Best bets for Houston Open, Nedbank Golf Challenge

November 8, 2022 05:38 PM
USATSI_19285710

Russell Henley, at a 55-1 price, was finally able to convert a 54-hole lead (six shots) on Sunday into a victory at the World Wide Technology at Mayakoba with a 23-under-par score by four shots over Brian Harman. Scottie Scheffler, who needed to win or finish solo second to regain his OWGR No. 1 ranking, gave it a run and shot a Sunday 62 to finish T-3 with Seamus Power, Joel Dahmen, Troy Merritt and Will Gordon. The win was Henley's first since the 2017 Houston Open. Coincidentally enough, the PGA Tour goes to Houston this week for the Cadence Bank Houston Open and Henley is one of the shorter prices in the field at 22-1.

The shortest price in the field is Scheffler (6-1), who lost his OWGR No. 1 ranking to Rory McIlroy three weeks ago at the CJ Cup and finished runner-up in Houston last year. Sam Burns (12-1) has finished seventh both years since the Houston Open moved to Memorial Park in 2020. Aaron Wise (18-1) follows in the market along with Tony Finau (22-1) and Hideki Matsuyama (22-1), who finished runner-up here two years ago.

Taylor Montgomery (25-1) posted another top-10 last weekend in Mexico and has finished at least 15th or better in all five of his events since earning his PGA Tour card. Maverick McNealy (28-1) joined Montgomery in the top 10 last weekend.

The Event

The Houston Open's history on the PGA Tour dates to 1946. After years at a wide variety of venues in the greater Houston area, the tournament returned to Memorial Park Golf Course last year for the first time since 1963. Golf legends and Hall of Famers including Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Curtis Strange, Raymond Floyd, Payne Stewart, Fred Couples, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson have won here. Houston has long been a mainstay on the PGA Tour and Jim Crane, the owner of the Houston Astros who was once named the best CEO Golfer in America by Golf Digest, saved this tournament from extinction for at least five more years. Crane was the lead fundraiser for the major makeover of the city-owned Memorial Park course. The Astros Foundation operates the tournament. Shell Oil Company sponsored the event from 1992 to 2017. Crane’s Astros Foundation operates the tournament and Cadence Bank, which has a headquarters based in Houston, takes over as the tournament's title sponsor.

The Course

In 2020, Memorial Park Golf Course served as the Houston Open venue for the first time in 57 years. It is a municipal course owned by the city of Houston and is rated the top muni track in Texas. The Astros Foundation, which operates the tournament, committed $34 million to the renovation and redesign. The greens fee for a weekend round is $38. John Bredemus designed the track in 1935, but Tom Doak, whose main influences include Alister MacKenzie and Pete Dye, finished the renovation in 2019, with an assist from Brooks Koepka.

Memorial Park plays as a par-70 (five par-3s, three par-5s, 10 par-4s) of 7,412 yards. Doak removed many trees, bunkers (only 19 on the course, the fewest of any course on the PGA Tour) and water (only in play on four holes) to make it more playable to the public as there are around 55,000 rounds played at Memorial Park in a calendar year. The Bermuda fairways are generous, and the players will be shooting into large MiniVerde Bermuda greens (7,000 square feet on average) that have shaved runoffs into collection areas. The greens (12-12.5 stimpmeter) should be fast.

However, the Bermuda rough is fairly penal.

The track played as the fifth-longest and fourth-toughest course with a +0.92 average round last year on tour.

Comparable courses include Golf Club of Houston, Renaissance Club, Southern Hills, Quail Hollow, Congaree, Augusta National, Colonial, TPC Scottsdale, PGA National and Riviera.

Recent History/Winners

​2021: Jason Kokrak (-10/270); 50-1

2020: Carlos Ortiz (-13/267); 160-1

2019: Lanto Griffin (-14/274); 60-1

2018: Ian Poulter (-19/269); 100-1*

2017: Russell Henley (-20/268); 40-1

2016: Jim Herman (-15/273); 400-1

2015: J.B. Holmes (-16/272); 28-1**

2014: Matt Jones (-15/273); 125-1***

2013: D.A. Points (-16/272); 250-1

2012: Hunter Mahan (-16/272); 22-1

2011: Phil Mickelson (-20/268); 18-1

2010: Anthony Kim (-12/276); 25-1****

* playoff win over Beau Hossler

** playoff win over Jordan Spieth and Johnson Wagner

*** playoff win over Matt Kuchar

**** playoff win over Vaughn Taylor

Note: From 2010-2018 the event was played in April and all events were played at the Golf Club of Houston. In 2020, the Houston Open moved to a fall event at Memorial Park.

Statistical Analysis

Last year, Jason Kokrak rated second in the field for Strokes Gained: Approach for his winning week at the Houston Open.

Strokes Gained: Approach (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Russell Henley 35.7
  2. Tony Finau 30.1
  3. Scottie Scheffler 26.5
  4. Brendan Steele 26.4
  5. Mark Hubbard 26
  6. Hideki Matsuyama 24.9
  7. Lee Hodges 23.5
  8. Chesson Hadley 23
  9. Adam Schenk 20
  10. Matthew NeSmith 18.8
  11. Erik Van Rooyen 17.6
  12. Davis Riley 16.8
  13. Taylor Pendrith 16.8
  14. Adam Svensson 16.4
  15. Sebastian Munoz 15.6
  16. Aaron Wise 15.1

As one of the longest courses on tour along with a lack of hazards and bunkers off the tee, golfers are able to use driver without hesitation. While Memorial Park is a course where you gain more on approach or around the greens versus off the tee, driving distance will matter in having shorter approach shots.

Driving Distance Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Brandon Matthews 27 (20 rounds)
  2. Joseph Bramlett 21
  3. Kyle Westmoreland 19 (22 rounds)
  4. Wyndham Clark 18.1
  5. Augusto Nunez 17.8 (16 rounds)
  6. Taylor Pendrith 16.8
  7. Taylor Montgomery 16.1
  8. Cameron Champ 15.1
  9. Trey Mullinax 14.4
  10. Will Gordon 14.3
  11. Luke List 13.8
  12. MJ Daffue 13.8
  13. Byeong Hun An 13.1
  14. Callum Tarren 12.5
  15. Keith Mitchell 12.2

Note: Yards Gained on the field Per Drive

The three par-5s are long (third, 587 yards; eighth, 625 yards; 16th, 576 yards) and will not be two-shot holes for the majority of the field.

Strokes Gained Par-5s (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Stephan Jaeger 23.1
  2. Dean Burmester 22.6 (32 Rounds)
  3. Kyle Westmoreland 22.1 (27 Rounds)
  4. Cameron Champ 19.7
  5. Taylor Pendrith 19.4
  6. Taylor Montgomery 19 (24 Rounds)
  7. Brandon Matthews 17.1 (23 Rounds)
  8. Davis Thompson 16.1
  9. Zecheng Dou 15.5
  10. Aaron Wise 14.7
  11. Scottie Scheffler 14.3
  12. Yechun Yuan 14 (13 Rounds)
  13. Patrick Rodgers 13.6
  14. Jason Day 13.5

The winning scores here the last two years have been just 13 under and 10 under, respectively, so players will make bogeys, but the players who can avoid them the most will succeed on one of the toughest courses on tour.

Bogeys Avoided (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Tony Finau 31.6
  2. Adam Long 25.5
  3. Taylor Montgomery 23.3
  4. Aaron Wise 21.9
  5. Andrew Putnam 20.5
  6. Scottie Scheffler 20.3
  7. Hideki Matsuyama 19.8
  8. Adam Schenk 19.4
  9. Justin Suh 17.9
  10. Augusto Nunez 17.1
  11. Maverick McNealy 16.8
  12. Lee Hodges 16
  13. David Lingmerth 16
  14. Beau Hossler 15.8
  15. Emiliano Grillo 15.2

Last year, 27% of strokes gained at Memorial Park came from around the greens. This is the highest rate on tour and speaks to the importance of having a quality short game in order to contend here. Last year each of the top-five finishers gained more than 1.8 strokes around the greens. In 2020, Carlos Ortiz ranked second for Strokes Gained: Around The Green on the way to victory.

Strokes Gained: Around The Green (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Danny Willett 18.8
  2. Si Woo Kim 18
  3. Seung-yul Noh 17.2
  4. Mackenzie Hughes 13.8
  5. Scott Piercy 13.6
  6. Andrew Putnam 13.5
  7. Tony Finau 12.9
  8. Stephan Jaeger 12.7
  9. Harris English 11.8
  10. Denny McCarthy 11.6
  11. John Huh 11.2
  12. Francesco Molinari 10.9
  13. Peter Malnati 10.4
  14. Martin Laird 9.5
  15. Jason Day 8.6
  16. Russell Henley 7.8

The greens at Memorial Park are fast (12.5 stimpmeter) Bermuda. The previous two winners — Kokrak and Ortiz — rated third and fifth for Strokes Gained: Putting during their winning weeks.

Strokes Gained: Putting on Fast Bermuda Greens (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Sam Burns 34.3
  2. Chesson Hadley 28.6
  3. Zach Johnson 27.3
  4. Denny McCarthy 21.4
  5. Harris English 21.3
  6. Mackenzie Hughes 19.8
  7. Alex Noren 15.1
  8. Ben Taylor 13.5 (13 rounds)
  9. Wyndham Clark 12.7
  10. Matthew NeSmith 12.1
  11. Davis Riley 11.5
  12. Sepp Straka 11.3
  13. Sam Ryder 10.6
  14. Peter Malnati 10.1
  15. Russell Henley 9.5

Memorial Park ranked as the fourth-most difficult course on the PGA Tour last season.

Strokes Gained: Total in Difficult Scoring Conditions (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Tony Finau 77.9
  2. Taylor Montgomery 71.6
  3. Scottie Scheffler 54.6
  4. Robby Shelton 49.6
  5. Yechun Yuan 47.2
  6. Justin Lower 43.9
  7. Andrew Putnam 42.1
  8. Taylor Moore 40.7
  9. Emiliano Grillo 39.3
  10. Justin Suh 39,1
  11. Chesson Hadley 38.1
  12. Zecheng Dou 36.6
  13. Lee Hodges 35.7
  14. Maverick McNealy 35.1
  15. Dean Burmester 35
  16. Taylor Pendrith 34.5

Selections

​Taylor Montgomery (27-1, FanDuel)

Here is my weekly bet on Montgomery who posted another top-10 last week in Mexico.

Montgomery has shown no real weaknesses since he earned his PGA Tour card just two months ago.

Jason Day (28-1, BetMGM)

A tough course might be what the doctor ordered for Day. He has won at Torrey Pines, Bay Hill, Quail Hollow and TPC Sawgrass. He tends to thrive on long, difficult golf courses.

Taylor Pendrith (50-1, BetMGM)

Pendrith had an injury that forced him to miss most of the summer but seems to be rounding into form.

His distance should be a factor.

Davis Riley (50-1, BetMGM)

Riley finished fourth at Colonial earlier this year just behind this week's tournament favorites Burns and Scheffler.

He has also won two Korn Ferry Tour titles in Texas.

Matthew NeSmith (59-1, Circa Sports)

NeSmith has three consecutive top-10s coming into Houston.

The putter has long been his weakness, but he ranks top-10 in this field over the last 36 rounds for Strokes Gained: Putting on fast, Bermuda greens.

Dean Burmester (66-1, BetMGM)

Burmester finished 10th earlier this summer at the Renaissance Club, another Doak design like Memorial Park. The next week, he was 11th in the British Open at St. Andrews, so he is perfectly capable in the windy conditions that may materialize in Houston this week.

The South African had two top-5s down the stretch on the Korn Ferry Tour to earn his PGA Tour card and finished fourth at the Sanderson Farms a few weeks ago.

He is one of the bigger hitters off the tee and his distance will prove an advantage this week.

Sepp Straka (80-1, PointsBet)

Straka finished runner-up at the Sanderson Farms just four starts ago. He also won earlier this year at the Honda Classic held at a correlated course at PGA National.

The Austrian was fifth on debut here in 2020.

Lee Hodges (95-1, FanDuel)

Hodges rates seventh in this field for Strokes Gained: Approach over the last 36 rounds.

Brady Kannon’s selections

Aaron Wise (18-1)

Wise is a great driver of the golf ball. He’s third in this field for Strokes Gained: Ball Striking over the last 36 rounds and 20th in Driving Distance. His short game has really improved in the last year or two as well as he is fourth in the field for Scrambling. Wise has won in Texas before at Trinity Forest Golf Club, when it hosted the Byron Nelson Championship. He has finished 26th and 11th at this golf course and he was 23rd at Southern Hills for last year's PGA Championship.

Tony Finau (18-1)

Another big hitter who has runner-up finishes at two of the correlated courses I used this week, the Fortinet in Napa and TPC Scottsdale, home of the Phoenix Open. It was only four months ago that Tony Finau won in back-to-back weeks on the PGA Tour and he took ninth at the Tour Championship just three months ago. He missed the cut last week in his first appearance of the fall season, but that's fine. I like that he has a couple of competitive rounds under his belt before taking on a very difficult Memorial Park Golf Course this week.

Keith Mitchell (66-1)

You see the theme here. Big-hitting ball strikers who can putt on Bermuda grass. Mitchell has done that in a victory at the Honda Classic. He was top 35 at the PGA at Southern Hills and has a 10th and a 16th at TPC Scottsdale. Over the last 36 rounds, Mitchell is fifth in this field for Strokes Gained: Ball Striking, 16th in Driving Distance and eighth in Scrambling. That is what we want here — length, power and touch around the greens.

Gary Woodland (125-1)

And of course, that leads us to Woodland, a former winner in Phoenix. He also had a top-35 finish at Southern Hills last May. Driving the golf ball and ball striking have always been the strengths of his game, which should put him in good position this week. He's fourth in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach and ranks 16th on par-5s that are longer than 550 yards, which applies to all three on this course.

 

Nedbank Golf Challenge

After two years of being canceled because of COVID-19, the Nedbank Golf Challenge returns to the DP World Tour as the penultimate event before the season finale and the conclusion of the Race to Dubai next week. Most of the 66-player field will be part of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Due to COVID, 2019 Nedbank winner Tommy Fleetwood (11-1) is the three-year defending champion of this event. Jordan Smith (14-1) broke a five-year winless drought two weeks ago at the Portugal Masters shooting 30 under par. Thomas Detry (16-1) has been playing full-time schedules both on the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour, where he had a runner-up two weeks ago in Bermuda and is still chasing that elusive first major tour victory. Robert MacIntyre (18-1) won the Italian Open in September and that started a run of five events with no worse than a top-20 finish.

Only World No. 1 Rory McIlroy ranks ahead of Ryan Fox (20-1) on the DP World Tour Race to Dubai Rankings as Fox has had a career season with two DP World Tour victories plus two runners-up.

South Africans Christiaan Bezuidenhout (22-1), who won the 2020 South African Open on this week's course, and Branden Grace (28-1), winner of this event in 2017, return to the DP World Tour to play in their native homeland.

Min Woo Lee (22-1) is just one month removed from consecutive third-place finishes in Spain.

The Event

The Nedbank Golf Challenge’s history dates all the way back to 1981. It began as a five-player tournament on Dec. 31 with Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros and the eventual winner of the event, Johnny Miller. It remained in a similar format, with no more than 12 players, all the way through 1999. This tournament remained an unofficial event from 1981 to 2005 before the Sunshine Tour in South Africa started sanctioning the event from 2006 to 2012. The European Tour and Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned the challenge from 2013 to 2015. The no-cut field is now made up of 66 available players from the current Race to Dubai standings, the event’s defending champion, the winner of the Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit from the previous year and tournament invitations. Its list of winners reads as a who’s who of golf, including Miller, Seve, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Nick Price, Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Jim Furyk.

The Course

The Gary Player Golf Club, located in Sun City, is a par-72 that measures at 7,834 yards but essentially plays at around 7,500 yards because it is played at altitude (3,721 feet). The kikuyu fairways are of average width and the greens are slick Bentgrass. Missing the fairways will be punished as thick kikuyu rough can swallow up errant tee shots. The course is also well bunkered with a fair number of mounds and swales.

The course record of 62 was set at the 2011 event by Lee Westwood on his way to victory.

Thunderstorms may well soften the course ahead of the tournament itself, with disruption possible from Friday onward as cells work their way through the area. Outside of that, temperatures should edge toward 80 degrees Fahrenheit, accompanied by light winds of 5-10 mph.

Recent History/Winners

2019: Tommy Fleetwood (-12/276); 14-1*

2018: Lee Westwood (-13/275), 40-1

2017: Branden Grace (-11/277), 16-1

2016: Alex Noren (-14/274), 20-1

2015: Marc Leishman (-19/269), 66-1

2014: Danny Willett (-18/270), 25-1

2013: Thomas Bjorn (-20/268), 30-1

* playoff win over Marcus Kinhult

Note: The 2016-2019 events had fields of 72 players. The 2013-2015 events had fields of 30 players.

Selections

​Tommy Fleetwood (10-1, Superbook Sports)

Fleetwood won this event the last time it was held here in 2019.

He has shown swing improvements of late and finished T-4 his last time out, three weeks ago at the CJ Cup.

Antoine Rozner (31-1, FanDuel)

Rozner has three top-10 finishes in his last seven events.

Eddie Pepperell (35-1, Caesars Sportsbook)

Pepperell ranks second on the DP World Tour for Strokes Gained: Approach.

Thriston Lawrence (40-1, PointsBet)

Lawrence has won twice in the last calendar year and the South African was sixth on this course last year for the South African Open.

Richard Mansell (50-1, BetRivers)

Mansell has six top-10s on the DP World Tour this season and ranks third on tour for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee.

Oliver Bekker (60-1, Superbook Sports)

Bekker won the Sun City Challenge on this course in 2016 and also finished second in the South African Open here last year.

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