Picks and tips for the Houston Open

Will Gray
·5 min read

The Masters is around the corner, and we're talking about the Houston Open. Just like old times!

Yes, the calendar has shifted from April to November, and yes, this year's event features a new host course (Memorial Park GC) after a long run across town at the GC of Houston. But the cadence of players trekking from Houston toward Magnolia Lane offers at least a semblance of normalcy to an otherwise chaotic 2020 calendar.

A total of 38 players are in the field this week have also qualified for the Masters, a group that is headlined by world No. 1 Dustin Johnson as he makes his first start since a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. He last teed it up at the U.S. Open, where he finished T-6, and oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook have installed him as a +700 betting favorite this week.

But Johnson's price feels a little short given the unknowns about his game, so here's a look at a few other players I have circled to potentially take the title in Houston:

To Win (odds via PointsBet)

Tyrrell Hatton (+1600): With Johnson out ahead of him and prices crashing on red-hot Russell Henley (+1800), it seems like there's some value on the Englishman. Hatton has won twice this year, including his maiden PGA Tour triumph at Bay Hill and a win at the European Tour's flagship event last month. He's one of the best players in the world this year and certainly one of the best ball-strikers, having finished second in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green a couple weeks ago at the CJ Cup. There he finished T-3, his seventh result of T-6 or better this year, and this week he doesn't have to overcome any course history advantage some of his American counterparts might have otherwise had at their disposal. Hatton is shaping up to be a popular sleeper next week at Augusta National, but he may add to his trophy collection before he gets there.

Doc Redman (+5000): So close. Redman got within reach of his first win last week in Bermuda, holding a 54-hole lead and shooting a respectable 69 in the final round. While that wasn't enough to keep pace with Brian Gay, it's further evidence that a breakthrough is fast approaching for the former U.S. Amateur champ. Redman continues to be a strong ball-striker, ranking 24th this season in SG: Tee-to-Green, but he has especially picked things up around the greens as he ranks 10th on Tour in Scrambling. Now with three finishes of T-4 or better in his last six starts, he's got ample momentum and a strong performance history on Bermuda grass - look no further than his T-3 finish at the Wyndham Championship in August on a layout that could offer some correlation to Memorial Park.

Denny McCarthy (+6600): Like Redman, McCarthy heads to Houston looking for his first win on the heels of a T-4 finish in Bermuda. His route to that result included a final-round 63, as McCarthy basically presents the inverse case study to Redman: a traditionally elite putter who is starting to piece together a reliable long game. McCarthy also finished T-6 last month at the Sanderson Farms and is now getting hot in the fall for the second straight year. Last year he strung together a run of five top-20 finishes in six fall starts, a stretch that included a T-9 in Houston at the previous venue. Like Redman, he played well at Sedgefield and McCarthy is currently fifth on Tour in Par-5 performance. That could prove especially handy on this week's par-72 layout that includes five par-5 holes instead of the usual four.

Top-10 finishes (odds via PointsBet)

Zach Johnson (+380): Johnson is likely to pop up on a few longshot lists next week as he returns to the site of his first major win back in 2007, but he's worth a nibble this week as well. The veteran bottomed out two years ago but appears to be on the comeback trail, matching his typically trusty putter with some resurgent ball-striking numbers. Johnson ranks 16th on Tour in total strokes gained this season and has run off four top-25 finishes in his last five starts, including three in a row. The surprising form he showed at Winged Foot (T-13) carried over to Sanderson Farms (T-23) and Shriners (T-19), and at age 44 he could potentially become the latest beneficiary of a recent trend that has seen the over-40 crowd shine brightly on Tour in the new wraparound season.

Lee Westwood (+650): Continuing the trend of veterans that could surprise, Westwood has been rock-solid since the break on both sides of the Atlantic. The Englishman had a run of six straight top-20s snapped in his most recent start at the Italian Open, where he only fell to T-30. At this point in his career Westwood plays sparingly in the U.S., but he did play well at Winged Foot (T-13) and has often used Houston as a warm-up for the Masters. He may have his eye on next week's major, but his reliable recent form suggests he won't need much to go his way to earn a spot on the leaderboard over the weekend.

Phil Mickelson (+750): It's a risk, sure, but one worth taking at this price. Mickelson has three top-10 finishes this year (not including his PGA Tour Champions success), and all three basically came out of nowhere. The most recent is an especially helpful data point: he came into the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, played the week before a major, without any momentum and he left with a T-2 finish. Lefty has proven in recent months that, while his game is rarely on with any consistency, he usually contends when the pieces do fall into place. This week's venue will offer generous landing areas off the tee and will put an emphasis on performance on and around the greens, both of which should favor Mickelson's boom-or-bust skillset.

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