Viktor Hovland is now the unofficial mayor of Playa del Carmen as he won the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba for the second consecutive year at 18-1 by four strokes over Carlos Ortiz. During a driving range session on Wednesday, Hovland lent Danny Lee his driver for a speed-training session, and it wound up getting snapped into pieces. James Hahn lent Hovland a backup driver, which was a half-inch shorter and had a different shaft. Hovland hit the new driver about 10 yards shorter on average, but the lower ball flight proved to be more suitable at El Camaleon and helped Hovland to tie for second in the field for driving accuracy. Hovland became the first player to successfully defend a title on the PGA Tour since Brooks Koepka at the 2019 PGA Championship.
The PGA Tour returns stateside this week for the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open. Sam Burns (16-1) was the 54-hole leader last year, but a 2-over final round dropped him to T-7. Since that faltering final round, Burns has won two PGA Tour events (Valspar and Sanderson Farms) in 2021. Meanwhile, Scottie Scheffler (18-1), off a fourth last week in the Mayakoba, still seeks his first PGA Tour victory. Sungjae Im (22-1) won last month at the Shriners Children's Open in Las Vegas. Cameron Smith (25-1) finished T-2 in the Masters at this time last year. Matthew Wolff (25-1) was the first-round leader at Mayakoba last week but settled for a T-5. However, his game seems to be coming back into form. Tony Finau (25-1) won in August at the Northern Trust.
Tyrrell Hatton (28-1) finished T-7 here last year and five of his seven worldwide wins have come in the fall portion of the schedule. Koepka (30-1) finished T-5 last year and served as a consultant on the redesign of this course. Joaquin Niemann (30-1) rallied for a T-5 last week at Mayakoba. Talor Gooch (33-1) shot a final-round 63 to finish T-4 here in 2020. Ortiz (35-1) returns to Houston to defend his title from 2020.
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 is the lead fundraiser for the major makeover of the city-owned Memorial Park course. Shell Oil Company sponsored the event from 1992 to 2017. Crane's Astros Foundation operates the tournament, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, based in the Houston area, comes aboard this year as the tournament's title sponsor.
Last year, 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 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 17 on the course) and water (only in play on four holes) to make it more playable to the public as there around 55,000 rounds played here each 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 (like Augusta). The greens (12-12.5 stimpmeter) should be fast.
The track played as the fourth longest and fifth toughest course (+ 1.03 average round in 2020) last year on tour.
Hideki Matsuyama, Mackenzie Hughes and Talor Gooch share the course record with 63, which they all shot in the final round at the 2020 Houston Open.
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: Each event except for 2019 was played in April and all events were played at the Golf Club of Houston.
STATISTICAL ANGLES AND TRENDS
The field average for Driving Accuracy here last year was 54.6 percent, which was the eighth lowest of any event on tour last year. Here are the 2021-22 Driving Accuracy ratings for the field this week:
1. Graeme McDowell 71.43 percent (10 rounds)
2. Ian Poulter 71.43 percent (8)
3. Kevin Streelman 70.92 percent (14)
4. Brice Garnett 70.71 percent (10)
5. Brian Stuard 70.24 percent (12)
6. Martin Laird 69.29 percent (10)
7. Robert Streb 69.27 percent (14)
8. Russell Henley 69.05 percent (12)
9. Sam Burns 68.45 percent (12)
10. James Hahn 68.29 percent (12)
While accuracy is important to avoid the penal rough, this is the fourth-longest course on tour.
SG: Off-The-Tee (Last 36 rounds)
1. Brooks Koepka 26.2
2. Taylor Pendrith 24.8
3. Keith Mitchell 21.8
4. Jhonattan Vegas 20.8
5. Mito Pereira 19.1
6. Maverick McNealy 19
7. Hudson Swafford 17
8. Sungjae Im 16.4
9. Trey Mullinax 16.3
10. Luke List 15.8
Last year's Houston Open also had the third lowest Greens In Regulation percent on the PGA Tour at just 62 percent. SG: Approach should also be measured heavily on what was a difficult course last year.
GIR Gained (Last 36 rounds)
1. Mito Pereira 39.7
2. Scottie Scheffler 37.5
3. Jhonattan Vegas 37.3
4. Luke List 36.1
5. Kyle Stanley 35.4
6. Sungjae Im 32.2
7. Shane Lowry 29.6
8. Kramer Hickok 26.7
9. Martin Laird 25.9
10. Jason Kokrak 25.5
SG: Approach (Last 36 rounds)
1. Russell Henley 37.4
2. Kyle Stanley 30.5
3. Talor Gooch 28.7
4. Shane Lowry 28.3
5. Chez Reavie 28.3
6. Adam Scott 25
7. Henrik Norlander 24.6
8. Jhonattan Vegas 24.3
9. Carlos Ortiz 24.2
10. Matthew NeSmith 22.1
Five of the 10 par-4s measure at 490 yards or more and three top the 500-yard mark.
SG Par-4s 500+ Yards (Last 36 rounds)
1. Matthew Wolff 13.6
2. Lee Westwood 12
3. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 9.1
4. Francesco Molinari 7
5. Kevin Streelman 5.6
6. C.T. Pan 5.5
7. Tony Finau 5.2
8. Branden Grace 4.5
9. Russell Knox 4.4
10. Chez Reavie 4.4
11. Harold Varner III 4.4
12. Erik Van Rooyen 4.4
The par-5s rated the highest scoring average on tour last year at 4.87
SG Par-5s (Last 36 rounds)
1. Keith Mitchell 21.3
2. Gary Woodland 18.7
3. Talor Gooch 18.2
4. Cameron Smith 17.7
5. Kevin Tway 16.8
6. Sungjae Im 16.6
7. Chad Ramey 16.1
8. Maverick McNealy 16.1
9. Jhonattan Vegas 15.3
10. Cameron Tringale 15.3
The Birdie or Better percentage was just 17.3 percent in Houston last year, while Bogey Avoidance was 3 percent lower than the tour average.
Birdie Or Better Gained (Last 36 rounds)
1. Cameron Smith 30
2. Aaron Wise 25.7
3. Sam Burns 25.4
4. Jhonattan Vegas 21.8
5. Sam Ryder 20.6
6. Scottie Scheffler 19.3
7. Hank Lebioda 19.2
8. Jason Kokrak 18.9
9. Adam Scott 18.8
10. Matthew Wolff 18.4
Bogeys Avoided (Last 36 rounds)
1. Mito Pereira 25.6
2. Seamus Power 24.3
3. Sam Burns 22.4
4. Tyrrell Hatton 21
5. Harold Varner III 19.4
6. Maverick McNealy 19.2
7. Lanto Griffin 18.7
8. Aaron Rai 18.2
9. Cameron Smith 18.1
10. Stephan Jaeger 17.9
Last year's victor, Carlos Ortiz, ranked second in the field for SG: Around The Green and fifth for SG: Putting, so we will combine the two for SG: Short Game.
SG: Short Game (Last 36 rounds)
1. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 43.7
2. Brian Stuard 31.8
3. Ian Poulter 31.4
4. Mackenzie Hughes 29.5
5. Hank Lebioda 28.5
6. Seamus Power 28.2
7. Branden Grace 27.6
8. Stephan Jaeger 26.6
9. Zach Johnson 25.8
10. Pat Perez 25.7
Scottie Scheffler 18-1
Scheffler is still seeking his first PGA Tour victory, but it seems to be just a matter of time.
He was fourth last week at Mayakoba.
While he finished only T-32 here last year, Scheffler did close with a final-round 65 and there is no reason to doubt that he can find a couple of lower rounds this week on a tough course.
Cameron Smith 25-1
Smith is historically a good player in the fall but has only one appearance so far this season, a ninth at the CJ Cup.
In 2017, he had a fifth (CIMB Classic), third (CJ Cup), fourth (Australian Open) and first (Australian PGA Championship). In 2018, he finished seventh (CJ Cup), 10th (Australian Open) and first (Australian PGA Championship) late in the season. It was no different in 2019 with a 13th (Shriners Open) and third (CJ Cup), and 2020 was the best yet with Cameron finishing 11th at the CJ Cup, fourth at the ZOZO Championship and registering his finish in a major with a second at the Masters.
The Aussie is a terrific putter on Bermudagrass as evidenced in wins at the 2017 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, 2017 Australian PGA Championship, 2018 Australian PGA Championship, 2020 Sony Open and 2021 Zurich Classic of New Orleans. In fact, all five of his professional worldwide wins have come on Bermuda.
Adam Scott 33-1
Scott's putter cost him a win at the Wyndham Championship in August, but it has been the best part of his game in recent months. He ranks eighth in this field for SG: Putting over the last 36 rounds.
The Aussie is always a solid bet on more difficult setups where quality long iron shots are paramount for success.
He is a four-time winner in Texas, including this event in 2007.
Seamus Power 45-1
Power became a first-time PGA Tour winner earlier this summer at the Barbasol.
Over the last 36 rounds, he is No. 1 in this field for SG: Total.
Jhonattan Vegas 90-1
Despite missing the cut last week at Mayakoba, Vegas has been playing excellent golf over the last few months.
He is the only player in this week's field who rates in the top 10 for both SG: Off-The-Tee and SG: Approach.
Keith Mitchell 150-1
Mitchell missed the cut badly here last year, shooting 78-76 but is in much better form this time around.
He recently finished T-3 at the CJ Cup and has two other top-8 finishes in his last seven events with a fifth at the 3M Open and eighth at the Northern Trust (FedEx Cup playoffs).
James Hahn 170-1
Hahn has made six of seven cuts in Houston.
He comes in on solid enough form with a 15th and 27th in his last two starts. Last week he bogeyed his last three holes at Mayakoba, where he should have gotten a T-11.
AVIV Dubai Championship
Thomas Pieters broke a drought of more than two years by winning the Portugal Masters last weekend by two strokes over Lucas Bjerregaard, Nicolai Højgaard and Matthieu Pavon at a price of 22-1. Pieters will forgo participating in this week's event as he locked in his spot for next week's
European Tour season-ender at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Meanwhile, the tour will be in Dubai for the AVIV Dubai Championship before next week's finale.
Paul Casey (11-1) and Tommy Fleetwood (11-1) rank seventh and 13th, respectively, in the Race to Dubai standings and will look to pick up points here to better position themselves for the final event. Bernd Wiesberger (16-1) was T-8 here last year in the inaugural event at the Jumeirah Golf Estates. Matt Wallace (22-1) was part of a four-way tie for second here in 2020. Min Woo Lee (25-1), currently sixth in the Race to Dubai, won the Scottish Open earlier this season and was a co-runner-up at Valderrama last month.
Dean Burmester (28-1) has two worldwide victories in 2021, including last weekend in his native country for the South African PGA Championship on the Sunshine Tour. Rafa Cabrera Bello (30-1) won for the first time in four years in Madrid several weeks ago. Thomas Detry (33-1) returns to Europe after consecutive T-22 finishes at Bermuda and Mayakoba. Sam Horsfield (35-1) had two victories in 2020 but remains winless in 2021. Antoine Rozner (40-1) earned his first European Tour victory in this event last year.
The AVIV Dubai Championship made its debut last year as what was intended to be a one-off penultimate event in Dubai before the DP World Tour Championship. The event is back with sponsorship from AVIV Clinics, which are hyperbaric oxygen therapy centers set up to enhance brain cognitive capabilities during aging. The company has one of its headquarters offices in Dubai.
The Fire Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates is one of two courses in a Dubai luxury residential golf community designed by Greg Norman.
At 7,480 yards for a par-72, Fire is designed to be easier and more suitable to golfing tourists. Aesthetically the grass around the holes is longer and wispier and coupled with its location on the edge of the Jumeirah Estate, which is more exposed, the course plays more like a links design.
The par-5s are attackable, albeit long. Two further short par-4s on the first and 16th holes also encourage some of the longer hitters to see how close they can get to the green from off the tee.
The course record on the Fire Course was set by Andy Sullivan with a 61 in the first round of last year's tournament.
2020: Antoine Rozner (-25/263); 50-1
TRENDS AND ANGLES
Antoine Rozner won this event last year by leading the field for SG: Off-The-Tee. Here are the European Tour rankings for the category for players in this week's field:
1. Callum Shinkwin + 0.75
2. Adrian Meronk + 0.74
3. Sean Crocker + 0.70
4. Daniel Van Tonder + 0.68
5. Paul Waring + 0.65
6. Antoine Rozner + 0.63
7. Jordan Smith + 0.62
8. Romain Langasque + 0.61
9. Garrick Porteous + 0.60
10. Masahiro Kawamura + 0.57
Three of the top five finishers here last year ranked eighth or better in the field for SG: Approach. Here are the European Tour rankings for the category for players in this week's field:
1. Sam Horsfield + 1.04
2. Bernd Wiesberger + 1.02
3. Edoardo Molinari + 0.99
4. Darren Fichardt + 0.93
5. Nino Bertasio + 0.85
6. Sean Crocker + 0.83
7. Martin Kaymer + 0.80
8. Fabrizio Zanotti + 0.79
9. Alejandro Canizares + 0.76
10. Alexander Bjork + 0.72
Dean Burmester 28-1
Burmester won his second event of 2021 last weekend at the South African PGA Championship on the Sunshine Tour. He also won earlier this spring at the Tenerife Open.
Like last year's winner, Rozner, Burmester is one of the biggest hitters on the European Tour ranking second in Driving Distance, seventh in Abu Dhabi in 2017, third at the Dubai Desert Classic and 11th in Saudi in 2020, plus fourth twice at the neighboring Earth Course at Jumeirah in 2017 and 2018, demonstrates a strong level of previous success in the Middle East against much stronger fields.
Victor Perez 40-1
Perez was T-8 last week in Portugal and rated second in the field for SG: Putting.
He has good pedigree in the Middle East with T-2 at Abu Dhabi in 2020, a T-4 at Saudi Arabia in 2021, a seventh at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai last year and a second at the Challenge Tour Grand Final in the United Arab Emirates in 2018.
Sean Crocker 55-1
Crocker is the only player in this field who ranks top 10 in both SG: Off-The-Tee and SG: Approach.
He also rates third on the tour for GIR.
So why doesn't he win more with this elite ball striking? Simply put, he is not a good putter, ranking 175th on the European Tour. However, last year's winner, Rozner, rates near the bottom of the category as well.
Adrian Meronk 66-1
Like Rozner, last year's winner, Meronk is excellent off the tee. He ranks second in this week's field for SG: Off-The-Tee.
He had three top-3 finishes on the European Tour this season, including at the Italian Open just five starts ago.
Thorbjorn Olesen 80-1
After a rough patch earlier this fall with six straight missed cuts, Olesen has made his last two at Valderrama and Portugal.
The man from Denmark has a good history in the Middle East with runner-up finishes in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, plus another third in Qatar and four top-10s at the Dubai Desert Classic.
Alejandro Canizares 100-1
The Spaniard has posted two third-place finishes in the latter part of 2021 which were his best since 2016.
He is one of the better iron players in this field, ranking ninth this week for SG: Approach.
Canizares also has Middle East pedigree with a 2014 victory in Morocco, a T-5 at Abu Dhabi in 2016, plus a top-5 at Qatar in 2014 and another top-10 there in 2015.