This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
Winner's Share: $1.26M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Course: Memorial Park Municipal Golf Course
2019 Champion: Lanto Griffin (Golf Club of Houston)
*According to PGA Tour tipster Steve Bamford, Memorial Park will be played as a Par 70 rather than a Par 72.
Last year at this time, tournament director Colby Callaway was not happy with the Houston Open's spot on the schedule. It was the lead-in to the three-week Asian Swing. Have you ever tried to book a direct flight from Houston to Seoul? He told GOLF.com, "Hopefully we can force the Tour's hand to move us." Frankly, the tournament had zero leverage. Or a title sponsor. It was a miracle one of the oldest tournaments on the PGA Tour, one that began in 1946, was still around. When the 2018 event took place, there was a good chance there'd never be a 2019 version. There was, albeit again without a title sponsor and with one of the worst full-points fields in the wraparound era (beginning in 2013-14).
Well now, one year later and for one year only, Callaway has to be thrilled with his spot on the calendar. All it took was a worldwide pandemic to once again position the Houston Open one week before the Masters. And just a few weeks back a title sponsor, Vivint, came on board. For years, the Houston Tour stop was played the first week in April – one week before the Masters – at the Golf Club of Houston, a course given plastic surgery – um, we mean a redesign – to look like Augusta, the better to attract golfers hoping for a Masters tuneup.
Alas, the Golf Club of Houston is gone. Instead, the latest muni to make its way to big-time golf will play host. Memorial Park Golf Course is back after a 57-year absence, having undergone an 18-month, $34 million renovation under the direction of famed course designer Tom Doak. The Houston Open took place at Memorial Park from 1951 to 1963. As you'll recall, Bob Charles, the southpaw from New Zealand, defeated Fred Hawkins by one stroke in that final year. The tournament's heyday began in the 1990s, when Shell came on board and was the title sponsor for a quarter of a century, which is an eternity in golf sponsorships, until pulling out after 2017. The Houston Golf Association was out as well, and now the tournament is run by the Houston Astros Golf Foundation (yes, those Houston Astros).
Okay, that's enough history and backstory.
Now let's talk about what interests Callaway. The 132-man field is significantly better than it was a year ago, though it's not "extremely elite," as the course's website states. Three of the top-10 in the world and eight of the top-25 are on hand. The headliners are Dustin Johnson, making his way back after testing positive for COVID-19; Brooks Koepka, who assisted Doak in the course makeover; 2011 champ Phil Mickelson, plus a trio of Texans – Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler and Sergio Garcia. All of them will be at Augusta next week, as will defending Houston champion Lanto Griffin. Mickelson gave pause to coming to Houston in light of the 2,000 fans who will be allowed on the course each day – it's the first time since golf's shutdown that fans have been on-site at a U.S.-based event. There were 500 per day last week in Bermuda.
Memorial Park Golf Course has been around since 1912, beginning as a nine-hole track. It became 18 in 1936. Doak's redesign was thorough. He took away most of the bunkers, leaving just 19 total on the course. Many were replaced by strategic false fronts and run-offs around the greens, which are Bermudagrass and of average Tour size, about 7,000 square feet. The course itself isn't long, but there are some very long holes. There are three par-5s exceeding 575 yards, three par-4s over 490 and two par-3s more than 215. There's water on four holes. Oh, and there are five par-5s and five par-3s. If all that sounds like fun, and it should, the top greens fee at this muni are a mere $38 – but a cart will cost you extra.
Weather-wise, the golfers will be looking at a very pleasant week, with temperatures in the 70s, mostly light winds and very little chance of rain, though right now it's a 30 percent chance on Sunday.
Fun Houston Open Fact: The lineup of winners over the past 74 years is illustrious: Byron Nelson, Gary Player, Lee Elder, Raymond Floyd, Payne Stewart, David Duval, Vijay Singh, Fred Couples, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, even Anthony Kim (!) and not one but two Palmers, neither of which is named Ryan – Arnold and some guy named Johnny Palmer in the inaugural tournament in 1946.
Key Stats to Winning at Memorial Park
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
• Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee
• Strokes Gained: Putting
• Par-5 Scoring*
*Less important now with only three par-5s instead of five.
All held at Golf Club of Houston
We have no course history. Indications are the course will favor the longer hitters. Hitting from way back in the fairway onto greens with run-offs is not preferred. But with those run-offs, even the longer hitters occasionally will have trouble keeping the ball on the greens, bringing scrambling into play. Golfodds.com put the over/under on the winning score at 265.5 – 22.5 under par – which means someone will need to make a lot of putts to win.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Dustin Johnson - $11,500 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 8-1)
Johnson is priced $600 higher than the No. 2 guy on the DraftKings board, Tony Finau, and his odds are twice as short as the No. 2 guy at golfodds.com, Tyrrell Hatton (16-1). That is a significant favorite. Under normal circumstances, sure. But Johnson is coming back from a positive COVID-19 test and when he withdrew before the CJ Cup he disclosed that he was feeling some symptoms. Finau returned from his positive test and didn't miss a beat. It took Scottie Scheffler four events to make a dent. We like Johnson, but not as much as DraftKings and the oddsmakers do.
Brooks Koepka - $10,600 (20-1)
Koepka returned from a two-plus month injury rehabilitation with a tie for 28th at the CJ Cup. Not great, but his knee appeared fine. Now he tees it up at a place where he has significantly more course knowledge than everyone else, having assisted Tom Doak in the redesign. It was reportedly Koepka who suggested the majority of the bunkers be removed to make the course more playable for the recreational golfer at this public track.
Viktor Hovland - $9,800 (25-1)
Hovland is the one big name name in the field who will not be playing in the Masters next week. So while all the other top contenders will have one eye on Augusta, Hovland will have only thing on his mind: winning this tournament. He has one of the top 20 tee-to-green games on Tour, and he also finished top-20 in four of his last six appearances. Wedge play has been an issue, but he's been far better in that department early this season.
Scottie Scheffler - $9,600 (25-1)
It took four tournaments after his positive COVID-19 test, but Scheffler finally showed flashes of his past form with a tie for 17th at the ZOZO. He led the elite field in SG: Off-the-Tee and was fourth in SG: Tee-to-Green. That's the Scheffler who was tearing it up at the end of last season.
Tier 2 Values
Russell Henley - $9,400 (25-1)
The price and the odds tell you all you need to know about how well Henley is playing, but we're going to tell you more anyway. He finished top-5 at both the CJ Cup and ZOZO Championship. He rallied to rank 14th in SG: Tee-to-Green last season and is eighth in the early going this season. He's currently seventh in birdie average. And, not that it carries much weight, but he won in Houston three years ago.
Adam Scott - $9,200 (30-1)
Scott still has played only four times since the restart. He hasn't missed a cut and notched two top-25s, including at the PGA Championship. We keeping harping that the narrative about his putting is just that – narrative. He ranked top-50 in SG: Putting the past two seasons. And he was top-10 in SG; Around-the-Green last season.
Lanto Griffin - $8,900 (50-1)
When he won here last year, it was a huge surprise. But Griffin has played very well over the past 12 months and now is ranked 55th OWGR. He finished T7 and T11 his past two times out in strong fields at the CJ Cup and ZOZO. Griffin ranked 32nd in par-5 scoring last season.
Si Woo Kim - $8,300 (50-1)
We're breaking our personal code of never picking Kim. The player with incredible highs and ungodly lows is actually showing some consistency. He made the cut in 13 of his past 14 starts and notched six top-20s. The strongest component of his game is Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green – he ranked 23rd on Tour last season. What could possibly go wrong?
Tier 3 Values
Alex Noren - $7,800 (80-1)
Noren has six top-25s in his past eight starts, including both majors. Long holes are not his strength, but his quality short game should be able to handle all the run-offs around the greens. Noren ranked seventh on Tour last season in SG: Around-the-Green and 31st in SG: Putting. He was also T18 in par-5 scoring.
Lee Westwood - $7,800 (80-1)
Westwood chose to stay in Europe after the restart, came over for the U.S. Open, impressively tied for 13th, then returned to Europe. Add it all up and he's 9 for 9 in cuts with six top-25s. Did we mention Westwood is 47 years old and ranked 46th in the world?
Mackenzie Hughes - $7,600 (100-1)
Hughes seemingly cooled after his torrid finish to last season. But it more likely was just a case of mediocre weeks in strong fields at the CJ Cup and ZOZO Championship. He's still the same guy who ranked top-10 last season both SG: Around-the-Green and Putting.
Sam Burns - $7,500 (80-1)
It's nice to see Burns in the mid-$7000s instead of some of the enormous prices we saw a few weeks back. He's made the cut in eight of his past 11 starts, with some nice finishes sprinkled in. He had four top-25s highlighted by a tie for seventh at the Safeway Open. Burns hits it a ton and is very aggressive, a pretty good combination in DFS golf. He tied for 21st in par-5 scoring last season.
Adam Schenk - $7,100 (100-1)
Schenk rides 11 straight made cuts into Houston. He just missed top-25s his past two times out at the Shriners and last week in Bermuda. In the early going of 2020-21, Schenk is ranked 33rd in SG: Around-the-Green and 43rd in birdie average.
Matthew NeSmith - $7,000 (125-1)
Nesmith is coming off a top-20 at the Sanderson Farms and a top-10 at the Shriners. He's very accurate with his irons – he ranked 23rd on Tour last season in SG: Approach. and he was top-80 in both scrambling and SG: Putting.
Mark Hubbard - $6,800 (150-1)
Hubbard missed four cuts in a row but then acquitted himself nicely with a T17 at the CJ Cup and a T41 at the ZOZO, elite fields both. He ranked 70th in SG: Approach last season and 29th in Putting. He also ranked T28 in par-5 scoring.
Vaughn Taylor - $6,300 (250-1)
We liked Taylor last week to make his first cut in three months (he missed two with a rib injury). And he came through. Here's another situation with ability make birdies and putts should lead to more weekend action for Taylor.