.
With the event now in the Fall slot we should be aware that the green complexes this year will, which are larger than average, will feature Mini Verde Ultra Bermuda Grass with no over seeding. These type of greens can also be found at TPC Louisiana, home of the Zurich Classic and East Lake, home of the Tour Championship.
When looking at this tournament historically as it held the pre Masters warm up slot the main consideration was always the ‘Augusta factor’ and invariably the winner would be someone from the second tier of players who was looking for a confidence boost leading in the years first major, or indeed someone who needed the win to make it to Augusta, as was the case with the most recent victor Ian Poulter.
This year though of course this factor goes out of the window so really and truly all we can look at is history in relation to course form and current form coming in.
Lets firstly take a look at the last ten winners here;
2018 Ian Poulter
2017 Russell Henley
2016 Jim Herman
2015 JB Holmes
2014 M Jones
2013 DA Points
2012 H Mahan
2011 P Mickelson
2010 A Kim
2009 P Casey
Looking at this list if we firstly take a look at course form and three of these players, Holmes, Mahan and of course Henley had a good bank of course form here having each posted at least two top tens at the venue prior to their victory while Anthony Kim had been fifth here a couple of years before winning.
Of the others though Casey was seeing the course for the first time competitively, Poulter had one previous MC here and Jones, Herman and Points had done nothing between them of note despite having made numerous previous starts here.
As for Mickelson as we know he has made a habit of winning the week before majors and only started pitching up here when the event moved to the pre Augusta slot. Prior to winning here though he had produced nothing of note on his previous three visits.
So a mixed bag of a picture course form wise and to be honest current form doesn’t tell us too much more.
Below is a table showing the previous three starts of the past ten winners with the most recent first.
2018 Ian Poulter 8 41 MC
2017 Russell Henley 45 9 43
2016 Jim Herman 63 MC MC
2015 JB Holmes MC 2 22
2014 M Jones 14 MC MC
2013 DA Points MC MC MC
2012 H Mahan 42 2 1
2011 P Mickelson 24 55 17
2010 A Kim 22 2 24
2009 P Casey 31 10 4
As we can see from this table six of these ten players did have a top ten finish to there name in their previous three starts prior to winning here, however of the other four Herman, Points nor indeed Mickelson [relative to his high standards] were in any great shape coming in although it should be noted that Jones had ‘found something’ in his previous start to finish 14th.
Finally, the other thing we should note here is the success of players with Texas connections in the event as Mahan, Kim and Jones all base themselves in the Lone Star state, interestingly as well two of these players Mahan and Kim attended college in Oklahoma where the winds are known to pick up like they do in Texas.
The winning score over these years has ranged from -20 [reached by Henley in 2017 & Mickelson in 2011], to -11 achieved by Casey in 2009, with the average mark being around -15.
The first couple of days show temperatures set for the mid 80s however things are set to cool down over the weekend with Saturday barely set to top 70 degrees.
Friday and Saturday both also have the potential for a stray storm or two.
Wind could well be an issue with gusts of 15mph+ showing as a possibility on all of the first three days although Sunday does look set to be a bit calmer.
As we know though this will quite possibly change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
RUSSELL HENLEY – 22-1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 61st
I shall start of this weeks team with the blindingly obvious and side with Russell Henley.
The case for Henley needs very little outlining but I shall do so briefly anyway.
In his last five visits to the Golf Club of Houston Russell has finished in no worse than eighth place so he would have rewarded e/w punters on each occasion. What’s more if we look back on those last five visits of we look at Henley’s previous five starts on each year he had only cracked the top ten on two occasions in those 25 starts so basically his form coming in was nothing to write home about in any year, basically the Georgian just loves it here!
This year the 30yr old arrives here in solid but unspectacular form having made the cut on all of his first three starts this season but having posted nothing better than 37th yet. Significantly though that finish came last week in Vegas where he posted four sub 70 rounds so hopefully he is rounding in to form at just the right time.
An east coast guy who is a former winner of the Honda the changes on the greens should hold no fear for Russell and everything points to another great week ahead for him in Houston.
AARON BADDELEY – 66-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up for me this week is Aussie Aaron Baddeley.
Badds in all honesty is a tough player to catch right however on his day he is still more than capable of bagging a trophy, something he showed when last popping up with a victory at the opposite field event the Barbasol in 2016.
Talking of opposite field events it is fair to say this weeks line up is more akin to one you would see on one of those weeks and therefore at odds of 66-1 the Scottsdale resident caught my eye.
The interesting thing to me about Aaron this week is that his first two efforts of 2019/20 season, which have resulted in two top 40 finishes have seen his often suspect ball striking look reasonably solid, while his usual strength the putter has been steady but unspectacular. In essence all areas of his game seem in decent working order.
This week we arrive at a venue which has seen a mixed bag of performances from Badds over the years however it is a venue he repeatedly returns to and he did finish fourth here in 2011. In addition it should be noted that Aaron has a strong record at the Valero Texas Open so he is obviously comfortably in Texas.
One other thing I like about Badds this week is that as noted earlier there is potential for tricky weather conditions on a couple of days at least this week and like a lot of Aussie’s Badds has proven over the years to be a good ‘wind player’ and indeed ‘poor weather’ player in general.
If we look at the roll of honour here over the years players renowned as strong putters have often delivered the goods here having negotiated the larger than average greens the best, and I can see Badds adding his name to that list this week.
KRISTOFFER VENTURA – 125-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
All followers of the PGA Tour are waiting and expecting the inevitable victory from Victor Hovland to come and no one would be surprised if we saw one this side of Christmas, however it is just possible that another man from Norway who also attended Oklahoma State may just beat him to it and that man is Kristoffer Ventura.
Ventura’s is not a name that will be anywhere near as familiar to the average golf viewer compared to that of his fellow countryman, however the 24yr old graduated to the PGA Tour after less than one full season on the Korn Ferry Tour courtesy of two wins and two third place finishes in just eleven starts.
The Norwegian started life in the big league with two fairly inauspicious efforts missing the cut at the Greenbrier and finishing 62nd at the Safeway.
Last week however the 24yr old caught the eye as he stepped it up a notch to post an 18th place finish at the Shriners and interestingly he finished the week ranked second in putting. [No prizes for guessing who ranked first!]
I noted earlier that two players who attended college in Oklahoma had previously been victorious here and my hunch is that having played his golf in that state and of course having been brought up in Norway, he will be more than comfortable in the windier conditions, which are forecast for part of this week.
In addition as Ventura now bases himself on the Florida coast he should be more than comfortable on the Bermuda greens, which will greet the players in Houston this week.
In summary Ventura has shown in his short time in the pro ranks that he knows how to win and in company this week that should certainly not overawe him I am more than happy to chance at three figure odds that he can build on last weeks performance.
MATTHEW NESMITH – 125-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
The second Korn Ferry Tour graduate to make our team this week is South Carolina man Matthew NeSmith.
NeSmith who coincidentally shared 18th place with Ventura last week started his PGA Tour career slowly with three missed cuts before like Ventura stepping up a level last week.
Apart from the upturn in form the reason I am siding with NeSmith this week is that he strikes me as the type of player who could perform well here as, similarly to the likes of Grillo, Ryder and Berger who have all played well here over recent years, and of course past winners like Mahan and Casey, his strength is in his tee to green ball striking.
Second last season in the Korn Ferry tour’s Ball Striking stats Nesmith currently ranks 12th in DA and 27th in GIR on the new PGA Tour season so despite his slowish start results wise he is clearly hitting the ball well.
Those who have read a bit about Nesmith may be aware that his favourite course is Hilton Head and that he actually proposed to his wife on the 18th green there. Aside from the happy personal angle here, the thing that I do note from this is that the 26yr old is obviously comfortable on a wind exposed course, so again he should be comfortable in this weeks anticipated conditions.
Last week at TPC Summerlin Matthew actually lead the field in DA and in addition his putter also worked well, as it has done as a whole so far this campaign, so my hope is that this week if he can just strike the irons a bit better NeSmith, who posted a victory as recently as August on the Korn Ferry Tour, could be right in the hunt come Sunday.
BEAU HOSSLER – 40-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 13th
For my final selection this week long term readers will not be surprised to know that I am going to side with Beau Hossler.
Hossler who had a stellar career at the University of Texas was in my team here when the tour last visited Houston and it is fair to say I still wake up in the occasional cold sweat thinking about how Ian Poulter’s 30ft birdie putt on 18 cost us a 150-1 winner.
This time around unfortunately the fancy three figure odds we got on Beau are understandably unavailable now based on his established course form and of course the strength of the field.
Despite this however there was enough in Beau’s performance at TPC Summerlin where he finished 29th to make me think that a return to Texas can once more do the trick for him.
Despite Beau’s blip in form last year that saw him need to reclaim his card via the Korn Ferry finals it is surely only a matter of time until this hugely talented player posts his first win on tour and I am happy to chance that this is the week this happens at a venue he clearly loves.
UPDATED 9th OCTOBER
TRADER - RAFAEL CAMPOS - FINISHED 59th - LOWEST PRICE TRADED 95
For this weeks trader pick I have decided to chance Puerto Rican Pafael Campos.
Campos will have fond memories of Houston GC as he has twice qualified for the event on the back of a top ten finish in his home country event in Puerto Rico and on both occassions he has made great use of it, finishing 38th in 2016 and seventh here in 2017.
This year Campos does not have the luxury of a top ten finish the week before to buoy him, however instead he is teeing it up as the owner of a full PGA Tour card courtesy of finishing 18th on the Korn Ferry tour full season standingsearlier this year.
A winner last season on the Korn Ferry tour in the Bahamas Rafael started life slowly on the PGA tour with a missed cut at the Greenbrier. Last time out however he finished 33rd at the Safeway closing with a final round of 66 and my hope is he can build on that performance this week at a venue which clearly suits his eye.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 380.