One week before the Masters, this is the final tournament for some of golf’s biggest names to get into form.
While not filled to the brim with top talent, this year’s Houston Open will feature big names like Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Tyrrell Hatton, Adam Scott and Tony Finau. The tournament is hosted for the first time by Memorial Park Golf Course, a public course in Houston that recently underwent massive renovations by Tom Doak in 2019.
The course removed about 65% of its sand bunkers and replaced them with heavily-sloped short grass surrounding the greens. The greens average 7,000 square feet, which is on the bigger side, but missing those greens will result in difficult chip shots from the short grass.
After some early confusion about the course setup, it appears Memorial Park will play as a 7,432-yard par 70. Originally the course was listed as a par 72 with five par 5s, but the 522-yard first hole and the 529-yard 14th hole are now listed as par 4s instead of par 5s. That’s a dramatic change in terms of the course layout, as it removes two eagle-able par 5s and replaces them with two long, challenging par 4s. The grass is Bermuda across the entire course and there are four holes where water is in play.
With so much length to the course, we’ll be looking for good drivers who hit a ton of greens. Length off the tee will be important, but with complicated green complexes, positioning may end up just as important. Players who hit even average length off the tee to the right locations should hold an advantage over players who bomb the ball with no regard for location. However, the shortest of hitters may have trouble keeping up with the length.
Something we’d like to highlight is how we’ve changed the way we look at strength of field adjustments. While we’ve always included those adjustments, we’ve expanded them to more of our statistics with the goal of better equating players who perform well in poor fields to players who perform adequately, or even below average, in strong fields.
PICK TO WIN
We could take the easy road with Dustin Johnson, but our model also points to Scott as a serious contender at Memorial Park. Coming off a withdrawal from a positive COVID diagnosis, Scott is looking to get into peak form for the Masters. This course should suit him well and the tournament field is about 30% worse than what Scott is used to playing in.
Even with his history of playing in strong fields, Scott still gains about 6% of greens over the field. In this weaker field, I would expect him to gain somewhere in the range of 12-15% of greens. That’s about 2.5 holes per round where Scott is getting onto the green with a birdie putt and the average player in the field is chipping or still has an approach.
On a course where bogey aversion could play a significant role in determining a winner, that’s a huge total. We give him a 5.9% chance to win, second only to Dustin Johnson.
MID-TIER PLAYERS WHO SHOULD PLAY WELL
Conners is a ball-striker who occasionally turns in disastrous putting performances, but the course layout this week should allow him to mitigate some of those putting woes by peppering the greens. Like Scott, this is a lesser field than Conners usually plays in, so his +4.8% GIR Gained will end up a little higher.
While not as dramatic an improvement as Scott, Conners should be able to gain enough strokes with his ball-striking where even an average putting performance should put him near the top come Sunday. Our model has Conners performing a touch above Sungjae Im this week, and Conners is double the odds.
Streelman plays a little above average in the tournaments he enters, though those events are usually the best. He’s coming off of back-to-back top 30 finishes in the ZOZO and CJ Cup, where most of the top tour players teed it up. And Streelman should find success in a field lacking much of the star power he’s familiar with because of his ability to hit fairways and greens.
While a win would be a tough proposition in this field, a good tournament with the putter could net Streelman a top 10 finish, and we love his chances of making the cut.
Another golfer getting ready to tee it up at the Masters, Lowry hasn’t had a top 10 finish on tour since his sixth-place showing at WGC-St. Jude, which was played at another long par 70. Like our other picks, Lowry’s strength is with the irons. He’s fairly average off the tee, hitting 60.7% of fairways at almost 300 yards per drive, but he hits 69.4% of greens.
Lowry is also a golfer who plays in strong tournaments, and once adjusted for strength of field, our model has him right in line with Lanto Griffin this week.
LONGSHOTS WHO COULD SURPRISE
Duncan is one of those golfers who hits a ton of fairways (68.9%) at slightly below average distance (289 yds/drive), and we’re counting on those fairways this week. Duncan has gained strokes on the field in the Northern Trust, BMW, U.S. Open, CJ Cup and the ZOZO, all tournaments where the field was stronger than it will be this weekend.
Despite not having the greatest distance, he plays some of his best at longer courses like TPC Boston and Olympia Fields.
Another golfer who peppers fairways and greens, Glover is consistently let down by his putting. In his last three missed cuts he’s lost 5.1, 5.2, and 3.2 strokes putting in two rounds. As we’ve consistently discussed, Memorial Park will likely require precise iron play while reducing the importance of putting. Glover fits that mold this week.
Lee is our bomb of the week. He’s the star of playing at average in really strong tournaments. His strength of field is equivalent to golfers like Matthew Wolff and Brooks Koepka, gaining almost no strokes on the field. In the Houston Open, he faces off against a less challenging field and is likely to hit an average number of fairways and greens while gaining a few strokes on the greens. While we’re certainly not predicting a win, we like Lee’s odds of making the cut and finishing inside the top 20.
FAVORITE DRAFTKINGS GPP PLAYS
Tyrrell Hatton ($10,300)
Russell Henley ($9,400)
Adam Scott ($9,200)
Corey Conners ($8,700)
Shane Lowry ($8,200)
Kevin Streelman ($7,600)
Lucas Glover ($7,400)
Max Homa ($6,800)
Carlos Ortiz ($6,700)
Andrew Landry ($6,500)
Danny Lee ($6,400)
Keith Mitchell ($6,200)
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