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The 3 best fantasy picks for the 2018 Houston Open

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The calm before the storm. The Golf Club of Houston Tournament Course hosts the Houston Open this week, the final event before the year’s first major. For the 19 players already in the field at Augusta, this will be their final tune up. The task for the rest of the field is simple; if they want to play in the Masters, they must win here.

The Houston Open has an underwhelming slot on the schedule, yet it’s an event that has made the most of that. The course is set up in some ways to replicate the challenge that next week will provide with short rough off the fairway and Bentgrass greens. Last year, Russell Henley stormed home with a final-round 65 to post 20-under par and defeat Sung Kang by three strokes.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Rose 10/1
  • Rickie Fowler 10/1
  • Jordan Spieth 11/1
  • Phil Mickelson 11/1
  • Henrik Stenson 12/1
  • Daniel Berger 28/1
  • Luke List 28/1

With Augusta on the minds of many of the top players in the field this week, my strategy here is to look for sleepers. That’s not to say that one of the players from the top of the board isn’t worth backing, but with their high prices I’d be wary of them having one eye on next week. For example, Phil Mickelson who won here in 2011, but he has consistently played this event throughout his career as his final preparation for Augusta. Mickelson has stated that he uses this tournament as a competitive warm-up for Augusta National, taking driver on holes that he wouldn’t usually if he only had designs on winning the Houston Open.

Brandt Snedeker (80/1, DK Price $8,000) is one of those players in danger of missing the year’s first major. An injury riddled 2017 has seen him slide down the rankings, and he’s now in a position where he must win here to play in the Masters. Snedeker hasn’t played the Houston Open since 2013, and seeing him in the field this year proves just how desperate he is to drive down Magnolia Lane next week.

This year has been a mixed bag for Snedeker so far. Back-to-back top-25 finishes at Waste Management Phoenix Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am looked to set him up nicely for the year, and he was right in the thick of it on Sunday afternoon at Valspar before a dismal final round sent him tumbling down the leaderboard. Despite that, there is enough to suggest that Snedeker can play well this week.

The Houston Open is an event that you can always count on getting quite a bit of wind, and in those conditions there aren’t many better than Snedeker, who shot a final-round 69 at Torrey Pines two years ago in conditions akin to a hurricane. If this course is to be used as a corollary to Augusta National, then that’s also a positive. Snedeker has a fine record at Augusta, where he has recorded five top-20 finishes in his 10 visits.

Despite missing two of his last three cuts, Snedeker is in the top third of the field for every major Strokes Gained category over his last 12 rounds, and he continues to putt as reliably as ever. He’s shown recently that his game is good enough to get into contention, and Bentgrass greens may play a huge factor this week. It’s the first time this year on Tour that players will putt on Bentgrass, and Snedeker over his last 50 rounds is ranked third for Strokes Gained Putting on them. The narrative sets up nicely for the Nashville native, and his price of 80/1 is more than acceptable.

Despite a little drop in form over the past couple of weeks, Scott Piercy (90/1, DK Price $7,500) has made an impressive start to 2018. With four top-25 finishes from his seven events played, it’s a little surprising that his price isn’t shorter this week. The reason I believe it should be lies directly in his form on the course. Scott has two top-25 finishes and one top-10 here in his last three visits. Whatever it is about this course, it fits his eye and he’ll be looking to add another impressive finish here this week.

Piercy’s 2018 has seen him produce sublime play from tee to green. In his last 24 rounds, the man from Las Vegas is No. 1 in the field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, sixth for Strokes Gained Tee to Green, and fourth for Ball Striking. The bad news is that the putter has been cold. On the greens, Piercy has lost strokes to the field in all but one of his events in 2018. It’s the only thing preventing him from getting into contention more often. Over his last 24 rounds, Piercy is 88th in Strokes Gained Putting in the field. But a return to Bentgrass greens could be just what gets him going. In his last 12 rounds on Bentgrass, he sits in the top third in the field for Strokes Gained Putting. Look for Scott to putt better this week, and if he does so then he should go well here in Houston.

Another player in sneaky good form is Sean O’Hair (100/1, DK Price $7,200). The likeable Texan backed up a T12 at Valspar with a T7 at Bay Hill. He now comes to his home state full of confidence and a course that he has played well in the past. Two years ago he posted a top-10 finish, and this year he’s coming in with his game seemingly in better shape.

Before the odds were revealed I was hoping to see his latest form go a little unnoticed, and the three-figure price available this week suggests that it has. Over his last eight rounds, O’Hair is sharp in all departments of his game. He ranks fifth in Strokes Gained Off the Tee, third in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 12th in Ball Striking and 20th for his Short Game. All of this means that he is fourth in Strokes Gained Total and has been a huge success for DraftKings players, where he has gained the second most points in the field for his last two events.

O’Hair is another man that should be excited to get back onto Bentgrass greens. In his last 50 rounds on all surfaces, he ranks an average 78th in the field for Strokes Gained Putting. Yet, when you narrow this down to his performance solely on Bentgrass, he ranks 11th over the same period. He’s another I expect to see putt well this week, and I feel he offers the best value of the week.

Recommended Plays

  • Brandt Snedeker 80/1, DK Price $8,000
  • Scott Piercy 90/1, DK Price $7,500
  • Sean O’Hair 100/1, DK Price $7,200
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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: The University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Georgia

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member thejuice, who takes us to The University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Georgia. Robert Trent Jones, Sr designed the course, and in thejuice’s detailed description of the track, he highlights the excellent challenge provided, as well as the facilities on hand for you to have a great experience.

“This is a RTJ, Sr course design at its best.  It’s LONG and tough with what seems like 18 elevated greens (I exaggerate, but there are quite a few), and the greens all have their own personality.  It’s always maintained VERY well, and the staff is super friendly.  They have coupon deals regularly that allow golf with a cart for under $35, which makes it a complete steal. 

 To top all of that off, you’re right next to campus and near downtown Athens, which is the perfect spot for some good eats and drinks post-round.  My group made it a weekend trip where we paired it with rounds at the Georgia Club and Hamilton Mill on the way back into Atlanta.  It was an awesome weekend!!!!”

According to The University of Georgia Golf Course’s website, 18 holes can be played midweek for $42.50, while the rate rises to $49 if you want to play on the weekend.

@PDScopiers

@PDScopiers

@PDScopier

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: Roseland Golf and Curling Club in Windsor, Ontario

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member tommg, who takes us to Roseland Golf and Curling Club in Windsor, Ontario. The course has previously featured on the Mackenzie Tour, and in tommg’s description of the track, he praises the fact that it is a course full of the characteristics that you would expect from a Donald Ross designed course.

“Classic Donald Ross built in 1928. Very flat besides the elevated greens, but all holes surround by mature trees. Always in very good condition. Extensive renovations in the last couple of years to bring it back to the original Ross design.

Hosted MacKenzie tour a few years ago. Being a muni it can get a tad slow on weekends. When you get to the huge oak on #11 look to your left and wave, I may wave back.”

According to Roseland Golf and Curling Club’s website, 18 holes can be played for $44 on both weekdays and weekends.

@WalkingGolferMW

@WalkingGolferMW

@WalkingGolferMW

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Equipment

Bargain Challenge 2: Putting together a $500 set of clubs for a mid-handicapper

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Last week, I posted about what clubs you can get with $500. I built a set that I would use myself to show that even golfers with particular specs can find what they want for a decent price. Overall the feedback on the post was good, but I did want to follow up since one of the commenters put me up to a challenge. See below.

Well alright James, challenge accepted.

Challenge: A set of mid-handicap clubs with stiff shafts for less than $500.

Driver

Since I was going to be building a set of a mid-handicapper, my goal was to find a driver that got solid distance, but was also forgiving. I found this R9 460 in 10.5 degrees for $65. While the paint has seen better days, this should perform exactly how we want it to. Plus it is adjustable.

Wood

The 3-wood search stumped me for a bit. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to go with. I knew I didn’t want a strong three wood and I knew I needed something with forgiveness. After some searching I found a Ping K15 16 degree with a stiff shaft. While the loft is higher, I have found that many higher handicap amateurs can find good use out of a higher lofted 3-wood. On top of that, the K15 is an incredibly easy to hit and forgiving head.

Hybrid

I knew what most mid-handicappers would have a hard time hitting a 2 or 3-iron, so my mind immediately went to a 3-iron hybrid. After some searching, I stumbled on this Ping Rapture V2 with a stiff shaft. Historically, the Raptures have been really easy to hit which makes this a great addition to the bag.

Irons

I had the hardest time in this entire process finding irons. There were just too many to choose from. You had great player irons like the Ping S57 and you also had the super game improvement Adams irons. To find something slightly more in the middle, but still easy to hit, I went with the 2012 TaylorMade CBs. A great year for TaylorMade irons and easy to hit with the irons only going down to the 4. This is where someone can have some fun with their choices if they want.

Wedges

Wedge shopping was still hard this time around. Since the PW in the iron set was strong, I knew I needed a stronger gap wedge. I found a Callaway X-Jaws 50-degree for $24. Really, the entire point of the 50 is to have another iron and bridge the gap to the sand wedge. Speaking of the sand wedge, I went with the 56-degree Ping Gorge SS wedge. It has good grooves and will get the job done around the greens. For the lob wedge, I went with the Cleveland RTX 2.0 60 degree: A really solid wedge with good groves to give you the zip you need around the greens.

Putter

And finally, I went with another great blade putter for $55. Honestly, there were a lot of different options in the range from mallets to blades, so don’t be afraid to search around.

Total

In summary, anyone and any skill level and swing speed can find something in the used market. In fact, it was even easier to find clubs in stiff than X-stiff because most X-stiff clubs are custom and are in less demand making, them more rare and expensive than stiff clubs. Take a look, you never know what you may find.

Related: Bargain Challenge: Putting together a set of clubs for $500

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