This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
CADENCE BANK HOUSTON OPEN
Winner's Share: $1.512M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Course: Memorial Park Golf Course
2021 champion: Jason Kokrak
It's not a bad week to be Jim Crane. The owner of the newly-crowned World Series champion Houston Astros now puts his other big sports entity, the Houston Open, on display with the penultimate event of the PGA Tour's fall season. Next week comes The RSM Classic to tie a bow on 2022, and that's that until the next official event in January with the lid-lifting Sentry Tournament of Champions.
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 to 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 is still standing, thanks in large part to Crane and his non-profit Astros Golf Foundation coming on board five years ago.
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 third straight year. The sponsor thing is still a revolving door, with Hewlett Packard gone after one year, replaced by Cadence Bank, again on a one-year deal.
But after this year, who knows what will become of this tournament and the other eight events in the fall schedule? This is the 10th and final wraparound season -- no FedEx Cup points will be doled out for fall events beginning next year. We'll touch on that more next week, but for now, let's talk Houston.
After a very good 2021 field, the 132-man contingent took a step back this year. Texas native and perennial entrant Scottie Scheffler heads a mere four top-25 golfers and four top-50s. The world No. 2, who for the second straight week can reclaim the No. 1 ranking in the world, will be joined by his good buddy, Sam Burns, plus Tony Finau, Hideki Matsuyama among the top-25 set. The other top-50s are last week's winner, Russell Henley, Aaron Wise, Sepp Straka and Alex Noren. Other names of note include Sahith Theegala, Davis Riley, Gary Woodland, Justin Rose, Jason Day and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson. More than 30 of the recent Korn Ferry grads are also entered, highlighted by Taylor Montgomery, Will Gordon and Dean Burmester.
Memorial Park is the latest muni to make its way to big-time golf, or in this case make its way back. Built in 1912 originally as a nine-hole course, it played host to the Houston Open 14 times from 1947 to 1963. Before the 2020 return, it underwent an 18-month, $34 million renovation under the direction of famed course designer Tom Doak, who got a consulting assist from Brooks Koepka, who put his course knowledge to good use the past two years but of course now has left for LIV.
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 -- the 587-yard third, the 625-yard eighth and the 576-yard 16th. Still, most of the guys on the leaderboard have done the bulk of their scoring on those three holes. Two of the par-3s are more than 215 and five par-4s are at least 490. One of the hardest holes on the PGA Tour last year was the 529-yard 14th, playing at .353 strokes over par. The fairways are tree-lined but generously wide. Only 19 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 large at about 7,000 square feet. There's water on four holes. If all that sounds challenging, it is: 2021 champion Jason Kokrak and 2020 winner Carlos Ortiz (two more LIV guys) won and 10-under and 13-under, respectively, making this a rare non-birdie-fest in the fall season. The cut was over par both years. We must keep in mind that this is a par-70. Still, Memorial Park ranked in the top-10 of hardest tracks the past two years. Only six holes on the entire course played under par last year, and three of them were the par-5s.
Weather-wise, the first part of the tournament will be very nice -- high temperatures a little north of south of 80 with a small chance of rain and moderate wind. But it appears a cold front will move in Friday night, plunging temperatures into the high 50s on the weekend, with a better chance of rain and stronger wind. If it's as bad as it sounds right now, we could be looking at a single-digit winner.
Houston Open history: To illustrate the magnitude of this tournament, which dates to 1946, here are some of the champions through the years: Byron Nelson (inaugural), Arnold Palmer (twice), Gary Player, Raymond Floyd, Lee Elder, Curtis Strange (twice), Payne Stewart, David Duval, Fred Couples, Vijay Singh (three times), Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim (!).
Key Stats to Winning at Memorial Park
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee/Driving Distance
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation
• Strokes Gained: Putting
• Par-5 Scoring
• Bogey Avoidance
2021 – Jason Kokrak (Memorial Park)
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)
We have two years of course history. Ortiz won at 13-under-par and Kokrak at 10-under, and they both shot 8-under on the par-5s. And remember, there are only three of them. In 2020, Hideki Matsuayma, 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'd have expected him to, he could've run away with the tournament. Same thing last year. Scottie Scheffler and Kevin Tway finished two back of Kokrak; Scheffler shot 4-under on the par-5s and putted poorly overall, while Tway was only 6-under on the par-5s. Both years, the first page of the leaderboard nearly mirrored the top putters. Both Kokrak and Ortiz were top-15 in the field in driving distance, top-10 in greens in regulation. Both winners ranked in the top-5 in SG: Putting. Kokrak putted out of his mind, making over 400 feet of putts -- and still got only to 10-under. This is one tough track. The over/under on the winning score on golfodds.com is 267.5 -- 12.5 under par, a stroke less than last year.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Sam Burns - $10,700 (Winning odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook: +1200)
Burns is coming off a spectacular season in which he won three times but also importantly avoided the ups and downs that often hinder a younger player. In 24 starts, he had eight top-10s, 14 top-25s and missed only six cuts. He's 2-for-2 in the fall, with a T7 at the CJ Cup last time out. Burns also finished seventh at the past two Houston Opens. If you hit it super far and putt it great like Burns does, there's a good chance to do well at Memorial Park.
Tony Finau - $10,400 (+1600)
Finau played his first official event of the fall last week and missed the cut in Mayakoba. Memorial Park better suits his game, despite a missed cut there last year and a T24 the year before. Finau was in a big slump last autumn and into the new year before rediscovering his form in a big way with wins at the 3M Open and Rocket Mortgage. As we've noted many times, his putting is vastly improved -- he ranked 85th on Tour last season.
Hideki Matsuyama - $10,300 (+2200)
We'll be honest. The relatively high odds -- Taylor Montgomery and Maverick McNealy have shorter -- make us wonder if the experts know something we don't know. But what we do know is that in lower-scoring tournaments, Matsuyama can thrive, as he did two years ago here with a runner-up to Ortiz. He has been pretty busy this fall with three prior starts, albeit without a good finish. Driving accuracy seems to be the biggest trouble spot, resulting in poor GIR numbers, but the wider fairways of Memorial Park could solve that problem. Matsuyama ranked 21st in par-5 scoring last season.
Aaron Wise - $9,900 (+1600)
Wise is back for his third go-around at Memorial Park. He was 26th last year and 11th the year before. Wise is not only long off the tee, he's extremely accurate, and now that he's had figured out how to putt -- he's ranked 19th in SG: Putting so far this season -- there is tremendous upside. Wise is ranked fifth in bogey avoidance, and he's coming off a T15 at Mayakoba and a T6 at the CJ Cup.
Tier 2 Values
Taylor Montgomery - $9,700 (+2000)
Montgomery surprised us last week by putting very well on paspalum greens. Lesson learned: He can putt anywhere. He rang up his fifth straight top-15 of the fall season, and it's nine in row going back to the Korn Ferry season. Now Montgomery back on Bermuda greens for his Houston Open debut. Not only is he ranked third on Tour in SG: Putting, he hits the ball a ton off the tee, ranking in the top-25 in driving distance. Long hitter + elite putter = a great combination for a professional golfer.
Maverick McNealy - $9,400 (+2000)
McNealy is another guy off to the races this fall, with two top-10s and two other top-20s already. And now he returns to Houston, where he's posted top-20s the past two years. Like a number of guys we're focusing on this week, McNealy combines superior distance with great putting -- in fact, he's elite on the greens this season, ranking fourth in SG: Putting. McNealy also ranked 20th in par-5 scoring last season and is top-20 in bogey avoidance this season.
Emiliano Grillo - $9,100 (+5000)
Grillo has been playing great golf since the summer, and now he's continued into the fall. He's made all six of his cuts in the new season, with a pair of top-5 cashes. Grillo is of course one of the better ball-strikers around, which sets him up very nicely at Memorial Park. But now he's improved his putting, ranking 87th in SG: Putting. Grillo played Houston two years ago and missed the cut.
Davis Riley - $8,400 (+4500)
If you look at Riley's Strokes Gained stats, they aren't pretty. Except for one. It happens to be perhaps the most important one. It's SG: Approach, and Riley ranks 17th on Tour in that department. Despite not being a long or especially accurate driver so far this season, Riley is doing wonders with his second shot. He's not putting well, either, yet he has made four of his five autumn cuts and has notched two top-25s. Further, Riley was 29th last year at Memorial Park. At No. 67 in the world rankings, Riley has plenty to play for, as he is trying to get into the top 50 by year's end.
Tier 3 Values
Mackenzie Hughes - $7,700 (+6500)
On the surface, Hughes at a long course does not appear to be a good match. But he finished 29th here last year after a top-10 the year before, so we don't want to overthink things. Besides, Hughes has one of the best short games on Tour -- he's ranked top-15 in both SG: Around-the-Green and Putting. And he's also top-25 in SG: Tee-to-Green. We probably should tell you that Hughes won the Sanderson Farms last month and, importantly, he kept his foot on the gas with a followup top-25 at the ZOZO.
Will Gordon - $7,700 (+5000)
The price on Gordon seems a few hundred dollar high, but we're on board -- barely -- and so are bettors, as he opened at +8000. Gordon is coming off a tie for third at Mayakoba, which gave him five straight made cuts to start the season. He's played Memorial Park before, tying for 38th in 2021. Gordon is balanced statistically across the board, with his lone weakness coming around the greens. He hits it above-average far with above-average accuracy and is an above-average putter.
Dean Burmester - $7,600 (+6500)
The South African, ranked 58th in the world, has hit the ground running with his PGA Tour card, which we don't always see from international players. He's made all three of his cuts in the fall, including a T32 last week at Mayakoba and a T4 at the Sanderson Farms. Burmester is long and accurate off the tee and is ranked top-30 on Tour in both greens in regulation and SG: Putting.
Davis Thompson - $7,300 (+10000)
The 23-year-old former Georgia Bulldog is off to a fast start in his rookie season, with three made cuts and two top-12s in three starts. At 6-4, 195 pounds, Thompson hits the ball a ton, and he's also ranked top-25 in both SG: Tee-to-Green and greens in regulation. His putting seems to be his weak spot, but it's not all that bad, as he's ranked 105th. The one concern here is that Thompson hasn't played in more than a month, since the Shriners event. It's not like a young Korn Ferry grad to take so much time off just after getting his card. There has been no social media report of any injury.
Nick Taylor - $6,900 (+10000)
Taylor has had a very good fall season, with three top-25s in five starts, including a top-10 at the Fortinet Championship. He's coming off a made cut at Mayakoba. Taylor is doing it with solid if unspectacular play -- he's ranked 22nd in SG: Tee-to-Green. He finished 41st a year ago at Memorial Park.
Dylan Frittelli - $6,800 (+13000)
Like Riley above, Frittelli's Strokes Gained stats look terrible except for SG: Approach. Ranked 66th in that category, he's not as high as Riley, but he's also far lower on the DK board. Frittelli is getting better results than his stats would suggest, and that's all we're really looking for. He was T13 at the Sanderson Farms and T29 at the ZOZO Championship before a so-so T59 last week at Mayakoba. Frittelli played Houston the past two years, missing the cut in 2021 and tying for 19th last year, which pretty much sums him up right there.
Austin Smotherman - $6,700 (+13000)
Smotherman made the cut in his first four fall starts before missing last week at Mayakoba. Two of those four were top-25s. His greens-in-regulation numbers are not pretty, but we're hoping the larger putting surfaces help in that regard. Even with the poor accuracy, he manages to limit the number of bogeys, as he's ranked 72nd on Tour in bogey avoidance. Smotherman's putting helps in that area -- he's ranked 55th in SG: Putting.
Ben Taylor - $6,500 (+20000)
The 30-year-old Englishman, by way of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, has made 4-of-5 cuts this fall, with a top-25 at the Fortinet. That's what we're looking for down here -- someone who can get to the weekend. Taylor has decent length off the tee, is ranked in the top-50 in greens in regulation and top-75 in both Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and Putting. This will be his Houston debut.