Houston Open Betting Tips: Five each-way picks in Texas
Before the PGA Tour finishes up for the year – at least in terms of official events - at the RSM Classic in Georgia next week, the penultimate event of 2022 takes us to Texas for the Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course.
An event that originated in 1946 - a year that saw Byron Nelson triumph over Ben Hogan in a battle of two of the game’s greats – the Houston Open has taken place in all but two years since, seeing names like Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Vijay Singh lift the trophy.
After originally hosting the event multiple times in the 40s, 50s and 60s, a much changed and revamped Memorial Park GC returned as host for the first time in almost sixty-years in 2020; where we saw Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz hold off a star-studded group of challengers, including Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama as runners-up, winning with a score of -13.
Jason Kokrak won last year in another difficult affair, beating Scottie Scheffler and Kevin Tway by two strokes with a winning score of -10; Scheffler the man to beat entering the final round in the lead and then increasing on that lead during the final round, before three bogeys in five holes at the start of his back nine caused serious damage to his chances, damage that couldn’t be undone by two late birdies.
With Kokrak and Ortiz now gone from the PGA Tour after joining the lucrative Saudi-backed LIV Series, we’ll see a new winner lift the trophy at Memorial Park; taming what has proven to be one of the most difficult challenges on tour during it’s short-time on the schedule in the process.
Originally designed by John Bredemus in 1936, Memorial Park GC underwent an extensive $13million renovation by Tom Doak, which was completed in 2019; the most significant changes coming in the shape of tightly-mown run-off areas incorporated around most of the putting surfaces and the installation of more water hazards down a demanding closing stretch, adding to the excitement of the finish.
Though on paper this par 70 can play to a lengthy 7400+ yards, it has played significantly shorter than that; 7162 yards in round two the longest it played last year and possesses an unusual five par 3s, along with three par 5s and ten par 4s.
The course offers great variety throughout; tighter doglegging, tree-lined holes - where trees can block out approaches to the greens if not on the correct side of the fairway - complimented by straighter, more open holes; two shorter, drivable par 4s balanced by lengthier ones, two of which can play to over 500 yards.
This is also reflected by the tricky greens, with the firmness and undulating nature of them, along with the difficulty that awaits around them the only constants.
This has resulted in a demanding test in the two years since Memorial Park made its return. The percentages of fairways and greens hit are both comfortably below the tour averages, much the same with the challenging nature on and around the greens; whilst it’s also one of the most punishing when you miss said fairways.
Simply put, every area of your game will be tested this week, with long and short-game skills of significant if not equal importance.
Two tournaments isn’t a lot to go off but we do at least have the benefit of strokes-gained data, in contrast to the last two weeks.
Ability to putt these tough surfaces has been key in the two renewals so far and has represented the most important asset link between the two winners. Jason Kokrak ranked 3rd on the greens when winning last year, whilst Carlos Ortiz ranked 5th in 2020.
Not just the winners that putted well, but we find good putters such as Martin Trainer tied 5th in 2021; with Talor Gooch, Brooks Koepka and Sepp Straka in the top 5 in 2020; strong putting performances also on show from Kevin Tway – 2nd last year – Kramer Hickok and Hideki Matsuyama; ten of the top twelves players across these two renewals ranked no worse than 15th in putting.
The driver has too been a big attribute around here with both winners strong drivers of the ball and the likes of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Joel Dahmen going well; length off the tee adding to this amongst those winners and contenders; Sepp Straka, Kevin Tway and Martin Trainer also possessing plenty of power and finishing top 5 in Houston over the course of the last two years. With the drivable par 4s and reasonably long par 5s, as well as some of those tougher, lengthy par 4s, it’s easy to see why this has been the case.
Whilst the driver and putter may well be the biggest ingredients to success, as mentioned, quality across the board is required. Carlos Ortiz produced an impressive performance around-the-greens when winning, ranking 2nd, along with a solid approach display; though Jason Kokrak struggled around-the-greens, he was able to overcome this with a superb approach performance, ranking 2nd in the field, complimenting that quality he showed off the tee and on the greens.
Key Stats: SG: Off-the-Tee, SG: Putting, Driving Distance
Secondary Stats: SG: Approach, Greens-in-Regulation, SG: Around-the-Greens
Charles Schwab Challenge @ Colonial CC
Also taking place in Texas, the Charles Schwab Challenge provides a similar all-round test to that at Memorial Park, ranking closely in almost every aspect; from difficulty in find fairways and greens, to the challenge it presents around the greens.
Jason Kokrak has won both events, while Sam Burns – 7th on both trips to Memorial Park – won there this year. Kevin Tway and Mackenzie Hughes both amongst players to possess form in both events.
Honda Classic @ PGA National
To Florida, where PGA National’s combination of providing a challenging T2G test, possessing tricky bermuda greens and watery danger lurking down the closing stretch has enabled the course to develop strong form-ties with Memorial Park.
Sepp Straka and Russell Henley have both won there, going with good performances in the Houston Open the last couple of years; Mackenzie Hughes, Jason Kokrak and Sam Burns too possessing form in the Honda.
Arnold Palmer Invitational @ Bay Hill
We stay in Florida at Bay Hill; a true championship test that matches up well with Memorial park, particularly over the last couple of years with the toughened setup; tough bermuda greens once again on offer.
Jason Kokrak has finished in the top 10 there multiple times; with Joel Dahmen, Talor Gooch and Adam Long all possessing decent form across both venues.
Sanderson Farms Championship @ Country Club of Jackson
The CCoJ is a course that has generally suited strong drivers and has built eye-catching form-ties with Memorial Park in this short space of time.
Carlos Ortiz twice finished top four in Mississippi, while Sam Burns and Mackenzie Hughes are both Sanderson Farms winners; Sepp Straka and Robert Streb strengthening the link.
CJ Cup (2020) @ Shadow Creek GC
Though only hosting the CJ Cup as a one-off during the covid hit 2020 season, Shadow Creek’s tough T2G challenge threw up a leaderboard packed with players who’ve gone well in Houston since 2020.
Jason Kokrak won that event, whilst Tyrrell Hatton, Talor Gooch and Russell Henley all featured in the top 5.
Weather starts off warm and dry on Thursday through Friday, though with the arrival of some colder temperatures over the weekend, the forecast is predicting a wet Saturday; along with a pretty stiff breeze throughout the week, the weather may make things even trickier in Houston.
World #2 Scottie Scheffler returns to the scene of his disappointment last year, no doubt confident of gaining redemption arriving as a now four-time winner, not to mention Masters champion. He’s the only player from inside the top 10 in the world taking part, though Sam Burns, Tony Finau and Hideki Matsuyama add some more star quality from inside the world’s top 20.
With just a further four from inside the top 50 in the world teeing it up, this solid but unspectacular field not only looks a good chance for one of those top names to add another victory to their resume, but also one in which some of those on the outskirts of the elite should fancy their chances of making some noise at the top of the leaderboard.
Houston Open Tips
We go straight in at the top with this week’s selections, as I’m backing second-favourite Sam Burns to take the title this week in Texas. He has an excellent record here, having finished 7th on both previous visits and was in good form when 7th in the CJ Cup three weeks ago; add to this his winning pedigree and he looked a decent price here, especially considering players directly behind him in the betting who are either less proven winners or in a worse place with their game.
Burns has enjoyed an excellent year, adding a further two titles to the two he won last year, when picking up a second victory at the Valspar and then going on to win at Colonial, where he got the better of the only man in front of him in the betting this week, Scottie Scheffler.
He’s only played twice in this wrap-around season, finishing 30th when attempting to defend his Sanderson Farms title at the beginning of October and that 7th at Congaree in the CJ Cup last time out, though did play on the triumphant American team at the Presidents Cup.
Most encouraging about those two PGA Tour performances has been the rediscovery of his driving form, ranking 1st off-the-tee at the Sanderson Farms and 16th in the CJ Cup, an area of his game that had shown some frailties towards the end of the previous season.
A field-leading putting performance at the CJ Cup of little surprise for one of the best putters on tour, where he’s ranked 9th and 10th in the previous two seasons; whilst the irons haven’t quite fired yet, there’s been some decent rounds and I’d expect a player who’s ranked top 30 on tour in approach the last two years to find a good performance in that area sooner rather than later.
Indeed he has managed to do that in the last two years here in Houston, producing quality iron displays in both of those 7th place finishes; also looking to have gotten the hang of the greens last year.
Wins at Colonial and in the Sanderson Farms provide further proof – if we needed any – as to his suitability for this test; top 10s in the Honda Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational enhancing that and if the irons fire this week, Burns looks a sure thing to go close in Houston.
Davis Riley has had a solid enough start to the new season, though had been off the boil with the driver. He looks to have turned a corner in this regard in Mexico last week, ranking 10th in the field in total driving and with the quality he’s shown in approach so far this year, as well as decent performances on the greens, he can improve on a solid 29th on debut here last year.
Prior to last week, Riley had missed the cut on his first start of the season in the Fortinet Championship but made every cut since, with a 19th in the Sanderson Farms his best finish.
His approach play has been quality, shown by him ranking 17th on tour in this early part of the year; looking particularly good at the CJ Cup, ranking 12th in the field but let down by his driver, causing an underwhelming 52nd place finish.
As mentioned, he turned this around last week and I’m confident he can keep that rolling on a course that appeared to suit his eye off-the-tee last year, as he ranked 16th with the driver and complimented it with a good putting week, ranking 24th, resulting in that encouraging debut effort.
A 4th in the Charles Schwab Challenge earlier this year behind Burns and Scheffler offers a further boost as to his ability to go even better here; if at his ball-striking best, this talented player – who won one of his two Korn Ferry Tour titles here in Texas – can get that breakthrough PGA Tour victory in Houston.
Lee Hodges has made a good start to his second season as a PGA Tour player, with his ball-striking looking in particularly good shape; he can use that to improve on a solid effort here last year.
Hodges’ year started with a huge amount of promise, as he contended and went close in The AmEx, finishing 3rd; a 9th in the Honda Classic further indicated his potential at this level and helped him on his way to securing his playing rights for this season and a spot in the first play-off event, where he finished an impressive 13th in the St Jude Championship on his final start of last season.
Jump forward to the new season and Hodges is once again playing well; two missed cuts in six events countered by four solid performances, the best of which is a 7th place finish in the CJ Cup two starts ago.
There we saw that quality ball-striking in full flow, as Hodges ranked 10th in approach and 25th off-the-tee; also putting solidly, ranking 15th. This reflected in his game across his starts for the season so far, as he ranks 29th in approach, 54th off-the-tee and a solid 74th on the greens.
Hodges finished 46th here last year, though was on for a much better performance, sitting in the top 20 entering the final round before a poor closing 75 dropped him down the leaderboard; a performance which we can certainly upgrade a little and that offered plenty of promise as to his ability to perform here, especially considering he struggled in approach there, an area which has proven to be his biggest asset overall the last twelve months.
Further to this he’s recorded a top 10 in the Honda Classic, whilst that 7th at Congaree may also prove a good guide; if able to keep up the standard of ball-striking he’s shown so far this year, he looks a good shout for a strong performance and can make up for his unfortunate finishing effort here last year.
Sepp Straka looks a huge price this week; he was runner-up at a correlating course just four starts ago in the Sanderson Farms and won at another earlier in the year at the Honda Classic; add this to a 5th place finish in Houston on debut in 2020 and the Austrian looks a big price to bounce back from a couple of poor efforts this week.
I’ve put him up multiple times this year and each time I’ve felt he’s been overpriced considering how he finished last season; recording a 2nd place finish in the St Jude Championship and 7th on his first visit to East Lake for the Tour Championship; his ball-striking looking in particularly good shape, though looking good in most areas.
He transferred that over to his first start of the new season when 2nd in Jackson, ranking 4th T2G and 9th with the putter; but will have to bounce back from a missed cut last week in Mexico here this week, though it is worth noting he has never gone well there.
I’m confident he can do that here after that 5th place finish he achieved on debut; a week where he was the best player in approach and 4th on the greens; with an off week with the driver proving his undoing.
I’m going to finish with Davis Thompson; this enormously talented former #1 amateur is hitting the ball excellently in this early part of his first full season on the PGA Tour, showing he possesses the game that could make him a force on tour over the coming years.
This high-class ball-striking has helped Thompson get off to a fine start to the season; finishing 9th in the Fortinet Championship on his first start, then bouncing back from an underwhelming 67th in the Sanderson Farms by finishing 12th when we last saw him in the Shriners Open.
He’s driven the ball excellently each time, ranking 21st on tour so far this season; not just long, ranking 14th in driving distance but also currently finding plenty of fairways. In addition he’s gained strokes in approach each time and ranks a solid 54th and 22nd in GIR.
The short-game hasn’t been quite as impressive but there have been plenty of positive signs there too, ranking 18th in his 9th place finish in the Fortinet on the greens and gaining strokes around-the-greens in 2/3 starts.
This strong ball-striking game, backed up by some adequate ability shown on and around the greens show he has the game to go well here; made cuts in both starts in the Sanderson Farms and a solid 41st in a strong API field on a brutally difficult week - where he once again showed his ball-striking prowess – offers further encouragement and providing he’s not too rusty following a month out of action, I see no reason why he won’t go well again.