Houston Open 2024 Tips: Willy Z can be the man in Texas

 | March 25 | 

19 mins read

jamie worsley pga tour

Golf expert Jamie Worsley is back with another of his comprehensive previews and five more each-way predictions for victory at the Houston Open. 

Houston Open Betting Tips

  • 2.5 pts Will Zalatoris each-way (1/5 - 8 places) - 18/1 
  • 1 pt Billy Horschel each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 55/1
  • 1 pt Kurt Kitayama each way (1/4 - 5 places) - 50/1 
  • 1 pt Luke List each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 70/1
  • 1 pt Carl Yuan each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 100/1

The unpredictable start to the 2024 PGA Tour season took a slight breather when Scottie Scheffler recorded back-to-back victories in the previous two events but it returned with a vengeance as the tour closed out the Florida Swing at Innisbrook last week.

The Copperhead Course always proves a tough nut to crack and it found out several high profile and fancied players, as Jordan Spieth, Sam Burns and Brian Harman all missed the cut, leaving us with an eclectic mix atop the leaderboard entering the weekend.

A fine finish from Keith Mitchell on Saturday ensured he began Sunday’s final round in the driver’s seat, though he started poorly in round four and never recovered. Eventually shooting a 6-over 77 to slip all the way down to 17th position.

Our 100/1 shot, Mackenzie Hughes made his way into the lead but a couple of poor bogeys on 12 and 13 at the wrong time did for his chances, and with rookie, Chandler Phillips dropping out of contention late on, it soon turned into a two-way fight between Cameron Young and Peter Malnati - tied at the top on -11 with two to play.

Young would arguably be the best player on tour without a PGA Tour victory and up against a player who had recorded just four top 5s in eight-and-a-half years in Peter Malnati, this was surely his moment. Though just as Young three-putted the final green from a little over 50ft to drop one behind, Malnati hit a superb approach to 6ft on the final par 3, which he duly converted and with a comfortable par on the last, he recorded an emotional first victory since 2015.

Another chance missed for Young, as he sets the record for most runner-up finishes without a win on tour with seven. However, such has been the quality of his golf the last couple of years, it is easy to forget that he is only at the start of his third full season at this highest level and at 26-year-old, he has plenty of time to turn his obvious talent into victories.

Onto this week and with the start of The Masters just seventeen days away, attention on the PGA Tour turns to Texas for the next two weeks. It’s to TPC San Antonio for the Texas Open next week but first up is the Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course, which returns after being absent in 2023, following the rescheduling of the PGA Tour this season.

TOURNAMENT HISTORY

Versions of the Houston Open have been played as far back as the 1920s but the inaugural edition of the event as we know it today was first staged in 1946, where Byron Nelson defeated fellow Texan golfing legend, Ben Hogan.

It has been staged at the redesigned Memorial Park Golf Course since 2020 and switches back to this spring timeslot – for the first time since 2018 - after the last four renewals were held in the latter part of the year.

The tournament has an impressive list of winners, with Bobby Locke (1947), Arnold Palmer (1957, 1966), Gary Player (1978) and Payne Stewart (1995) all lifting the trophy.

However, two players have won this event on a tournament-record three occasions: Curtis Strange (1980, 1986, 1988) and Vijay Singh (2002, 2004, 2005). With his back-to-back wins in 04/05, Singh is the only player to successfully defend the title.

Last five winners:

  • 2022 – Winner: Tony Finau (-16); runner-up: Tyson Alexander (-12)
  • 2021 – Winner: Jason Kokrak (-10); runners-up: Scottie Scheffler, Kevin Tway (-8)
  • 2020 – Winner: Carlos Ortiz (-13); runners-up: Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama (-11)
  • 2019 – Winner: Lanto Griffin (-14); runners-up: Scott Harrington, Mark Hubbard (-13)
  • 2018 – Winner: Ian Poulter (-19, playoff); runner-up: Beau Hossler (-19)

Tony Finau led the event from start to finish in 2022 during a hot period of form, as he won for the third time in seven starts. After almost seventeen months he finally gets the opportunity to defend his title this week.

THE COURSE

Memorial Park Golf Course was initially designed in the 1930s by John Bredemus and has hosted the Houston Open several time throughout its history prior to this latest run. However, it underwent an extensive renovation in 2019 at the hands of Tom Doak, with Brooks Koepka acting as a consultant on the project.

Amongst the changes, they installed tightly-mown chipping areas around most greens; removed trees to open the course up; heavily reduced the amount of bunkers at the course to just twenty-one; and added further water hazards down the closing stretch to make for a more exciting finish.

These alterations have resulted in Memorial Park proving to be a real challenge across those three events from 2020-2022, averaging a winning score of 13-under-par and examines every area of the game.

This par 70 course can play to a lengthy 7435 yards but rarely does so. It possesses 10x par 4s (405-529 yards), 5x par 3s (155-237 yards) and 3x par 5s (576-625 yards). The flat, relatively open parkland course has ranked above average difficulty in most aspects over the last few years.

Whilst the fairways are average/wide in width, many are located at an angle to the tee position, which shrinks the landing areas and has seen them rank as some of the tougher fairways to hit since 2020. Players have been pretty strongly punished for missing them, however, with much less penal rough this year (1.25 inches long instead of 2.5 in previous years) they should prove a little more forgiving if straying from the short grass in this edition.

Another change this year sees the bermudagrass greens overseeded with poa trivialis – a common theme on many bermuda-base courses at this time of year. The elevated putting surfaces are large, sloping and subtly contoured; which has made them difficult to putt on, ranking only 2nd to Augusta in putting difficulty over the last three years.

Many of the greens are crowned and made to repel balls at their edges; sending approaches tumbling down the continually steep run-off areas into tight chipping lies around them.

Bunkers are sparse though strategic when they are used, whilst there are some exposed ravines to be navigated on several holes. Water comes into play on four of the holes – especially prevalent on that exciting closing stretch.

It protects the front of the green on the 155-yard par 3 15th; sits right of the fairway and surrounds the green on the 576-yard par 5 16th; and ominously hugs the right-hand side of the fairway and green on the 405-yard par 4 17th.

There is a fine balance between longer and shorter holes. It is home to three par 4s at 500+ yards, combined with several at around the 400 yard mark; the 625-yard par 5 8th is joined by two more attainable birdie chances at around 570; and we have par 3s ranging from that short but dangerous 155-yard 15th, to the 237-yard 11th.

THE WEATHER

Storms and heavy rains on Monday may make the course a touch more receptive though there isn’t forecast to be any more rain during the tournament.

Whilst conditions look kind for the opening round, with winds mild, they get more difficult as the week goes on, with gusts of over 30mph predicted for Sunday’s final round. As always strong wind players will be favoured in Texas.

KEY STATS

  • SG: Approach
  • Greens-in-Regulation
  • Proximity at 200+ yards

Despite the course only hosting three recent editions of this event, pretty clear lines have been drawn about what is required here. With high-class and lengthy ball-striking types enjoying the most success.

Beginning with iron play, we find Tony Finau ranking 1st in GIR and 9th in approach when winning in 2022; followed home by Tyson Alexander, who was 2nd in GIR and 4th in approach. Five of that year’s top 8 ranked top 10 in GIR.

Jason Kokrak was superb in both of these areas when winning in 2021, ranking 2nd in approach and 3rd in GIR.

Carlos Ortiz ranked 8th in GIR and 14th in approach during his 2020 victory; Dustin Johnson in 2nd hit more greens than anyone and each of that year’s top 4 ranked top 25 in approach.

In addition, with the par 5s and longer par 3s/par 4s, we have seen a high percentage of shots fall into the 200+ yards range and I expect those stronger long iron players to be advantaged this week.

  • SG: Off-the-Tee
  • Driving Distance

Eye-catching driving stats have also accompanied many of the contenders.

The big-hitting Tony Finau was 2nd OTT in 2022, with each of that top 6 ranking inside the top 30 and all bar Alex Noren not lacking in length.

Jason Kokrak is another lengthy driver who ranked top 15 OTT in 2021. Runner-up, Kevin Tway ranked 3rd OTT and 6th in Driving Distance; fellow runner-up, Scottie Scheffler ranked 2nd OTT and 8th in driving distance.

Carlos Ortiz was more about length than accuracy when winning in 2020 and both of his nearest challengers drove it well; DJ ranking 1st OTT and in driving distance, whilst Hideki Matsuyama was top 10 OTT.

The less penal fairway rough is another factor that should play into the hands of the longer hitters this week.

  • SG: Putting (poa trivialis overseed)

Finally, putting these large greens has been the most difficult aspect of play at Memorial Park in previous years and has been a prevalent stat among the winners, with Ortiz, Kokrak and Finau all ranking top 5 on the greens the week they won.

CORRELATING EVENTS (COURSES)

Texas Open (TPC San Antonio)

The Texas Open at TPC San Antonio seems an obvious place to start this week. It is one of the more demanding ball-striking tests on tour, ranking closely to Memorial Park in driving accuracy and greens-in-regulation percentages, and requiring strength with the long irons into the similarly large bermuda-base greens, that are overseeded with poa trivialis.

Obviously, with only three recent renewals of the Houston Open staged at Memorial Park, correlating form isn’t overly abundant but there are some notable form-lines on show.

Notable correlating form:

Tony Finau:

Houston (1st) / Texas (3rd)

Jason Kokrak:

Houston (1st) / Texas (7th)

Kevin Tway:

Houston (2nd) / Texas (3rd)

Trey Mullinax:

Houston (4th) / Texas (2nd)

Gary Woodland:

Houston (9th) / Texas (6th, 8th)

Phoenix Open (TPC Scottsdale)

The large poa trivialis overseeded greens at TPC Scottsdale are the third-toughest to putt on tour – one spot behind those in Houston – and often require players to chip from tight lies when missing.

Also offering up a comparable challenge off the tee, with the courses similarly ranked in driving accuracy percentages and suiting bigger hitters, the Phoenix Open is as close to being an all-round statistical match for Memorial Park as any other course.

Notable correlating form:

Tony Finau:

Houston (1st) / Phoenix (2nd)

Carlos Ortiz:

Houston (1st) / Phoenix (4th)

Alex Noren:

Houston (4th) / Phoenix (6th)

Sam Burns:

Houston (7th, 7th) / Phoenix (3rd, 6th)

Gary Woodland:

Houston (9th) / Phoenix (1st)

Sanderson Farms Championship (Country Club of Jackson)

Though possessing more narrow fairways, the Country Club of Jackson’s lack of penal rough or bunkering aside the fairways has made it a favourite of bigger hitters who may not be the most accurate. A characteristic it shares with Houston and that may become even firmer with the shorter rough at Memorial Park this week.

Further to that, this fellow 7400+ yard course requires a high percentage of approach shots from 250+ yards, much like this test.

Notable correlating form:

Carlos Ortiz:

Houston (1st) / Sanderson (3rd, 4th)

Jason Kokrak:

Houston (1st) / Sanderson (7th)

Sam Burns:

Houston (7th, 7th) / Sanderson (1st)

Mackenzie Hughes:

Houston (7th) / Sanderson (1st)

Trey Mullinax:

Houston (4th) / Sanderson (4th)

Ben Griffin:

Houston (16th) / Sanderson (2nd)

3M Open (TPC Twin Cities)

TPC Twin Cities is a similarly lengthy course that has suited bigger hitters; is difficult to scramble around; and has an exciting water-loaded finish. However, it’s the test that players will face in approach here into the large greens that makes this appeal most as a comp event, with an emphasis on strong long iron play and a high percentage of shots in that 200+ yard range.

Notable correlating form:

Tony Finau:

Houston (1st) / 3M (1st)

Carlos Ortiz:

Houston (1st) / 3M (5th)

Alex Noren:

Houston (4th) / 3M (3rd)

Sam Burns:

Houston (7th, 7th) / 3M (7th)

THE FIELD

Scottie Scheffler has played in the last four editions of the Houston Open, finishing 2nd in 2021. The world #1 is back in action this week after taking the week off following his superb back-to-back victories in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and PLAYERS Championship.

The man he beat into 2nd in both of those victories, Wyndham Clark, also tees it up. The world’s fourth-best player is the only other top-10 golfer in attendance this week, with another seven from the top 50.

Among those is defending champion, Tony Finau, who is one of just three former Houston Open winners teeing it up, alongside Lanto Griffin (2019) and JB Holmes (2015).

Former #1 and Houston’s own Cole Hammer is in the field following a promising start to his year on the Korn Ferry Tour; fellow Houston residents, Cameron Champ and Michael Kim will also be hoping to benefit from this home game; and this week sees the first start of 2024 for Jimmy Walker, who has been battling a chest injury this year.

SELECTIONS

Market leaders: Scottie Scheffler 3/1, Wyndham Clark 14/1, Tony Finau 18/1, Will Zalatoris 18/1, Sahith Theegala 20/1, Jason Day 28/1

Unsurprisingly, Scottie Scheffler is a heavy favourite after his recent exploits and now coming to a place at which he finished 2nd in 2021, he will be tough to defeat. However, at 3/1 he’s of zero interest and I feel he has to be taken on.

If it wasn’t for Scheffler, Wyndham Clark may well be a three-time winner on tour this season and will be itching to get one back against the world #1 this week. He was very much considered for this but at a few points bigger in the betting, Will Zalatoris was the more appealing play of the two and goes in as this week’s headline selection.

2.5 pts Will Zalatoris each-way (1/5 - 8 places) - 18/1 

Halfway through the third round of Scheffler’s win at Bay Hill, Zalatoris was the name on everyone’s lips, as he’d produced a fine display of ball-striking to burst clear of the field before stalling on the back nine; then proving no match for the unmatchable Scheffler in the final round.

Having said that, his ultimate 4th-place finish there was another huge positive following his return from injury, after finishing 2nd on his previous start at Riviera. Forgiven a missed cut at THE PLAYERS on his last start two weeks ago, he should be fresh and raring to go in his adopted home state this week.

Zalatoris has been good in all areas across those starts, even looking in control of the putter, gaining strokes in his four starts prior to TPC Sawgrass. But it’s the irons which have impressed most, ranking 6th in approach this year and as a strong 35th in proximity on approaches over 200 yards this season, he has the ball-striking prowess to take to Memorial Park on debut.

He’s making his first appearance here this week and has limited correlating form, but did hit the top 20 on his only trip to Phoenix in 2021 and recorded a 14th-place finish in the Sanderson Farms Championship that same year. However, his good record on big boy tests such as Augusta, Torrey Pines and Muirfield Village show his ability on these lengthier courses and I see no reason why he can’t go well.

1 pt Billy Horschel each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 55/1

Billy Horschel suffered a loss of form following his 2022 win in the Memorial Tournament but he’d started to show some positive signs at the end of 2023, maintaining  it into 2024. With his strong record in Texas I’m taking him to take a further step forward at Memorial Park.

Horschel began his year with an 18th-place finish in Hawaii in the Sony Open and though missing his next two cuts in Florida following that, he bounced back over his last three starts.

He recorded a first top 10 at the Cognizant Classic three starts ago, gaining strokes in all areas and producing his best ball-striking performance of the year, ranking 3rd in greens-in-regulation and 16th in ball-striking overall.

Despite missing the cut, he caught the eye again at TPC Sawgrass two starts ago, driving the ball particularly well but struggling on the greens and in approach. He rectified that last week in the Valspar, again gaining strokes across the board for the second time in three starts; impressing most in approach, ranking 17th.

Though making his debut at this course, Horschel finished 2nd in this event in 2013 and is a past winner in Texas, taking the 2017 AT&T Byron Nelson. This affinity for golf in this state extends to TPC San Antonio, where he’s recorded finishes of 3rd, 3rd and 4th and with several top 10s in the Phoenix Open, he has proven that he has the game for the challenge.

1 pt Kurt Kitayama each way (1/4 - 5 places) - 50/1 

Kurt Kitayama has been hitting the ball consistently well this year, where he has been strong with his long irons. This should serve him well at Memorial Park as he makes his debut in the Houston Open.

Kitayama has missed just one cut in seven starts this year, which came when defending his Arnold Palmer Invitational title two starts ago. He immediately bounced back with a 19th-place finish in THE PLAYERS Championship a fortnight ago; his third top 25 this season, recording a best of 8th in the Phoenix Open.

That missed cut at Bay Hill was the result of a rare off week with the long game and he proved it to be a minor blip by looking good in this area in that top 20 at TPC Sawgrass. He ranks top 20 both in approach and off-the-tee for the season. When combined with his ranking of 11th in proximity from over 200 yards, and by the fact his two best putting displays this year came on a poa trivialis overseeded greens, he fits the statistical profile I’m looking for this week.

Kitayama’s season’s best in Phoenix should bode well here – a place where he finished 23rd on debut in 2023 – and with his win on the DP World Tour in Oman in 2019 showing what he can do in windy conditions, he shouldn’t mind if things get ultra testing.

1 pt Luke List each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 70/1

Luke List is up next. He’s performed with credit here before and has been hitting the ball typically well this year. With some handy correlating form and particularly excelling with the long irons this year, he can be among the leading contenders in Houston.

List started the year showing a good level of consistency, making his first four cuts of 2024 but stepped up that form at Riviera to finish 2nd; beaten by an exceptional final-round display from Hideki Matsuyama.

Though his results don’t look too great following that runner-up finish, with two missed cuts and a finish of 56th at Bay Hill, he hasn’t looked all that far away and has continued to show glimpses of quality in all areas.

It’s no secret that List is at his best with the long game and whilst the driver has looked solid enough, it’s with the irons he’s impressed most, ranking 13th in proximity from 200+ yards and top 40 in approach overall. He’s been hurt with an occasional inaccurate display off-the-tee; therefore this big hitter should appreciate the more forgiving fairway surrounds this week and he has too looked competent on this poa trivialis overseed this year, gaining strokes with the putter in each start on the surface.

He has played in each of the three renewals of the event here, recording an encouraging best of 11th in 2021, where he led the field tee-to-green. His excellent record at the Country Club of Jackson, winning there last year having previously finished 2nd in 2016, gives further reason to be optimistic about his chances this week.

1 pt Carl Yuan each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 100/1

Carl Yuan completes my PGA Tour selections this week after an excellent finish of 5th in last week’s Valspar Championship. If in the same mood, he can improve on his promising 35th-place finish here on debut in 2022.

Though the wild-swinging Chinese golfer has struggled for consistency this year, he has already tripled his top-5 tally on the PGA Tour just eight events into his second season on tour. He opened the year with a 4th-place finish in the Sony Open and after a string of more underwhelming displays – missing four of his following six cuts – he hit the top 5 for the second time this year at the Copperhead Course.

His key asset is undoubtedly the driver, ranking 21st on the PGA Tour in 2024 OTT. However, last week’s finish was a result of positive performances right across his game; ranking 4th in the field tee-to-green and though hardly setting the putter alight, he was far better than he had been in previous weeks. Something I’m hoping he can build on in Texas.

Yuan’s debut 35th here in 2022 was just the fourth start of his first full season on the PGA Tour and immediately followed three missed cuts. He actually played better that week than the bare results suggests, opening with rounds of 67 and 66 to sit 5th at the halfway point and whilst a poor 77 in round three ended his chances, he did respond admirably with a closing 69 to again highlight his suitability to the test.

A 6th-place finish in last year’s Sanderson Farms Championship strengthens his case and with the less penal rough certainly in his favour, I feel he stands every chance of considerably improving that 2022 result in 2024.

You can find all Jamie's latest Golf Betting Tips over on our dedicated golf Insights hub.

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