The Confidence Factor: Houston Open 2018

This is a week for “lasts”.

Last chance to get in the Masters.

Last chance for prep for those already in.

Last chance to play this event? Without a sponsor, who knows?

2018 Houston Open

Golf Club of Houston

Humble, Texas


Yards: 7,441 per the official scorecard

Par: 72 (36-36)

Greens: Tifeagle Bermudagrass; 6,950 square feet on average; running 12′ on the Stimpmeter.

Rough: Bermudagrasss, ryegrass at 1.25″

Bunkers: 60

Water Hazards: 8

Course Architect(s): Rees Jones, David Toms (2006)

Purse: $7 million; $1.26 million (winner); 500 FedExCup Points;

Defending Champion:  Russell Henley shot 65 on Sunday to come from behind and defeat Sung Kang by three shots.


  • 144 players; stroke play
  • top 70 and ties make the cut
  • WINNER ONLY gets a trip to the Masters next week, if not yet qualified.


2017-18 Winners Brendan Steele

CIMB: Pat Perez

WGC-HSBC: Justin Rose

Sanderson Farms: Ryan Armour*

Shriners: Patrick Cantlay*

OHL Mayakoba: Patton Kizzire*

RSM Classic: #- Austin Cook*

Sentry TOC: Dustin Johnson

Sony Open: Patton Kizzire (2)

CB Challenge: Jon Rahm

Farmers: Jason Day

WMPO: Gary Woodland

AT&T Pebble Beach: Ted Potter, Jr.

Genesis Open: Bubba Watson

Honda: Justin Thomas (2)

WGC-MC: Phil Mickelson

Valspar: Paul Casey

API: Rory McIlroy

Corales Puntacana: Brice Garnett*

WGC-Match Play: Bubba Watson (2)

*- First-time winner

#- Rookie


The Particulars:


Previous Champions

(since moving to Golf Club of Houston in 2006)

2017: Russell Henley, -20

2016: #- Jim Herman, -15

2015: J.B. Holmes, -16*

2014: Matt Jones, -16*

2013: D.A. Points, -15

2012: Hunter Mahan, -16

2011: Phil Mickelson, -20

2010: #- Anthony Kim, -12*

2009: #- Paul Casey, -11*

2008: Johnson Wagner, -16

2007: #- Adam Scott, -17

2006: #- Stuart Appleby -19


#-not playing this week


Facts and Figures:

  • Tournament record: 268; Phil Mickelson (2011).
  • Course Record: 63; Sung Kang (2017), Scott Piercy (2015), Jimmy Walker (2011), Phil Mickelson (2011), Adam Scott (2008) and Johnson Wagner (2008).
  • Defending champ: None since moving to GCH as Jim Herman MC last year.
  • Multiple Winners: None since moving to GCH.
  • Maiden PGA Tour Win: Jim Herman (2016), Matt Jones (2014), Paul Casey (2009) and Johnson Wagner (2008).
  • First Time at Event: Adam Scott (2007) and Paul Casey (2009).
  • Bogey-free rounds: Too many to count last year but Michael Thompson played the last two rounds without one.
  • Low round of 2017: 63; Kang.
  • Americans Winners: Seven of the last eight.
  • International Winners: Matt Jones, Australia, is the only one in the last eight.
  • Only Euro Winner: Casey.
  • Rookie Studs: Mackenzie Hughes, T23. Gulp.


The Field


in order of preference for this week and this tournament


Justin Rose: Currently the warmest player in the field with three top-10 checks in his last four. His only misstep was in Mexico City (T37) but back in Florida he perked right back up. He played in the final group at Valspar (T5) and was in the final three of the day at Bay Hill, cashing solo third. I like that he doesn’t have to remember to forget Pete Dye stuff this week. He took last week off to retool.

Phil Mickelson: I’ll never say anything negative about match play moving forward. It’s completely different than four rounds of stroke play so don’t equate the two. Mickelson had four top-six finishes before not advancing from his group. He didn’t have to grind out 2 or 3 more matches and should be ready to add to his 2011 title.

Henrik Stenson: This can be his time of year as we’ve seen with recent results at Valspar and Bay Hill over the years. He never plays the Match Play and passed on Mexico City after a, ahem, “tourista” bout last year. In six starts at GCH he’s hit the podium three times. The good news for gamers it appears to an every-other-year deal and this is the GOOD YEAR. He couldn’t hold the 54-hole lead at Bay Hill an finished fourth but I’m not concerned.

Russell Henley: If you’re familiar with Stenson’s history and think that’s excellent then Henley’s will blow you away. He’s played the last five years and is 57-under-par with a win and three other top-10 checks. I’d add up his birdies and bogeys but the results suggest you already know the answer to this question. He’s entered this event the last three years with ZERO form so I’m unconcerned.

Jordan Spieth: As he grows up before our eyes we need to start paying attention on 2.0. The first edition was get into every event, play like hell and see what happens. He then won a pair of majors in quick succession, gained sponsors and rocketed to stardom. There are courses I believe he doesn’t particularly care for but needs to play to satisfy sponsors (AT&T Byron Nelson) or to keep up with the Jones (WGC-Match Play). I’m including this even moving forward. He has the talent to show up and win so he gets the benefit of the doubt. He did say before the event last year that the greens here are very nice but let’s not get carried away. It’s not Augusta. After adding another major to his mantle last year, I’m not arguing with him. With one top-10 check in 2018 in full-field events. I’m waiting until next week.

Rickie Fowler: Speaking of guys who aren’t firing on all cylinders currently, Fowler qualifies. The good news/bad news for gamers is that he’s hit the top 10 in three of his last four here. It’s going to be hard to look away from his first round lead of 64 last year and 27 birdies but that’s what separates the good from the great. He was first in ball-striking here in 2016 so I’d say this track fits his eye. Remember, he was an early WD from Match Play and kept this event on his schedule. There’s my evidence.

Luke List: Here we go again with course form intersecting with current form. List only played three matches last week before heading out of his first WGC-Match Play. I remember he lost to Justin Thomas 2 & 1 putting with a sand wedge. HIT IT CLOSE MUCH, DUDE? List was third here last year and only squared four bogeys (no others) to lead the field. He hasn’t cashed for worse than T26 in his last five stroke-play events and will continue the trend of the 30-something daydreamer picking up win No. 1 on TOUR at this event.

Charles Howell III: This is a recording. If he’s in the field before Memorial Day, play him. For the second year in a row he won his group at Match Play as a massive underdog. With three top 10’s in his last five attempts here just pour more gasoline on the fire. The Augusta native is well aware that the only way for him to play his hometown event is to win this week.

Matt Kuchar: He made birdies for fun last week and has rattled off 24 events in a row without packing up early. Interesting enough his last quickie was here last year! He keeps it between the yellow lines, hits plenty of GIR and putts Bermuda for fun.

Steve Stricker: Sadly for his comrades on the PGATOUR Champions there’s not an event this week. With Stricker out of their remaining hair, no telling who could have picked up a nice annuity. Stricker has played three events on the senior circuit and finished T2, WIN and WIN. Two of those wins are in March so there’s no questions with his form. His worst finish in three TOUR starts in 2018 is T31. Don’t be AGEIST!


Next Tier

no particular order

J.B. Holmes: Last year (MC) was the exception to the rule as it broke up a string of four top 12’s in his last five tries including his win and two other top 10’s. There’s no doubt he knows how to get it around GCH and this might exactly be what he needs to kick-start his spring. He’s a must in any deep formats.

Rafael Cabrera-Bello: He played his last 40 holes bogey-free in 2016 to cash solo fourth. Last year he posted 75-74 and MC. Sometimes maybe good. Sometimes maybe shit. His worst finish in 2018 worldwide is T40 and he hasn’t MC. Safe.

Daniel Berger: I think there’s value here because of his bombing out of Match Play. Before not winning a group match he finished T29 or better in five of six stroke play events. Toss in he’s 32-under here in three trips (T25, T5 and fifth in 2017) and he’ll fit in nicely wherever. Remember, he’s won back-to-back at TPC Southwind so I’m leaning on that angle here.

Tony Finau: Based on class alone he should be in the top 10. Based on his tendency to be a bit crooked off the tee, he falls here. He’ll need a great week with the putter to beat this expectation but I’m guessing he might have one wandering eye on his first trip to Augusta. Too much talent to omit.

Emiliano Grillo: I should probably move him up as well as he didn’t fire last week as a very solid favorite at Corales. He’s an ambassador of that event and I always wonder how the FIRST TIME that wears on a guy. Remember, that was the FIRST TOUR event and that’ a big deal. Grillo ground out a made cut, his 10th in a row in 2018, and navigated windy conditions for T50, his worst finish so far in that stretch.

Byeong Hun An: Ok, I’m trying to stash him but maybe I should do so in broad daylight. If he ever put together four rounds we’d all be rich but with T23 or better in three of his last four, I’m swallowing the hook again. He’s never played this track so maybe a fresh look will push him over the top. Or he might post two great rounds and two blah rounds and T34.

Harris English: Quietly cashed T5 last week in the Dominican Republic after T22 at Bay Hill suggests he’s warming up with the weather. The last time I jumped on a streak of his (T11-T8) I was smacked down with MC. With eight consecutive rounds in the red, I’m going back in!

Chris Kirk: He’s just nibbling here and there but only has one round over par in his last nine. He’s won at Colonial and finished second here so “Texas Golf” doesn’t bother him. He’s not going to bomb-and-gouge the place but he has some very solid metrics in the strokes-gained realm that don’t push me away.

William McGirt: Steady tee-to-green and just as steady on them, McGirt has been flirting with putting four rounds together. His course form here will turn everyone off but I’ll point out his 27th in scoring.

Keegan Bradley: He’s trending in the right direction and even had a decent week at Match Play. His putter will test the theory this week if these hole locations are in “funnels”. His ball-striking is what attracts me.

Off the Beaten Path

Course horses, long shots, cheeky picks, DFS last call, red herrings

Scott Piercy: Anybody who owns part of the course record should get a look. He sits 39th in both GIR and birdie average plus he’s never MC in six previous starts here. His last three have all registered T21 or better. Now about turning up the heat up on his putter…

Jhonattan Vegas: He’s opened with 69 or better the last four years here and is trending in a perfect direction (T72, T55, T19 and T15). He’ll have no problem if the wind picks up or if the course plays long and wet.

Ryan Palmer: Lightly raced after his T2 at FIO and wonderfully all-or-nothing here, he makes for an excellent late edition.

Rory Sabbatini: He’s reeled off eight weekends from his last eight but has never played GCH at this event. I believe hot golf is hot golf regardless of track and the Texan will handle the elements just fine.

Bud Cauley: Every week until he wins and then every week after that. His return at Valspar after his WD at Honda didn’t go according to plan but how many noticed he was T14 at API? That was with 73 on Sunday as well…

Andrew Putnam: He was the 36-hole leader here in 2015 after opening 67-65. He’s coming his best result of the season (T5) last week at Corales and first top 10 anywhere since last June. #GiddyUp.

Sean O’Hair: He’s posted T12 at Innisbrook and T7 at Bay Hill in his last two. He’s won at Valspar and dueled with Woods at API and finished second. He does have a top-10 finish at GCH (T10) in 2016. Groovy.

Dominic Bozzelli: T31 or better in his last three starts on TOUR for the second-year pro. He ranks 206th in GIR but is a lights-out putter. Give to get.

Abraham Ancer: His last two have gone for T16 at Valspar and T13 at Corales. I’ve gone out on worse limbs. Check his finishes next to Conners. Interesting.

Jason Kokrak: He would totally qualify in the Jones/Herman mold as a steady TOUR pro who finally breaks through. He has plenty of firepower to eat up the distance and hits plenty of GIR. He’s cashed in 10 of 12 and has three top 10’s already. Move him up unless that 82 from last year scares you off…

Chris Stroud: He raised over $1.4 million for Houston after the hurricanes. If the GOLF GODS exist, they’ll be worth a couple of shots this week.

Brandt Snedeker: He’s never made the cut but his last trip was 2013. He was one shot out of the lead at Valspar before fading with 78. He MC at Bay Hill after opening with 77. I’m leaning on a major adjustment in a positive way this week, just not rushing him to the front of the line. He’s not playing next week either.

Corey Conners: Once he learns how to close the deal on one of these, look out. Whatever you do, do NOT look at his final round scoring average. Take what you get here and kill the expectations but I’m not waiting for the breakthrough.

Grayson Murray: He’s rolled into the weekend in nine of 11 and his last two cuts made have been his best. Sandwiched between T8 and T14 are a pair of MC. I’m betting on a buncha birdies.

Tyrone Van Aswegen: Six straight on TOUR. Six straight GCH. Lovely outsider.



injured, rusty or not the track this week

Chez Reavie: His recent form has gone ice cold but he’s in the Masters. You can break him out of his mini-slump.

Martin Kaymer: He’s back this week after missing a few events with a wrist injury. I’ll let you knock the rust off.

Ian Poulter: He needed to make the semifinal of WGC-Match Play to get into the Masters. He didn’t. Now he has to WIN the tournament this week. I’d point out he’s posted two rounds of 12 in the 60’s in stroke-play events on TOUR in 2018. #Dos.

Shane Lowry: His best finish on TOUR in seven events in 2018 is T43.

Lee Westwood: MC, MC, T-11 and T40 in his last four worldwide hardly inspires. His MC-MC-MC the last three years at GCH doesn’t either. Only rookie gamers will lean on familiar names while pros will rely on results.


If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out

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