This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
HEWLETT PACKARD ENTERPRISE HOUSTON OPEN
Winner's Share: $1.35M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Course: Memorial Park Golf Course
2020 champion: Carlos Ortiz
A few years ago, the Houston Open was in trouble. One of the oldest tournaments in golf, in existence since the 1940s, it had just lost its sponsor. It was a big blow for the PGA Tour to part ways with its longest-standing title partner, one that had become synonymous with the tournament over a quarter of a century of sponsorship: the Shell Houston Open.
Now, after a couple of shaky, sponsor-less years during which the tournament lost its coveted spring spot the week before the Masters and was pushed to the fall season, it appears to be thriving again, or at least surviving.
Eight of the top-25 in the world rankings and 21 of the top-50 headline the 132-man field, which is pretty darn good in mid-November as the penultimate tournament before the Tour's six-week winter break. No one from the top-10 is entered, but with such names as Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed, Scottie Scheffler, Sam Burns and Matthew Wolff, tournament organizers should be elated.
Those organizers, back for a fourth year of this revival project, are actually baseball guys, none other than the Houston Astros. More specifically, it's team owner Jim Crane's Houston Astros Golf Foundation. Not only did Crane keep the tournament in the only city it has ever known, it now is played at a muni – how cool is that? Memorial Park played host to the tournament from the 1940s into the 1960s, and now is back for a second straight year. The tournament even has a new sponsor, though Hewlett Packard has signed on only for this year, and did so almost at the last minute. So, yeah, let's stick with surviving as opposed to thriving.
The sponsor-less 2019 Houston Open had one of the poorest full-points events you will ever see. Last year's tournament was one of the few beneficiaries of the pandemic-disrupted schedule, once again finding itself the week before the rescheduled Masters. There's no such scheduling perk this year, but the golfers in large part have returned.
There are a bevy of international stars in Tyrrell Hatton, Cameron Smith, Sungjae Im, Joaquin Niemann, Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Shane Lowry, Jason Day, Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter, the 2018 champion. That's really quite good.
Memorial Park is the latest muni to make its way to big-time golf, or in this case made its way back. Built in 1912, it played host to the Huston Open 14 times from 1947 to 1963. Before last year's return, it underwent an 18-month, $34 million renovation under the direction of famed course designer Tom Doak, who got a consulting assist from Koepka, who tied for fifth last year (hint, hint?).
The course is VERY long for a par-70 – over 7,400 yards. It's a bit quirky in that there are three par-5s and five par-3s. All the par-5s all exceed 575 yards, two of the par-3s are more than 215 and five par-4s are at least 490. The fairways are tree-lined but generously wide. Only 17 bunkers remain on the entire course after the redesign, and many were replaced by strategic false fronts and run-offs around the greens. The putting surfaces are Bermudagrass, fast and average size, about 7,000 square feet. There's water on four holes. If all that sounds challenging, it was a year ago, when Ortiz won at a mere 13-under, a rare non-birdie-fest in the fall season. The cut was 3-over. We must keep in mind, though, that it was 13-under on a par-70. Still, Memorial Park ranked as the eighth-toughest track all season out of the 51 played on Tour.
Weather-wise, it should be an uninterrupted week of play. Highs will be in the 70s, with almost no chance of rain and moderate wind.
Fun Memorial Park factoid: The most expensive greens fees for a local resident at this muni are a mere $38, and cheaper on weekdays (non-residents top out at $140).
Key Stats to Winning at Memorial Park
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in order of importance.
• Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
• Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee
• Strokes Gained: Putting
• Par-5 Efficiency: 550-600 yards
2020 - Carlos Ortiz (Memorial Park)
2019 – Lanto Griffin (Golf Club of Houston)
2018 – Ian Poulter (Golf Club of Houston)
2017 – Russell Henley (Golf Club of Houston)
2016 - Jim Herman (Golf Club of Houston)
2015 – J.B. Holmes (Golf Club of Houston)
2014 – Matt Jones (Golf Club of Houston)
2013 – D.A. Points (Golf Club of Houston)
2012 – Hunter Mahan (Golf Club of Houston)
2011 – Phil Mickelson (Golf Club of Houston)
We have one year of course history. Ortiz won at 13-under, with eight of those strokes coming on the par-5s. And remember, there are only three of them. Hideki Matsuyama, who tied for second with Dustin Johnson at 11-under, also played the 12 par-5s in 8-under. Johnson, however, played them in only 2-under. It's fair to think that if the long-hitting DJ could've played the par-5s as we expect him to, he could've run away with the tournament. Overall, the first page of the leaderboard nearly mirrored the top putters, with seven of the top-11 finishers ranking in the top-10 in Strokes Gained: Putting. Ortiz also ranked 16th in driving distance, 51st in fairways hit and eighth in greens in regulation. His SG numbers were 31st in Off-the-Tee, 14th in Approach, second in Around-the-Green and fifth in Tee-to-Green. Really, it was an all-around quality performance from Ortiz and still he was only 13-under. This year, the over/under on the winning score on golfodds.com is 266.5 – 13.5-under-par. Last year, with no data to go by, they were way off, pegging the number at 22.5-under.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Sam Burns - $11,100 (Winning odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook: +1200)
A year ago, Burns was winless on the PGA Tour and took the lead into Sunday. But he shot a 2-over 72 to fall into a tie for seventh while playing partner Ortiz shot 65 to win. It was not the last time Burns couldn't hold a lead – Riviera – but since then he has quite clearly learned how to close, winning twice, including last month's Sanderson Farms Championship. Burns is now ranked 18th in the world.
Scottie Scheffler - $10,900 (+1800)
The Texas native arrives coming off his ninth top-10 of 2021, a solo fourth last week at Mayakoba. Scheffler finished only T32 here last year, but it came not too long after a positive COVID-19 test knocked him out of the U.S. Open and his game didn't completely recover throughout the entire fall season.
Matthew Wolff - $10,400 (+2500)
This might be the riskiest pick of Tier 1. Sure, Wolff is coming off his first back-to-back top-10s in more than a year. In fact, they were both top-5s – a T5 last week at Mayakoba after a runner-up at the Shriners Children's Open. But it might be asking a bit much of Wolff to continue his torrid pace while he simply tries reacclimate himself to life on the Tour. But there's no denying he's a great fit for Memorial Park.
Cameron Smith - $10,200 (+1800)
On a course whose characteristics sound a lot like Augusta's – long, forgiving fairways, false fronts around the greens – Smith seems like a natural fit. He was 10th at the 2021 Masters and runner-up in 2020. Plus he's playing well, following up a strong finish to last season with a top-10 at his only start of the new season, a tie for ninth at the CJ Cup. Smith ranked second on Tour last year in Par-5 Efficiency: 550-600 yards.
Tier 2 Values
Talor Gooch - $9,300 (+2200)
It was about this time a year ago, when Gooch finished fourth at Memorial Park, that he began to turn a corner in his career. And now he arrives with four top-11s in a row, two of them top-5s, to start the new fall season. This clearly is the best stretch of golf in Gooch's PGA Tour career. He is ranked top-six in SG: Approach, Around-the-Green and Tee-to-Green this season, and was close to top-50 in all three categories last season.
Aaron Wise - $9,200 (+3000)
Yep, this guy again. Wise's name is appearing here almost as much as the word "DraftKings." Kidding. Sorta. But we have turned to Wise often already this fall season and he has yet to disappoint, mostly recently with a tie for 15th last week at Mayakoba. Wise is one the top guys on Tour when talking tee-to-green. As always, putting is a problem for him but he's getting better now that he's switched to the broomstick. Wise was 11th here a year ago.
Marc Leishman - $8,700 (+4000)
After more than a year of up-and-down play, Leishman is showing signs of more consistency. He already has two top-5s in the fall season and now will play a course where he can boom his drives and implement a wedge game that looks like it's returning to where it was a few years ago. Despite his middling year, Leishman has missed only four cuts in 2021.
Shane Lowry - $8,200 (+4000)
The quality finish to the 2020-21 season has not translated to the start of 2021-22, with a T54 at the no-cut CJ Cup and last week's missed cut at Mayakoba. One of the hardest things to do in DFS golf is return to a guy who burned you the prior week, but that's what we're doing here. Lowry not only is a good fit for Memorial Park with a great approach game and great wedge play that saw him tie for 11th last year, he's missed only three worldwide cuts all year. How lucky were we to have one of those three last week?
Tier 3 Values
Max Homa - $8,000 (+6000)
Homa has finished in the top-35 only once in his past six starts – his price reflects that – but that one time happened to be a win at the season-opening Fortinet. Homa tends to do well at longer tracks, as illustrated by his win at Riviera, plus top-10s at Bay Hill the Valspar and the Memorial. He's missed only six cuts all year.
Mackenzie Hughes - $7,900 (+5000)
On the surface, Hughes at a long course does not appear to be a good match. He's not especially long off the tee or very accurate with his driver or long irons. But what he does have is an elite wedge-putting combination. That helps mitigate those other shortcomings, as evidenced by his top-10 here last year. Hughes also is coming off a pair of top-25s at the CJ Cup and ZOZO Championship.
Charley Hoffman - $7,300 (+6500)
At 44, Hoffman had a great PGA Tour season. He was one of the longer hitters and ranked in the top-25 in SG: Tee-to-Green. He didn't have many high finishes all year – he tied for 29th at Houston last year – but he's missed only three cuts in all of 2021.
Taylor Moore - $7,100 (+8000)
The Korn Ferry grad has finished top-25 his past two times out but he still be stepping up in class this week – both in terms of the field and the course toughness. Still, he passed every test on the secondary tour with a win, a runner-up and two thirds last season, and is now showing he can compete on the big tour. Moore averages well over 300 yards off the tee and is ranked top-40 in greens in regulation in the early going this season.
Lee Westwood - $7,000 (+11000)
You don't often find a guy ranked 37th in the world down here. On one hand, we get why Westwood is only $7,000 – he's really propped up his ranking mostly on three runners-up in the past year, including Bay Hill and THE PLAYERS back-to-back many months ago. But Bay Hill is a long, hard track. And Westwood has missed only three worldwide cuts all year.
Keith Mitchell - $7,000 (+15000)
Mitchell had a rough patch over the summer but has stabilized by making six of his past eight cuts, with three of them top-10s. He's really an all-or-nothing guy. But with probably more than half the field making the cut, Mitchell has a potentially high ceiling. He hits it far and pretty straight, and has done well on the long par-5s so far this season, sitting T18 in 550-600 efficiency.
Greyson Sigg - $6,700 (+10000)
Sigg has gotten off to a good start since making his way from the Korn Ferry Tour. He's made four of five cuts. Granted, you wouldn't know it from his stats, but we're looking to get a sixth guy through to the weekend any way we can and Sigg is a good candidate.
Sung Kang - $6,200 (+25000)
You don't have a lot of cash left. You want someone to just get to Saturday and hope for the best. Well, more than half the field will meet those requirements. Kang could be one of them. He is no sure thing. But he did make six cuts in a row before Mayakoba last week.