Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open Tips 2021

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Congratulations if you were on-board Viktor Hovland at Monday prices up to 18/1. His 3 PGA Tour wins have all come on Paspalum greens across the tropical climes of Mexico and Puerto Rico. This column landed a full 50/1 each-way return on Joaquin Niemann.

This week we have the freshly-sponsored Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open. 12 months ago this event was the curtain-raiser for The Masters in November and was played for the first time at Memorial Park Golf Course. Tournament organisers the Astros Foundation, led by Astros owner Jim Crane, work hard to generate a quality field and 2021 sees Sam Burns, Jason Day, Tony Finau, Max Homa, Tyrrell Hatton, Brooks Koepka, Marc Leishman, Shane Lowry, Joaquin Niemann, Patrick Reed, Scottie Scheffler, Adam Scott, Cameron Smith, Lee Westwood and Matthew Wolff in the field.

Before we go into the detail surrounding the Houston Open, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System. Welcome and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular, +6,000 strong, private Group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

Course Guide: The Houston Open from 2003 through 2019 was played at Golf Club of Houston (formerly Redstone GC), on a Par 72 course which featured many Florida set-up traits. Winners there included Fred Couples, Vijay Singh (twice), Adam Scott, Paul Casey, Anthony Kim, Phil Mickelson, J.B. Holmes, Russell Henley and Ian Poulter, traditionally the week before The Masters. 2020 saw a move to Memorial Park Golf Course, which had received a $19 million renovation funded by Astros owner Jim Crane via the tournament-organising Astros Foundation. The course crafted by Tom Doak was not your standard PGA Tour affair, proving difficult to tame.

Memorial Park Golf Course, Houston, Texas: Designer: John Bredemus 1935, with Tom Doak renovation 2019; Course Type: Resort; Par: 70; Length: 7,412 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 4; Fairways: 419 Bermudagrass; Rough: 419 Bermudagrass 2.25″; Greens: 7,000 sq.ft average featuring MiniVerde Bermudagrass; Tournament Stimpmeter 12-12.5ft. Course Scoring Average 2020: 71.03 (+1.03), Difficulty Rank 8 of 51 courses.

Course Overview: The first thing to point out is that Memorial Park Golf Course is a municipal golf course which caters for 60,000 rounds per year. Previously a John Bredemus 1935 design, Tom Doak was brought in by tournament sponsor Jim Crane, to completely renovate Memorial Park, so that it can host both the Houston Open each year and then cater for the amateur player for the other 51 weeks of the year. Doak, with some help from player consultant Brooks Koepka, delivered a +7,400 yard design in just 10 months.

The routing of the course in general is the same as the old course, but Doak has added far more movement in both the fairways and especially around the greens. And his brief was to make Memorial Park an exciting venue for both PGA Tour and leisure golfers alike.

At 7,412 yards for a Par 70, the course is long and stretching in length. But it also shares a pretty quirky set-up, as the course features 5 par-3s and 3 par-5s in total. 2 par-5s are on the front 9, with a driveable par-4, the 13th, on the back side, with a further par-5.

Off the tee, Doak designs tend to feature very generous fairways, and although these are tree-lined, those trees tend to be well back. Rough was pretty penal as well in 2020, although that wasn’t the main defence of this course.

As part of Tom Doak’s brief, the course only features 19 bunkers, on the basis that they are easy for Tour pros but difficult for amateurs. Instead there are lots of tight grass slopes, contours and green complex surround slopes which repel approach shots, then requiring a tight lie to an elevated green recovery shot.

The tough, contoured green complexes and associated run-offs and the sheer length of the Par 70 set-up created relative mayhem here in 2020, with Memorial Park playing as the 5th toughest non-Major course of the 2020/21 season.

Changes since last year’s event include renovating the 9th green complex and taking away 2 of the bunkers and adding 750 square feet to the 2nd green.

And finally the green surfaces themselves, which at an average 7.000 sq.ft are large and feature MiniVerde UltraDwarf Bermudagrass green complexes. Other current PGA Tour stop-offs with MiniVerde include TPC Louisiana (Zurich Classic of New Orleans) and East Lake (Tour Championship), plus the old Houston Open host course at the GC of Houston, also featured them – although they were overseeded in its April guise

houston open tips

Winners: Hosted at Memorial Park: 2020: Carlos Ortiz (-13); Hosted at Golf Club of Houston: 2019: Lanto Griffin (-14); 2018: Ian Poulter (-19); 2017: Russell Henley (-20); 2016: Jim Herman (-15); 2015: J.B. Holmes (-16); 2014: Matt Jones (-15); 2013: D.A. Points (-16); 2012: Hunter Mahan (-16); 2011: Phil Mickelson (-20); 2010: Anthony Kim (-12).

Cut Line:

  • 2020: -+3

Lead Score Progression:

  • 2020: Round 1 -5; Round 2 -7; Round 3 -9; Round 4 -13

Tournament Stats: We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s event that are well worth a look. Naturally they’ll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Combined Stats.

Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side.

Top 10 of my published predictor are Brooks Koepka, Sam Burns, Patrick Reed, Sungjae Im, Seamus Power, marc Leishman, Joaquin Niemann, Cameron Smith, Jason Kokrak and Stephan Jaeger.

Tournament Winners & Prices: 2020: Ortiz 160/1; 2019: Griffin 60/1; 2018: Poulter 100/1; 2017: Henley 40/1; 2016: Herman 400/1; 2015: Holmes 28/1; 2014: Jones 125/1; 2013: Points 250/1; 2012: Mahan 22/1; 2011: Mickelson 18/1; 2010: Kim 25/1. Past 8 Renewals Average: 145/1; Overall Average: 112/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 2020: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 79. Wind SE 4-8 mph. Friday: Sunny. High of 80. Wind ENE 6-12 mph. Saturday: Sunny. High of 81. Wind ENE 5-10 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 82. Wind ESE 6-12 mph.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Houston, Texas, is here.

After the blustery and at times strong winds in Bermuda last week, Texas golf is synonymous with windy conditions. But this week in downtown Houston looks calm enough, with forecasts predicting nothing over 10-15 mph throughout the week. October has been relatively dry in this part of the world, and with no precipitation forecast, I’d expect firm enough turf conditions on the fairways, and we will have to wait for the greens – last year they were fast. Temperatures will be pleasant at 23 to 28 degrees Celsius across tournament week.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends: Analysing the Strokes Gained stats of Memorial Park winners gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2020, Carlos Ortiz (-13). SG Off the Tee: 31st, SG Approach: 14th, SG Around the Green: 2nd, SG Tee to Green: 5th, SG Putting: 5th.

Traditional Skill Set Trends: Analysing the final stats of Memorial Park Golf Course winners gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2020, Carlos Ortiz (-13). 312 yards (16th), 50.0% fairways (51st), 70.8% greens in regulation (8th), 36″11″ proximity to hole (19th), 85.7 % scrambling (1st), 1.78 putts per GIR (36th).

So let’s take a view from players as to how Memorial Park sets up and what skill sets the course favours:

Carlos Ortiz (2020): “I think the golf course, it’s really easy to get out of position and when you’re there, you have to think two steps ahead, try to put it where worst you’re going to have a good look for par instead of trying to push it, because once you push it with these greens. I don’t know if you guys have seen them, but they’re pretty undulated and they all fall off, so if you start pushing it, it’s easy to hit it or go over or to the side and you’re going to have a hard time putting it again on the green. I think I’ve taken my medicine especially today, and I honestly didn’t hit that many fairways and I still was able to save some good pars thinking that way.

Jason Day (2020):”Yeah, definitely the back, I feel like the back side’s a little bit tougher. Obviously scoring opportunities, you get two par 5s on the front, a couple shorter holes on the front as well, but if you can try and get yourself at least 1, 2 or 3 under par going through the front side, you can kind of snag maybe one or two and you end up having a pretty decent round. This is very difficult around the greens with that bermudagrass, and the runoffs, they’re very, very inconsistent in regards to bouncing up the slopes. So if you can leave yourself in some decent locations around the greens, you can have a good opportunity at getting up and down pretty easy or you can leave yourself pretty frustrated at the end of the day.”

Brandt Snedeker (2020): “There’s quite a few of them really. You start putting your finger on a few of them. The par-3 15th is going to be really tough by the end of the week. We played it up today, but it’s just a diabolical green so you have to pay attention to that one. No. 13’s another diabolical green, depending on the pin position it can be really tough. Then you have the long holes here, 1’s a long, tough par 4. I think you can just go about every par 4 and they’re all about over 500 yards if they want to be. The Tour did a good job mixing it up today, moved some tees around so didn’t play the full length, which gave us some scoring opportunities. I don’t anticipate that being the case the rest of the week.

Adam Scott (2020): ” Yeah. I mean, just generally the course is relentless. It’s just demanding off the tee. It requires something long and straight, and then you must hit the green in the right spot, too, especially the 9th hole. Dustin’s ball was on the green for a good 10 seconds today and ended up in the water, so you have to be very precise on some of them. The challenge is all around the greens, the course is still kind of growing in and that’s making it very difficult from down in the low areas around the greens. You know, you just have to get a little bit creative this week and somehow get it up on the green and try and save your par.”

Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 11 Houston Open winners:

  • 2020 – Carlos Ortiz: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2019 – Lanto Griffin: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 17th, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2018 – Ian Poulter: Round 1: 123rd, Round 2: 23rd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2017 – Russell Henley: Round 1: 6th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2016 – Jim Herman: Round 1: 32nd, Round 2: 8th, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2015 – J.B. Holmes: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 6th, Round 3: 18th.
  • 2014 – Matt Jones: Round 1: 18th, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 4th.
  • 2013 – D.A. Points: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2012 – Hunter Mahan: Round 1: 27th, Round 2: 11th, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2011 – Phil Mickelson: Round 1: 33rd, Round 2: 21st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2010 – Anthony Kim: Round 1: 3rd, Round 2 4th, Round 3: 1st.

Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 11 Houston winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2020 – Carlos Ortiz: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2019 – Lanto Griffin: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 6 back, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2018 – Ian Poulter: Round 1: 9 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: level.
  • 2017 – Russell Henley: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 6 back, Round 3: 3 back.
  • 2016 – Jim Herman: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: level.
  • 2015 – J.B. Holmes: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 6 back.
  • 2014 – Matt Jones: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 6 back.
  • 2013 – D.A. Points: Round 1: 1 ahead, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2012 – Hunter Mahan: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2011 – Phil Mickelson: Round 1: 7 back, Round 2: 5 back, Round 3: level.
  • 2010 – Anthony Kim: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: level.

Incoming form of winners since 2010:

  • Carlos Ortiz: 35th ZOZO/48th CJ Cup/MC Shriners/MC Sanderson.
  • Lanto Griffin: 18th Shriners/17th Safeway/11th Sanderson/13th Greenbrier.
  • Ian Poulter: QF WMP/41st Bay Hill/MC Copperhead/MC PGA National.
  • Russell Henley: 45th Bay Hill/9th Copperhead/43rd PGA National/16th TPC Scottsdale.
  • Jim Herman: 63rd Bay Hill/MC Copperhead/MC PGA National/17th Pebble/MC TPC Scottsdale.
  • J.B. Holmes: MC Bay Hill/2nd Doral/22nd Riviera/10th Pebble/2nd Torrey Pines.
  • Matt Jones: 14th Bay Hill/MC Puerto Rico/MC PGA National/59th Riviera/45th Pebble.
  • D.A. Points: MC Bay Hill/MC Copperhead/MC Puerto Rico/68th PGA National.
  • Hunter Mahan: 42nd Bay Hill/24th Doral/1st WMP/24th Riviera/13th Pebble.
  • Phil Mickelson: 24th Bay Hill/55th Doral/17th WMP/35th Riviera/9th Pebble.
  • Anthony Kim: 22nd Doral/2nd PGA National/24th TPC Scottsdale/52nd Riviera.

First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave (where applicable) and winning score since 2010. For full first round leader stats click here.

  • 2020 – Snedeker – PM -5/65  – 90/1
  • 2019 – Cook/Gooch – Both AM -8/64 – 66/1 & 90/1
  • 2018 – Dunne – PM -8/64  – 90/1
  • 2017 – Fowler – AM  -8/64 – 25/1
  • 2016 – Hoffman – PM -8/64.
  • 2015 – Piercy – AM -9/63.
  • 2014 – Haas/Hoffman – Both PM -7/65.
  • 2013 – Points – AM -8/64.
  • 2012 – Cabrera / Mickelson / Pettersson – 2AM/1PM Split -7/65.
  • 2011 – Walker – PM -9/63.
  • 2010 – Percy / Stadler – AM/PM Split -5/67.

For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:

  • 4 – Jason Day, Brian Gay, Bill Haas, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed.
  • 3 – Ryan Palmer, Brandt Snedeker, Henrik Stenson, Camilo Villegas.
  • 2 – Sam Burns, Jason Dufner, Russell Henley, Brooks Koepka, Marc Leishman, Scott Piercy, Adam Scott, Cameron Smith, Robert Streb, Jimmy Walker.
  • 1 – Stewart Cink, Tyler Duncan, Branden Grace, Lanto Griffin, James Hahn, Tyrrell Hatton, Jim Herman, Mackenzie Hughes, Sungjae Im, Sung Kang, Martin Laird, Andrew Landry, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Graeme McDowell, Keith Mitchell, Francesco Molinari, Sebastian Munoz, Seung-yul Noh, Carlos Ortiz, C.T. Pan, Pat Perez, J.T. Poston, Scott Stallings, Kevin Streelman, Brian Stuard, Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Jhonattan Vegas, Nick Watney, Lee Westwood, Aaron Wise, Gary Woodland.

Points of note: other current PGA Tour stop-offs with MiniVerde Bermudagrass greens include TPC Louisiana (Zurich Classic of New Orleans) and East Lake (Tour Championship). The old host course here, namely the GC of Houston (Redstone GC as was), also featured them – although they were overseeded in April. TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship, featured MiniVerde Bermudagrass prior to 2017, as did Quail Hollow at the 2014 through 2016.

2020 saw Memorial Park play firm and fast for the opening 54 holes. A rarity on the PGA Tour!  Whether that was a deliberate ploy with The Masters Tournament the week after we will never know, but this course in that guise gave the players plenty to think about. Indeed -9 was leading going into Sunday.

My selections are as follows:

Cameron Smith 2pts EW 25/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

I think that Cameron Smith will like the challenge of Memorial Park Golf Course this week.

2021 has been another excellent year for the 28 year-old Queenslander. A 2nd PGA Tour victory when partnering fellow Aussie Marc Leishman at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, prior to the season re-start Smith finished 4th at Riviera, 10th at Augusta National, 9th at Harbour Town, 5th at TPC Southwind and 2nd at Liberty National. In the main stretching, difficult tracks, where scoring isn’t a pushover. He’s had a single outing this season, finishing a creditable 9th at the CJ Cup at The Summit Club. Solid in all categories, his irons were consistent as he ranked 7th for Greens in Regulation and eventually finished 5 shots back of Rory McIlroy.

That top-10 finish in Las Vegas was pretty much standard practice for the World Number 22, with the “fall” part of the season always delivering for him. 5th (CIMB Classic), 3rd (CJ Cup), 4th (Australian Open) and 1st (Australian PGA Championship) in 2017, 2018 saw him finish 7th (CJ Cup), 10th (Australian Open) and 1st (Australian PGA Championship) late in the season. 2019 was no different with 13th (Shriners Open) and 3rd (CJ Cup), and 2020 was the best yet with Cameron finishing 11th at the CJ Cup, 4th at the ZOZO Championship and registering his best ever Major performance with 2nd at The Masters. I’m a believer in biorhythms, just look at Viktor Hovland last week at El Camaleon.

For me the Australian will be looking to top off his 2021 in fine, winning-style and it’s noticeable that Cameron loves these putting surfaces. Indeed 2017 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, 2017 Australian PGA Championship, 2018 Australian PGA Championship, 2020 Sony Open and 2021 Zurich Classic of New Orleans victories have all been delivered on Bermudagrass greens. RESULT: T15

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Matthew Wolff 2pts EW 25/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

If sheer momentum and a desire to capture their next win is anything to go by, there can’t be many better golfers in this field than Matthew Wolff. Form of 17th Sanderson Farms Championship, 2nd Shriners Open and 5th WWT Championship at Mayakoba is equally obvious and excellent. But Wolff is still winless since his maiden victory in 2019 and that must motivate the Oklahoma State University, former Amateur World Number 1.

Now it’s well worth remembering that Matthew hit the PGA Tour in the summer of 2019, at the same time as his contemporaries – namely Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland. Morikawa now sits as the World Number 2 with a couple of Major victories amidst 5 PGA Tour victories; whilst Wolff witnessed Hovland winning his 3rd PGA Tour title last week in Mexico, which took the Norwegian into the World’s top 10 for the first time ever.

Wolff was the 18- and 36-hole leader at El Camaleon, a course which I thought would temper his power game. But instead Matthew showed maturity going less than driver, where necessary and he ranked 2nd for Total Driving, 1st for Total Accuracy, 2nd for Ball Striking and 2nd for Greens in Regulation. If Strokes Gained had been in operation I expect, his numbers would have been excellent!

Now 31st in the OWGR Wolff’s rise has by any standards been rapid, and let’s not forget that he is still only 22 years of age. And although I’m not expecting a birdiefest this week, Matthew has already proven that he can handle, long difficult tests well. Last year saw him finish 2nd at the PGA Championship hosted at TPC Harding Park and 2nd at the U.S. Open hosted at Winged Foot. Plus amidst well-reported confidence struggles during this year, he finished 15th at the U.S. Open hosted at Torrey Pines South. He was 3rd after 36 holes and 6th after 54 around the tough South course back in June. So I think Memorial Park should suit and I expect him to challenge again this week. RESULT: T11

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Jason Kokrak 1.5pts EW 50/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Jason Kokrak is the nuggety sort who I think could go very nicely at Memorial Park. His PGA Tour history is well versed in performing well at stern medium-to-long courses. 2nd (2016) at Riviera Country Club; 4th (2014), 6th (2015), 10th (2019) and 8th (2021) at Bay Hill; 7th (2019) at TPC San Antonio; 7th (2015), 8th (2018) and 2nd (2019) at Copperhead; 9th (2013) at Liberty National; 7th (2016) at Bethpage Black; 6th at Olympia Fields; plus 8th (2016) at TPC Boston.

So I’m relatively happy with his price this week, which is in line with what we saw at the CJ Cup last time out in a much stronger field. That was always likely to be a disaster for Jason who was defending a PGA Tour title for the first time. Sure enough a Featured Group with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas was far too much for Kokrak who shot an opening 77, 16 shots worse than First Round Leader Robert Streb. Hardly ideal. But credit to Jason who from that point shot 66-65-68 finishing T54. It was interesting to note that his 199 shot Friday through Sunday 54 hole total was T4 behind only McIlroy, Morikawa and Grillo.

And his record in Texas is excellent. 9th (2013) at the GC of Houston (he was 3rd after 54 holes); 4th (2017) at TPC Las Colinas; 11th (2015) and 7th (2019) at TPC San Antonio; plus 3rd (2020) and 1st (2021) at Colonial. Adept on both Bentgrass and Bermudagrass greens, I think he will enjoy the challenge of Memorial Park and the fact that he will be virtually unnoticed post-CJ Cup. RESULT: Winner

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Keith Mitchell 1pt EW 125/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Keith Mitchell is a player I’ve had in mind for this since he finished 3rd at the CJ Cup at The Summit Club, Las Vegas, last month.

The Summit was a resort-style Par 72, which played closer to 7,100 yards due to altitude and featured Bentgrass greens. Now Keith can undoubtedly perform on all putting surfaces, but factually to this point he’s a bomber who performs best on Bermudagrass greens and, even better, he can grind. The 2019 Honda Classic winner at -9/271, the week after Keith went on to finish 6th at Bay Hill, a feat he bettered by one position in 2020 when finishing 5th. Those 2 finishes came at -8/280 and Even/288. PGA National and Bay Hill are medium and long golf course set-ups respectively, both of which when ideally set-up produce high (for the PGA Tour) scoring assignments. Similar to Memorial Park last year.

Keith has also played well at the long, classical, Major-hosting Par 71 at Quail Hollow finishing 8th (2019) and 3rd this year. That course features Champion Bermudagrass greens. So he can ‘roll the rock’ on Bermudagrass, no questions asked.

2021 has undoubtedly been a good year for the 29 year-old, who went to the University of Georgia. Over and above his close call at Quail Hollow, 5th at TPC Twin Cities and 8th at Liberty National again highlight a player who responds to lengthier tracks where scoring is trickier than the norm.

Plus, from a Texas perspective, 3rd (2018) at Trinity Forest and 6th (2018) at this tournament when it was hosted at the GC of Houston undoubtedly show a liking for the Lone Star State. 5th for Total Driving and 2nd for par-5 Scoring last week at El Camaleon, I can see ‘Killer Keith’ enjoying his second visit to Memorial Park this week. RESULT: T41

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:30GMT 8.11.21 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.