Ben Coley has five selections for the Houston Open at prices ranging from 30/1 to 250/1, including young star Scottie Scheffler.
It's been quite the fall from grace - or at least significance - for the Golf Club of Houston. Firstly, its name was changed from the significantly cooler 'Redstone'. Then, its tournament - the Houston Open - lost its sponsor and its place on the schedule. Now, it faces the dual ignominy of waving goodbye to PGA Tour golf altogether, and doing so from a low-key autumn slot where it plays second fiddle to a superior event on the European Tour.
This course was once considered by many to be the perfect way to prepare for Augusta, and was set up accordingly, with little in the way of rough, lightning-fast greens and trimmed run-off areas created to mimic the challenge which awaited the following week at the Masters. What's more, it provided a final chance to qualify for the season's first major, one Ian Poulter took in 2018 and the likes of Russell Henley, Jim Herman and Matt Jones before him.
A tough closing stretch which concludes with the danger-laden 18th hole has provided more than its share of drama. There have been five play-offs in the last 10 renewals, including Jones' smash-and-grab on Matt Kuchar and Poulter's daylight robbery of Beau Hossler. There are, it seems fair to say, many more tournaments on the PGA Tour which would've been considered more dispensable, but it's taken investment from the Astros Foundation to save this one and that has triggered a move to Memorial Park next year.
This is therefore Henrik Stenson's last chance to get one back on a venue where he's twice finished a stroke second to a rank outsider. First, DA Points' raid on his mother's garage to dig out an old putter saw him hold off the Swede and Billy Horschel, before Herman - likeable enough despite keeping questionable company - toughed it out to win from nowhere.
Stenson's fondness for the course can be traced to two factors: firstly, despite its decent length, this par 72 has always made room for those who want to scale back from the tee, something Stenson loves to do. Secondly and relatedly, his approach play is virtually unmatched, certainly among those who would come here a week prior to Augusta, and each of his four top-six finishes here was built on foundations of precision.
With the rough now allowed to grow, free from the shackles of playing Augusta Lite and made lusher by rain in September, Stenson could find himself at an even greater advantage - if he's still able to rely on his three-wood from the tee. And, having played better over the last three months than the previous six, he looks to have timed things rather nicely. It must surely have been tempting to chase Ryder Cup points in Rome but the 9/1 favourite can be expected to make the decision not to appear a wise one.
That said, taking single-figure prices about a 43-year-old who hasn't won in more than two years is fraught with danger, for all that it's difficult to imagine anything but a solid performance. He just isn't a very good price, I'm afraid, and I'd much rather side with a player 20 years his junior - Scottie Scheffler.
Born and raised in Dallas, and educated as the heir to Jordan Spieth's throne at the University of Texas, this is Scheffler's first chance to play on bonafide home soil as a PGA Tour member - and it's an opportunity he should be expected to take.
The standout player on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, where his already world-class ball-striking paved the way for two victories and daylight at the top of the standings, Scheffler is among the obvious candidates to be the standout graduate and has already gone a long way to guaranteeing a FedEx Cup Playoffs place.
Finishes of seventh, 16th and 74th are regressive numerically, but for the third event running he was close up at halfway in the Shriners last week before a disappointing weekend, the like of which we can forgive any player, particularly one still learning his trade.
Go back to Scheffler's performances on the Korn Ferry Tour, and it's clear a minor setback can be overcome, with his Finals win in the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship coming on the back of a missed cut in Portland.
It's also easy to argue that not only is the Houston Open his first home game, but the course itself might prove the most suitable he's played so far. Not only is Scheffler an excellent driver of the ball, all the more advantageous in this new October slot, but he's also returning to bermuda greens for the first time since finishing seventh in Mississippi.
In fact, in his burgeoning PGA Tour career, Scheffler has played in 11 tournaments where strokes-gained data is available, and he's putted above-average in five of them. Each and every one of the five - all three starts in Texas, one in Mississippi and another in Tennessee - has been in the south and on the sort of bermuda greens which will have played such a big part in his golfing education.
For the player who ranked second in ball-striking on the Korn Ferry Tour and is fifth in strokes-gained off-the-tee of those who've played 12 or more rounds so far this season, Scheffler is a likely player when he putts well - and he has every chance to do that here.
Having spent Monday playing alongside Lexi Thompson in a charity event nearby, the pair finishing second, Scheffler looks poised to put a disappointing weekend in Las Vegas behind him and potentially add his name to the list of young winners on the circuit.
Denny McCarthy is a deadly putter who has wisely been playing safe into greens of late, ensuring he hits plenty of them so that his major weapon can fire. Having won in Florida, where he now resides, this improving 26-year-old could go well at a course where his strong par-four stats could be key if past renewals prove a reliable guide.
He's respected, but there are two better options from the top 20 in the betting, both of whom are old favourites, and I'll start with Cameron Tringale.
Though born and raised in California, Tringale went to college in Georgia and has historically been a good putter on bermuda greens, something we saw in evidence here when he ranked first in strokes-gained putting on his way to fifth in the 2015 renewal.
Ninth in the same category when fourth a year earlier, Tringale has proven his scoring prowess at Houston and for a while his record was blemish-free, with finishes of 73-8-16-4-5-57 across his first six visits.
Since then, he's putted poorly on his way to a pair of missed cuts, but those efforts both came in times of crisis and he's rebuilt his game over the course of the last year, triggered by third place in Florida last September.
Tringale was fifth alongside Roberto Castro in the Zurich Classic, held on a similar layout with obvious form ties, and he's since produced high-class efforts such as 11th behind Rory McIlroy in Canada, fifth in the Rocket Mortgage Classic, and top-20 finishes in the John Deere, Barracuda and Sanderson Farms.
Finishes of 17th and 23rd on his last two starts in Texas further underline the quality of his play over a lengthy period, and after shaking off the rust in the Greenbrier he's been back producing really strong approach play at both the Sanderson Farms and the Safeway Open.
Tringale was seventh in par-four scoring average on the circuit last year, and with each of the last five winners here ranking fifth or better for the week, and with the par-fives harder to capitalise on, that's a strength which can take him a long way.
We'll need a little improvement with the putter but his familiarity with these fast, undulating greens may help and he remains a player capable of winning an event like this by continuing to set up chances.
The case for Harris English is similar, and if a return to bermuda greens sparks any kind of improvement he's sure to be a big player.
English has been one of the standout performers of the early-season events, finishing fourth, sixth and 33rd, with the latter courtesy of a clumsy short-game and so-so week with the putter.
Among this field, there are just five players with historically stronger records on bermuda greens and allayed with the return of his driver as a weapon rather than a weakness, it makes English really interesting.
Wins in the Mayakoba and at Southwind point to his suitability for this kind of challenge, but key to the case here is that English is flushing it, ranking second, first and fourth in ball-striking across his three starts and finding more fairways than anyone else in two of them.
It's easy to envisage a similar display here allowing his putter to shine and this two-time PGA Tour winner has so much more to give having slowly but surely addressed all the weaknesses in his game, including a destructive driver which threatened his career.
Although his form here doesn't leap off the page, English has made four cuts in five, starting well on each occasion, and having freshened up by skipping Vegas he should be a factor once more.
As you may have noticed, there's a strong theme here - the switch from west to east and more specifically the south east, where these pure bermuda greens change the game and should favour those who have plenty of experience on them.
Of course, there are a heck of a lot of potential candidates even if we do apply such a filter, but none are more interesting than Matt Every.
Last week, Every led the field in strokes-gained approach by a distance, finishing 18th rather than higher because he ranked 70th in putting.
There's always a risk that such a display will prove a flash in the pan, but when last Every really clicked with his iron play he maintained it the following week, which as a matter of fact coincided with his last visit to Texas and produced finishes of second and 17th.
If he can do so again, Every should be a real threat in an event where eighth place in 2018 was his first PGA Tour top-10 in over three years, and only one that season, suggesting that a return to suitable, familiar surroundings was key.
Third place in the Zurich Classic and second in the Byron Nelson confirm again that this Florida Gator, whose two PGA Tour wins came in his home state, is at his most dangerous in the south east and while the putter is a worry, he's 27th among this field in all-time strokes-gained on bermuda greens.
All of that combined mitigates the risk of Every blowing out, as he is prone to do, and at 100/1 he might just be the best bet of the week.
Lanto Griffin continues to demonstrate that he's grown comfortable at last on the PGA Tour and is respected along with Richy Werenski and Harry Higgs, the latter now living in Texas and having hinted at what he can do over the first few weeks of the season.
There have been signs that Brendan Steele is returning to form and he's among the best drivers in the field, so with a Texas Open win to his name he's not overlooked lightly, while Carlos Ortiz studied in the Lone Star State and there's a case to be made for him, too.
However, my final selection is Zack Sucher, who appears to have been completely missed in the market despite finishes of 24th and 18th to start the season.
Sucher showed he can mix it at this level when runner-up in the Travelers back in June, and with strokes-gained tee-to-green rankings of 17th and 11th across the Greenbrier and the Sanderson Farms, he's hitting the ball with real authority.
Born in Georgia and now living in Alabama, Sucher is a real southern boy and across a stop-start career he's contended in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina and Texas, including when fourth on the Korn Ferry Tour when last visiting the state.
Sucher's par-four scoring average would've topped the PGA Tour charts last season had he played sufficient rounds and while he didn't, 10 tournaments gives us a strong enough guide and confirms again that his profile for this is strong.
This will be his course debut, but the standout 250/1 is at least twice the right sort of price and with plenty of 175/1 around, as well as 200/1 in a place, he rates a super bet.
Preview posted 1030 BST on 08/10/19.
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