The Vivint Houston Open returns to the PGA Tour this week with a new name and new venue. Previously played in April right before the Masters–often as the Shell Houston Open–for many years this event moved to the Fall for the first time in 2019. This season it stays in its new Fall date but will again act as the final warmup for PGA Tour pros before Augusta (for one year anyways) in 2020 due to the Tour’s revamped Covid-19 schedule. Houston actually rates out as the fourth to last stop for the PGA in 2020 as they have two more events scheduled–The RSM Classic and Mayakoba Classic–after Augusta.
Last year also marked the end of the event’s run at the Golf Course of Houston as the event moved venues this year and will now be hosted by Memorial Park Golf Course, a public links venue that was redesigned in 2019 by Tom Roak, with assistance from Brooks Koepka. It was Koepka’s first foray into designing and gives him at least a perceived experience edge this week.
The new setting will be getting tested by a decent field this week too as several top-50 players will be in attendance here. World number one Dustin Johnson is back in action, trying to get in some much needed competitive practice after he was waylaid by a Covid-19 diagnosis just prior to the CJ Cup. Brooks Koepka will also be making a start here, just his second after an injury layoff prior to the FedEx Cup playoffs forced him to miss the US Open and most of the Fall series. Former Masters champions Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, and Jordan Spieth are also all here looking for some kind of spark to ignite their games for another potential run at the green jacket.
The event last season was won by Lanto Griffin, as the 32-year-old rode some great Fall form into his first ever PGA Tour win. While this event used to act as the warmup before Augusta, its move to the Fall schedule means we should again be emphasizing players who have been active in the Fall series. Last year, both Griffin and the two runner-up finishers in Mark Hubbard and Scott Harrington had all played at least three times in the prior four weeks before their big weeks here. It’s something to keep in mind as we hit the finish line for 2020 as well.
Vivint Houston Open course details
Memorial Park Golf Course (Houston, Texas)
Par: 70, 7,432 yards
- Greens: Bermuda
- Design: Tom Doak (2019-renovated)
- Past Champions (*different venue)
- 2019 Lanto Griffin (14-under par)
- Ian Poulter (19-under par)
- Russell Henley (20-under par)
The venue this week will be a bit of an unknown but also seems unlikely to present us with too many surprises. Memorial Park Golf Course is a parkland-style venue that was rebuilt by the city of Houston in 2019 and plays as a public golf links, which means it sees heavy use throughout the year. The course does have a variety of tees though and is able to stretch out to accommodate the pros. The venue will play over 7,400 yards here as a Par 72, which puts it around average length for a Tour course and will also feature Bermuda style greens which matches it somewhat to its predecessor from last season. The unique aspect of this course though is that it sets up differently from a regular par 72 as it contains 3 Par 5’s, and five Par 3’s, a factor that should lead to better scoring, overall, for the week.
It’s also worth noting that we did have a course on Tour feature the same kind of setup recently at Sherwood Country Club in L.A., for the Zozo Championship, so we have a little to build on in that regard. Sherwood eventually saw three pretty big hitters in Patrick Cantlay, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas all compete for the title and that likely gives us a little preview of what we should expect here. Memorial Park’s renovation left it with little sand on the course and there are only four holes where water comes into play as well.
Ultimately, with little wind in the forecast, the venue’s biggest defense seems like it will be the rough which doesn’t seem like it will play super thick given that the course is also a public links venue. With an extra-long hole in play this week, and a lightly tree-lined course with few hazards, we should expect Memorial Park to play in the “driver heavy” category which likely means emphasizing things like strong off the tee play, driving distance and solid strokes gained tee to green stats may be the key to finding us a winner here.
2020 Vivient Houston Open betting discussion and picks
From an odds perspective, here is where the last winner of this event generally went off, from an outright perspective, pre-event for the year of their win:
2019- Lanto Griffin +5000
Griffin arrived here with very solid form last season. The 32-year-old was playing in his fifth-straight week in the Fall when he won in Houston and was coming off four straight top-20 finishes where he had gained at least +5.5 strokes Tee to Green against the field.
Griffin was priced just below the top favorites in the mid-tier range and it’s also worth noting that the two runner-ups here weren’t anywhere near favorite status either, as both went off at +6600 or greater. Looking for players trending in Fall form should be our first key here and, with a new course in play ,it’s possible it also gives a slight edge to younger players who won’t be at an experience disadvantage like they would have been at the previous venue.
Betting favorites to win the 2020 Vivient Houston Open
Dustin enters this week having last tee’d things up at the US Open back in early September. This certainly wasn’t the Masters prep that he had likely envisioned when he finished T6 there but a Covid-19 diagnosis has forced his hand into a slow Masters build. At these prices, Dustin hardly looks worthy of an outright bet considering both the time off and illness he endured but you also have to wonder about his chances at the Masters in two weeks where he’s anywhere from +1000 to +1200 at most sportsbooks. What he does in Houston this week will definitely affect his odds there and a good week here could push his odds down further for the year’s last major. It’s at least something to think if you do indeed fancy him for his first green jacket.
Hatton has played well of late, posting a win in the tough BMW PGA Championship over in Europe and a T3 at the CJ Cup, all within his last four starts. It’s still a little jarring to see the affable Englishman this low in the odds though, especially considering some of the other talent we have in the field. Hatton’s played himself all the way up to 10th in the world now though and still seems to be grooving the ball as he led the field in Approach stats at the CJ Cup. It’s too steep a price to pay for him given the depth of the field here although his Masters price of +3000 looks interesting considering how good he can be when he catches fire like this.
Considering the length of his layoff and the fact he was rehabbing a serious knee injury, Koepka’s T28 at the CJ Cup–his first start since the Wyndham Championship in August–wasn’t too bad. He gained +3.3 strokes on his approaches there but did struggle off the tee which is concerning as that’s generally the cornerstone of his game. People who’ve made it with Koepka in the past may feel obliged to go after him here but it feels a little early for that. He’s also sitting around +1800 for the Masters next week so perhaps playing him in this weaker field is the play, or just waiting till next year when he’s fully healthy.
Like Johnson and Koepka, Finau also had to take some time off from his Masters prep this Fall to deal with a Covid-19 related illness. Finau does have an advantage over DJ though from the perspective that he was able to make it back in time to play at Sherwood two weeks ago where he finished in T11 position and was able to showcase a pretty solid game there. Finau gained strokes in every category at the Zozo Championship and actually looks somewhat beatable at this number especially with the five Par 5’s in play this week. The 32-year-old looks like he has scoring clubs working well right now and should find his distance plays well with the extra-long hole in play. He’s worth a look here at the very least.
Hideki keeps churning out decent results but is really having issues putting together four solid rounds. Of late, it’s been the putter that has been troubling Matsuyama the most, as he’s now lost over two strokes on the greens in three of his last four starts. His ball-striking did start to pick up in his last start though so perhaps this is where we see some continuation occur. Like Finau, it’s relatively assured that the 7-time PGA winner will eventually find the winner’s circle again but he still plays out as a better top-10 bet at these prices. He’s also +4000 for Augusta in two weeks which is actually much more enticing.
Scott’s an interesting entry into this week’s event. It will be the first time the Aussie has tee’d things up since a lackluster T38 at the US Open back in September. For whatever reason, Scott’s chosen not to play as much during this period as he’s only got in four starts since the Covid restart. He did win off a long layoff at Riviera earlier this season but, like Hideki, probably makes for a better at the Masters in a week where his outright win odds are far greater at +4500, and he may have some momentum to ride if he plays well here first.
Favorite bets (each-ways and outrights)
For more info on types of golf bets available each week, be sure to check out more info here. Each way bets refer to bets that include a bet to win and a bet to place (usually to at least top-5 but sometimes are available up to top-8 or more).
Scheffler heads into this week off his best finish of the Fall swing, a T17 at the Zozo Championship. The result may not seem like much, but Scheffler was close to competing there for a period and entered the final round in the top-10 before fading a bit. It’s been a bit of a hard road back since his Covid-19 diagnosis, as Scheffler was forced to skip the US Open in September, but he led the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee stats at the Zozo and still cracked the top-20 there despite losing nearly -4-strokes putting.
Scheffler’s lack of sharpness on the greens is a concern but he has a history of turning things around quick. He lost -3.1 strokes on the greens at TPC Southwind before bouncing back at the PGA Championship where he played in the final group on Sunday and gained +4.8 strokes putting for the week. Ultimately, this is a player who will now be playing in his fifth Fall series event this week and has started to show progressively better form. When you add in his prowess of the tee, the fact he ranked 7th in BoB% on Tour last season and the fact he shot 59 in a playoff event just about two months ago, the price here starts to look oddly good considering our two favorites both have big question marks about them this week.
Scheffler has gotten himself all the way up to 30th in the world this year, without winning an event, and for me this setup seems like as ideal a place and event as possible for the 24-year-old to break through, which he’s certainly ready to do.
Im’s been a pretty curious case study over the past couple of months, His ball-striking has taken a turn upwards into the Fall, to the point where he’s now gained strokes on his approaches in six straight starts. His Off the Tee game has also started to become a serious weapon as he comes in having gained multiple strokes in that area in four of his last five starts. The weak link thus far has been on and around the greens and he comes in having last gained strokes in both categories last August back at the Wyndham Championship–where he finished T9.
Serious fans and bettors will know that the fact Im last had success at the Sedgefield is significant as that venue carries Bermuda greens, of which Im has become extra fond of throughout his pro career. Despite the poor putting record of late, the South Korean still ranks 7th in SG: Putting over the last 50-rounds and has gained +34-strokes on those types of greens during that span. Perhaps it isn’t this simple, but the fact is, Im’s striking the ball better than he ever has in his career and his last time on these kinds of putting surfaces produced a +4.4 putting week from him. His betting price here also remains pretty solid for such a talented young player who we’ve seen go off lower than players like Viktor Hovland (+2200 this week) many times this season.
Much like his South Korean brethren SungJae Im, Kim has almost always done his best work on Bermuda venues. Wins at both TPC Sawgrass and Sedgefield all but confirm this but Kim’s prowess on Bermuda has extended into other Bermuda venues too like Harbour Town Golf Links, where he would have won in 2018 if not for a putting implosion down the stretch, the Valero Texas Open where he finished T4 in 2018. Kim’s main appeal here though comes from his form which has been insanely consistent in 2020, especially when considering how insanely inconsistent he was in his early days.
Si Woo will be making his sixth Fall start here–which fits him in line with last year’s winner Lanto Griffin, who was also busy in the Fall prior to his win in Houston–and he’s finished T8 and T17 in his last two events. While his approach game still can oscillate between amazing to pretty meh, he’s now gained strokes off the tee in seven of his last eight starts and has been insanely sharp around the greens too. The long and the short of it is, this is an aggressive player with proven killer instinct whose form and lead-in really mirror last year’s winner here Lanto Griffin for me. He’s a pretty easy add at anything at or above +5000.
If you follow the column you know Burns is someone I’ve been following since the beginning of the Fall. He nearly won the Fall kickoff at the Safeway Open, falling just short thereafter holding a big 36-hole lead, and compiled a T34 finish his last time out at the Shriners. His iron game has fallen off a bit over the last two starts but everything else with him seems fine. He gained +4.8 strokes Off the Tee at the Shriners and has continued to putt extremely well and heads into this event having gained multiple strokes on the greens in five of his last eight starts.
Given that he was going off at around +3000 shortly after his near miss at the Safeway, the odds we’re getting on Burns this week seem like relatively good (to great) value to add him as an each-way. The setup this week should be one he can take advantage of too. With five Par 5’s in play on Memorial Park–a course with light trees and little water–that should mean steady drivers of the ball should excel here if the rest of their game is sharp. Burns ranks fourth in this field in SG: Off the Tee stats over the last 50-rounds but also has very positive Bermuda putting splits which have seen him gain +42 strokes on the surface putting over his last 50-rounds.
Burns has competed enough now that we know the firepower exists for him to get across the finish line, it’s just a matter of finding the right blend of course and circumstance for him to pay off. That feels like it could be here and at these kinds of odds, he’s an easy add for me.
NeSmith is a player who flashed around this time in the Fall last year, compiling a couple of nice starts in the Fall and early spring before falling into a bit of a rut in the summer. The 27-year-old seems to have found form again though and he comes in hot after T17 and T8 finishes in his last two starts. NeSmith showcased some solid upside when he won late in 2019 in the Korn Ferry Tour finals, against fields that showcased some decent PGA talent, and when his game is in tune, he’s proven can get himself into solid positions on the leaderboard.
NeSmith finished T6 earlier in 2020 at the Puerto Rico Open, which came off the back of a T11 at Pebble Beach, and ranks fourth in SG: Approach stats in this field over the last 50-rounds. His putter has also started to come to life as he’s gained +3-strokes on the greens in each of his last two starts and he led the field in birdies made at the Shriners. Considering the proficiency with which he’s been converting his birdie opportunities, NeSmith seems like a solid wager here at triple figures and a player at least capable of getting us a look at a top-5 or better for an each-way payout.
Both these players come into this event with solid form but it’s Matsuyama who looks like he might be the one about to peak this week. The 7-time Tour winner saw upticks in all areas of his ball-striking his last time out at the Zozo Championship and has maintained a solid around the green game which should come in handy around the par 5’s this week. Hatton cooled off a little at Sherwood and could only manage a tie with Hideki there despite outperforming him on the greens. Even a little uptick on the greens for Hideki (or downtick for Hatton) could be enough for Hideki to get by in this one and at plus-money he’s the bet here for me.