Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

Brooks Koepka and caddie Ricky Elliott. Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Memorial Park, the host of this week’s HPE Houston Open, deserves the honor of most interesting new golf course addition to the PGA Tour schedule in recent years.

The municipal golf course is the most affordable option on the circuit for the average hacker, which is cool in its own right. It was also renovated by renowned architect Tom Doak with help from Brooks Koepka. Measuring 7,432 yards at par 70, the course features five par 3s, five par 5s and eight long par 4s.

Carlos Ortiz secured his first PGA Tour title in the course’s debut last fall, shooting 13 under to hold off Koepka and the two men who would win the two Masters held in the next six months.

RELATED: A chat with Mal Baker and preview of the Houston Open | Caddie Line homepage

Everything about Memorial Park was more difficult than the average PGA Tour event – hitting fairways, greens, scrambling, avoiding 3-putts. It’s a reason only three players reached double digits under par.

“I think it’s a very tough golf course,” Koepka said last year on the eve of the tournament. “You know, with the rough being the way it is, you’ve got to put the ball in the fairway and then it’s a second-shot golf course. You really have to put a good strike on the ball, being able to spin it, be good with your long irons, there’s quite a few long holes. But at the same time it makes it quite fun if you do miss the green because you have so many options. You could putt it, you could bump-and-run it, you could flop it. It really gives the player a lot of options where I feel like you’re never quite out of it.”

With eight par 4s longer than 440 yards and a strong risk / reward presence on the closing holes, players must be in control of their ball and their mind coming down the stretch.

“I mean, just generally the course is relentless,” Adam Scott said. “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.”

“Yeah, it’s one of those courses where you can walk off kind of shaking your head even though you play some good golf,” Jason Day added.

Based on those comments, observations and last year’s results, a strong, long driver has an edge here. We emphasized driving distance and SG: Off-the-Tee, looked for putters who enjoy fast, Bermuda greens, and made sure to identify golfers who are strong on long approach shots.

Bargain Bin

  • Joseph Bramlett, Jason Dufner, Luke List, Scott Stallings, Sepp Straka

Back in the late 90s, early 00s, barbecue was a delicious part of a caddie’s experience in Houston. The Tour didn’t feed the men on the bag so well in those days but a man could count on a good meal after a long walk in the morning. That was a different course in a different time, but the warm taste of hospitality never fades.

As always, good luck.

Golfer power rankings

25. Branden Grace – Decent form of late with a T-7 at the ZoZo, T-27 at the Dunhill Links and T-12 at the Dutch Open. Putts his best on fast Bermuda greens and is better than the field average on par 70s and courses longer than 7,400 yards. Shooting 80 in the second round at Memorial Park last year is a negative.

24. Harold Varner III – Missed his first cut since The Open Championship last week at Mayakoba, a place where he’s played well in the past. It happens. Golf is funny that way. Still, he’s seventh in the field in par-70 scoring and 13th in SG: Approach.

23. Erik van Rooyen – Excels on long approach shots, the driver is one of the best clubs in his bag and he has hit the cash window on par-70 layouts. Finished T-20 here last year, closing 69-67.

22. Adam Scott – Most of last year the driver was a problem for the affable Aussie with the sweet swing. But his action is too pure for any hiccup to linger. He gained shots off the tee in a T-5 at the CJ Cup and gained at least four shots on approach for the second consecutive tournament. Broke par in three of four rounds in a T-32 in the last Houston Open.

21. Lanto Griffin – Sharp value for a pro who has posted back-to-back top-10s, avoids bogeys (seventh in field) and putts his best on Bermuda greens. Finished T-58 in his first shot at Memorial Park a year ago.

20. Max Homa – When he’s not crushing every podcast appearance or dominating Twitter, it turns out Homa is quietly raising his profile on the PGA Tour. Has lost strokes on the greens in seven of the last eight starts, however he’s been making cuts (and winning Fortinet) in that span. Unafraid if he’s in the hunt on Sunday.

19. Taylor Pendrith – Another bomber who should enjoy the sightlines at Memorial Park. Still has room to improve with his irons (122nd) although I suspect he would’ve improved those numbers had ShotLink been in force on Bermuda. Had the pleasure of watching him play up close and personal a time or two. Major talent with a bright future.

18. Jhonattan Vegas – Gained 4.4 shots off the tee and 3.5 Tee-to-Green in a T-44 at last year’s Houston Open. He’s third in the field in driving distance and 11th in par-5 scoring over the last 50 rounds. Presents fine value in such a strong field.

17. Joaquin Niemann – The softer conditions around the greens should help Niemann mask his one weakness (111th in short game) and collect more points in what’s likely his last start until 2022. Hasn’t missed a cut since Memorial. Top-20 in driving distance, fairways, greens and putting last week in a fifth at Mayakoba, his first top 10 since the 4th of July.

16. Talor Gooch – One of the hottest golfers on the planet right now. Wasn’t sharp on Sunday at Mayakoba, struggling to a 74 to finish T-11 but has vaulted to 12th in FedEx Cup behind an outstanding consistent fall. Finished fourth at Memorial Park in the fall, sizzling to a 63 in the final round.

15. Sam Burns – What a 12 months or so it’s been for Burns in the eyes of the oddsmakers. The Vegas favorite this week – and with good reason. He topped a model I built because he ranks top 10 in the field in SG: OTT, SG: APP and SG: P on fast Bermuda greens. In his last seven starts has three top 5s and nothing worse than 21st.

14. Patrick Reed – Time to hop back on the bus with Reed after he fought through horrible conditions to finish runner-up in Bermuda. Scuffled to a T-56 at Mayakoba but this Memorial Park should engage his creativity and enable him to put his short game tricks (seventh in SG:SG) on display.

13. Shane Lowry – Top 10 in the field in SG: Approach and Bogey Avoidance over the last 50 rounds. Wish that his par-5 scoring was better (109th) and the driver can be an issue but rises to the challenge when pars are valuable because of his incredible short game.

12. Sungjae Im – Top five on the PGA Tour in scoring average in the 2021-22 season and won the Shriners, of course, followed by a T-9 at the CJ Cup. Nothing worse than 31st in his last seven starts. Loves Bermuda greens and excels at every aspect of golf which should play well on a course that demands a variety of skills and shots. .

11. Tyrrell Hatton – Delivered on our expectation last week with a top 5 over the last 50 rounds in SG: Approach and bogey avoidance. Listening to my colleague John Rathouz’s excellent podcast “Under the Strap” earlier today, Talor Gooch’s caddie Mal Baker discussed his philosophy that golf, at the highest level, is a game of (avoiding) bogeys. Tiger Woods agrees and so does Hatton. He’s third in the field in bogey avoidance.

10. Maverick McNealy – Heading for a Tour Championship caliber season. Racking up the points and we haven’t even hit the poa annua portion of the schedule. Approach play is steadily improving and so are the results. Doubled the opening hole last Sunday and still shot 64 to finish T-11, providing yet another example of the old adage: “Just keep playing, you never know when the good golf is coming.”

9. Tony Finau – Didn’t quite put it together last week like I hoped but he thrives on par 70s and longer golf courses and his combination of distance and accuracy off the tee should put him in position to hunt birdies and attack the quintet of par 5s at Memorial Park.

8. Cam Smith – He didn’t play in Houston last year (but did finish runner-up at Augusta the following week). Top 10 in the field in par-5 scoring and bogey avoidance. Has three top 10s in his last five starts and bettered the field average in every applicable metric last time out at the CJ Cup.

7. Marc Leishman – He’s seventh in the field in proximity from 200 yards or longer, flourishes on courses longer than 7,400 yards and putts like an ace on slick, Bermuda greens, not dissimilar from what he grew up on in Australia. Also has a pair of top 5s this fall.

6. Mito Pereira – Write last week off. Not sure what happened but perhaps the mangroves made him feel claustrophobic. Can uncork the big dog and let it fly this week. Top 40 in the field in nine of the 10 most important metrics this week and if he strikes it pure enough his short game deficiency will only be a distraction.

5. Seamus Power – Coming in hot with three consecutive top 25s. That he’s done it on completely different layouts tells me he’s in full control of his mind and each part of his game. Ranks second in the field in bogey avoidance and third in short game over the last 50 rounds.

4. Aaron Wise – For weeks, months maybe, we were waiting for Wise to play well. It was easy to see his easy power and deft touch. There was one club standing between him and large paychecks – the putter. Well, he’s gained strokes on the greens in four of the last six tournaments, made 13 consecutive cuts and finished 26th or better in his last six. Won the Byron Nelson, outside Dallas.

3. Scottie Scheffler – Charged to fourth with a Sunday 66 at Mayakoba and keeps creeping closer to his first PGA Tour victory. Other than his outstanding effort in the WGC-Match Play record in Texas is mediocre for a Longhorn. Finished T-32 in Houston last fall despite losing 5.6 shots on approach – the worst iron play of his career by far.

2. Matthew Wolff – He’s an elite player, arguably top 10 in the world in time. Has to be excited to arrive at a course where his combination of towering drives and pinpoint irons will be rewarded. 17th-2nd-5th in his last three starts, gaining five shots Tee-to-Green the last two measured weeks.

1. Brooks Koepka – I mean, he helped design the course. And his price will never be lower. Also, finished T-5 last year firing a pair of 65s on the weekend. Has struggled of late but over the last 50 rounds leads the field in scoring on par 70s and courses longer than 7,400 yards. Does well when scoring is difficult. Like that he was grinding on the practice tee after rounds last week.

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