Vivint Houston Open
It was a frustrating week for us in Bermuda as the vast majority of our team played solidly with five of the six finishing between 16th – 49th. Unfortunately though none of them could quite conquer the conditions enough to get right in the hunt so we came away empty handed.
The tournament in the end was won by Brian Gay who at 48yrs old continued the recent run of success for veterans on the tour as he topped 47yr old Stewart Cink’s recent victory by one year in the age stakes.
Gay produced a superb round of 64 in Sunday holing pretty much everything he looked at before taking down the Wyndham Clark, who had looked the winner for most of Sunday, in a play off.
Moving on and the tour heads for Houston, Texas, for the Houston Open. The event, which had historically held the pre Masters warm up slot since 2007 moved to its new place in the calendar last year becoming part of the Fall series.
This year however while the event remains one of the Fall events through the quirk of the Tour’s rescheduling around the Covid-19 pandemic it has, for this year only, regained its position as the Masters warm up.
The tournament was played at the Golf Club of Houston from 2006 [formerly known as Redstone Golf Club] up until however this year sees the event move to Memorial Park Golf Course, a venue in downtown Houston, which had previously hosted the event from 1951-1963.
In addition to a new course there is a new sponsor in place for this years event as Vivint, a leading smart home company in North America will take up the reigns.
With the event being back in the pre Masters slot there are a smattering of the games leading players in attendance with as always some preferring to play the week before a Major while some prefer to sit it out.
Those In attendance include Dustin Johnson, who makes his first start since his Covid related hiatus and he dominates the betting market. He is then followed by Tyrrell Hstton, Tony Finau, Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka who was involved as a consultant in the redesign along side designer Tom Doak.
Memorial Park GC is a Par 72 measuring just over 7400yds.
The course was originally designed by John Bredemus who was also one of the original course architects involved in Colonial CC in Fort Worth, Texas, the home of the Charles Schwab Challenge.
The course first opened for play in 1936 and hosted the Houston Open from 1951 – 1963.
The greens are MiniVerde Bermuda.
A municipal parkland course, which at approximately $38 to play must make it one, if not the, most accessible PGA Tour courses to the general public, Memorial Park has undergone a significant redesign under the tutelage of Tom Doak in the lead up to hosting this event.
This is Doak’s first involvement in the design/redesign of a PGA Tour course, however he is the man responsible for The Renaissance GC in Scotland, which has hosted the Scottish Open on the European Tour for its last two editions and it may just be that this, alongside Doak’s comments in the build up to his work at Memorial Park that give us the best clues as to what to expect this week.
Doak’s aim in essence was to create a course that players would have to think their way around…Here are a few of his comments whilst he was undertaking the redesign.
None of the players I talked to thought it needed to be any longer," Doak said. "The bottom line is you can't defeat tour pros with length. The holes that are more interesting to them are the holes that are kind of in between, and they don't know what to do. A 500-yard par-4 is just a driver, 8-iron anyway. You kind of play into their hands. You think you're trying to challenge the long hitter, but what you're really doing is giving everybody but the long hitters no chance of competing."
In relation to the greens. “We can't make them really small but we can make the targets feel small, either long and skinny on a par 5 or the par 4s angling left to right so if you drive it one side you might be able to come down the length of the green, but if you come in from the other side, you've got to stop it pretty fast.
"We want them to feel fairly traditional," Doak added. "We don't want it to be a space-agey thing.".
With bunkers removed along with plenty of trees the vibe is that we will have a course where the main test will be found on and around the greens with reports that there are plenty of run off areas, which whether by coincidence or design for this week will give the players some kind of test akin to that, which they will find at Augusta next week.
When looking at this tournament historically as it was held in 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.
Last year of course this went out of the window however this year with the event returning to that slot even though a win this week would not get you in to the Augusta field we certainly have to factor in that the biggest names in attendance this week who are seen as legitimate challengers for a Green Jacket in seven days time will surely for the most part be looking to tune up in Houston and not peak too early.
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, something which the list below showing the last ten winners clearly tells us;
2019 Lanto Griffin*
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
*Not played the week before Augusta.
With no course form to go in it may well be that the best angle here is to focus on players in good form coming in like Griffin was last year and/or who have connections to Texas.
The latter is born out by the fact that three of the past ten winners here 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.
Conditions look set fair for the week with temperatures a pleasant mid to high 70s. The wind does not look to be an issue for the first couple of days with nothing over 6-8mph forecast however the weekend could see gusts of 15 or even 20mph.
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 I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
SI WOO KIM – 60-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED MC
It goes without saying that there is a fair amount of speculation involved this week as once again we visit another new course.
I am certainly happy to swerve those right at the top of the market who I suspect will be tuning up for Augusta and hunt for some each way value and I will therefore start this week by siding once more with Si Woo Kim.
Regular readers will know that Si Woo along with Russell Henley has been some what ‘flavour of the month’ for me of late and with Henley’s very obvious credentials this week meaning that his price is now very restrictive it is the South Korean who gets the nod of the two.
Si Woo finished last season as we know with a really solid run of form and after a mini lull to start the new season he appears to have regained his mojo over his last two starts finishing eighth at the Shriners and 17th at the CJ Cup.
In his last start at Shadow Creek Si Woo’s long game was right back on track as he finished the week fifth from tee to green and fourth in approach play and it was his usual nemesis the putter that held him back.
This week however there are a couple of things that make me hope we might see something better from Kim on the greens in that firstly we are back on the Bermuda, his more favoured surface, and secondly with the course and of course the greens, being new to everyone this may well nullify some of the advantage the stronger putters would normally have.
Aside from Kim’s solid form there are a couple of other factors, which point me to him. Firstly, the young Korean makes his home in Texas therefore ticking the ‘local connections’ box.
Secondly and perhaps most pertinently despite Si Woo’s struggles with the flat stick he possesses a great short game touch around the greens so if this does transpire to be the key area this week he is certainly a man I would want in my camp.
The last time the Masters was held, in April 2019, Si Woo finished fourth the week before at the Valero Texas Open so while we are of course on a different track this week at a different time of year he should hopefully have good vibes about teeing it up in Texas the week before he heads to Augusta and I am happy to chance that this is his time to return to the winners enclosure.
CAMERON DAVIS – 60-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 68th
Next up for me this week is Aussie Cameron Davis.
There are two things main things that lead me to Davis this week and we will start with the more obvious one, his recent form.
Going back to last season Davis finished eighth at the Honda Classic in March on Bermuda greens before breaking a subsequent post lockdown run of four straight missed cuts with a 12th place at the 3M Open.
Since then Davis has made a further six straight cuts with a best of sixth place at the Sandersons where he was right in the mix going in to Sunday before stalling.
So we have established Cameron is in good nick coming in and I shall now get more speculative beyond that with another link.
The link in question is to designer Tom Doak who it is well documented takes his greatest influence from Alister MacKenzie, who amongst other courses was responsible for the design of Royal Melbourne.
From that point of view and when you combine this with the comments that Memorial Park has had many of its trees removed to ‘open it up’, it maybe that there is an element of a linksy feel to the track, or at the very least some of MacKenzie’s influence has rubbed off on the design.
If this is at all the case then as Davis is hugely familiar with and has had plenty of experience there including equalling the course record of 63 when still an amateur, this would have to be a plus.
All very speculative I know but at the end of the day we need something to hang our hat on and with some room anticipated off the tee I am happy to take a chance that this venue is a good fit for the in form young Australian.
SCOTT PIERCY – 100-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 32nd
One player I have been keeping my eye on the last few weeks is Scott Piercy and I am happy to pull the trigger on him this time out.
After a good run in February saw Scott post three consecutive top twenty finishes the remainder of the 19/20 campaign was very disappointing for him and it was only a 29th place in his final start at the Northern Trust that gave us a glimpse that he was starting to turn the corner.
Sure enough after a couple of sluggish efforts to start the new season Piercy has found a bit of momentum in his last two starts finishing 19th at the Shriners and 14th last week in Bermuda.
In Bermuda Piercy finished with a bogey free 66 and perhaps most pertinently for this week he was third in Scrambling and fifth in good old fashioned GIR at the Port Royal GC.
Piercy has always been something of a streak player, a fact that can be seen from his results over recent years. Let’s look in more detail at a few of the three event streaks he has put together over recent years.
Feb 2020 - 6-18-17
May 19 – 3-13-2
Oct 18 – 5-10-6
In addition he finished second in back to back events at the US Open and WGC Bridgestone in the summer of 16 to name one other of his ‘hot spells’.
I noted above his spell in May 2019 and one other fact I do like is that he finished second in that run at the Byron Nelson held at Trinity Forest in Dallas. Again speculation I know but I can’t help but wonder if that ‘open’, linksy type venue, also in Texas of course, might turn out to be a good link to this week.
It’s five years since Scott tasted the last of his three solo tour successes, however at 41yrs old he must surely take encouragement from the recent run of victories for the 40+ brigade and I am happy to chance him to add his name to that list this week.
BEAU HOSSLER – 100-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
With it being a return to Houston I feel compelled to give another chance in this city to adopted Texan Beau Hossler.
Those who have been following me since the early days will know that Hossler’s defeat to Poulter here in 2018 sits at the top of my ‘nightmare beats’ as we were onboard that week at 150/1.
The logic in 2018 was that the tours arrival in the state where Beau had huge success as an amateur and now resides would lead to him springing to life and the rest as they say is history.
This time around Beau arrives back in the Lone Star State in an encouraging run of form having made all five cuts so far this season and last weeks solid 26th in the wind in Bermuda came on the back of a couple of rounds of 64 and 65 in Las Vegas at the Shriners.
In Bermuda Hossler finished third for the week in putting and if he can keep rolling his rock well this week on a course that should allow him to open his shoulders more off the tee it could just be that he finally gets his revenge on the city of Houston.
AARON WISE – 100-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 11th
I mentioned earlier that I felt there may be a link worth exploring with Trinity Forest the home of the Byron Nelson in 2018 and 2019 and I am going to delve in to that further to finish this weeks team firstly by including Aaron Wise.
A hugely prodigious talent Wise looked to be heading right to the top when he bagged his maiden tour title in fine style at Trinity Forest in 2018 however as tends more often than not to be the case things haven’t quite gone to plan since.
After an in and out 2019, which saw Aaron finish 17th on his debut at Augusta, which I do feel may link well here, 19/20 was a huge disappointment with a lot of nothing sandwiched between a third place in Bermuda last fall and an eighth place in his seasons penultimate start at the Barracuda.
This campaign has seen Aaron post two solid finishes of 17th and 26th in amongst two missed cuts. and when you add this to the aforementioned eighth at the Barracuda it is enough to give us a hint that he is turning the corner.
In Bermuda Wise was solid with the irons and with the putter and similarly to Hossler and Davis it may just be that some room off the tee here suits him better.
Wise has shown in his short time on tour that he can find his touch out of nowhere, noticeably when second at the Wells Fargo in 2018, a result which gave him the momentum to go on to victory in his next start. On that basis, with signs of a return to form and a return to the state he had his biggest success in so far I am happy to chance him this week.
SUNG KANG – 300-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Finally in the spirit of the odds of some of the recent tour winners including of course our very own Martin Laird I can’t resist a roll of the dice on Texas resident and last years Byron Nelson winner Sung Kang.
Kang tees off this week at odds, which you wouldn’t have dreamt of seeing him at 12 months plus ago and this is a reflection of the form he has shown of late.
Despite this though we only have to go back 9 months [or 6 months of golf if we exclude lockdown] to when the Korean finished second at Riviera so it is not as though he’s been in the wilderness for two or three years.
A winner at Trinity Forest on a -23 total Kang clearly has what it takes to win a low scoring event, which is what I anticipate this week, and the fact that he resides in Texas and has done it in Texas is of course a massive plus point for this week.
Looking at Kang’s start to 2020/21 and while there is nothing there to give us much to enthuse over he did play solidly in Vegas at the Shriners to finish 43rd finishing 12th for the week in putting.
Kang posted his win at Trinity Forest after a 42nd followed by two missed cuts, he popped up with a third at the Quicken Loans in 2018 after nine missed cuts and nothing better than 42nd in 12 starts and he came second in this very event [all be it on a different course] in 2017 when in no form at all coming in.
In essence Kang’s middle name is definitely not ‘consistency’ and I am happy to wrap things up this week by risking him on his return to Texas.
UPDATED 4th NOVEMBER
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - RORY SABBATINI - DK VALUE $6900 - WD AFTER DAY 1 - DK POINTS 5.5
For the first of this weeks picks I'm going to side with Rory Sabbatini.
Sabbatini has won two of his five PGA Tour titles in Texas at the Byron Nelson & Charles Schwab Challenge so he has a strong bond with the state and will I'm sure be looking forward to returning there this week.
Slovakia's number one has started the 20/21 season strongly making three cuts out of three including a 12th place finish at the Sandersons. With three rounds of 66 posted in the last eight times he has tee'd off he is obviously in decent nick and I expect another stro.ng showing from him this week.
PICK 2 - CARLOS ORTIZ - DK VALUE $6700 - FINISHED 1st!! - DK POINTS 114
Our second pick this week goes to Dallas based Carlos Ortiz.
It's been a bit of a struggle for Ortiz so far this season with only a couple of 'down the field' finishes at the no cut events to boost his bank balance.
I'm going to take a chance though that a return to the Lone Star State and the city he finished fourth in last year [all be it on a different course of course] will give him the kick start he needs to get going again.
Twentieth in Strokes-Gained-Around-The-Green on tour last season if Ortiz can recapture his form from earlier last campaign this course should suit him and I am happy to chance him as I believe he has plenty of upside.