With Augusta looming large, the world number one, Dustin Johnson, returns to action for the last PGA Tour event before the US Masters. Steve Rawlings has the lowdown here...
"James Hahn has finished ninth, sixth and fifth in his last three starts. I thought 90.089/1 was more than fair."
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 its sponsors after the 2017 edition and having been played in the week before the US Masters every year since 2007, with the exception of 2013, it was shuffled back in the schedule last year.
As a result, the tournament was contested by a much weaker than normal field 12 months ago but because of the schedule reshuffle due to the pandemic, it's once again the last event before the US Masters, despite its new autumnal slot in the schedule.
Memorial Park Golf Course, Houston, Texas
Par 72, 7,432
Originally designed by John Bredemus, Memorial Park, a municipal parkland course, was completely reworked last year by Tom Doak, who was assisted by Brooks Koepka.
On Koepka's advice, bunkers were reduced from 54 to 20 and many were replaced by steep slopes covered in short grass. Runoff or collection areas if you prefer. The idea behind the move was to allow handicap golfers to putt up on to the green, rather than play from sand, and to test the pros a bit more. The majority of recreational golfers struggle playing out of bunkers but none of the pros do so it's a clever and logical move.
Memorial Park has the same layout as Sherwood, the host course of the recent ZOZO Championship, in that it has five par threes and five par fives (most par 72 have four apiece) but the hardest hole on the course may well transpire to be the par four 18th that measures in excess of 500 yards.
The course is entirely Bermuda and the large MiniVerde Bermuda greens, which will be set at least 12 on the stimpmeter, have plenty of undulation, suggesting finding the correct sections from the fairway will be key.
Featured Group coverage begins as early as 12:50 on Thursday with full live coverage beginning at 18:00. And that's the time it will also start on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Lanto Griffin -14 65.064/1
2018 - Ian Poulter -19 150.0149/1
2017 - Russell Henley -20 60.059/1
2016 - Jim Herman -15 800.0799/1
2015 - J.B Holmes -16 38.037/1
What Will it Take to Win the Houston Open?
It's always tricky when we visit a new venue but with wide fairways, large undulating greens with runoff areas, and five par fives, powerful, long hitters with a sublime touch around the green should come to the fore.
Is There an Angle In?
This is Doak's first involvement on a course used on the PGA Tour but he also designed the Renaissance Club which has been used for the last two editions of the Scottish Open on the European Tour and he also spent three years working on construction projects for the legendary designer, Pete Dye.
I'm not entirely convinced either nugget of info is of much use form but form at Sawgrass - the home of the Players Championship - could possibly be worth something? That's a Pete Dye Bermuda layout in Florida.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
This has been a decent tournament for outsiders over the years, with the big names concentrating on tuning up for the US Masters the following week. In the last seven years alone, we've seen longshots, D.A Points, Matt Jones, Ian Poulter and Jim Herman all take the title and given that so far this season we've seen five of the eight winners go off at triple-figure prices, playing outsiders again this week makes sense.
The course is new to almost everyone in the line-up so it's a very level playing field and another shock winner is perfectly possible.
Keep a Close Eye on the US Masters Market
As always in the week before any major championship, anyone playing well this week (provided they're in the field for next week of course) will shorten up considerably for next.
At the time of writing, 36 of the 132 in this week's line-up are entered at Augusta and if any of them contend, their price will shorten up so if there's someone you have in mind for the US Masters next week that's playing here this week, be sure to keep a close eye on the market.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2019 - Lanto Griffin - led by one stroke 4.03/1
2018 - Ian Poulter - tied for the lead 4.77/2
2017 - Russell Henley - third and trailing by four 6.611/2
2016 - Jim Herman - tied for the lead 11.5
2015 - J.B Holmes tied 18th - trailing by six 160.0159/1
Keep an eye on the hole averages once the event begins. As already stated, the par four 18th may well be a tough hole so if that transpires to be the case and you've backed the leader, as they walk from the 17th green to the 18th tee on Sunday may well be a good time to lay a bit back and to guarantee a profit.
After an enforced break due to a positive COVID test, world number one, Dustin Johnson, returns to the fray for the first time since he finished sixth at the US Open.
It's going to be interesting to see what shape his game's in after the time off as he had form figures before Winged Foot that read 2-1-2-3. This venue looks like it will suit DJ down to the ground, he's won in Texas before (at the 2017 WGC Match Play), and he's not usually too inconvenienced by a break. I certainly wouldn't want to put anyone off taking the 10.09/1 that's currently available.
Tyrrell Hatton's been a big mover in the US Masters market and I'm one of those to have climbed onboard over the last few weeks so I'm a bit disappointed to see him in the lineup here.
The Englishman has a superb short game so he may well enjoy all the runoff areas and he won the last event before lockdown, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, around Bay Hill. Another Bermuda track that I thought may resemble this one to a degree.
The next two in the betting, Hideki Matsuyama and Tony Finau, can be bracketed together and dismissed very easily. Neither wins often enough to warrant support at prohibitive odds and I'm more than happy to ignore them both.
I've got three big outsiders lined up for the Find Me a 100 Winner column and I'll be back with that this evening or tomorrow if I run out of time but I've also backed three in-form outsiders at just under three-figure prices.
Denny McCarthy's stats were really impressive last week when he finished fourth at the Bermuda Championship and I can't desert the Safeway Open winner, Stewart Cink, who finished alongside him. McCarthy may well have won but for a disappointing 72 on Saturday and the same can be said of Cink who shot 73 in the really high winds on Friday. The pair finished alongside each-other in the event last year in a tie for ninth.
My third and final pick is the in-form veteran, James Hahn, who turned 39 on Monday. The two-time PGA Tour winner, playing on a major medical extension, following what was described as a sore elbow that turned out to be a partial tear of his triceps tendon, Hahn has finished ninth, sixth and fifth in his last three starts. I thought 90.089/1 was more than fair.
Denny McCarthy @ 80.079/1
Stewart Cink @ 85.084/1
James Hahn @ 90.089/1
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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