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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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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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Just as in 2017, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will once again provide a change in format for the players this week. Players will team up once more at TPC Louisiana for a combination of Best Ball (Rounds 1 and 3) and Alternate Shot (Rounds 2 and 4). Unfortunately, the change in format means that there is no DraftKings this week.

The course is long at over 7,400 yards, but it’s also very generous off the tee. TPC Louisiana offers the opportunity to go low, and players took advantage last year despite the inclement weather conditions. It took a Monday playoff to separate them, but eventually Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt pipped Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown by making birdie on the fourth playoff hole to take the title after both teams had posted 27-under par in regulation.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson 7/1
  • Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay 12/1
  • Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley 14/1
  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer 14/1
  • Jon Rahm/Wesley Bryan 16/1
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello/Sergio Garcia 22/1

For the first time, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar (14/1) will team up for this event. Last year, Watson played alongside J.B Holmes. The two performed well, finishing in a tie for fifth place. TPC Louisiana has been a course that has suited Watson’s game over the years, his prodigious length being a significant factor. Along with his T-5 in 2017, Watson has a victory and three other top-20 finishes at the course when the event was an individual stroke-play tournament.

While Watson can be feast or famine at times, Kuchar is Mr. Consistent. He hasn’t missed a cut in over a year, and he has been a top-10 machine over the past few years on the PGA Tour. Despite this, Kuchar hasn’t been able to convert many of his top-10 finishes into wins, but playing alongside Watson this week — who has already notched two victories in 2018 — may help his cause. Over their last 24 rounds, Watson ranks third for Strokes Gained-Off the Tee and eighth in Strokes Gained Total. Over the same period, Kuchar has been predictably consistent, ranking in the top third in the field in every major Strokes Gained category. It’s an intriguing partnership, with Watson’s explosiveness combined with Kuchar’s consistency, and it’s a cocktail that should prove to be a formidable force at TPC Louisiana.

Two men with the hot hand coming into this event are fellow Americans, Jimmy Walker and Sean O’Hair (25/1). Last week at the Valero Texas Open both men excelled, posting the highest finishes of their year thus far. Walker finished solo 4th, while O’Hair grabbed a T-2. It’s the pairs first time playing TPC Louisiana together, but Walker has some good course form to lean on. Back in 2012 and 2013, he posted back-to-back top-20 finishes, which shows that TPC Louisiana is a course that fits his game. Accuracy off the tee has never been Walker’s strength, but the generous fairways may be one of the reasons that he has performed well at this course.

O’Hair has been in good form as of late. The Texan has three top-15 finishes in his last six events, and last week he recorded his highest Strokes Gained Total at an event in years. Walker also seems to have turned a corner with his game. Along with his excellent performance last week, he managed a top-20 finish at the Masters, and his Strokes Gained-Total at the Valero was his highest since his 2016 PGA Championship victory. With both men coming off their best performances in a long time, they should be confident. The duo looks to be a decent value to mount a challenge this week.

Last year’s runners-up Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown (40/1) are hard to ignore at their price this week. Brown has struggled mightily for form in 2018, missing six cuts out of 11 events played so far this year, but the prospect of playing alongside Kisner may be the boost that Brown’s 2018 is needing.

Kisner’s form has been strong as of late. He backed up his runner-up finish at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with a T-28 at Augusta before grabbing a T-7 at the RBC Heritage. At Harbour Town, Kisner’s iron play was especially sharp, with his Strokes Gained-Approaching the Greens total being the highest since the Memorial last year. Despite Brown’s slump, in a highly tricky format to predict, the pair showed enough chemistry last year and an ability to excel in the format, which is enough for me to consider their price a little undervalued this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair 25/1
  • Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown 40/1
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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argolf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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Podcasts

Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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