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The PGA TOUR heads to Texas for the first of five events to be played in the Lone Star State this season.
There is just one more official FedExCup event on the fall schedule so it's time to pack on the points before the holidays.
Carlos Ortiz will serve as the defending champion this week after winning last year's edition with a 13-under 267 tally which was two shots better than the closest chasers, Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama.
Let's hop right in and talk about the host course.
The host venue this week is Memorial Park Golf Course.
This course is a John Bredemus design (1936) but it was completely renovated by Tom Doak in 2019 and we saw that renovated version in competition for the first time last year.
Memorial Park is not too tight off the tee and there are just 17 bunkers on the entire course. That allows golfers to grip it and rip it off the tee but it doesn't mean they can do so without penalty.
A combination of bermudagrass rough and young, firm, bermuda greens makes it tough to land greens in regulation if you are trying to attack from off the fairway.
The greens are larger than TOUR-average (7,000 square feet) but heavily undulated so even some shots that initially land on the green can get unfavorable rolls that trickle off into the rough or even worse (water).
What about the overall length of the course? During tournament week it plays as a par 70 that stretches out to 7,412 yards. That is very long by par-70 standards. It's not a traditional layout, either, as there are three par 5s and five par 3s.
Five of the par 4s playing over 490 yards. Two of the par 3s play over 215 yards. All three of the par 5s play over 575 yards. That is very beefy and golfers will need to be dial in with their mid and long irons or have the scrambling weeks of their life if they want to contend this week.
As you might expect with all that length, the course played very tough last year. Only 37 golfers ended the week in red numbers.
The course has had one more year to mature, which can help with the firmness of the greens on a freshly renovated course, but we should still expect this to be a tough test for the field this week.
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Quotes on the Course
Adam Scott: "The course is relentless. It's just demanding off the tee. It requires something long and straight, and then you must hit the green in the right spot, too, especially the 9th hole. Dustin's ball was on the green for a good 10 seconds today and ended up in the water, so you have to be very precise on some of them. The challenge is all around the greens, the course is still kind of growing in and that's making it very difficult from down in the low areas around the greens. You know, you just have to get a little bit creative this week and somehow get it up on the green and try and save your par."
Scottie Scheffler: "I think the golf course kind of forces you into being patient just because you can't really miss too many greens. Around the greens out here is very, very difficult to get up and down and you can get into some spots where you start playing ping pong across these greens, it's brutal. Fairways and greens is definitely at a premium this
Dustin Johnson: "The greens got a lot of slope and undulation in them, so you've got to hit it in the right spots if you want to have any kind of look at birdie. If you miss greens, you're going to have a really tough time making pars, especially if you're in the wrong spot. So yeah, I mean, the golf course, I think it's going to play fairly difficult. It's a long golf course, you hit a lot of mid to long irons. You don't get many wedges in your hand out here."
Brooks Koepka: "I know this golf course is quite difficult. It's quite long. You'll see some high numbers especially if the wind gets up, it kind of resembles a little bit of a U.S. Open I think some people would say, which I feel like I've done pretty good at."
Cam Davis: "The penalty for just missing on the wrong side becomes really big because the ball just rolls away. It's been a while since I've played a course on Tour that's really done that and it's great, it reminds me a lot of back in Australia."
We have just one year of data to look at but I plugged in the top performers from last year and these were the courses that showed the highest consistency of crossover success:
These courses don't fit every checkbox but I think the themes this week are long courses, bermudagrass, and heavily undulated greens.
Thursday: Partly Cloudy with a high of 78 degrees. Winds at 8 to 12 MPH.
Friday: Sunny with a high of 74 degrees. Winds at 6 to 10 MPH.
As of Monday, there is a chance of a late-night storm on Wednesday night to soften the course for Thursday morning but otherwise, it looks pretty dry this week. There is no major wind in the forecast but this is Texas so don't be surprised if that changes as we near closer to the first tee time.
Golfers to Watch
It's a home game for the Houston resident this week. He didn't play here last year but should feel somewhat comfortable playing so close to home. Reed has just one top 55 in his last four starts so his game is not exactly in peak form. The beautiful thing about the Texan is that once he finds something, he can string together good rounds quickly, as evidenced by his "out of nowhere" runner-up finish just two starts ago at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship.
The Texan tossed together a Sunday 66 last week to squeak out a top-5 finish at Mayakoba. Scheffler played at Memorial Park last year and it was a boom-or-bust type of week as he gained 5.2 strokes over the field on day one but lost 5.4 strokes over the next two rounds. He closed with a 65 which was nearly four shots better than the field average.
The Oklahoma State product was in solo second thru 54 holes last week before fading to 11th on Sunday at Mayakoba. It was a disappointing finish but he now has four straight finishes of T11 or better to start the new season. Combine that with a top 5 finish at Memorial Park last year and we should expect him to be a very trendy pick at this week's Houston Open.
The Aussie is quickly falling down the OWGR board and he now finds himself at just 90th in the world. He hasn't been outside of the OWGR Top 100 since the middle of 2010. Looking at the quote from Cam Davis on page one, he said that Memorial Park reminds him of playing back in Australia and Day supported that last year with a T7 finish. Perhaps this will be a good venue for him to get back on track.
The Houston resident played at Memorial Park last year and put on a ball-striking clinic but gave nearly all of it back with his short game. Vegas gained 4.4 strokes off-the-tee and 2.1 strokes on approach but lost 3 strokes around-the-green and lost another 1.9 strokes putting. He didn't crack my top 20 list below but he is a name that wouldn't be too surprising if he popped for a round or two this week.
Ranking the Field
1. Sam Burns
2. Scottie Scheffler
3. Cameron Smith
4. Tyrrell Hatton
5. Sungjae Im
6. Tony Finau
7. Talor Gooch
8. Adam Scott
9. Brooks Koepka
10. Shane Lowry
11. Aaron Wise
12. Joaquin Niemann
13. Christiaan Bezuidenhout
14. Matthew Wolff
15. Patrick Reed
16. Carlos Ortiz
17. Taylor Moore
18. Seamus Power
19. Ian Poulter
20. Marc Leishman