With one week to go until The Masters there is a final chance for those not yet in the opening major of the year to qualify for it and for those who are to fine tune their games and finalise their preparation for the big event when the Houston Open takes place.
Considering there is a major championship next week the field in Houston is very strong and while not everyone will have their focus on winning the title we should be guaranteed a decent week of golf to lead up to Augusta.
2017 – Russell Henley
2016 – Jim Herman
2015 – JB Holmes
2014 – Matt Jones
2013 – DA Points
2012 – Hunter Mahan
2011 – Phil Mickelson
2010 – Anthony Kim
2009 – Paul Casey
2008 – Johnson Wagner
The Golf Club of Houston is the venue for the tournament again this week. The bunkers have been rebuilt here after the hurricane of last year but amazingly that was the only damage that the course sustained.
That means it remains a par 72 which measures 7,441 yards. It sounds long but it doesn’t always play that way. The landing areas off the tee are pretty spacious and the rough is trimmed down to be insignificant but the key to this course is the large greens which are extremely undulated, much the same as Augusta. They run at a similar pace to Augusta too so that the best preparation for next week is provided.
We remain in Texas so you can’t rule out the wind getting involved in proceedings but we’re largely after good iron players and very good putters. That is generally the key to success here.
Five of the leading players in the world tee it up this week which includes the former champion Phil Mickelson, who surely heads into next week with every chance of another Green Jacket. Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler all tee it up looking to dethrone the defending champion Russell Henley.
Daniel Berger and Matt Kuchar add a Ryder Cup flavour to the field from America while Thomas Pieters, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Ian Poulter add to the European players who are teeing it up here. Former winners JB Holmes and Hunter Mahan also tee it up this week.
Justin Rose begins the week as the 11/1 favourite. He missed the match play last week which might not be a bad thing given how hectic a week that is but one has to wonder whether he’s here to win or to prepare for next week. I sense it could be the latter which would put me off backing him at the price on offer.
Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler are next in the betting at 12/1. The same questions of Rose can be asked of Fowler in my opinion especially as he’s a genuine shot at his first major next week. I suspect Spieth might be more keen to win here though. Not only is he a Texan himself but he just needs a spark to his confidence after a very poor start to the year but his form has been so ordinary that even though I suspect he’ll be up for winning he’s too short to back.
Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson come next in a very tight market at 14/1. Mickelson is a former winner around here who has never been shy about winning the week before a major while Stenson looked good for long periods at Bay Hill but it was a concern about how quickly he slipped out of contention over the weekend. It is 25/1 bar those named.
I’m going with two main bets this week with the first being the man who has excelled on the Champions Tour in recent weeks and who should have a perfect profile for this course. That is of course Steve Stricker. He might lack a little bit of length these days but three of the last four winners of this haven’t been monsters off the tee. Stricker’s iron play is usually precise and he remains one of the better putters on any tour he plays on. At 45/1 he’s every chance of making it to Augusta via the last chance saloon.
Whenever a decent putter is needed Brandt Snedeker has to go high up on the shortlist and I’m going to take him this week. Snedeker didn’t make it into the match play and at present is not teeing it up next week either so that is all the motivation he needs. This is his first trip to Houston in five years but having had some good weeks at Augusta these conditions should not faze him in any way. Snedeker has shown an improvement in form this season and could prove to be excellent value.
I’m going to throw darts at a trio of outsiders who are all three figure prices. Outsiders have a decent record in this event so we might well bank something from these. The first of those is Sean O’Hair who is coming back into some form. He won the pairs tournament at the end of last year alongside Steve Stricker and we’ve already seen what that has done to his confidence and belief. O’Hair has two top 12 finishes in his last two tournaments where his putting has been good and his all-round stats have been strong too. The last two times O’Hair has teed it up in Texas he has finished fifth and second so at 100/1 he’s a solid option.
Kelly Kraft continued his good recent form in the Dominican Republic last week and there is no reason why that can’t keep going here. Statistically Kraft was the best player in the field last week and while that field was weaker than this one the field at the Honda was strong and he was in the top 10 statistically there. Kraft finished eighth there and third last week so he’s in decent nick and at 100/1 can go close again on a course that should suit.
One last pick is Michael Kim. Kim is regularly one of the better putters on the PGA Tour but his tee to green game is not as sharp as it could be or even should be and certainly what it needs to be to compete for titles. That said this is not a demanding course off the tee so if he can find these large greens his putting prowess should see him overtake a number of the field on the dancefloor. He’s a long shot but perhaps not a 200/1 long shot if he can create enough chances for himself.
Back S.Stricker to win Houston Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 46.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-7)
Back him here:
Back B.Snedeker to win Houston Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 67.00 with Coral (1/5 1-7)
Back S.O’Hair to win Houston Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Betfred (1/5 1-6)
Back K.Kraft to win Houston Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Betfred (1/5 1-6)
Back them here:
Back M.Kim to win Houston Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 201.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-7)
Back him here: