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Published 20 days agoย โ€ขย 12 min read

Houston, we have a problem

Scottie Scheffler had to pick one event to warm up for Magnolia Lane and the Texas Children's Houston Open is it! He starts the week as a +300 favorite to win. Not since Tiger in 2007-2008 have we seen odds this low on a PGA TOUR for a betting favorite. In case you want to start making those comparisons... Woods closed 2007 with five wins in six starts (and a runner-up). The offseason didn't slow him down, since he started 2008 with three more straight wins. At Torrey Pines to start his season he was an EVEN money bet to win! A second place at Augusta and a fourth US Open title on a broken leg, Woods pre-tournament odds for every event in 2008 were below +200. Sometimes I think a little perspective is important.

Pay attention to the changes this week. This is not a new event on the PGA TOUR schedule. The Houston Open has quite a history and most recently it was played in the fall wrap-around season. Memorial Park Golf Course became the venue in 2020. In three editions on the Tom Doak/Brooks Koepka design, the average winning score is 13 under par. The three winners are quite the all-star cast: Carlos Ortiz (2020), Jason Kokrak (2021), and Tony Finau (2022). Another great (and difficult) golf course, I expect there to be a very tight leaderboard on Sunday.

Houston Open starts in...

Count down to 2024-03-28T10:30:00.000Zโ€‹

Public terrain

Nestled in the heart of a municipal park in Houston, Memorial Park Golf Course is one of the best tests of golf on the PGA TOUR. When I first saw the 2023 fall schedule, I was bummed out the Houston Open had been cut. Thankfully soon after that calendar was published, the 2024 TOUR season was released and there it was. A perfect venue for the lead up to Augusta National, MPGC favors power combined with accuracy. I'm starting with the schedule change for a very important reason. When the Houston Open was played in the fall, the players competed on Bermudagrass greens. This week we will see the same putting surface as THE PLAYERS and Valspar; a Poa trivialis overseed.

It was very wet in Houston last week and the course got watered again on Monday (.25"). The overseed to Poa Trivialis was meant to firm up the chipping areas around the greens and putting surfaces making them tighter. If the course can dry out, that will be a consideration. The weather this week looks good for the tournament. Temperatures in the mid 70s and low 80s will be cooled off by some serious wind over the weekend (20+mph). As always, use the real time weather link below for the most up to the minute forecast.

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Course conditions

โ€‹Memorial Park Golf Courseโ€‹

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โ€‹Coverage timesโ€‹

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Real-time weather

โ€‹Houston, TXโ€‹

Memorial Park is a long golf course. The par 70 layout covers over 7,400 yards. The scorecard is fixed with five par 3s again. Just like last week, one extra par 3 per day puts even more pressure on your approach game. Eight of the 10 par 4s are over 440 yards in length and we only get three par 5s to score on. Five of the toughest six holes relative to par are par 4s. Three of those par 4s measure over 500 yards! The largest approach bucket is 200 yards and more. If you look back at the leaderboards, length is a huge asset.

Eight holes have a birdie rate over 15%, and nine holes have a bogey rate above 15%. If the wind gets a little wild, breaking into double digits may be a tall order. The cutline in three editions is +2.3 over par. The field of 144 players will have to keep the ball in play over 72-holes if they want to make the weekend. The top 65 and ties will play Saturday and Sunday for $9.1 million dollars. As Peter Malnati showed us, they are also playing for an invite to the Masters. This public venue is really cool. Take one of the best modern architects in Doak combined with the best major champion since Woods and Mickelson in Koepka and you get a really interesting layout.

I know many of the elite players will be using this start as preparation for Augusta, but with Scheffler in the field what better way to prepare for ANGC than to beat the number one player in the world!

Read The Line recap ๐Ÿ—ž๏ธ

This was Tony Finau's third win in five months. Finau was fantastic over a 10 month stretch winning four times in 2022-23. Unlike his recent play, Tony gained eight strokes at Memorial Park on the greens with his flatstick. In fact, the three winners have gained an average of 7.6 strokes on their competitors with the putter.

Power to the people

Just three editions of the Houston Open have been played at Memorial Park Golf Course since the 1960s. Conquering this beast of a course takes nearly as much finesse on and around the greens as it does power off the tee. I took a long look at the three winners and the top 10s of each leaderboard that followed them. By comparing their play, putting was the lead area where the contenders separated themselves from the field. Those players gained almost one and half times more on the greens than they did with their iron game. In my PGA perspective, this means a couple of things.

First, this course is very difficult from a ball striking point of view. Accurate approaches to domed greens from very long range makes hitting GIRs extremely hard. Second, if you can putt, you can differentiate yourself from the pack. I don't believe the putting will change significantly from the fall move. If anything, the new overseed will just make the greens smoother lending a larger advantage to good putters. The average par 4 length at MPGC is over 465 yards! Only major championship venues boast that kind of yardage.

Your mid and long iron game better be ready for this test as the most important approaches will be coming in from over 200 yards. The greens are large at 7,000 sq/ft on average, but they sit at funny angles and have multiple places where the ball can run off easily. Similar to the melting clocks of a Salvador Dalร painting, we will routinely see balls exit the putting surfaces and roll down into collection areas. If length and power is the most common theme between the November and March editions, I believe short game skill will be the most different between the two dates.

Memorial Park was designed to create challenges in the chipping areas surrounding these green surfaces. The fall versions never really had these scenarios come to life. Around the green play was one of the lightest areas where players who contended could gain on the field. The agronomy of the March edition should change that. I'm favoring more short game along with putting than in the November events. The course only has 21 bunkers, but they are thoughtfully placed. Players will be tested to design and deliver shots around these greens to score.

Unlike other TOUR stops, players can gain significantly on the 3s and 5s here as compared to the par 4s. The three champions gained the most shots on the par 3s (6.2), then the par 5s (5.3) than the par 4s (4.3). Those averages accurately describe where our winners need to attack. Note, 500+ yard par 4s are built for survival, not scoring. That's why the statistics lean this way. By paying attention to HOW the players attack the course we can feel confident this group of outrights will bring home a big win.

Outright Winners - Texas Children's Houston Open

Wyndham Clark is a perfect fit for this golf course and to contend with Scheffler.

  • Need power? Clark is ranked eighth in driving distance and third in par 5 scoring.
  • Wyndham is an excellent putter (ranked seventh).
  • Clark's short game is ranked fourth in the field. His combination of SG:ARG and putting is very strong. When it gets windy this weekend, scoring from close range will be his key to victory.

Sixth at API and ninth at THE PLAYERS, Sahith Theegala is no longer considered an average ball striker.

  • Theegala has a serious long iron game, he's ranked seventeenth in the field for strokes gained ball striking.
  • One of the best short game putter combination players at MPGC.
  • Over his last five starts, Sahith is gaining nearly six strokes total (average) against the field.
  • Theegala has three top 10s in his last four starts.

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Inside the ropes at the 2023 Genesis Invitational


Growing the game

The LPGA has played six tournaments and five of them have been won by major champions. For the second event in a row on American soil, Nelly Korda took home the trophy by winning in a playoff. The new number one ranked player in the world seems to be healthy in 2024... and motivated. From the Los Angeles hills of Palos Verdes, the tour heads east to the desert. The Ford Championship presented by KCC is a new event on the schedule. With just two tournaments before the Chevron Championship, these ladies need to get ready for major season.

Seville Golf and Country Club is a new venue. A field of 144 women will all be rookies as they attack this course for the first time in competition. Since this is the last stroke play event prior to the Chevron, the group is stacked. We have nine of the top 10, and 24 of the top 30 in the Rolex World rankings competing for $2.25 million dollars. If you are looking for one of those elusive five majors, then you better get ready. I expect the stars to show up in the clear desert sky.

Ford Championship starts in...

Count down to 2024-03-28T12:30:00.000Zโ€‹

The desert layout of Seville Golf and Country Club is a par 72 design measuring 6,615 yards. The course features 32 bunkers and seven holes where water comes into play. Keep in mind, we are in the desert, so there's more sand out there then 32 bunkers! The average hole length is not long, so I believe length will be a huge advantage. The four par 5s only average 523 yards in length. With no scoring history to evaluate, and based upon the size of the landing areas, these women will go low. The weather forecast calls for great scoring conditions.

The temperatures are forecasted to rise into the low 80s the first three days with minimal wind. The breeze should blow in the 10-12 mph range. On Sunday, the early prediction could be for some interesting playing conditions to close the tournament. The wind will pick up, approach 20mph and there's a 25% chance of rain. Now the final three holes all have water in play. In fact, the seventeenth hole is an island par 3. A short one that will require the players to hit a scoring club up into that breeze. Good luck holding a lead if things get dicey!

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Course conditions

โ€‹Seville Golf and Country Clubโ€‹

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Real-time weather

โ€‹Gilbert, AZโ€‹

Go low or go home

Every once in a while, we celebrate the expansion of the tour into a new venue. The Ford Championship is a brand-new tournament with an exciting venue. Seville Golf and Country Club has never hosted the LPGA. When this happens, the most common question I get asked is how do you handicap a new course? Believe it or not, it actually happens more often than you think.

Three of the LPGAโ€™s major championships move annually. The US Womenโ€™s Open, KPMG Womenโ€™s PGA Championship, and AIG Womenโ€™s Open all are played on different courses every year. Same situation on the men's side. I have plenty of experience developing successful strategies for predicting outcomes on courses we havenโ€™t seen before or not in some length of time.

Studying the Seville's course landscape, I see a ton of opportunity to score for the worldโ€™s best women. Sub-par scoring will be essential for keeping pace with the top of the leaderboard. I'm featuring BoB% at the top of my list and specifically the skills needed for making birdies or better. Who is currently hitting the most GIRs in close proximity to the hole. Then who converts the most putts per GIR. Thanks to my personal record keeping and access to the KPMG LPGA data, we know who to focus on.

Par 4 scoring will definitely be a factor needed to separate from the field. The par 5s will allow every player to score, but the 4s with an average length of 381 yards (well below tour average) are where the elite gain an edge. There's a direct correlation between par 4 scoring and overall scoring average. With the season's first major just three weeks away, the top of the rankings need to get going. Nelly Korda and Lydia Ko are off to hot starts, but there's a couple other names who have played really well and haven't won.

I'm interested in strokes gained off the tee as another step toward success. Seville boasts over 30 acres of fairway, and SG:OTT takes length into account. Longer hitter can attack here and reduce their approach difficulty. Do that over 72-holes, and that's another considerable advantage. Studying the holes, I see plenty of room and the greens average 6,200 sq/ft. That's especially large considering the length these ladies will be attacking from. Overall, I think we will get a really entertaining event. One with plenty of sub-par scores and major level names all over the leaderboard.

Check out this awesome outright list.

Outright winners - Ford Championship presented by KCC

She took the FIR HILLS off, but Sei Young Kim is back.

  • Kim in four starts this season has finished 13-3-17-15.
  • Sei Young is a major winner who is really strong OTT.
  • Kim is ranked second in par 4 scoring, first in BoB%, and third in scoring average. She can make a ton of sub-scores.

Yuka Saso is another great combination of youthful power and putter ability.

  • Saso is ranked fourth in the field SG:OTT and third in driving distance.
  • Yuka can convert on the greens; her putter is ranked fifth for putts per GIR.
  • Saso destroys par 5s. The four par 5s are short at Seville, she will have an edge.
  • Need sub-par scores? Only Hye-Jin Choi and Sei Young Kim have a higher BoB% than Yuka.
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