What: Houston Open
Where: GC of Houston, Humble, TX
When: March 29th-April 1st
Defending Champion: Russell Henley
FedEx Cup Points and Purse: 500 and $7,000,000
A very busy week has come and gone on the PGA TOUR, as we saw two winners this past week. It was Bubba Watson taking home the WGC Match Play, and Brice Garnett winning the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship. Garnett set himself up nicely with a first-round score of 63 and took home his first PGA victory.
At the Corales, it was Corey Conners once again looking to be in great position, but he faltered down the stretch by shooting a 76 on Sunday. 47-year-old K.J. Choi and Irishman Paul Dunne also made some noise, both producing T5 finishes.
Last Week’s Results
There’s just one tournament before we reach the Masters, and that’s the Houston Open. It’s going to be very hard for someone who’s playing in the Masters to focus on gunning for a win this week. And to make matters more nerve-racking, the winner of this tournament will gain eligibility into the Masters if not already eligible. This course features inviting greens that are surprisingly flat and surrounded by a good amount of hazards. Sort of similar to Augusta. There are a whopping 60 bunkers and eight water hazards in play this week that could come as a “Masters tune-up.” The past four winners here have actually gotten their Masters invite from this event.
Some top scoring categories to look at this week will be strokes gained: putting, proximity, birdie average, and par-4 and par-5 scoring.
This Week’s Picks
Phil Mickelson: I’m actually a bit torn on Mickelson this week. Although he will very likely be in my lineup as a sure-fire top-tier guy, he’s said that he plays more defensive and strategic instead of gunning for a win at this event. He uses his driver a ton at this tournament to prepare for Augusta, something he wouldn’t be doing if he were incredibly focused on winning. Phil is the type of guy good enough to do some experimenting and come out on top, however. Mickelson has played in this tournament for 11 straight years, notching a win and six other top-23 finishes.
Jordan Spieth: With so many wins at such a young age already, it’s hard to say Spieth is “chasing a win,” but it does seem like another dominant stretch is overdue. All of Spieth’s cuts made have been top-25s, and he will look to improve on his best finish of T9, which he posted at the Genesis Open and Sentry TOC. At this course, he’s gone T50, CUT, T2, T13, and CUT. It’s just a matter of time before he gets going again.
Justin Rose: The world’s fifth-ranked golfer is one of the most consistent players on the planet right now. He hasn’t missed a cut since the PGA Championship last August in 2017 (14 events), which includes three worldwide wins and twelve top-10s. Ranking fifth on tour in strokes gained: putting could be a bit of an anomaly with how great his long-iron play is, but you’ve got to keep riding the hot streak. He’s finished T37 and T15 his last two times out here.
Henrik Stenson: Stenson has been a bit streaky in his last eight events worldwide. He’s tallied a missed cut, a T60, and a T35, to name his worst finishes in that group. However, he has also finished 4th, T6, 8th, T17, and T2. Stenson missed the cut here last year, but it was part of a stretch where he missed five of six cuts from mid-March to mid-June. A terrible slump. Before that MC, Stenson finished twice on two occasions to go along with a T3. It’s worth noting that Stenson finished fourth last week at Bay Hill after also missing the cut there last year.
Rickie Fowler: Fowler falls into the same realm as Spieth (although in different tiers) in the sense that he needs to get the putter going to take the next step. After alternating cuts from January 28th to February 25th in three events, Fowler has posted a T37 and a T14 in his last two appearances (WGC-Mexico and the API.) Fowler has T3, T10 and 6th place finishes in 2017, 2016, and 2014 here, respectively, and could use this week as a tune-up to finally capture his first major next week.
Luke List: The 33-year-old Seattle native deserves some more recognition. List’s last three overall stroke-play events feature finishes of second-place, T16, and a seventh-place. His last three appearances at the Houston Open are one missed cut, a T27 and a T3. Some key stats for List are that he is 11th in strokes gained: tee to green, fourth in “going for the green” at 78.74%, 21st in birdie average, and in the top-45 in both par-4 and 5 scoring. There’s a good chance he lets you down with his putter late on Sunday, but he’s a great tee-to-green golfer.
Russell Henley: Henley is the defending champion at the Houston Open. Before recording the win last year, he placed in the top-7 in three other appearances, so his win didn’t come out of nowhere. Henley has been solid, but there’s a reason he flies under the radar with two cuts missed, a T15, a T24, and a T58 in his last five events. Although he ranks a decent 31st in strokes gained: approach the green and 51st in proximity, you could justify keeping him off your roster, but he’s certainly not someone to ignore.
Matt Kuchar: There’s been some slight inconsistency for Kuchar at the Houston Open with missed cuts in 2007 and 2017, but he also has two T8 finishes and a playoff loss in 2014. Kuchar ranks 35th in strokes gained: putting, 49th in GIR percentage, and has made a whopping 22 straight cuts with his last one coming at last year’s aforementioned Houston Open.
Rafa Cabrera Bello: Rafa is perfect in cuts made so far this season with eight. He also comes in with rankings of second in strokes gained: approach the green, 13th in strokes gained: tee to green, sixth in GIR percentage, and top-25 in par-4 and par-5 scoring. This will be his third appearance in Houston, highlighted by a fourth-place finish in 2016. He’s coming off a T36 at the Match Play last week and a T3 at the WGC-Mexico (one of his three top-10s on the year.)
Steve Stricker: The 51-year-old has won back-to-back Champions Tour events and has surprising T12, T26, and T31 finishes so far in 2018. He has posted four separate top-11 finishes at this event in his career.
Jhonattan Vegas: The Venezuelan has played more than you think this year, with nine cuts made in 11 tries. He has a sneaky T20 at the WGC-Mexico two weeks ago to go along with four other top-25s and a T7 at the Sentry TOC back in January. Hasn’t missed a cut here since 2011, with his last three finishes coming in at T15, T19, T55
Aaron Baddeley: When you rank first on tour in strokes gained: around the green, third in scrambling, and are a very underrated name on tour, you get a sneaky play in Baddeley, who fits this course well. He’s made four straight cuts among seven of 11 for the year, with finishes of T26, T55, T14, and T49. In his last four appearances here, he’s finished T15 and been cut three times.