The Cadence Bank Houston Open
It was a disappointing week for us at the Mayakoba as after recovering from a slow start our two players who were in place contention coming in to Sunday, Brandon Wu and Collin Morikawa, were unable to finish the job off for us and bag a return.
Wu in particular had looked solid all week, however a horror two hole stretch on his back nine on Sunday of double bogey, double bogey put paid to his chances and ours for a profitable week.
The tournament itself was won by Russell Henley who having knocked on the door on several occasions since his last win in 2017 finally converted for the fourth time. Having produced some great stuff over the past couple of seasons the Georgia Bulldog had gone a bit quiet of late so perhaps came in to the event slightly under the radar recent form wise. On the flip side of the coin though despite an average at best history in the event his profile of past Sony winner and numerous big finishes on coastal /shorter tracks made him the perfect ‘prototype’ for this event so his win was definitely one that slightly got away.
So we move 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 in 2019 becoming part of the Fall series before in 2020, 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. As was the case last year though the event takes it’s normal slot in the schedule this year as the penultimate event before the winter break.
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 Hewlett Packard local bank Cadence take up the reigns.
With many of the big names no having put their clubs away for Christmas the field is a fairly weak with Texan Scottie Scheffler the stand out name and dominating the market at single figure odds. Scheffler is then followed by in the market by Sam Burns and the in form Aaron Wise.
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 underwent a significant redesign under the tutelage of Tom Doak in the lead up to hosting this event.
This was 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 over recent years and this along with comments Doak made in the build up to his work at Memorial Park are certainly worth considering.
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 the first playing here in 2020 Koepka had this 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.”
The latter comment from Koepka is certainly worth dwelling on as with the winning scores being 13- under and 10- under the past two years it is clear that this track is no push over.
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.
In 2019 of course this went out of the window however in 2020 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 as was the case last 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.
2021 Jason Kokrak*
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
*Not played the week before Augusta.
Allowing for the fact that only the last two editions have been played on this course we obviously need to be wary of how much attention we pay to editions of the event prior to 2020. Instead then let’s take a closer look at the final top ten from 2020 and 2021.
1 J Kokrak -10
T2 K Tway & S Scheffler – 8
4 K Hickok -7
T5 M Trainer & J Dahmen -6.
T7 R Streb, S Burns, R Henley & C Tringale.
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 in 2020 and with only two yeas to go on there is probably not too much we can read in to these two leaderboards however for what it is worth the two subsequent winners at Augusta finished joint runner up in the 2020 outing, while the 2021 runner up here Scheffler went on to triumph at Augusta this year, giving some merit to the view that the ‘run off’ areas around the greens would show some similarity to Augusta. Ultimately though of course these players are simply class acts who can perform anywhere and Johnson was in the form of his life at this time in 2020.
Perhaps it is more pertinent then to take a closer look at last years leaderboard with the obvious point to note being that the winner, Kokrak had triumphed at Colonial CC in the Charles Schwab earlier in the year and with both events being held in Texas and having the same original course designer there is an obvious link.
In addition as I always say in Texas events it is key to look at the success of players with Lone Star State connections here.
This point is highlighted the fact that three of the previous ten winners of the event Mahan, Jones and 2020 champion Ortiz all based themselves in Texas. 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.
Meanwhile two of the top four home here last year Scheffler and Hickok are Texas guys through and through.
Finally and again with only two years to go on if we look at Ortiz stats from 2020 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. A look then at last years winner Kokrak’s stats shows us that he ranked second in approach play and third in putting while again lacking accuracy off the tee. One of the runners up Tway meanwhile ranked second on the greens and third off the tee, while the other runner up Scheffler ranked highly from tee to green but struggled to catch fire on the dance floor.
A mixed picture all in all then but one thing that would be clear as a whole is that accuracy off the tee is not key here but solid approach play and work on the greens is.
Conditions look set fair for the week with temperatures a pleasant mid 70s. With the possible exception of Saturday, which shows for the chance of some rain 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;
DAVIS RILEY – 50/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 27th
In all honesty this week is hard to look past a big run to the title from the two in the betting Scheffler and Burns and I was sorely tempted to side with the latter. The issue of course so is that one could easily out gun the other and there is little scope to back either of them each way.
In the end then I have decided to nail my hat to some bigger priced each way picks in the hope of finding ‘the one’ who might just pip the leading duo.
First up on this front then is Davis Riley. After a slowish start to life on the PGA Tour Riley found momentum in the spring with a runner up finish at the Valspar and since then despite the odd lull he has been producing consistent stuff week in week out.
Looking at that Valspar performance and that event certainly catches my eye here in relation to this week, partly due to Copperhead’s comparison of having five par three’s like this weeks track and partly because last years Champion here Jason Kokrak has produced some excellent results on that Florida venue.
Moving on through last season and Riley’s second best finish of the campaign came in Texas at Colonial where he finished fourth and again we have the obvious link with Kokrak who won both events last year and as noted earlier the same original course designer on both tracks.
As we know the sophomore season can be tough for players especially when expectations are high after a good first year on tour, however after missing the cut at the season opening Fortinet Riley has posted a couple of solid finishes already at his ‘fifth Major’ his local event the Sanderson Farms and last week at the Mayakoba.
Furthermore having rounded out a sluggish week at the CJ Cup with a round of 66 Davis’ last five rounds on tour have all been 68 or better.
Riley’s all round game lends itself to performing better on tougher tests, which judging on the last two years is what we have here and back on Bermuda putting surfaces, which saw his best results last season I am happy to chance him this week.
ADAM HADWIN – 66/1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 7th
Next up this week is a player who has been quietly producing some really strong golf for a while now, Adam Hadwin.
The Canadian is another who saves a lot of his best golf for tougher tests and last season he produced a run of three consecutive top tens at the Players, The Valspar and the Valero Texas Open, where he was fourth.
With his lone PGA Tour title coming at the Valspar we clearly have that link here again while one of Adam’s best finishes in a patchier 2021 was an eighth place at Colonial.
A look at Hadwin’s stats for the early part of the 22/23 season show us that he has been accurate off the tee, solid in his approach play and is rolling his rock nicely, ranked 20th in putting at present.
It is noticeable to me that as well as flourishing on tougher tests Hadwin produces a lot of his best golf on par 70 or par 71 tracks with last years seventh place finish at the US Open a perfect example of this. My hunch then even though this is his debut on this track that he will be right at home on this tests of iron play and strong putting, which we have seen over the last couple of years here.
A second PGA Tour win is now well overdue for Hadwin and I can see him making a big run towards it this week.
SEBASTIAN MUNOZ – 66/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up this week is the second of first of four players with Texas links, Sebastian Munoz.
Munoz who attended college in the Lone Star state bagged his one PGA Tour title to date three years ago in the Fall series at the Sanderson Farms, so clearly this is a good time of year for him.
After a superb performance at the Presidents Cup, which saw the Colombian take down Scottie Scheffler in the Sunday singles Munoz has failed to really spark to life however in amongst the scrappy stuff in Mexico last week there was also plenty of birdies, particularly on Sunday where he seemed to find something on the greens and put six circles on his card despite only posting a 1- under 70. Clearly then there is some good golf in amongst the mistakes at the moment.
What we have seen from Munoz over the recent seasons is that he can spark in to life on the right course something he did on three occasions last season when posting two third place finishes and a fourth in his campaign.
So why this week then? Well despite missing the cut here last year having Munoz has a string record in Texas over recent years posting a third place at the correlating Colonial, a third at the Byon Nelson and a ninth at the Valero. Furthermore there is a nice link to the Sanderson Farms here with 2020 champion Ortiz having a really strong record at the CC of Jackson so that ties in nicely with Munoz.
Having taken the confidence from that win against Scheffler at Quail Hollow if Sebastian is in the mix down the stretch on Sunday against one of the big names in the field this week he should not be in fear and I am happy to chance him produce the goods on a track that I believe should suit him.
BEAU HOSSLER – 125/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up it is another chance in Texas for Beau Hossler.
Hossler has really upped his game over the past tweilve months or so on tour and a maiden win now for the University of Texas grad would be no big surprise.
Hossler produced another solid result, 38th, in Mexico last week however what was noticeable was that he had two awful days on the paspalum on Thursday and Saturday, otherwise he would have been higher up the board, and I am trusting a return to the Bermuda this week will suit him as obviously his flat stick is normally a big strength of his.
Returning to the Texas theme and those with long memories will remember Beau’s agonising near miss in Houston a few years back at the hands of Ian Poulter, however that result was a prelude to what we have seen of late, which is Beau is a threat in Texas where he now resides.
Fourth, 17th and 21st were his three Texas efforts last season, with the 21st coming at the Charles Schwab where he opened up 66 65 before fading at the weekend.
Hossler missed the cut here on his only previous visit however that result began a horrendous run of form and his game is clearly in far better shape these days.
I’ll take a chance then that in much more familiar surroundings Beau can push on from solid weeks in Mexico and prior to that in Japan and show strongly again on home turf.
SH KIM – 125/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 47th
Finally this week I will roll the dice on one of the Texas based Korean contingent S H Kim.
Looking at Kim’s performance through the 2022 Korn Ferry campaign and although he did not post a win he had a really consistent season notching five top six finishes missing only four cuts along the way.
S.H’s closest brush with victory came in the Lake Charles Championship in neighbouring Louisiana to Mississippi, this weeks host state, where he lost out in a play off, while his other runner up finish also came on Bermuda greens in Florida at the Lecom Classic. It would seem then that the 24yr old is most at home in the Southern/Eastern states and on the type of putting surfaces we will encounter this week. Something, which is not unsurprising seeing as he is based in the Dallas area.
While Kim has gone slightly off the boil since his strong start to the season, which saw him finish 13th at the Sanderson’s and fourth at the Shriners I am not going to get too hung up on a couple of missed cuts in Bermuda and Mexico, particularly is he posted an under par round in both events.
Looking at Kim’s stats on the Korn Ferry Tour last season and while he was not the strongest from tee to green where he does excel is on and around the greens, something shown by his season end ranking of first in scrambling, 18th in putting average and fourth in putts per round and he has started his debut season on the PGA Tour in the same vein currently ranking 18th in putting.
In an event then where strong putting has been key over the past couple of years and on his first Tour start in Texas I will take a chance that Kim can produce a big week.