Best value bets for PGA's Houston Open

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Brian Gay made nine birdies in his final 14 holes and won on the PGA Tour for the first time in nearly eight years in a playoff over Wyndham Clark last weekend at the Bermuda Championship. This was Gay’s fifth career PGA win, and he accomplished the feat as a 200-1 shot. Gay, 48, joined 47-year-old Stewart Cink as elder statesmen to win on the PGA Tour this fall, as Cink did so in September at the Safeway Open. Gay had missed 14 of 18 cuts in 2020 coming into Bermuda and had made only two of 11 cuts since the restart in June. Although he did not come in on stellar form, Gay’s last top-5 finish came at the 2019 Bermuda Championship, tying for third. Now he will be a full member of the PGA Tour until he turns 50 and heads to the PGA Tour Champions while also earning an invite to the 2021 Masters, in which he has not played since 2013. If you believe Gay can go back-to-back, you will find the same 200-1 price on him this week.

 

The PGA Tour returns stateside for a stop at the Vivint Houston Open, the last event before the Masters. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson (8-1) had to withdraw from the CJ Cup and the Zozo Championship after testing positive for COVID-19, but he returns as the odds-on favorite in this field. Englishman Tyrrell Hatton (16-1) has a win at the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship and a T-3 at Shadow Creek in the CJ Cup within the last 30 days and is ranked in the world’s top 10 for the first time in his career. Tony Finau has not finished worse than 15th in seven of his last nine events, including three top-5s and five top-10s, and he joins Hideki Matsuyama at 20-1. Brooks Koepka, also 20-1, returned three weeks ago at the CJ Cup after nine weeks off due to injuries. Koepka also served as a player consultant for the redesign of the Memorial Park Golf Course, which is the Houston Open’s new venue. Three players are priced at 25-1: Scottie Scheffler and Viktor Hovland, who finished 1-2 in the 2019-20 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year voting, and Russell Henley, who won the 2017 Houston Open at the Golf Club of Houston and comes in with scorching form, having posted two top-5s and four top-10s in his last six events. Adam Scott has played only four times since the restart but won this event in 2007 and is priced at 30-1 along with Sungjae Im. Lanto Griffin is the defending champion (tipped as a winner here in “PSW” last fall) and is slotted at 50-1. 

 

The Event 

 

The Houston Open’s history on the PGA Tour dates to 1946. After years at a variety of venues in the Houston area, the tournament returns to Memorial Park Golf Course for the first time since 1963. Legends such as 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, but it is in a tenuous position with the schedule change and a prolonged search for a new title sponsor. Jim Crane, the owner of the Houston Astros and once named the best CEO golfer in America by Golf Digest, saved this tournament for at least five more years. Crane is the lead fundraiser for the major makeover of the city-owned Memorial Park course. Shell Oil Co. sponsored the event from 1992-2017. Crane’s Astros Foundation operates the tournament, and home-security firm Vivint comes aboard as the sponsor this year. 

 

The Course

 

Memorial Park Golf Course will host the Houston Open for the first time in 57 years. It is a municipal course owned by the city and is rated the top muni in Texas. The greens fee for a weekend round is $38. John Bredemus designed the track in 1935, but Tom Doak, whose influences include Alister MacKenzie and Pete Dye, finished a renovation just last year. Memorial Park plays as a par-72 of 7,432 yards. Doak removed many trees, bunkers (only 19 on the course) and water (in play on only four holes) to make it more playable to the public, as about 50,000 rounds a year are played at Memorial Park. The Bermuda fairways are fairly generous, and players will shoot into large MiniVerde Bermuda greens that average 7,000 square feet and have shaved runoffs into collection areas, similar to Augusta. The greens, at 12-12.5 on the Stimpmeter, should be fast and at least somewhat resemble the conditions at Augusta National next week. However, they will not be overseeded, so it will not be a complete facsimile considering Augusta has Bentgrass greens. 

 

No other Doak course designs are played on the PGA Tour, but some potential connections exist in terms of courses that heavily feature Bermudagrass and are played in similar climates:

 

 

Kapalua (Sentry Tournament of Champions)

 

Waialae (Sony Open)

 

PGA West (The American Express)

Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational)

TPC Sawgrass (Players Championship)

Sedgefield (Wyndham Championship)

 

Recent History/Winners

 

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

 

 

Each event except for 2019 was played in April, and all were played at the Golf Club of Houston.

 

Selections

 

Sungjae Im 30-1

 

Im was playing like a top-10 golfer earlier this season and won the Honda Classic. He was in a slump out of the restart, but this looks like a spot where he can get right.

 

If you look at some of the potential course correlations, Im has played well at many of them, including consecutive thirds at Bay Hill and top-10s at Waialae and Sedgefield. He also prefers the Bermuda greens. 

 

Doc Redman 50-1

 

Redman has three top-5 finishes in his last six starts. He was the 54-hole leader in Bermuda but was unable to close the deal and tied for fourth. 

 

Two of his three recent top-5s (Wyndham, Bermuda) were on Bermudagrass greens. He’s in the top 30 in all the tee-to-green statistics, and though his putting statistics are subpar, Bermuda has clearly shown to be his best surface. 

 

Corey Conners 60-1

 

The last player to win the week before the Masters was in April 2019, and that player was Conners, who took the Valero Texas Open. 

 

The putter is more often than not the worst club in the Canadian’s bag, and he was near the bottom of the tour in strokes gained putting (181st last season). He has been better in recent weeks, but he is an elite striker of the ball and ranked in the top 13 in strokes gained off the tee and on approach.

 

 Denny McCarthy 65-1

 

McCarthy shot Sunday’s low round of 63 to tie for fourth at the Bermuda Championship. Just four weeks earlier, he finished T-6th at the Sanderson Farms and was T-9th at the Wyndham. All those tournaments were on Bermudagrass greens. 

 

He ranked as the top putter last season, and the fairways are generous, so there are limited spots in which to get in trouble off the tee and on approach. If it turns into a putting contest, he’s one of the players to beat. 

 

J.T. Poston 100-1

 

Although this course has no recent history, Poston stands out as a potential horse for the course. 

 

He won the 2019 Wyndham Championship and was the 54-hole leader a few weeks ago at the Sanderson Farms Championship, finishing third. Poston seems to thrive at birdie-fests on Bermuda greens. 

 

James Hahn 100-1

 

Hahn is playing on a major medical extension after a torn triceps tendon. One more high finish will help him regain his full playing privileges. 

 

He tied for ninth at the Safeway, tied for sixth in the Dominican Republic and tied for fifth at the Shriners in his last three starts over the last two months. 

 

Harry Higgs 150-1

 

Higgs sits at No. 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He was runner-up several weeks ago at the Safeway Open. While former SMU teammate Bryson DeChambeau is getting a lot of buzz in the golf world, Higgs has gradually climbed the rankings. 

 

In playing his collegiate golf at SMU, Higgs is well versed on courses throughout Texas. 

 

Cyprus Showdown

 

England’s Callum Shinkwin, at 125-1, earned his first European Tour victory at last weekend’s Aphrodite Hills Cyprus Open by shooting the low final round of 63 and prevailing in a playoff over Finland’s Kalle Samooja. Third-round leader Jamie Donaldson fell into a tie for third, and Finland’s Sami Valimaki (one of our tips) led by two shots with seven holes to play but bogeyed three of his next five holes and fell to a T-6. 

 

The players return to the same venue for back-to-back weeks in Cyprus, but this time for the Aphrodite Hills Cyprus Showdown, which will be played under a unique format. Thomas Detry finished T-10th last week in the Open and is favored at 25-1. Robert MacIntyre and Garrick Higgo tied for third last week and are priced at 30-1 along with Valimaki, Matthias Schwab and Rasmus Hojgaard, who returns to Europe off a T-37th at the Bermuda Championship. As for last week’s playoff participants, Shinkwin is 60-1 and Samooja is 50-1. 

 

The Event

 

The Aphrodite Hills Cyprus Showdown is scheduled as a one-off event concluding back-to-back weeks in Cyprus. This event, like the previous week’s, is promoted by International Sports Management, which manages several European and international players.

 

The format is different from last weekend’s typical tour event. The Cyprus Showdown will be a 72-hole contest with a 36-hole cut that trims the field to 32. The scores will then reset and Saturday’s third round will be played. Then another cut will be made to the final 16. Those scores will also reset, and these 16 players will have an 18-hole Sunday shootout, with the lowest final round winning the event. 

 

The Course

 

PGA National Cyprus on the Aphrodite Hills Resort in Paphos is along the Mediterranean coast. Cabell Robinson designed the course in 2002, and it was renovated in 2017 to comply with USGA and PGA standards. PGA National Cyprus plays as a par-71 of 6,878 yards. It is an exposed coastal track designed primarily with tourists in mind, so it possesses wide Bermudagrass fairways and large, true Bentgrass greens. Three of the par-5s measure in the mid-500-yard range, and two par-4s are just 360, so plenty of birdie opportunities will exist. And birdies will be of even greater importance to advance past the 36- and 54-hole cuts. 

 

Selections

 

Sami Valimaki 30-1

 

He has to get over last week’s disappointment, when he looked like the winner by making 25 birdies, tied for most in the field. He was also fifth in the field for strokes gained putting. 

 

Valimaki has followed up near misses with success on a couple of occasions already this year. After a T-7th at the Vic Open, he won his first European Tour event in Oman the next week. Then, after a T-6th in Wales, he posted a runner-up on the same course the next week.

 

Mikko Korhonen 50-1

 

Korhonen finished T-17th last week in the Open but has good experience in these quirky European Tour formats, having won the Shot Clock Masters in Austria in 2018. He also tied for fourth this year on a similar course in Oman.

 

Finland’s Korhonen ranks fourth on the tour for greens in regulation at 72.38%. 

 

Nicolas Colsaerts 52-1

 

The Belgian finished only 66th last week on this course, but it can be excused a bit. He had fallen just short at the Italian Open with a T-2 finish, which was his best result in a year since winning the Open de France. 

 

Adrien Saddier 60-1

 

Frenchman Saddier finished ninth last week on this track.

 

He’s also another player who fared well in Oman this season with a third-place finish.

 

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