The move in 2020 from the Golf Club of Houston to Memorial Park has seen a shift in emphasis for the style required to win the Houston Open.
From a par-72 that offered preparation for The Masters, to a 7400-yard par-70 held on the cusp of winter, and offering a real chance for the long driver to dominate.
Last year’s winner Jason Kokrak and the joint-runner-ups Scottie Scheffler and Kevin Tway ranked in the top dozen for distance off the tee, whilst at the inaugural Memorial outing, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka all gave more than a hint of what to expect in future years.
Matthew Wolff called it a bomber’s track, Adam Scott said “it requires something long and straight” and just a glance at the names already mentioned gives the event something of a major feel, a long PGA or US Open.
Hit it long, find the small greens, be Bermuda positive.
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The top two in the market hold claims that suggest their short prices aren’t particularly too short
Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy,
Former world number one Scottie Scheffler, usurped only by a rampant Rory McIlroy, arrives here with the form lines suggesting we should not look elsewhere.
Despite losing almost six shots with his irons on debut, his final round 65 is eye-catching, as is that 11-plus shots gained total when running-up last season.
12 months ago, it was the putter that let him down, but everything else was tickety-boo in a stellar season of four wins and having now retrieved his major-winning putter from the loft, he gave notice of his intentions when soaring from 35th overnight to joint-third last weekend at the Mayakoba.
Whilst he has to go close, there is still that poor effort at East Lake to get over, and he wasn’t exactly flying on the Bermuda greens of Congaree. The report on pgatour.com suggests he uses this time of year to “experiment with stuff” but the silly season starts in December, and others may just want this a bit more.
At the same price as Rory was to win that C.J Cup, he could have done with being just a few points bigger.
Sam Burns - Win
Second-in, Sam Burns, however, deserves support, even if it is in cross-doubles with Tommy Fleetwood and Jordan Smith in South Africa.
The 26-year-old has been a revelation over the last couple of years, finally realizing his early promise by winning four PGA events in the space of 13 months.
Back-to-back wins at Copperhead read well, with last season’s Houston champ, Kokrak, finishing runner-up there in 2019, whilst both Burns and Kokrak have won at Colonial, scene of Burns’ play-off win against Scheffler.
With a Texas record that reads one win, runner-up at the Byron Nelson and a pair of seventh place finishes around here, it was only his recent form that might have put off backers. However, on the Congaree greens, he ranked first in stroked-gained-putting, bettering his excellent figures at East Lake, St. Andrews, Colonial, Southern Hills and Brookline. It’s either top grade competition or Bermuda grass.
In-form, top class in wind and on these green types, two efforts here have seen him total 16-and-a-half shots from tee-to-green and he comes here off his best effort of seven consecutive cuts. Sorted.
Tony Finau - Win
I was all over Tony Finau last week and it wouldn’t shock to see him leave that missed-cut behind after blowing away the cobwebs.
There is little to add to the comments before Mayakoba where it was noted that apart from elite form over the last few months, Finau finished his 2021/22 season ranked 12th for approaches, fifth for greens-in-regulation and in the same position for tee-to-green helped, no doubt, by the two back-to-back wins in July.
Previous years have seen the ‘Big Break’ graduate finish in the top echelons for all those vital statistics – it has been a constant, but he now adds confidence with the putter, a facet that has seen him ranked in the top-20 in six of his last nine completed outings.
He was, admittedly, disappointing in his first outing for ten weeks, but, having been three-over after two holes of day one, he fought back to be six shots better by the 18th hole. Finau’s second round also had errors, but they disguise an eagle and two birdies – simply the look of someone that needs the outing.
Possessing an excellent correlative Colonial record (4/4/20/23) he sat inside the top-10 before finishing 24th on debut here, and whilst he missed the cut last year, he was comfortably inside the top 40 after day one.
Finau has another top year in him, and he’s just about a pick as one of the few true elite players in the field.
Will Gordon - Each Way
Taylor Montgomery is a hugely tempting play given his mammoth driving, and his outstanding start to his PGA Tour career seems sure to keep him around 25/1 for a while, but, at the prices, it’s a lack of a recent ‘1’ (even on the KFT) that sees him dropped from the list in favour of Will Gordon.
A top-class junior, the Vanderbilt graduate is showing enough in recent starts to believe he has the hang of the top league, and he is just the pick in a powerful section of the market, in which long driver Keith Mitchell was also strongly considered.
After what looks at first glance to be no more than a decent run-out in Bermuda, his 35th place finish should have been an awful lot higher, a final round 75 dropping him from an overnight eighth place, after looking a bit ‘deer in the headlights.’
However, just a week later, the 26-year-old put up his third best-ever performance according to OWGR, an opening 62 paving the way for his four-day stay in the top three places, an effort that lies alongside his win in Idaho and another bronze medal behind Dustin Johnson at River Highlands.
Will Gordon - Top-20
There is little chance of telling which of the graduates will be top class, but Gordon has claims as good as any, with current yearly rankings of 32nd off-the-tee, 56th in tee-to-green and 34th in greens-in-regulation.
When finishing 38th on his course debut a year ago, the now-three-year professional lost strokes off the tee, something he seems to have straightened out in the intervening year, with his three monthly figures listing him as 24th for total driving, 17th for greens, 30th in scrambling, just outside the top-50 for putting and 11th for par-fours.
Given the nature of the champions both here and at the former venue, it’s hard to be confident that a young gun will lift the trophy. That said, all the afore-mentioned plus Taylor’s Moore and Pendrith, and Davis’ Riley and Thompson are easy to fancy to go well, even if the maiden victory might wait for another week.