HOUSTON OPEN: It takes some tournaments awhile to get it right, and after years of hopping around on different courses and different slots on the schedule, the Houston Open seems to have finally found its sweet spot. No longer held the week before the Masters, when it was relegated to a “warm-up” event, the tournament now has the stage to itself, as there are only two full-field events remaining in 2022 and players are looking to get some hay in the barn before the winter break.

The biggest factor in this tournament’s rise, however, has been the move to Memorial Park Golf Course, a century-old municipal course in the heart of downtown Houston that was extensively renovated and modernized by Tom Doak and Brooks Koepka in 2019 and is now one of the best tracks in the region. It’s a real challenge for the pros, measuring over 7,400 yards from the tips and featuring difficult green complexes with severe run-offs and mounding that require the players to call upon the short game creativity. But these same features make the course fun to play for recreational golfer– think slopes and collection areas as opposed to bunkers and water hazards– and have allowed the course to retain a unique, old-school charm. Should you ever find yourself in the Houston area, a round at Memorial Park is relatively inexpensive and highly recommended.

The field this week is strong, with the headliner being native Texan and World No. 2 Scottie Scheffler, currently trading at 7.1 at BETDAQ. There’s no one else in that price range, but Tony Finau (16.5), Sam Burns (17.5), Hideki Matsuyama (28.0) and others are here, so we have some interesting options near the top of the market as well as dozens of grinders who are playing for their jobs with the season’s first re-shuffle just two weeks away. Here’s what I’ve got for this week:

WIN MARKET

Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)

Sam Burns (17.5)- When you talk about the best young players in the world, Burns’s name should absolutely be at the tip of your tongue. The 26-year-old Louisiana native is now up to 12th in the world rankings after racking up three wins, a pair of runners-up, and 14 top-25 finishes last season. He hits it a country mile (averages 309.6 off the tee), ranks 18th on Tour in strokes gained on approach, and he putts it even better, ranking 5th on Tour in putting average last season. He teed it up at the CJ Cup two weeks ago and it was business as usual, as he broke par in all four rounds and finished 7th. Coincidentally, he also finished 7th in this tournament last year, and the year before! I’m pretty sure 7-7-7 has some sort of positive, mystical meaning in numerology, but what it tells me is that Burns is playing well at the moment and loves Memorial Park. That’s good enough for my money.

Denny McCarthy (33.0)- They say that great putters always have a chance, and for the past couple of years there’s been no better putter on the PGA Tour than Denny McCarthy. The guy can flat roll the rock, ranking 1st or 2nd on Tour in strokes gained putting in 3 of the past 4 seasons, and his ball-striking has steadily improved, meaning it’s only a matter of time until he finds the winner’s circle. He’s made the cut in 4 of 5 starts this Fall and played brilliantly in Bermuda last time out, opening with a 63 and going on to finish 6th. Not surprisingly, considering his short-game wizardry and his comfort on Bermuda greens, he has a good record at Memorial Park, making the cut in both of his appearances and finishing T11 last year, when he closed with a beautiful Sunday 64. His price is a bit on the short side here but it’s with good reason– McCarthy is a good bet to contend this week, and with a putter like his, who knows what magic Sunday may have in store?

Kramer Hickok (84.0)- How tough is the competition on the PGA Tour? Well, Hickok is currently riding a streak of six consecutive under-par rounds… and three consecutive missed cuts. That’s right, he missed the weekend in Mayakoba, Bermuda, and at the Shriners despite being under-par at the halfway point each time, but he did start this Fall Series off on a better note, finishing T25 in the season-opening Fortinet Championship. All things considered, I’d say he’s in pretty decent form at the moment despite not cashing many checks this Fall, and he played very well in this tournament last year, finishing solo 4th, so he obviously knows his way around Memorial Park. It’s all setting up for Hickok to be a real dark horse contender this week… missing cuts but playing better than people realize, and then he finally gets to a track that suits him. I’m willing to take my chances at better than 80/1.


DAQMAN Weds: Kempton NAP
DAQSTATS Weds: Kempton NAP
THE STRIKER Weds: MAN U v LEEDS
THE STRIKER Weds: Sunderland v Fulham (FA Cup)
THE EDGE Thurs: India v Australia 1st Test
PAT HEALY blog: The Perfect Festival!
THE WEEK AHEAD: Super Bowl week !!
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