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Houston Open Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 08 Nov 2021 | Comments

CARLOS ORTIZ held off Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama by closing with a 5-under 65 to win the Houston Open 12 months ago, becoming the first player from Mexico to win on the PGA Tour in 42 years. He has, of course, since been joined by Abraham Ancer.

He earned every bit of it, caught in a tight battle on the back nine with the defending FedExCup winner and Japan's biggest star. Ortiz delivered the winner with a 6-iron to 8 feet on the par-5 16th. He had to settle for a two-putt birdie, and it held up when Johnson and Matsuyama narrowly missed birdie chances coming in.

Ortiz finished in style. Needing two putts to win, the 29-year-old holed a 20-foot birdie putt for a two-shot victory and then fought back the tears as he waited for his playing partners to putt. The victory earned him a place in The Masters. He was there in 2019 to watch his brother, Alvaro, who qualified by winning the Latin American Amateur.

“It feels awesome,” said Ortiz, who grew up in Guadalajara and played at North Texas with Sebastian Munoz of Colombia, the most recent Latin American winner on Tour. “This is like my second home. There was a bunch of people cheering for me, Latinos and Texans. I'm thankful for all of them.”

The Houston Open was also the first domestic PGA Tour event that allowed spectators, with 2,000 tickets sold daily as life began to get back to some kind of normality.

The last Mexico-born player to win was Victor Regalado, who captured the Quad Cities Open in 1978.

Johnson was making his first start since the U.S. Open after a positive coronavirus test knocked him out of the CJ Cup and Zozo Championship. 

After opening with a 72, Johnson rallied with two rounds of 66 and a closing 65. His one regret would be the 16th hole. Tied for the lead, Johnson hit a poor a 7-iron for his second shot on the par five, leaving a tough chip to 18 feet and a birdie putt that grazed the left edge of the cup.

Johnson had another birdie putt catch the lip on the next hole.

Matsuyama briefly tied for the lead with birdies on the 16th and 17th, making a 15-footer on the 17th just moments before Ortiz made his birdie on the 16th.

Ortiz finished at 13-under 267.

Sam Burns, the 54-hole leader, had a 72 and Jason Day closed with a 71. Neither was a factor for much of the day. This was about Ortiz holding off two players with plenty of experience winning and tasting it for the first time.

Apart from Ortiz, the field will also include four-time major champion Brooks Koepka, US Ryder Cup players Scottie Scheffler, Tony Finau and Patrick Reed, still smarting from missing out on this year’s contest at Whistling Straits.

Koepka has a unique connection to the Houston Open, as he played an instrumental part in the redesign of Memorial Park Golf Course. He worked with world-renowned golf architect Tom Doak as a PGA Tour consultant as Memorial Park was revamped into just the second PGA-certified, municipally owned golf course in the country.

Brooks Koepka

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

Koepka won the 2021 Waste Management Phoenix Open and finished tied for second at both the 2021 PGA Championship and the 2021 World Golf Championships-Workday Championship at The Concession. He has made the cut in 128 of 158 career PGA events, with 77 top-25 finishes and 49 top-10 finishes. He also boasts eight career PGA Tournament victories, three of those coming in the 2019 season where he finished tied for third in the standings. This will be his second appearance at the Houston Open, having finished in a tie for fifth last year after closing with a pair of 65s in the third and final rounds.

Henrik Stenson, Shane Lowry and Lee Westwood are in the field too, with Stenson desperate to arrest his slide down the world rankings. The Swede has had a thoroughly miserable time on the PGA Tour over the past couple of seasons but showed some flashes of his old form when he returned to the European Tour at the end of the summer, coming close to winning twice. Westwood continues to defy the years but admits that he now has half an eye on the Champions Tour. He made a sensational start to 2021 on the PGA Tour, almost winning twice. But he has battled to find his best since then.

Few players have a better short game than Lowry. The Irishman had a wonderful weekend at the recent CJ Cup, finishing the tournament with rounds of 69 and 64. He is utterly at home on American soil and is most definitely a player to watch this week.

But the man they all have to beat is 25-year-old Sam Burns. He had a sensational 2020-21 season, winning once, finishing second twice and third once. And he carried on where he left off by winning the Sanderson Farms Championship, finishing 14th at the Shriners Children’s Open and fifth at the CJ Cup to take an early lead in the FedEx Cup standings. 

The Course

Memorial Park is a municipal course that hosts around 60,000 rounds each year. It opened in 1936. It is a par 72 and measures nearly 7,300 yards, featuring plenty of trees and narrow fairways. 

Tournament Winners

The Houston Open was won in 2015 by JB Holmes, in 2016 by Jim Herman, in 2017 by Russell Henley, in 2018 by Ian Poulter, in 2019 by Lanto Griffin and last year by Carlos Ortiz.

Form Guide

Sam Burns is currently one of the brightest young stars on the PGA Tours. And he is in the form of his life, having begun the new season by winning the Sanderson Farms Championship and very nearly winning the following week at the Shriners.

To Win:

Sam Burns. The form man

Each Way:

Brooks Koepka. Proven winner

Players to Follow:

Sam Burns. Has already won this season

Brooks Koepka. Almost back to his very best

Shane Lowry.  Due another big week

Marc Leishman. Popular Australian who can win anywhere

Five Outsiders to Watch:

Jason Day. Free of injury and looking to climb the rankings again

Lanto Griffin. Former winner

Ian Poulter. Has good memories of this tournament

Carlos Ortiz. Looking for another win

Gary Woodland. Too good to keep struggling

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Tags: PGA Tour FedEx Cup


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