Who to back at the Houston Open
When was the last time someone won The Masters having won the week before? Phil Mickelson in 2006 and Sandy Lyle in 1988. In the last 60 years, that’s it.
Make no mistake, the majority in the field this week at the Houston Open want to win. Some need to win to secure a ticket for Augusta. But for the minority – particularly the favourites for next week – this may just be treated as a fine-tuning session.
Look at recent winners here: Russell Henley, Jim Herman, JB Holmes, Matt Jones and DA Points. Hardly big names, and hardly players that you’d give even a slight chance for success at Augusta.
From a betting perspective, the top five players in the market are in a league of their own. Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson all have major claims for the Green Jacket next week, and so given the aforementioned ‘curse’ stat, do we really want to be touching them this week?
In fact, history suggests that you don’t even need to be in great form to win here at the Golf Club of Houston. Herman came from nowhere to win, as did Jones and Points.
This looks to be a lottery, but the golf course does tend to suit a certain type of player. For starters, fairways are wide and rough is minimal; as a result, big hitters are given an advantage. Being the curtain-raiser for The Masters, the greens are quickened up to lightning speeds to try and get players ready for Augusta’s glass-like putting surfaces.
Houston Open betting: Keel’s each-way tips
Normally we’d pick out our top tips first, but I don’t think anyone can realistically say they’re confident in any player this week. It’s all about casting the net far and wide over a bunch of big-odds players in the hope that you’ll catch one at the right time.
So we’ll go straight into our each-way picks – if you’re following, make sure you check your each-way terms; some bookies are paying out seven or eight places this week rather than the standard five.
It seems apposite that in an event that seems like a lottery, we’ll go with a player that’s rarely easy to predict. James Hahn is a two-time PGA Tour winner but both of those successes came when hardly anyone was expecting them at the Wells Fargo Championship two years ago and the Northern Trust Open the year before. The victory at Riviera was particularly noteworthy as he held off the likes of Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey in a play-off.
When he’s on form, Hahn is a terrific iron player, evidenced by his strong strokes gained: approach stats this year. He’s one of those players that, when he gets into contention, he tends to play better. But Hahn has always been a player that can blow very hot and cold – previously, it would seem that he’d be equally as likely to shoot a pair of 80s and miss the cut than to be bang in contention. This year he’s been able to cut that erratic nature out of his game, and as a result he’s enjoying a very good season; in eight events played, he’s yet to miss a cut. He’s certainly worth a go at 90/1.
Surely Thomas Pieters is going to emerge from his slump sooner rather than later? This world-class talent was battling for the Green Jacket only a year ago, and who can forget his Ryder Cup exploits in 2016 when claiming the most points for Team Europe?
I can see him ending his poor run of form with a bang, and this golf course looks a prime candidate for him to exert his length off the tee and claim his first PGA Tour win.
The putter has always been streaky for the Belgian, but we know he can putt on rapid greens thanks to his 4th place at The Masters last year, and as previously mentioned, the greens here are purposely quickened up to replicate the speeds of Augusta National. 50/1 could look a huge price come Sunday afternoon.
Next up, Sean O’Hair looks worth chancing at a three-figure price. This four-time PGA Tour winner has had an utterly forgettable year so far, that was until three weeks ago when he returned to form at the Valspar Championship and backed it up with a top-10 last time out at Bay Hill.
Clearly he’s found something within his game, and when on form, he’s known for terrific ball striking and an all-round tee-to-green game which will surely suit around Houston. He’s also shown glimpses that he is more than capable of contending here as two years ago he finished 10th.
Finally, we’ll end with Ryan Palmer, a Texan native who always tends to raise his game in home state events. 2016 was a difficult year for Palmer – his golf was steady, but his season was cut short as he decided to be with his wife who was battling cancer.
Last year was also difficult, as Palmer underwent shoulder surgery in October. He made his return to golf at the start of the year and a 2nd place finish at Torrey Pines was evidence that he’s back to feeling confident with the game.
A return to Texas, on a golf course that he’s played well on multiple occasions, could spark a charge at his fourth PGA Tour title, and could give us a good run for our money at 90/1.