Houston Open Tips: Look to Leishman at Memorial Golf Park

Australian golfer Marc Leishman
Aussie Marc Leishman can challenge for the win

The PGA Tour heads north from Mexico to Texas and Dave Tindall is back with three each-way tips for the action in Houston...

"Looking at recent form, he's posted fourth at the Fortinet Championship and third at the Shriners in two of his three starts so far in the new campaign."

Back Marc Leishman each-way @ 36.035/1

Main Bet: Marc Leishman each-way @ 36.035/1

The Houston Open had a run of years from 2007 to 2018 when it was played the week before The Masters.

Although it could never come close to replicating Augusta National, at least there were attempts to make it a decent warm-up with fast greens and mowed run-off areas used.

However, it moved to October in 2019 and last year had a November date.

As it happened, that put it back in a pre-Masters slot after the calendar was rearranged due to the pandemic.

It also had a new venue last year, Memorial Park Golf Club, and Carlos Ortiz emerged as a shock winner.

However, the runners-up were interesting. Dustin Johnson went to claim the Green Jacket a week later while Hideki Matsuyama won at Augusta the following April.

Perhaps, then, this event is a good pointer for Augusta after all. Brooks Koepka, who helped re-design this course, also made the top five in Houston last year. Koepka finished seventh at Augusta a week later having been runner-up behind Tiger in 2019.

Apart from some possible form links to the Masters, what else did we learn from last year?

One angle is that the best performers on the Par 5s finished high up the leaderboard - even though there are just three of them.

Four players shot -8 over the long holes and they included winner Ortiz, joint-runner-up Hideki Matsuyama and seventh-placed Sam Burns.

Also, the top six players for Greens In Regulation all finished in the top 15, that bunch including the other joint-runner-up Dustin Johnson.

And when greens were missed, scrambling was important. Ortiz ranked 1st in that category while fourth-placed Taylor Gooch was fourth.

Several players last year spoke of the different options they had around the greens, another nod to creativity and Augusta perhaps.

On them, Ortiz was only 36th for Putting Average although in new money he was 5th for Strokes Gained: Putting while all the front six were ranked in the top 15 for SGP.

The greens here on the 7,400-yard par 70 are MiniVerde Bermuda.

Overall, strategy rather than bombs away counts so I'm going to go with Marc Leishman as my headline pick.

If Augusta is a clue - or at least, the things you need to well there are - the Aussie fits the bill.

Leishman has a fourth, a fifth (2021) and a ninth at the Masters and short game has been a big reason for that.

In addition, his recent form is excellent: he's posted fourth at the Fortinet Championship and third at the Shriners in two of his three starts so far in the new campaign.

He putted like a demon in both while the six-time PGA Tour winner also hit over 70% of GIR in each of his last four events.

A runner-up in the 2018 Byron Nelson, he has plenty of good form in Texas and looks a fine each-way bet to make a significant impression on his course debut.

Next Best: Gary Woodland each-way @ 81.080/1

Gary Woodland is another first-timer at the course but he has some promising Texas form to draw on.

Earlier this season he was tied sixth in the Texas Open and he followed that with tied 14th in the Charles Schwab Challenge.

His one start in the Lone Star State in 2020 resulted in another top 10 at Colonial.

Covid and its impact has clearly affected lots of golfers and Woodland is very much on that list.

He said at the Sanderson Farms last month: "I've grown up my whole life being around teams. I had a big team around me.

"Being in Covid where I haven't been able to see Pete Cowan and Butch, and Phil Kenyon hasn't been able to travel. Not seeing those guys and being out here by myself, that's been tough.

"So things opening back up, it's nice to have people back out here and just makes me feel more comfortable and makes life a lot easier for me."

The 2019 US Open winner also explained that he's gone to coach Mark Blackburn after previously being with Butch Harmon.

Woodland explained: "I love Butch and I'll still talk to Butch but unfortunately Butch doesn't travel anymore, so I don't see him enough. And Mark's out a ton.

"He's close to my house in Kansas and he's halfway between Kansas and Florida, so for me that's a lot of access. And it's been really good. We're working, he's got me back doing a lot of things that Butch had me doing which is very comfortable for me, so it was an easy transition and something I'm excited about."

With injury problems also cleared up, Woodland is starting to see better things.

Two starts ago he was tied ninth in the CJ Cup (7th for GIR) while he also had two other top 11s in his previous five starts.

If the putter comes to the party, Woodland can do some damage at 80/1.

Final Bet: Maverick McNealy each-way @ 34.033/1

Maverick McNealy was ranked 184th in the world going into last year's Houston Open.

This year he returns at 71st and one big week away from cracking that all-important top 50 which brings a Masters invite and plenty of other rewards.

The Californian was a little slow into his stride last year when shooting two 71s but he fired 67-67 on the weekend to finish in a tie for 20th.

That followed tied 17th on his Houston Open debut in 2019 while he added another top 20 in his latest Texas start in the Charles Schwab Challenge.

While course and location form offer plenty of promise, there's even better news to be found in his current form.

After six straight top 30s (four of those top 20s) between May and August, he stepped it up in his 2021/22 opener with a superb second place in the Fortinet Championship.

Most recently, he's finished tied 25th in the Zozo Championship and tied 11th in last week's World Wide Technology Championship where he closed with a 64.

McNealy hit 75% of GIR in Mexico (rank: 9th) and, although inconsistent, he's had some strong putting weeks too. He was 21st for Putting Average at the Mayakoba.

Talking about his final-round 64 on Sunday, he said of his second shot to the fifth: "I told Travis walking up that fairway it was probably the most flush shot I've hit all year, just came out perfect, pin high from 260 with a utility iron, made eagle."

Confidence is clearly high and we could be looking at a player who has a win in him sooner rather than later.

McNealy is ranked fifth for Par 5 Scoring this season so take the 33/1.

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Dave's P/L for 2021/22

Staked: £210
Returned: £199.75
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2018/2019 P/L: -£338.25
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2016/2017 P/L: +£1179.89

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