Original article published 9 November 2022
The PGA Tour returns to Houston this week, and Ben Everill is on hand to talk us through the field at Memorial Park.
Vacation time is over.
While birdies were flowing like the tropical drinks in the resort locations over the last few weeks, inner-city Memorial Park in Houston will provide a much sterner test for those teeing it up.
Having hosted for the last two seasons after an impressive and meaty redesign from Tom Doak, the 7,412-yard par-70 is no pushover. With winning scores of 13-under and 10-under in previous years, the value of par this week is certainly heightened. There are three par 5s, two of which routinely play as some of the hardest on the Tour, and five par 3s.
When weighing up bets, as always, there are a few key factors to consider. The brief history at Memorial Park suggests a need to be long and relatively accurate from the tee box so Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee is a metric to track. Four of the top five players on last year’s leaderboard ranked inside the top 15 for the week.
The large Bermuda greens are kept at reasonable pace so putting has become critical for the winners. The champs ranked third and fifth in Strokes Gained: Putting previously at Memorial Park. In fact, a year ago, four of the top six on the leaderboard ranked inside the top six of putting.
With scoring proving difficult (71.025 in 2020 and 70.799 in 2021) it is ultra-important to sidestep the big numbers. Bogey Avoidance at Memorial Park will most certainly play its part. In the last two years only 28 bogey-free rounds (14 each year) have been posted. Last season, only 12 players in the field had less than 10 bogeys.
Players need their long irons on point given four of the par 4s, and two of the par 3s are likely to have the average player facing approach shots of outside 200 yards. Approach shots from 175-200 yards and 150-175 yards are also more prominent than usual.
Houston Open Odds
TOP OF THE BOARD
The top four players on the board at bet365 all have compelling cases to suggest they can take home the trophy this week.
Scottie Scheffler (11/2) is coming off a hot final round to be T3 in Mexico and a year ago was runner up at Memorial Park where he set the course record 62.
Sam Burns (12/1) has finished seventh in the event two years running and held the 54-hole lead two years ago.
Aaron Wise (16/1) is trending at Memorial Park with a T26-T11 run and comes off a reasonable T15 last week in Mexico and Tony Finau (18/1) may have missed the cut last week, but his style of game suits the venue where six of his eight career rounds are sub-70.
Let’s break down the top four across our key stats. We will defer to last season rankings due to both small sample size of the new one, and the clearly different test Memorial Park brings compared to most fall venues.
KEY STAT RANKINGS (Season 2021-22 rankings)
Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee: Finau 15th, Wise 31st, Scheffler 37th, Burns 86th.
Strokes Gained: Putting: Burns 10th, Scheffler 58th, Wise 81st, Finau 85th.
Bogey Avoidance: Finau 2nd, Scheffler 9th, Wise 19th, Burns 36th.
Approach from 200+ yards: Scheffler 13th, Burns 14th, Finau 48th, Wise 64th.
Approach from 175-200 yards: Burns 5th, Wise 9th, Scheffler 12th, Finau 33rd.
Approach from 150-175 yards: Scheffler 7th, Finau 10th, Burns 30th, Wise 101st.
It shouldn’t surprise any of us that Scheffler is the leader from these four across these six key areas. Add to this the fact he was a runner up here before and comes into the week in form. He also is playing in his home state. But don’t sleep on Burns if he can get the ball cleanly away off the tee.
Now let’s see some players in the field from outside our four favorites who ranked high in our key stats last season and as such deserve attention. If you find yourself leaning towards a player popping up a few times below, do so with some confidence.
Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee: Keith Mitchell 4th, Brendan Steele 6th, Cameron Champ 9th, Taylor Pendrith 12th, Emiliano Grillo 18th.
Strokes Gained: Putting: Denny McCarthy 2nd, Beau Hossler 5th, Kelly Kraft 7th, Chesson Hadley 13th, Mackenzie Hughes 14th, Alex Noren 18th, Maverick McNealy 19th, Justin Rose 20th.
Bogey Avoidance: Mark Hubbard 5th, Alex Noren 14th, Hideki Matsuyama 15th, Adam Long 18th, Kevin Streelman 20th.
Approach from 200+ yards: Patrick Rodgers 12th, Emiliano Grillo 17th, Hideki Matsuyama 18th, Maverick McNealy 22nd, Gary Woodland 26th, Adam Hadwin 26th, Matt Wallace 26th.
Approach from 175-200 yards: Sepp Straka 3rd, Hideki Matsuyama 10th, Taylor Pendrith 11th, Maverick McNealy 25th, Callum Tarren 27th.
Approach from 150-175 yards: Jason Day 3rd, Hideki Matsuyama 6th, Denny McCarthy 13th, Mark Hubbard 15th.
While the numbers above give us reason to consider players like Jason Day (22/1), Hideki Matsuyama (22/1), Maverick McNealy (25/1) and Taylor Pendrith (40/1) it’s time to highlight a few of those 50/1 or higher in the mid-tier.
Keith Mitchell 50/1 – One of the best players off the tee on Tour last year Mitchell has proven he can match it with the best in the sport on tough weeks. It was about a year ago none other than Rory McIlroy anointed Mitchell as one of the most underrated players on Tour.
Sahith Theegala 50/1 (Enhanced win) – Into his second season on the PGA Tour, Theegala, like the only rookie to perform better last year in Cameron Young, appears ready to break into the winner’s circle sooner rather than later. Two top 10s in last four starts. He has the length, and accuracy to contend here.
Want to make a splash? Think an outsider might surge to the top? If you are looking for a large collect consider these high odds bombers – all of whom are proven PGA Tour winners.
Cameron Champ 90/1 – This three-time Tour winner has lacked consistency in his career but don’t be afraid of these high odds. All three of his wins came at long numbers. Champ routinely leads, or near leads, fields in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee.
Gary Woodland 90/1 – It has been a long time since the U.S. Open winning version of Woodland has been a mainstay on leaderboards but extra work with coach Butch Harmon is starting to pay off in spurts. This course could unlock his best.
Luke List 90/1 – List was able to tame the long and tough Torrey Pines to win the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year.
As always, good luck with your picks. Here’s hoping it’s not the grind the players in Houston are about to face.