Houston Open Odds & Tips: Finau heads five selections at Memorial
With only two weeks remaining until the PGA Tour closes the book on 2021 at the RSM Classic, we first head to Texas for the Houston Open. An event entering its 76th year in its association with the PGA Tour.
The event goes back to the Memorial Park Municipal Golf Course after its return last year. A tough 7432 yard Tom Doak design (with some input from Brooks Koepka), that saw Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz triumph by 2 shots on a star-studded leaderboard. Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama tied for runner-up honours, along with other notables – Brooks Koepka, Tyrrell Hatton, Sam Burns and Jason Day sitting inside the top 10 at the end of the week. The difficulty of the course underlined by Ortiz winning with a score of -13 and only two other players reaching double digits under par for the week.
Houston Open Tips
Playing to a par 70, the course is long and one of the major parts of Doak’s redesign was the widening of the fairways and removal of trees, making for a wide, open course that should be to the liking of the bigger hitters in the field.
The greens are fast, undulating and protected by punishing, mown down run-off areas. No surprise that the short game was an important asset last year, with winner, Ortiz, ranking 2nd around-the-greens. The putter also vital on these tricky green complexes, where seven of the top 10 on the leaderboard also sat inside the top 10 in putting.
Water is in-play on a number of holes, no more prevalent than on the risk-reward par 4 16th and par 5 17th holes, where it stares you in the face from your first to last shot and should provide plenty of drama throughout the week.
Although we only have one year of evidence to call upon, the event very much threw itself into the mix as a proper championship course. With a leaderboard that possessed form-lines with the likes of the Farmers Insurance Open, Genesis Invitational, Honda Classic and Memorial Tournament. Four of the tougher tests on the PGA Tour schedule, where virtually every part of your game will be tested.
The weather forecast is predicting warm, dry conditions, similar to last year and we should expect the firm, fast playing conditions of the course to once again be a feature. Wind also predicted throughout the week, which should make a tough golf course that bit more difficult.
Not quite as strong as Mayakoba, but we still have an interesting field teeing it up in Texas. Last year’s winner, Ortiz, arrives off the back of a superb 2nd place finish in his native Mexico last week. Whilst Brooks Koepka will be looking to take advantage of his ties and familiarity with this week’s host venue to try and arrest a poor run of form.
Sam Burns heads the market at 16/1, followed by Scottie Scheffler at 18/1. Both well suited to this week’s test, though it’s the eternally likeable Tony Finau that gets the nod at the top and he goes in as the headline pick this week.
Finau hasn’t been on my radar at these kind of prices for a while but is now tempting again due to his long awaited win in The Northern Trust. The quality of his game has never been in doubt, and it’s always been mental for him. Hopefully with the pressure lifting in New Jersey he’ll find winning a little easier over the coming years and pick up the number of titles the quality of his game deserves. Starting this week in Houston.
Since winning The Northern Trust, Finau has only teed it up four times. Most recently when finishing a solid if unspectacular 45th in Mexico last week, which was only his 2nd start for nine weeks and his 3rd in three weeks. I’m optimistic he’ll be sharper for that spin around El Camaleon and can go much better here at a course more to his liking and one in which he finished 24th on debut in 2020.
His game is ideal for the course. He was 16th tee-to-green on tour last season, ranking no worse than 36th in driving, approach or around-the-greens. This backed up with an often maligned but solid putter, that saw him ranked 91st.
As well as finishing 24th here last year, we can find further evidence of his suitability to this type of test in 2nd place finishes at both Riviera, in the Genesis Invitational and Torrey Pines, in the Farmers Insurance Open.
With the cobwebs blown away in Mexico and a new-found level of confidence after ending his five year wait for a title, Finau looks as likely a winner as anyone at Memorial Park this week.
Next up is Australia’s Marc Leishman, who seems to have left behind the poor form that he showed for much of last year. Starting this season in much better form, with two top 5 finishes in his last three starts.
During those most recent performances, where he finished 4th at the Fortinet Championship, 3rd at the Shriners Open and 38th on his last start in the CJ Cup, Leishman has shown improvements in every part of his game in comparison to last year. Particularly excelling on the putting surfaces, shown by his early ranking of 11th in putting for this season but has also put up positive strokes gained numbers in approach and around the greens in all three starts. The driver the only issue, though he should benefit from the wider fairways this week and despite not being one of the longer hitters on tour, he hits it long enough for what I expect to once again be a firm golf course.
He didn’t play here last year but it’s the type of test he has often excelled at over the years. He’s got an excellent record at Torrey Pines, a win in 2020 amongst other quality performances. Also possessing a victory at Bay Hill in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, with further evidence of his suitability being found in his quality record in The Masters. All championship or championship like tests, played on long, tough golf courses.
He’s a five time winner on tour and now starting to show some real form. Leishman looks a real danger on the type of course he has so often taken to in the past.
With the short-game expected to be huge this week, there’s few players that excel in that area of the game more than Patrick Reed. A 2nd place finish two weeks ago in tough conditions in Bermuda making it look like he’s over his health concerns, Reed looks primed for a big week in his home state.
That 2nd place finish in Bermuda was his best since he was 5th at the Memorial Tournament back in June, one of a bunch of pieces of correlating form he possesses. A major champion courtesy of a Masters win in 2016 and also a winner at Torrey Pines, which came earlier this year. Reed often excels at tough, championship courses.
He manages to do this whilst not matching up to many of the top guys with his ball-striking. He doesn’t drive it like Bryson or hit irons like Morikawa but he more than makes up for it with just about one of the best short-games about, that saw him rank 4th in putting and 7th around-the-greens on the PGA Tour last season and is in ownership of a dogged, winner’s mentality.
If the course plays like it did last year, Reed has the weapons in his arsenal to make himself a feature near the top of the leaderboard this week.
It’s been a bit of a struggle for Gary Woodland since winning the US Open back in 2019. Though amongst the inconsistency are some eye-catching performances, and with the driver starting to fire again, as it has done in his last few starts, he looks an ideal fit for the test that awaits the players in Houston.
This up and down year has seen Woodland miss 10 of 23 cuts, his most since 2010, but he’s still managed to rack up four top 10 finishes. The most recent of those coming in the CJ Cup two starts ago, when finishing 9th. A week that saw him rank 6th tee-to-green, particularly owing to a quality week with the driver, where he ranked 3rd.
He followed with a missed cut at Mayakoba last week, not overly concerning as it’s not what I’d describe as a Gary Woodland golf course. He did however continue to drive the ball well. The recent upturn in form with the driver is particularly encouraging as he’s been struggling off-the-tee since 2020, in an area of his game that had typically been his biggest asset.
He went from ranking 5th, 31st, 3rd & 19th on the PGA Tour in driving from 2016-2019, to 93rd and 157th in the last two years. No surprise that his results had suffered when such a strong part of your game deserts you. Though he has shown improvements with his short game in 2021, putting up his best numbers around-the-greens since 2016.
He didn’t play here last year but with a 2nd place finish at the Honda Classic and 4th place finish at Memorial to his name, he should take to the course if continuing to drive it well. Combine that with the improvements in his short game and this classy player can make that 80/1 look a big price by the end of the week.
There are a number of players who fit the bill for me at three figures, none more so than big hitting Taylor Pendrith. Who can bounce back from a MC last week, at a course which should play to his strengths.
The missed cut in Mexico was following a tough Sunday in Bermuda, one in which Pendrith entered with the lead and his first genuine chance of tasting victory on the PGA Tour, before succumbing to the pressure and dropping to 5th. He needs to put it all down to learning and you’d hope he’d fare better if he finds himself in a similar position again.
That was part of a really solid start to life on the main tour for the Canadian. Before Mexico he’d made 4/4 cuts and showed the signs that he’s got the ability to compete at this level.
His game looks a good fit for Memorial Park. He excels off-the-tee, ranking 28th so far this season and also ranks amongst the longer hitters, something that we knew he possessed from his time on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, where he ranked 3rd in driving distance.
Something else he’s transferred over to the PGA in his starts so far is his quality short game. It saw him rank 9th in scrambling and 36th in putting on the KFT last year. Fast-forward to this season - he sits a more than respectable 67th around-the-greens and 54th in putting for this new PGA Tour season.
With a missed cut that was easy to forgive last week, I expect this talented bomber to thrive on this more open, generous driving course and if able to take the positives from his performance in Bermuda, can give another good showing of himself in Houston.