The PGA TOUR returns to the Golf Club of Houston this week but there is a lot of variables that have shifted since the last time it hosted.
First, this event was last played here in 2018 but it was not played last season. That is similar to the recent Greenbrier event.
Grabbing a fall spot in the schedule, the strength of field looks quite different. Golfers are no longer using this as a springboard into the Masters. That also adds a lot of question marks about how the course will be set up but more on that in the course section.
The field sits at 140 golfers but that will get capped out at 144 golfers once the Monday Qualifier is complete. The top 65 and ties will play the weekend.
The Golf Club of Houston will play the role of host venue one last time. It's been hosting since the 2003 edition with the first three years being played at the Member Course before moving over to the Tournament Course.
The event will move to Memorial Park in 2020 which has hosted this event 14 times but not since 1963.
Back to the GC of Houston, this course is par 72 that stretches out past 7,400 yards. There are five par 4s over 460 yards so don't forget to bring your driver.
In year's past this event was played right before the Masters and the grounds crew did their best to get golfers ready for the test. There are a lot of variables that could change this time around (mowing patterns, lack of overseed, green speeds, October weather, etc.).
The course will be the same in terms of sightlines and the large number of hazards in play. You can't afford to let your mind slip at all because there is at least one shot you need to fully commit to on nearly every hole.
There are four par 5s on the course but don't expect another shootout like we saw last week in Las Vegas. The field averages just 0.19 eagles per 72 holes here at the GC of Houston which puts it in the bottom five in terms of courses that are on the annual rota (Colonial, Innisbrook, Old White TPC, and PGA National).
Historically, this is an event that gets hit with windy conditions. Surprise, surprise, we are in Texas. The average winds sit at 14 MPH over the last five editions which is one of the 10 windiest. We will definitely want to keep an eye on the weather forecast because a new date on the calendar could change the amount of wind they see.
For turf, golfers will see bermudagrass which presumably won't be overseeded this year. That's a change from year's past but I will update here if I read or hear differently before Thursday. The greens have typically run at 12 to 13 feet on the stimpmeter but an educated guess would probably have that falling closer to 12 feet this year.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Johnson Wagner: "I hit a draw, right to left shot. And I think this golf course favors that. "
Phil Mickelson: "The rope is at 300 yards or so off the tee, everything pitches in here and every tee shot has a hazard in play. I’ve been in every single hazard on this golf course over the years. I know exactly where they are. To play this course effectively, you got to hit a lot of 3-woods, play more defensive."
Scott Piercy: "The wind here is so heavy since we’re at sea level. If it’s blowing 10 miles an hour, it plays probably close to 20 yards worth"
Keegan Bradley: "It’s a big golf course. All the par-5s are reachable for the most part for the longer players. Shorter players can’t really get to these par-5s. Lot of drivers, big greens. "
J.B. Holmes: "I think this course in general can favor long hitters. It’s pretty long out there, it gets windy, and some of those holes could be difficult. I would say it would favor the long hitters."
Overview: There are mixed reviews about correct driver strategy. Mickelson says you need to lay back here but lots of others say they like to bomb drivers here. A few golfers say that it favors a right-to-left ball flight and wind is usually an issue to deal with.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Quail Hollow (Wells Fargo)
TPC Southwind (WGC-St Jude)
TPC Sawgrass (PLAYERS)
Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invite)
East Lake (TOUR Championship)
The main theme is bermudagrass turf with hole-by-hole yardages that force you to hit a few more mid irons that usual.
Thursday: Cloudy with a high of 86 degrees. Winds at 7 to 12 MPH.
Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 87 degrees. Winds at 6 to 10 MPH.
It's a little early to rely on the wind forecasts for the week. For example, one of the sites I use says we should expect winds at 15 to 20 on Friday but the others suggest 6 to 10 MPH. We will see which one weighs out as the event draws nearer.
Golfers to Watch
He's the headliner in this field and it's easy to see why he showed up. Stensin has four finishes of T6 or better in seven tries at this event. It will also help him pad his start totals early because we know he always flirts with the minimum of 15 by season's end.
Not getting the love of bookmakers right now (around 45 to 60/1) but I'd expect that number to drop before the event starts. Griffin arrives with four straight top 20s to start the season and he's been incredibly consistent since his win on the Korn Ferry Tour in April. That win came at The Senator Course in Alabama which is another long course with bermuda turf.
Still searching for his lost upside but the results are getting closer. Should enjoy this week's course which shares a lot of similarities with TPC Southwind which is the site of his two wins. Both have bermuda turf and a lot of water. Berger is 4-for-4 in Houston with a pair of top 5s.
The Dallas native won't be too far from home this week. He won twice last year on the Korn Ferry Tour and is off to a fast start with two top 20s in three starts this season.
A course horse at GC of Houston, this will be his last chance to make his mark. Henley is 6-for-6 here with a win and four other top 10s. The problem? He's been outside the top 20 after each of his last 20 rounds played on TOUR. He's made seven straight cuts but the top-heavy finishes just haven't been there. Could this course be the cure?
When talking about Houston two years ago he had this to say, "It’s home. I have a great support here in Houston, have a lot of friends that come and watch. It’s always good vibes in this place." How has the home cooking translated to results? Well, he's 6-for-8 with six of his finishes have landed outside of the top 50. He has trouble avoiding the big numbers here but there is some upside hidden in the poor history.
It's been ages now since a Latin American won on TOUR (three weeks ago). Niemann and Munoz sparked the fire and Ortiz might still be riding the motivation train. The Dallas resident is 0-for-2 at this course, though, with MCs in 2015 and 2016.
Lost seven strokes tee-to-green in his return to action last week but he did gain 1.2 strokes on approach. A lot of rust but not a disaster. Gamers should monitor closely and be ready to reinvest if those tee-to-green numbers return to his career baseline.
Ranking the Field
1. Henrik Stenson
2. Scottie Scheffler
3. Denny McCarthy
4. Sebastian Munoz
5. Daniel Berger
6. Lanto Griffin
7. Bud Cauley
8. Xinjun Zhang
9. D.J. Trahan
10. Carlos Ortiz
11. Tom Lewis
12. Pat Perez
13. Matt Jones
14. Harris English
15. Russell Henley
16. Keegan Bradley
17. Cameron Champ
18. Doc Redman
19. Joseph Bramlett
20. Russell Knox
Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our DFS Dish and Wednesday morning for the Expert Picks.