The Houston Open is one of my favorite events on Tour. The course is fantastic, and we have a stacked field of guys tuning up for the Masters. We have Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, and Henrik Stenson, to name some headliners.
The golf course for the Houston Open is Golf Club of Houston, a par-72 that stretches out to 7,441 yards. One cool thing about this event is that the venue does its best to replicate the course conditions that players are going to see next week at the Masters. Greens will be running around a 12 or 13 on the stimpmeter, and if the wind picks up (which it will) and the course can stay dry, the greens could get extremely greasy by Sunday. Distance will be at a premium this week because the rough isn’t too long and bad drives won’t be as penal as errant shots on some other courses. Also, many of the holes favor a draw for right-handed players or a fade for the left-handers (another similar aspect to Augusta).
One other thing to consider this week is Narrative Street. This week’s winner will earn a spot into the Masters next week. Some of the high-caliber players who are not yet in the field at Augusta include: Charles Howell III, Keegan Bradley, Steve Stricker, Ian Poulter, and Emiliano Grillo. Keegan Bradley is one that most intrigues me, but I’ll be taking a close look at these players.
Strokes Gained Approach (SG:APP): Ball-striking, especially with irons, is going to be a major key for players this week. With high winds expected here, controlling iron shots into the greens will be extremely important. Also, scoring is typically low here, so the players are going to need to back a bundle of birdies this week. In terms of recent play, the players to target in strokes gained approach are Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Luke List, Joel Dahmen, Scott Piercy, Brandon Harkins, and Rickie Fowler.
Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee (SG:OTT): Every week, off-the-tee play is a main target. Guys who can hit it long and straight have a huge advantage over the rest of the field. It makes courses shorter, and allows them to hit approach shots from shorter distances, setting up birdies. Houston typically has short rough, so bombs away! The best off-the-tee players in recent weeks are Luke List, Byeong-Hun An, .Corey Conners, Jordan Spieth, Jason Kokrak, and Hunter Mahan.
Birdie or Better % (BoB%): There are really not many weeks where we aren’t going to target birdie or better percentage, because that’s what fantasy golf scoring is all about. This event should lend itself to low scores, with some short par-4s and reachable par-5s. The best players in this field in recent birdie or better percentage are Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, James Hahn, Jason Kokrak, Chesson Hadley, and Lanto Griffin.
Par-4 Scoring (P4): All three tracks this week are par-72s, which means par-5 scoring will be a major differentiator. Players who can attack these holes and rack up birdies and eagles will be leading throughout the week. This could mean bombers, or it could mean elite wedge players. Some of the best par-5 scorers in this field are Kevin Na, Jon Rahm, Brian Harman, Nick Watney, Bill Haas, Harold Varner, and J.J. Spaun.
Top 5 Golfers For Houston Open
I’m hoping Fowler goes under-owned at this price tag, because his recent play hasn’t inspired much faith. But of all the studs, I think he’s completely focused on this event and getting his form back before the Masters. He’s played well on similar courses, like at the Hero World Challenge (won) and the Waste Management Phoenix Open (led after three rounds). Fowler has posted three top-10s in Houston in the past four years, and I expect another one this week. He’s my pick to win.
Although Phil loves this event and has won at this venue, his recent finishes leave much to be desired. He hasn’t cracked the top-10 in any of his past five starts here, and we know Phil is tuning up for Augusta. This course requires a few more fairway woods off-the-tee, but Lefty will be bombs away with the driver. He won’t mind if he misses the cut, because he’ll be practicing the shots he needs for next week. On paper, he is the statistical favorite, but I’ll pass on Phil for Rickie Fowler.
3. Justin Rose
Rose is another player who is undoubtedly looking ahead to Augusta, where he lost in a playoff last season. Rose skipped the WGC-Match Play to head to Augusta for some early prep, so that’s a major red flag this week. He hasn’t had too much success in his few times playing in Houston, so my confidence in him is lower than with the other studs. I’ll pass on Rose… until next week.
When we’re in Texas, I always consider Spieth. Although he finished 2nd here in 2015, his overall record is pretty poor. Spieth has taken a step back in 2018, specifically on the greens where he can’t seem to find his touch. He’s ranking outside the top-100 in basically every important putting stat, which is a troubling sign. That’s how he’s done his damage in the past. I think he’ll be a contrarian play this week, and always possesses winning upside.
As we said last year, “When in Houston, play Russell Henley.” He had three consecutive top-10 finishes here before blitzing to a win with a Sunday 65 last season. Considering the conditions, it was one of the most impressive rounds I remember from 2017. Henley is a great ball-striker who has had plenty of success in his career in windy conditions. He’s won here, Honda, and Sony, all venues where winds are constantly an issue. He’s been playing pretty well this season, and I expect another solid week from Henley on his favorite course on Tour.