The Houston Open
When: March 29-April 1, 2018
Where: GC of Houston – Humble, TX
TV: The Golf Channel/NBC
By Evergreen of Predictem.com
We are just one week away from on of the grandest events on the PGA Tour schedule but before we get to Augusta, we must make a stop in Texas for the Houston Open. The week immediately preceding a Major is not usually well attended by the top names on Tour but the GC of Houston has the ability to draw a strong field due to its ability to closely mimic what players will see when they get to the Masters. Throw in the potential for four to earn invites to next week and this event gets a big boost in terms of star power. Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose will be in attendance as will former champ Phil Mickelson. Russell Henley will defend his 2017 Houston title against veteran talents like Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar. You will also see a couple of blasts from the past as players like Ernie Els and Lee Westwood look for a win in Texas to earn a Masters invite.
The GC of Houston is a fabulous track that stretches out to nearly 7,500 yards and plays at par-72. The preservation and incorporation of natural water and terrain features makes for an aesthetically pleasing course but the ability to crank up the difficulty is what makes the Houston Open a preferred tune-up for the Masters. The green complexes, including run-off and chipping areas are the most consistently difficult feature at Augusta. GC of Houston has long taken note of that and manicured their greenside topography to match what players will see next week. Missed greens will result in tough up and down chances while well struck shots will net relatively easy birdie looks. The greens putt very fast but players have seen that all before and there is some argument that fast greens are easier provided you are rolling it well. Winning scores in Houston have ranged from 15-under to 20-under since 2011 and the players that most often do the best have their approach game buttoned down. A solid recovery game is necessary for those times when greens are missed and a variety of chip and pitch shots will need to be played. Add all that together and it is no surprise that a player like Phil Mickelson has won here previously.
Each week, we take a look at Bovada Sportsbook and highlight the best values on the board. We make some picks to win and breakdown a couple of head-to-head matches that are most commonly offered at the various golf betting outlets. Here are our picks to win the 2018 Houston Open.
Jordan Spieth (12 to 1 odds to win)
Sure, it doesn’t take a lot of guts to bet on one of the most dominant players of the last five years but Spieth is in somewhat of a slump and that finally has his value in a bet-able range. By slump, I mean Jordan has already missed two cuts in eight starts. He hasn’t pushed the field to a large extent but does have six top-25 finishes in his six made cuts so he isn’t exactly garbage. It was here in 2015 that Spieth finished T2 before going on to win at the Masters and I think a similarly strong result is in store for this week. Spieth was never a premiere ball striker during his best runs but was a significantly better putter than just about everyone. That putter has cooled a bit and so you get a bunch of T25’s instead of contending runs. I think his record of success in Houston suggests he is familiar with these greens at that alone could prompt a return to form with the putter. Additionally, seeing guys like Phil and Bubba regain winning ways, plus all the attention paid to Tiger so far has to motivate these guys to bring their A-game. Spieth has proven he is one of Tour’s guttiest competitors and he should be primed for a solid run with the bigtime portion of the Tour season just getting ready to start. Jordan remains a top-5 scrambler on Tour despite the less-than-spectacular results so he still has the boxes checked to win here.
Steve Stricker (40 to 1)
Strick is one of the players that needs a win to punch a Masters ticket and two consecutive Champions Tour wins has the Wisconsin native believing he can do it in Houston. Steve is 41-under over his last three Champions Tour starts and that might have you thinking he should remain with the senior set but he has made all three of his PGA cuts this season with a T12 as his best finish. His T16 at Augusta last year has him craving another chance at a Green Jacket so there maybe no more motivated individual in this field. Stricker has hit 81% of his greens in regulation on the Champions Tour. That number won’t translate to the regular Tour but he isn’t going to fall off a cliff either. Hitting it well is a transportable skill. The putter has always been the money-maker for Strick and he can make it a magical week if he can distance himself from the field on the Houston greens.
J.B. Holmes (70 to 1)
Holmes has sputtered through much of 2018 with just one top-10 so far but he has often used Houston as a launching pad in season’s past. He is the 2015 Houston champ and also has T12 and T8 finishes in recent years. Obviously, something here fits his eye and his game and he is able to use his distance off the tee to create easy approach opportunities. Holmes enters the week outside the top-125 in strokes gained putting but is much better in overall putting average. That means he just isn’t making a lot of birdies at the moment and too often settles for par. That can change quickly on compliant greens and J.B.’s record here suggests he has the feel for that. Holmes ranks right around 50th in both tee-to-green and off-the-tee metrics so it really is that putter that needs a turnaround.
Picks to win based on predicted score after all four rounds. Check out 5Dimes for single round pairings and a variety of prop bets.
Phil Mickelson v. Henrik Stenson (pick to win: Stenson)
Everything is looking great for Lefty after a win in Mexico but the 2011 Houston champ has his hands full with the spectacular ball striking of Stenson. Most players would kill for a 65%+ rate in both greens and fairways hit but Henrik cruises past that and pushes past 70% in both categories. And he does that on some of the more demanding courses given his abbreviated US schedule. Phil enters the week outside the top-200 in fairways hit and just 155th in greens. Now, Mickelson is plenty used to playing from a disadvantaged position but that is still playing with fire too many times per round to comfortably bet on Phil against the likes of Stenson. Is Phil’s ceiling a bit higher? Perhaps, but his floor is also lower and I think Stenson uses his tee-to-green prowess to make up the advantages Mickelson has with the putter.
Daniel Berger v. Tony Finau (pick to win: Berger)
This is a great “styles clash” match as Berger is the more polished overall ball striker while Finau can out-drive everyone on Tour and put very short irons in his hands on approach. These two have played in the same event on four occasions this year and would have a 2-2 record against each other in head-to-heads so this looks to be a fair match overall. Give the edge to Berger at Houston however, mostly due to his T5/T5 run over the last two seasons. He is the better putter and better scrambler and that has him a threat to maintain a consistent level of play even with the edge in power going to Finau. There are certainly courses where Tony would be a very good threat to win this match but I think Houston fits Berger’s game better and the edge in putting really swings this match in his favor. Finau can assault a course but he isn’t an accurate driver and should pay for that with a few more bogeys this week.
Good luck and good golf!