This Week’s Event: 2018 Houston OpenPat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg debate their 2018 Houston Open picks and the week in betting at this week’s PGA Tour stop at GC of Houston.
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2018 Houston Open Picks: Show Index
2018 Houston Open FieldDefending champion: Russell Henley
144 players | Top 70 and ties make the cut | First tee: 8:20 a.m. ET
The Match Play is finished, and now it’s all about Masters preparation — at least for the 16 players who’ve already earned their invitations. For the rest of the field, it’s all about winning, cashing a $1 million payday and getting the final spot into Augusta that comes with a Houston Open victory.
Six of the world’s Top 20 will tee it up in Houston. Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson are the class of the field, follow edclosely by the second tier of Tony Finau, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Daniel Berger, defending champ Russell Henley, Luke List, Chez Reavie, Keegan Bradley, Peter Uihlein, Jason Dufner, Brandt Snedeker, J.B. Holmes, Ben An, Thomas Pieters, Yuta Ikeda, Charles Howell III and Indian wunderkind Shubhankar Sharma.
Plus, there will be a spattering of PGA Tour regulars such as Bud Cauley, Kevin Tway, Jason Kokrak, Jamie Lovemark, Grayson Murray, Shane Lowry, Kevin Streelman, Scott Stallings, Emiliano Grillo, Lucas Glover, James HAHHHNNNNNN, Scott Piercy, Jhonattan Vegas, William McGirt, Chris Kirk, Bill Haas, Sung Kang, Russell Knox, John HUH?????? and Euro Tour member Seung-Su Han, who qualified on the strength of a T7 last week in the Dominican Republic.
Oh, there will be the old dudes looking for another run at Augusta, too. At 79 major starts without a win, Lee Westwood is just eight non-major wins away from Jay Haas‘ all-time record of 87. But Westy needs a win in Houston to get into the Masters and make a run at the record. Ernie Els has missed only one Masters since 1994, but he also needs a win to get in. Steve Stricker, fresh off back-to-back Champions Tour wins, is in Texas looking to do the same thing. World No. 51 Ian Poulter barely missed on his Augusta invite at the Match Play and now is in the same boat as the other guys.
Finally, we’ll have a cameo from Martin Kaymer, a two-time major winner who will make his first start since withdrawing from the Honda Classic four weeks ago with a wrist injury.
2018 Houston Open Key Stats
- Strokes Gained: Ball Striking Par 5s Gained
- Proximity 175+ Yards
- Par 4s Gained: 450-500 Yards
- Birdies or Better Gained
2018 Houston Open CourseGolf Club of Houston | 7,441 yards | Par 72
Greens: Bentgrass | 24/50 in 2017 difficulty (-0.021)
Before we get into the potentially crippling wind and the wild amount of trouble (60 bunkers; eight water hazards) littered around the course, let dispel the “Augusta Prep” narrative. Yes, some of the top players most certainly are teeing off at GC of Houston to get in their reps before The Masters, but when people say the course is set up to “mimic Augusta National,” that’s not entirely true. It’s only in specific areas.
The ryegrass fairways and limited rough just off said fairways are similar. And while this is the first opportunity the players will have on bentgrass this year, it’s not exactly the same type of bentgrass. Still, that’s about as close as the greens get between the two. As many know, there are wildly undulating putting surfaces at Augusta — that’s not so much the case in Houston. The greens get so level the closer you get to the hole that I’m shocked there isn’t a “Flat Green Truther” community on Reddit. Also, with so much danger off the tee this week, players won’t be able to just smash driver every hole like they’ll have to do in a week’s time. Unless they just decide to tank the event and work on shaping shots.
Beware of the players already locked into The Masters, however. The past four champions all used their Houston win to get a Masters invite, while some of the bigger names don’t play the layout strategically. Take Phil, for example, “To play this course effectively, you have got to hit a lot of 3-woods, play more defensive. At Augusta, though, you have to step on the driver, and so I hit a lot more drivers here this week than I would if I were really focused on trying to win this week. I’m more focused on hitting shots for next week. I tried some cut drivers like on 13, I hit a couple of good ones, hit some bad ones, but I needed to get that work in on a competitive environment.” So, watch out.
For projecting the type of player who will succeed this week, take your pick. Short-hitting accuracy maven Jim Herman outlasted Stenson, Dustin and Rafa to claim the 2016 novelty check. The previous year, bomber J.B. Holmes led the field in Driving Distance and managed to find just 44.6 percent of fairways — good for dead last in accuracy — and won. Fortunately, his irons were dialed in. So, in lieu of focusing too heavily on tee or iron, Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (OTT + APP) is a better route to take since the greens are so simple to hit. Great putting always will prevail, but as we’ve seen with the recent victories from Paul Casey and Rory McIlroy, predicting when a flat stick will get hot is nary impossible.
The path of least resistance to generate makeable scoring opportunities is to try and leave second shots less than 100 yards from the pin, if possible. In 2016, approaches from beyond 200 yards left the second-longest proximity to the pin, and approaches from great than 100 yards were third-most lengthy.
It’s very rudimentary to advise loading up on solid wedge players, especially since so few shots actually come from that range (approximately 14 percent). The better idea is to focus on the players who really can strike a long iron. GC of Houston historically ranks inside the Top Five of all courses in categories: toughest scrambling courses from the rough and easy putting inside 10 feet. Cut down on misses from deep, and pray you don’t buck the trend and start three-putting.
Oh, and just because you’re the leader standing on the 18th tee doesn’t mean you’re safe. From 2006 to 2016, the 488-yard Par 4 has consumed 582 balls in the agua — the second most of any closing hole on the PGA Tour (No. 18 at TPC Southwind has 631 over that stretch). In total, with 3,268 water calls in the timeframe, GC of Houston is the second-wettest course the players will see all season.Making the easy birdies on the Par 5s always is essential, but the Par 4s are the real test to remain under par. The field will encounter almost every type imaginable — straight, doglegged, long and short. Don’t mess with Texas. Most weeks, courses feature around the same lengths of Par 4s between 400 and 500 yards with a shorty tossed in — maybe two — but GC of Houston is all over the map …
- 300-350 yards – 1
- 350-400 yards – 3
- 400-450 yards – 2
- 450-500 yards – 4
2018 Houston Open Picks — Targets From Each RangeJustin Rose
Outside of his blip in Mexico (T37), following a one-month layoff, Rose has been a Top 10 ATM for about six months now. How consistent has he been? Well, he has posted nine Top-10 finishes in his past 10 starts, including a win at the WGC in China, and consecutive Top 5s in his last two turns at the Valspar Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational. Unlike Phil, who’s using this as a tune-up event, Rose showed last year that he’s game to compete, churning out a T15, gaining the third-most strokes with his irons, before inevitably dropping the Masters playoff to Sergio Garcia the following week.
It’s somewhat concerning that Rose has used a hot putter to propel himself to those lofty finishes in the past two events (at least 6.7+ SG: PUTT in each), but he’s one of the premier long-iron players in the field, tops in Birdies or Better Gained over the past 50 rounds and third in Par 5s Gained in that same stretch.
In classic Luke List form, he broke his putter in his Day 1 matchup against Justin Thomas at the Match Play and actually fared better on the greens with a wedge in his hand. Can’t make this stuff up. Still, despite bleeding strokes to the field on the putting surfaces in four of his past six starts, List has piled up six consecutive Top 30s, with two Top-10 paydays.
It’s about getting to the green for List. For all the jokes we make about his putting, tee-to-green is what pays the bills and generates the DraftKings points. He’s tops in the field T2G over the past 24 rounds, and sits Top 10 in SG: Ball Striking, Par 5s Gained, Birdies or Better, Greens in Regulation Gained, and Par 4 Efficiency from 450-500 yards. And, since we’re at the course with the highest make percentage inside 10 feet, it will be extra frustrating when he’s in contention late on Sunday and completely misses the hole on a gimme putt.
Speaking of awful putters — THE KEEGS!!!!! Only List ranks above him T2G over the last 24 rounds, but he is tops in Ball Striking and fourth in Approach. And, while he didn’t get a win at the Match Play, he went 0-1-2 and finished a grand total of one hole down for the group stage.
Like always, if Bradley can just putt to field average, his ball striking and long irons will have him in contention. Additionally, he has experienced plenty of success in Houston, making five of six cuts since 2012, with four Top-15 finishes.
Charles Howell III
In the year of players who never win hosting a novelty check, maybe CH3 is next? He has gained at least 3.8 strokes tee-to-green in each of last six events, good for a fifth-place rank against the field in that span. And, it seems like he’s turning a corner lately. After hovering around the cut line to finish the West Coast swing and into Florida, he popped at Bay Hill with a T14 and followed that with an undefeated record through the group stage at Match Play.
Not always the most consistent player on GC of Houston, Howell does have three T10 results on this track in his last five trips.
If you’re digging deep down the pricing, Hollywood Hoge always is an option. He’s 2 for 2 playing the weekend in Houston, and enters with far better form than ever before. Sure, making two of his past six cuts isn’t all that great, but he finally got all his irons clicking again in Orlando, gaining a tournament-high eight strokes on approaches.
Hoge ranks tops in the field in proximity from beyond 200 yards over the past 24 rounds and 10th from 175-200 yards. Of course, like most players on this list, his weekend status will rest on his flat stick. If he can avoid being in the bottom 25 percent of the field on the greens, he’ll more than pay off his price.
Other notable names appearing near the top of stat models and the win simulator at FantasyNational.com: Henrik Stenson, Byeong-Hun An, James HAHHHNNNN, Jason Kokrak, Chris Kirk, Brandon Harkins.
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo’s (@ThePME) 14 Fantasy Sports Writing Association nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting) and genre (humor). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at ThePatMayoExperience@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is ThePME) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.