Houston Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
Lanto Griffin defends his Houston Open title at Memorial Park and the big news for those preparing for The Masters is that they will be playing in front of 2,000 spectators each day. In what seems like a premature decision, the PGA Tour has given the go ahead for the return of fans in Texas, a state that has been hit hard by Covid-19.
Tickets, which were quickly snapped up, cost $79 for Thursday’s opening round and $109 a day for Friday through Sunday. Each ticket will include food and beverage from designated on-course venues (alcohol is not included). The tickets will be colour coded to correspond with the grab-and-go food and beverage pick-up locations.
“We are very happy that we will have fans at Memorial Park for this year’s Houston Open. We greatly appreciate the efforts of the City of Houston, Dr. David Persse [Chief Medical Officer for the City of Houston], and PGA Tour for working with us in developing a thorough health and safety plan that has enabled this to occur,” said Giles Kibbe, President of the Astros Golf Foundation. “The health and safety for all on the property at Memorial Park and the City of Houston is our highest priority as we welcome members of the community to the newly-renovated venue and to watch the best players in the world compete.”
All fans, volunteers and essential personnel must wear masks at all times while on the course, except when they are eating and drinking.
Some of the game’s top players have already committed to the Houston Open, including Brooks Koepka, who served as design consultant for the renovation of Memorial Park, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Brandt Snedeker, Cameron Champ and Tony Finau. Griffin, who captured his first PGA Tour victory here last year, is set to defend his title. Griffin earned a spot in the season-finale Tour Championship and finished 18th in the final FedExCup standings last season.
(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)
But several players have expressed reservations, including Phil Mickelson, who initially decided to give the event a miss, but has performed a U-turn. And despite the sensational start to his Champions Tour career, Mickelson needs to play in Houston - especially after a miserable display at the Zozo Championship at Sherwood, where he finished with a six-over-par 78.
Surprisingly, Tiger Woods has decided not to compete, despite obviously being in desperate need of more competitive action after a disappointing defence of his Zozo title. In his 20 Masters appearances as a professional, Woods has never played the week before the tournament but he was widely tipped to change that format this time. Woods failed to take advantage of the par fives at Sherwood, which is unique in that it offers five of them on the par-72 layout. He was just four under on the 20 attempts over the tournament and his 4.8 averaged ranked T72 in the 77-man field.
“I played the par fives awful. They're all reachable and I did not do that well this week. I did not drive the ball and didn't hit my irons close enough consistently,” he said. “The only thing I can take out of this week that I did positively I feel like each and every day and pretty much every hole is I putted well. I feel like I rolled it great. Unfortunately most of them were for pars and a couple for bogeys here and there, but not enough for birdies.”
Woods said he will now focus his attention on hitting high-ball draws as he prepares for The Masters. But wouldn’t it have made rather more sense to have done so in a competitive environment?
When he won the US PGA Championship in 2015, Day seemed to have the golf world at his feet. He had come within a whisker of winning The Open the same year and has contended in both The Masters and the US Open. He is also a former world No1. But the Australian has been dogged by health issues, including vertigo and a serious of niggling injuries that have derailed his progress. When fit, he is one of the best ball strikers in the game and when he was at his very best he putted like a magician. Everything looks the same and he still believes that he can win anywhere. He has the game to win at Augusta next week and will settle for a top-five finish here.
Along with the likes of Matthew Wolff, Champ looks like the future of the PGA Tour. He hits the ball prodigious distances but does so with controlled power. And like so many of today’s young big hitters, Champ also possesses a wonderful short game. He may not be ready to win The Masters just yet but he certainly has the game to win in Houston.
Snedeker would settle for a victory in any tournament right now. A consistent performer for many years, the 39-year-old has won nine times on the PGA Tour but it is more than two years since his most recent victory. Never a long hitter, he has built his success on a wonderful short game and that is the area with which he has struggled in recent times. This would be a good week to rediscover his touch.
The tournament was won in 2015 by JB Holmes, in 2016 by Jim Herman, in 2017 by Russell Henley, in 2018 by Ian Poulter and last year by Griffin.
Jason Day. Has displayed some real consistency this year
Tyrrell Hatton. Has no weaknesses
Dustin Johnson. Looking to carry on his winning ways
Jason Day. Beautiful ball striker
Tyrrell Hatton. Looking to continue his fine form
Dustin Johnson. In the form of his life
Lanto Griffin. Great memories
Brooks Koepka. Finally fit again
Brandt Snedeker. Struggling, but nothing a good week won’t sort out
Tony Finau. Looking to tune up ahead of Augusta
Sergio Garcia. Whisper it, but the Spaniard may be a real contender for a second Green Jacket
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