HOUSTON OPEN: An old event has found a new place on the schedule, as the Houston Open, which for the past few years had been played the week before the Masters and was last staged in 2018, is now the featured event of the PGA Tour’s Fall Series.
Though some may view the move as a demotion, considering October has traditionally been regarded as the heart of the offseason for many players, this tournament now has a chance to carve out a unique niche– it features a bigger purse than any other Fall Series event, and is the next-to-last tournament to be held in the U.S. in 2019, as the Tour begins a 4-week stretch in the Far East next week and will only return stateside for the RSM Classic in November. Also, beginning next year there will be a new host venue– Memorial Park Golf Course, a classic layout in the heart of downtown Houston that was first opened in 1936 and has been enjoyed by golfers of every stripe through the years, including your author, many times. Memorial Park was recently renovated by Tom Doak, but if the old character of the course is preserved, it will be a fantastic addition to the schedule and will enhance the profile of this tournament.
For one more year, however, the players will do battle at the Golf Course of Houston (formerly known as Redstone), a Rees Jones-designed track that is known for its wide fairways, numerous water hazards, and large, super-slick greens. It’s fairly long, measuring over 7,400 yards, and for obvious reasons has traditionally been set up to prepare players for Augusta National, with minimal rough and fairways and greens as firm and fast as they can get them. We may see the course play a bit different this year– softer, slower, and longer. That would seem to favor the bombers, you would think, though it’s worth noting that this event has produced a diverse spectrum of winners, with many different styles being able to prosper. But one thing has been a constant: there will be birdies. It’s taken 15-under or better to win in each of the past eight stagings, and last year’s champion Ian Poulter shot 19-under and still needed a playoff to finish the job.
Poulter is not in attendance this year, opting to play the Italian Open instead, but there’s enough top-notch talent on hand to make things interesting, and Henrik Stenson currently heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 11.5. We’re three weeks removed from our season-opening strike with Joaquin Niemann at The Greenbrier, so it would certainly be nice to get things rolling again with another winner. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Scottie Scheffler (29.0)- Though only 23 years old, Scheffler is a rising star with rare talent. He ranks in the top-25 on Tour in both driving distance (321.6 yds. per drive) and birdies per round (4.75), and he demonstrated a knack for closing on the Korn Ferry Tour last year, picking up two victories and six other top-10 finishes in his last 14 starts on that tour. He’s carried that momentum to the PGA Tour’s Fall Series, finishing 7th at The Greenbrier and 16th at the Sanderson Farms Championship a couple of weeks ago, and now he returns to his native Texas, and a course he’s played many times before, though never in competition. Scheffler is the quintessential big hitter with soft hands, so he should be a great fit at GC of Houston, and unlike some in the field this week he doesn’t have any rust to shake off, as he’s been playing regularly and playing well. He’s one to watch this week and I’m happy to take a chance on him at nearly 30/1.
Lanto Griffin (44.0)- Like Scheffler, Griffin spent last season on the Korn Ferry Tour, where he played very well, picking up a victory and seven other top-15 finishes in his past 14 starts on that tour. He’s looked right at home on the PGA Tour over the last month, finding the top-20 in all four Fall Series events thus far and shooting a combined 49-under par over his past 16 competitive rounds. That makes him one of the hottest players in the field this week, and he seems like a good fit at GC of Houston, as he’s plenty long off the tee (318.2 yds. per drive) and has a great record on Bermuda grass, stretching all the way back to his college days at VCU. Also, Griffin is a great putter who currently ranks 3rd in the PGA Tour’s “Total Putting” stat. He’s a definite threat this week and I’m fairly enthusiastic about him at a price like 44.0.
Brice Garnett (94.0)- Garnett finished last season on a high note with his 6th-place showing in August’s Wyndham Championship, his second-best finish of 2019. He appears to have carried that solid play over to the wraparound season, finishing 23rd in his last start– the Safeway Open– after closing with a 68 on a difficult Sunday. Now he comes to the region of the country where he does his best work– the golf in Texas is very similar to Garnett’s home state of Missouri, and Garnett has enjoyed some of his best results in the Lone Star State, including a T7 in this event back in 2014. He’s only played here twice since then and has missed the cut both times, which is surely throwing a lot of folks off the scent this week, but in those two MCs he fired rounds of 70-72-71-71, so I still view course form as a net positive here. Garnett is a longshot, for sure, but he’s well equipped to contend this week and is worth a bet at the current price.