Houston Open: Finau fits the bill in Texas

American Tony Finau
Tony Finau can warm up for his Masters debut with a win in Houston
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The PGA Tour stays in Texas for this week's Houston Open and Dave Tindall has three each-way bets lined up...

"Ranked 10th in Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green this season and 14th in Scoring Average, a good putting week and Finau is a big contender here in my book."

Main Bet: Back Tony Finau e.w. @ 30/1

Each-way terms: 1/5 odds, 7 places

Main Bet: Back Tony Finau e.w. @ 30/1

With the US Masters a week away, several of the likely Green Jacket contenders are warming up at this week's Shell Houston Open.

Some just want to get match sharp although Phil Mickelson goes a step further and hits shots here that he plans to use at Augusta National even though they're not particular suitable for the task in hand, the 7,441-yard Golf Course of Houston.

It's not to say that he can't win but I'd rather be on him at the Masters than here.

Justin Rose is also likely to be getting his eye in although Jordan Spieth has won the week before a major and was second here before his runaway Augusta win in 2015.

Spieth's inconsistency on the greens - he's a hard-to-believe 172nd in Strokes Gained: Putting - are more of a concern for his hopes this week.

Henrik Stenson should enjoy being able to wheel away with his 3-wood while Rickie Fowler is bedding in swing changes although, like Spieth, he has some notably good form before majors.

The five above are all bunched between 10/1 and 12/1 and none stand out to me so I'll look further down.

The Golf Course of Houston tries but, of course, fails to mimic Augusta National but there are factors in that process that should be good for Tony Finau.

Firstly, the rough is down, so it's easy to keep pulling driver and bomb away.

The big-hitting American is ranked 1st in Driving Distance this season so can really cash in while impressive recent GIR figures suggest he can keep pelting these slick greens.

He's had three goes in this event and shot three 68s and a 69 so he can score at this track and it's just a case of stringing it all together.

A strong player in the wind, he's made 10 of 11 cuts in the Lone Star State and that includes a third place in last year's Texas Open and three other top 15s.

Beyond the fine detail, Finau just smacks of a player who is about to kick on to the next level soon so it's time he added to his one PGA Tour win, the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. That also took place in March.

The 28-year-old has three top 20s in his seven starts in the majors and he'll be particularly ramped this week as he'll be making his US Masters debut next week.

Ranked 10th in Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green this season and 14th in Scoring Average, a good putting week and Finau is a big contender here in my book.


Next Best: Back Steve Stricker e.w. @ 50/1

Steve Stricker still looks the same as ever and has become the new darling of the Champions Tour after two wins and a second place on his last three starts.

During that run he was also T12 in the Valspar Championship to prove that he can still cut it with the flat-bellies. Hitting lots of greens and putting well is always a good recipe!

He has three top 10s at this course and although they came in 2006 (3rd), 2007 (9th) and 2011 (4th), the 51-year-old also cracked the top 25 in 2014 and he's played this event just once since then.

Back at a venue he knows well, this looks a good chance to do something big again.

Speaking at Pebble Beach earlier this season, Stricker said: "I still feel like I'm capable of winning out here.

"Obviously I got to do a lot of good things to do it. I don't have length like some of these guys have, but I've been around long enough to know what works for me and I try to lean on those things."

A few seasons ago, it seemed that Stricker might become a part-time player, who had other priorities.

But the Champions Tour has energised him and he also has the added excitement of being a vice-captain alongside Tiger Woods at this year's Ryder Cup. Stricker is in a very good place.

"My game's pretty good," he said in February. "I spent a lot of time in the off-season working at it. Right after the holidays, I was down in Florida for a while and played Phoenix last week (T31).

"I had one bad round, really, that cost me to have a top-15 or so finish. I'm excited about what I'm doing so far and it's showing out on the golf course."

Seeing 47-year-old Phil Mickelson win recently will have cemented the thought that experience still counts for plenty and 12-time PGA Tour winner Stricker could just have something up his sleeve.

The AP report on his win at Fallen Oak last week read: "Stricker closed with a 4-under-68, birdieing all four par-5 holes on the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big and fast greens."

Hmmm. A par 72 with big and fast greens. That rings a bell, Yep, that's what he faces this week.

The excellent Future of Fantasy website has Stricker ranked 21st in their list of top 25 performers on courses with fast greens while he's another strong performer in the wind too.

I'm happy to take the joint-industry best 50/1, especially with those seven each-way places.


Final Bet: Back Luke List e.w. @ 25/1

I did toy with throwing in Abraham Ancer at 300/1.

The Mexican was born in Texas and has duel-American citizenship. So far in March he's played in the WGC event in Mexico (71-69 on the weekend) and added top 20s in the Valspar Championship (T16) and Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship (T13) on his last two PGA Tour starts.

He has strong greens in regulation numbers and could just be the surprise name on the leaderboard this week.

Rafa Cabrera-Bello may not be the worst bet at 33/1 given his top four here in 2016 (MC last year) and third place in the WGC-Mexico Championship.

But I'll drop a few points to 25/1 and end with a punt on a player who really looks ready to win.

Luke List almost got the big breakthrough when losing a play-off to Justin Thomas - no shame in that - at the Honda Classic and he's backed that up with T16 at the Valspar and T7 in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

List was ranked second for GIR at Bay Hill and drives it a country mile off the tee so he looks a good fit for this course.

That's backed up by his results in the last two editions. The American was T27 in 2016 and fired 68-71-65-68 to take tied third place 12 months ago.

"I like tough conditions. To me, it's a premium on my ball striking," he said when defying the winds to shoot his Saturday 65.

List was seen having to putt with a sand wedge at the WGC-Dell Match Play after swiping his putter at a wall and bending it so he'll feel a bit sheepish about that and what to get back on track.

It's between the ears where he's kicked on this season, saying last week: "I got going kind of at Riviera. The West Coast wasn't going exactly the way I wanted it and kind of refocused on what I was working on mentally.

"It's a work in progress. And I have been doing a fantastic job at that the last month or so, so you can't be too hard on yourself."

On a layout where he shone last year, List can make another title surge.

He's been in the top five for Driving Distance at this event in both 2016 and 2017 so loves to hit driver and he was ranked first for Scrambling last year so can chip well from these run-off areas around the greens.

This par 72 has its own quirks so course form seems to count for plenty.

Others with that in abundance are Daniel Berger (5-5-25) and Russell Henley (1-5-4-7).

They're 22/1 and 28/1 respectively and are easy to argue a case for but I'll go with List's hotter current form.

This is also a final chance to punch a ticket for the Masters so a few Augusta regulars with extra incentive teeing it up here are Lee Westwood, Brandt Snedeker and Bill Haas.

Obviously, lack of recent form explains why they're still lacking an invite.

Stricker and List aren't Augusta-bound either but their current form suggests they're in a much better position to have an 11th hour crack at making the field.


Dave's 2017/18 PGA Tour P/L (based on £5 ew per selection outrights, £10 win top 5s/10s)

Staked: £580
Returned: £1079
P/L: +£499

(After Valspar Championship)

2016/2017:
P/L: +£1179.89

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