The PGA Tour skips from Nevada to Texas for the Houston Open and our man has the lowdown ahead of Thursday's start here...
"Vegas is a multiple winner whose season highlight was third at the Players Championship so he’s a capable character and it’s interesting to see that he finished inside the top-ten at both the Wells Fargo Championship and the Phoenix Open earlier in the year. The two events that appear to correlate nicely."
George Bowden and Peter O'Hara tied a tournament called the Houston Professional Golf event way back in 1922 and there was a tournament of sorts sporadically held annually in the Houston area up until 1938.
Nothing happened during the war years but 1946 saw the first official staging of the Houston Open, and the tournament started with a bang, with Byron Nelson getting the better of Ben Hogan by two strokes. There was no event in 1948 or 1969 but it's been an ever-present on the PGA Tour otherwise. The tournament lost it's sponsors after the 2017 edition and it's now been shuffled back in the schedule having been played in the week before the US Masters every year since 2007, with the exception of 2013. As a result, the field is much weaker than we've become accustomed to.
Golf Course of Houston, Humble, Texas.
Par 72, 7441 yards, stroke average in 2018 - 70.6
Formally known as Redstone, the Golf Course of Houston was Rees Jones' first 'from scratch' design. It was built specifically to host this event and will be doing so for the 14th and final time this year. Memorial Park Golf Course will be the host venue going forward.
The fairways are wide but the rough is said to be lush this year and water is in play on half the holes. The Bermuda greens are larger than average and they'll run at around 12 on the stimpmeter. That's a bit slower than in previous years.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting with Featured Group coverage on Thursday at 17:00.
Last Five Winners
2018 - Ian Poulter -19 (playoff)
2017 - Russell Henley -20
2016 - Jim Herman -15
2015 - J.B Holmes -16 (playoff)
2014 - Matt Jones -15 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the Houston Open?
Last year's winner, Ian Poulter, ranked 62nd for Driving Distance and third for Driving Accuracy but it doesn't really matter what you do off the tee here. We've seen recent winners top the Driving Distance stats (JB Holmes in 2015) and in addition to Poults, we've also seen winners rank as lowly as 50th and 61st (Hunter Mahan in 2012 and D.A Points in 2013) for DD. Poulter's third was the lowest any winner has ranked here for Driving Accuracy and the 2017 winner, Russel Henley ranked fourth but being straight is far from vital. Phil Mickelson was able to win in 2011 despite ranking 67th for DA and a year earlier, Anthony Kim won despite the entire field finding more fairways than him. It's impossible to determine whether length or accuracy from the tee is more important but the most significant stat has been Greens In Regulation...
The last two winners have both ranked fourth for GIR and five of the first six home in 2017 ranked ninth or better. The three players ranking first, second and third for GIR in 2016 all finished inside the top-ten, the two players Holmes beat in a playoff in 2015, Jordan Spieth and Johnson Wagner, ranked tied third for GIR and Henley, who finished fourth in 2015, hit more greens than anyone else that year. The 2014 playoff protagonists, Matt Jones and Matt Kuchar, ranked one and two for greens hit and the 2012 winner, Hunter Mahan, also ranked first for GIR.
Par 4 Scoring has been really important here too. Poulter ranked first last year, the first two home in 2017, Henley and Sung-Hoon Kang, ranked first and second for Par 4 Scoring and the first and second in 2016, Herman and Henrik Stenson, ranked tied second on the par fours, Holmes ranked number one for Par 4 Scoring four years ago and Spieth, who lost in the playoff, ranked second. In the last 13 years, since the event switched to this venue, 12 of the 13 winners have ranked inside the top-10 for that stat and all 12 have ranked inside the top-10 for birdies made. Both of the last two winners have mad more than anyone else.
Is There an Angle In?
Quail Hollow, home to the Wells Fargo Championship and the venue for the 2017 USPGA Championship, looks to correlate very nicely with this track. Vijay Singh, Anthony Kim and J.B Holmes have all won both this event and the Wells Fargo and Houston winners Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and even D.A Points have come very close to winning at Quail Hollow. Points was beaten in a playoff in 2012 and the man that beat him was the 2017 Houston third, Rickie Fowler, who was matched in-running here at just 1.4640/85 in 2017 and 2.226/5 in 2018.
Another event that may be worth looking at closely, is the Phoenix Open, staged at TPC Scottsdale and won this year by the aforementioned Fowler. Holmes is a two-time winner there, the 2011 Houston winner, Phil Mickelson, has won there three times, and Hunter Mahan has also taken both titles in the last ten years.
Huge outsider, Mark Wilson, the Phoenix Open winner in 2011, was in-the-mix at halfway here four years ago and so was Graham DeLaet, who traded at odds-on in Phoenix five years ago. Last year's Phoenix Open winner, Gary Woodland, doesn't frank the form particularly well. In his sole appearance in this event, he could only finish 33rd but the man he beat in the playoff in Phoenix, Chez Reavie, finished seventh here in his only appearance back in 2016. And that's especially pertinent given Reavie only managed three top-tens all year in 2016 and he was out of form when he finished seventh here.
Both venues have plenty of water in-play, nice wide fairways, and little rough (usually) and the results certainly suggest the two venues correlate nicely.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Aussies might be worth looking at. Stuart Appleby and Adam Scott won here in 2006 and 2007 and Matt Jones became the third to take the title in 2014. And outsiders have fared well here of late too...
I have fond memories of backing the 2017 winner, Henley, at 60.059/1, and I also backed J.B Holmes at 38.037/1 in 2015 but those two were very well-fancied in comparison to the other recent winners. Poulter went off at 150.0149/1 last year and the man he beat in a playoff, Beau Hossler, was matched at a high of 300.0299/1 before the off. The 2016 winner, Jim Herman, was matched at 1000.0 before the off and so too was the 2013 winner, D.A points, and Matt Jones was matched at 200.0199/1 back in 2014. This is a great event to for outsiders if recent evidence is anything to go by.
If we look at the last five results, Houston looks like a venue to back players coming form off the pace. Poulter sat nine of the lead and tied for 123rd after shooting 73 in round one and he was still tied for 23rd and four back after a sensational 64 in round two. He was tied for the lead after 54 holes after shooting 65 in round three. Henley trailed by six strokes at halfway and he was still four back with a round to go. Him Herman trailed by five after round and by four at halfway in 2016, and Holmes, in 2015, was the first winner on the PGA Tour to come from six back with a round to go since Matt Jones had done so in this event 12 months earlier.
A slow start can be overcome, clearly, but prior to 2014, Adam Scott in 2007, who benefited from a late Stuart Appleby collapse, had been the only winner not to be within two strokes of the lead with a round to go and every winner bar Holmes in 2015 has been inside the top-four places after 54 holes.
He may not have won for two years but with course form figures reading 3-21-2-54-2-MC-6, Henrik Stenson is impossible to ignore and compared with the other players towards the head of the market, he looks a very fair price at around 13.012/1. His current for isn't spectacular but he's shown glimpses throughout the summer with a ninth place in the US Open and a fourth in the Scottish Open the highlights. He could only finish 17th at Wentworth last time out after a decent start but he putted well that week and he was third in his homeland in his penultimate start. Big chance.
Russell Henley is also impossible to ignore as his course form is even stronger than Stenson's, reading 45-7-4-5-1-8 but he isn't in great form and it's very hard to take circa 25/1 about someone you backed to win the event at 60.059/1. I'm happy to swerve him and I'm more than happy to leave out Brian Harman too.
Harman sat second after the opening round of the Shriners last week, after I'd backed him before the off at 80.079/1 but he dropped away tamely in round two and he makes no appeal at all at 26.025/1, especially given his course form figures reading an uninspiring MC-MC-58-MC-52-MC.
I'm happy to have a small bet on Henrik Stenson at 13.012/1 and I've also had a small bet on Jhonattan Vegas at 80.079/1. He's a multiple winner whose season highlight was third at the Players Championship so he's a capable character and it's interesting to see that he finished inside the top-ten at both the Wells Fargo Championship and the Phoenix Open earlier in the year. The two events that appear to correlate nicely. His course form isn't spectacular, reading MC-47-72-55-19-15-MC, but it's certainly not awful and he sat second after the opening round two years ago.
I like a few outsiders but I'm not yet matched so I'll update Twitter if I get matched.
Henrik Stenson @ 13.012/1
Jhonattan Vegas @ 80.079/1
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter