The Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open
It was another somewhat frustrating week for us in Mexico as despite having had 175/1 pick JJ Spaun sat in the full places after day three we only ended up coming out level on the week courtesy of Joaquin Niemann’s last round push. Furthermore my hunch that Maverick McNealy would go well will be shown to be correct as far as the record books go, however his 11th place finish came from an off the pace Sunday charge and it was a case of what might have been for the youngster.
The tournament itself was won by Victor Hovland who produced a superb all round display to become the first man to defend the trophy at the Mayakoba.
So we move on with o damage done 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 in 2019 becoming part of the Fall series before last year, while remaining in the Fall, through the quirk of the Tour’s rescheduling around the Covid-19 pandemic, finding itself back in its historical pre Masters warm up slot.
The tournament was played at the Golf Club of Houston from 2006 [formerly known as Redstone Golf Club] up until last year when the event moved to Memorial Park Golf Course, a venue in downtown Houston, which had previously hosted the event from 1951-1963.
This year it is also change again for the sponsorship of the event as after a one year stint from smart home company Vivint, Hewlett Packard will take up the reigns.
The field is a fairly weak one in all honesty with the inform Sam Burns heading up the market from Scottie Scheffler. This duo are then followed by recent tour winner Sungjae Im, Cameron Smith and Matthew Wolff.
Memorial Park GC is a Par 70 measuring just over 7400yds, featuring five par 3s and three par fives.
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.".
Alongside Doak in the project the ‘Player Consultant’ on hand was Brooks Koepka and prior to last years edition Koepka, who went on to finish fifth, had the following to say.
“I think it's a very tough golf course,” with the rough being the way it is, you've got to put the ball in the fairway and then it's a second-shot golf course. You really have to putt a good strike on the ball, being able to spin it, be good with your long irons. There's quite a few long holes. But at the same time, it makes it quite fun if you do miss the green because you have so many options. You could putt it, you could bump-and-run it, you could flop it. It really gives the player a lot of options where I feel like you're never quite out of it.”
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.
In 2019 of course this went out of the window however last year the pre Masters ‘warm up factor’ was back in play and could clearly be seen in the way Dustin Johnson was ‘taken down’ by maiden Carlos Ortiz before DJ went on to bag the Green Jacket the following week. This comment is not in anyway meant to belittle the achievement of Ortiz who played superbly to win the trophy, however clearly as a Texas based player looking to win on Tour for the first time he was far more motivated for that triumph than Johnson who had one eye firmly fixed on the following week.
Anyway of course this year the ‘Augusta Factor’ is no longer relevant meaning that while I have listed below the last ten winners of the event we need to very much bear that in mind.
2020 Carlos Ortiz
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
*Not played the week before Augusta.
Allowing for the fact that last years edition was the first played on this course it is also worth taking a look at the final top ten from 2020.
1 C Ortiz -13
T2 D Johnson & H Masuyama -11
4 T Gooch -9
T5 B Koepka & S Straka -8
T7 M Hughes, T Hatton, S Burns & J Day.
With the ‘pre masters’ caveat in play and with only the one year to go on there is probably not too much we can read in to this leaderboard however for what it is worth the two subsequent winners at Augusta finished joint runner up perhaps giving some merit to my thought last year that the ‘run off’ areas around the greens would show some similarity to Augusta. Ultimately though of course these two players are simply class acts who can perform anywhere and Johnson was in the form of his life this time last year.
With very little 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 in 2019 and/or who have connections to Texas.
The latter which I highlighted last based on the fact that three of the previous ten winners here Mahan, Kim and Jones all based themselves in the Lone Star state, played out again last year with Dallas resident Ortiz triumphing meaning that four of the last 11 winners are Texas based. Furthermore the man who was heartbreakingly [for those of us who had backed him!] beaten by Ian Poulter in the 2018 Play off, Beau Hossler is another Texas resident and college attendee.
Finally and again with only one year to go on if we look at Ortiz stats from last year he ranked fifth from tee to green and fifth in putting however his accuracy off the tee was not good, ranking only 76th. Meanwhile runners up Johnson and Matsuyama also ranked second and sixth respectively from tee to green for the week.
Conditions look set fair for the week with temperatures a pleasant mid to low 70s. With the possible exception of Thursday, which shows for the chance of a storm we also look set for a dry week.
The wind often a key factor in Texas looks set to keep the players honest this with gusts of 15-20mph a possibility on all four days.
As we know though this will quite possibly change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER – 18/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 2nd
I will start this week with the blindingly obvious by siding with Scottie Scheffler.
I appreciate that jumping on board a player who is yet to win on tour at 18/1 will not be for everyone and I don’t blame those of you who are now skipping forward to the next selection.
For those still with me however I will briefly make the obvious case for Scheffler.
A Texas native and Dallas resident, which of course ticks the ‘Texas connection box’ important here, Scheffler has done everything but win yet on Tour and it is surely only a matter of time until he does and the floodgates open.
Last season on tour Scottie posted no less than eight top tens including three in Major Championships showing us that he plays tough courses well, something, which should be to his advantage this week.
Whilst not recording a win all of this really solid play was enough to earn Scheffler a birth in the recent US Ryder Cup team where he performed admirably.
Following on from that Ryder Cup appearance not unsurprisingly Scottie showed a bit of a hangover to start his 21/22 campaign missing the cut in his first outing at The Shriners,
After a more steady effort at the CJ Cup Scheffler stepped it up again at last weeks Mayakoba posting a fourth place finish. In Mexico he lead the field for Greens In Regulation for the week, not making a bogey all week until late in to his round on Saturday and it was only a balky putter, which prevented him from pushing Hovland much closer.
Moving on to this week and Scottie now makes his debut on a course, which really should suit his strong tee to green game and if he can re produce his long game from last week he surely cannot be far away on a tougher course where a hot putter will not be so key.
Scheffler showed last season when finishing runner up in the WGC Matchplay that he can produce the goods in front of his home state fans and I see this as an ideal week for him to finally make his breakthrough on Tour.
AARON WISE – 33/1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 26th
Next up this week I am going to return to a player who has been very much on my radar, and I am sure plenty of other peoples of late as well, Aaron Wise.
The hugely talented Wise posted his lone PGA Tour win to date at the Byron Nelson, another Texas event, back in 2018 however as we know since then rather than pushing on things haven’t gone to plan.
Over the past 12 months though Wise has been picking up momentum all the time and having missed only one cut on tour last season from April onwards he has started the new campaign with four straight top 30 finishes including three top 15s.
Last week in Mexico Aaron started really strongly with a round of 63 however in all honesty while he continued to make the birdies he made too many mistakes through the rest of the week to launch a serious challenge.
Still, from a glass half full point of view it was another strong performance and I would expect Wise to arrive in Houston in good spirits.
What should also have Aaron in good spirits leading in to this week is knowing that on his way to an 11th place here last year he played really well from tee to green ranking 13th for the week in that department and first in good old fashioned GIR and it was only the putter, symptomatic of how things were for Aaron at that time, that held him back.
Focusing on that point then and as has been well documented of late Wise has taken to using a long putter that he tinkered with in his college days and this has lead to a significant improvement in that area, which we saw again last week in Mexico.
In his time on tour Wise has, like Scheffler, shown that his strong ball striking often comes to the fore on tougher tracks and his current ranking of eighth on tour for tee to green this season shows that he is firing on all cylinders in the long game department of late.
To sum up my thought then is if Wise can bring that current long game this week and the one that clearly took to the course last year, and ally that to his recent upturn with the putter, that this could be a perfect week for him to push on and post that second tour win.
MITO PEREIRA – 66/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 29th
Next up this week in an event, which firstly I expect to favour strong tee to green players and secondly historically sees players with Texas links perform well in I am going to take a chance that Mito Pereira can avert his recent dip in form and in particular put last weeks really poor second round in Mexico.
As we know a few weeks can in golf can seem like an age and we only need to roll the clock back to the second week of the season after Mito finished third at the Fortinet Championship to find a time when he was going off as one of the top half dozen players in the market. Roll on four events however and three, hardly bad finishes for a rookie of 31 40 and 30 followed by a shocker in Mexico has seen him slip out to far more backable odds again.
In that second round in Mexico the young Chilean had a really tough time on the greens in particular, the area, which is often his nemesis, and assuming there was no illness/injury affecting his back nine collapse I think we just have to put it down to a learning curve and a bad day at the office.
Putting Friday to one side then what we have in Pereira is a player who, following his three win season on the Korn Ferry Tour, which gained him automatic promotion, has taken to the PGA Tour in fine style posting three top six finishes already in a mere 12 starts.
The key to Pereira’s success to date is his tee to green game and his approach play in particular, which currently sees him sit second on tour from tee to green and second in strokes-gained-approach-to-the-green, both of, which based on last years final leaderboard here are the keys to unlocking Memorial Park.
Pereira who attended college in Texas for one year should have plenty of local support this week and as noted earlier we have a clear record in this event of players with Lone Star state connections performing well here.
To sum up then Pereira’s ball striking stengths should really come to the fore this week at Memorial Park and I am trusting him to have the character to bounce back from last week at far more attractive odds.
SEPP STRAKA – 125/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
One man who seems to relish a trip to Houston regardless of, which course is in play is Sepp Straka and there was enough in his performance in Mexico last week to think we could be in for more of the same this time around.
In 2019 Sepp arrived at the GC of Houston badly out of form having missed his first four cuts of the season before snapping this slump in fine style with a fourth place finish.
Last year the Austrian then arrived at the Memorial Park GC in more solid form having finished 21st in Bermuda the previous week and notched a fifth place finish at the new host course. Clearly then there is something Straka loves about Houston!
This year Sepp returns to Houston on the back of another sluggish start to the season, which saw him miss his first three cuts of the campaign before putting four rounds in the books in his last three starts at the ZOZO, Bermuda and Mayakoba Championships.
Whilst all four rounds at the no cut event in the ZOZO for a 66th place finish offers little encouragement after a 51st place in Bermuda there was definitely more positive signs in his 33rd place showing in Mexico, particularly over the weekend where he started to find the short stuff off the tee with more regularity.
The 20/21 season was a struggle for Straka as a whole with his best performance being his fifth place here and with him only able to add two more top tens in the whole season to that effort. What we do know though from his time on tour is that when a course suits his game the 28yr old has an ability to find his touch out of nowhere and that in addition when on song he is at his best on a course, which rewards his ball striking strengths, which from our limited knowledge of the course is the case this week.
On that basis on the return to a city he must have great affinity to coupled with his improvement over the past couple of weeks I am more than happy to risk Sepp this week at the odds on offer.
DAVIS RILEY – 200/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 29th
Finally this week I am going to take a roll of the dice on Dallas resident Davis Riley.
Riley who is a rookie on tour this season is one of the more highly rated graduates from the Korn Ferry Tour’s class of 21 and it would be no surprise to see the two time Korn Ferry winner from last season break through in the big league in his maiden campaign.
The 24yr old began his debut season on tour with two missed cuts however after a 56th place finish at the Shriners he posted his first top ten, a seventh place, at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship recently before then missing the cut on the number at the Mayakoba.
That week in Bermuda Riley did everything solidly rather than one thing spectacularly, ranking 25th in accuracy and both 31st in GIR and putting and this seems to be pretty consistent with his overall profile as a whole. This is something that is born out by his stats on the Korn Ferry last season, he was longer than average off the tee, putted well and found more than his fair share of greens.
Whilst Riley has not exactly set the world alight then in his first handful of starts as a full time PGA Tour member he has done enough already by posting a top ten to show he should be able to hold his own out here and I would expect him to be looking forward to teeing it up in his adopted state this week for the first time as a full tour member.
This then brings me to my main reason for chancing Riley this week alongside his obvious talent, his affinity to the Lone Star State. As well as residing here Riley landed his second Tour Korn Ferry title here a few hours away at TPC San Antonio last year in an event played at the Greg Norman designed Oaks Course, which also hosts the Valero Texas Open.
In addition Davis will hold fond memories of having tee’d it up in the Byron Nelson back in 2019, his only PGA Tour start that season and where he posted a very creditable 29th, a finish, which remained his best on the PGA Tour prior to his recent top ten in Bermuda.
All this is fairly tenuous obviously but that is pretty much what you would expect for a 200/1 shot and I am happy to round things off by chancing this talented prospect in the State that he strikes me as most likely to prosper in.
UPDATED 9th NOVEMBER
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - JAMES HAHN - DK VALUE $6800 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 25.5
For my first pick in this section this week I am going to side with James Hahn.
Hahn is a player who has earned a reputation as someone who will go through long barren spells of form before popping up out of nowhere.
Of late however the two time tour champion has found a bit of consistency posting back to back top 30 finishes on tour.
A former champion at Riviera and Quail Hollow Hahn knows how to perform on tough courses so this weeks layout should hold no fears for him, particularly as he made the cut here last year. In fact looking at James' record in Houston over the years he has made the cut on his last four visits to the city and I expect to perform here solidly again this time around.
PICK 2 - ANDREW LANDRY - DK VALUE $6400 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 21
My second pick this week is a player not too disimillar to Hahn profile wise, Andrew Landry, in that like Hahn he will go through long runs of poor form before showing us he knows how to win.
Having struggled through 2021 Landry has picked up his form of late posting two top tens this season including a seventh last weekend in Mexico.
A winner in Texas on a tough track at the Valero Texas Open and a native of the state Landry should be right at home here despite the fact he has never performed well in Houston, I am therefore happy to take a risk that he can continue his recent improvement this week and post another strong performance.