The PGA TOUR Preps for the Masters Tournament ⏤ The Vivint Houston Open

Fantasy Golf

Memorial Park2

The PGA TOUR makes its last stop before Augusta at this week's Vivint Houston Open at Memorial Park Municipal Golf Course in Houston, TX. The event will be making its first start at Memorial Park since 1963 in the wake of a Tom Doak renovation (with input from Brooks Koepka) funded by the Houston Astros Golf Foundation. The 2019 Houston Open saw Lanto Griffin walk away with the title in the last edition of the tournament at the Golf Club of Houston before its move to Memorial Park this year. He'll return to defend his title alongside a much stronger field than he faced as the return to a pre-Masters spot on the calendar has done wonders for the quality of this week's field.

While everyone in the field is showing up with hopes of winning the event, there are still going to be 35-40 players in the field this week who will be playing with one eye on the Masters Tournament that gets underway next week at the Augusta National Golf Club. Those players will of course want to make some noise this week, but most importantly they want to find some form to build on heading into the first edition of a fall Masters. We wouldn't be surprised to see a few of those players in the field next week working on specific parts of their game that they may need to shore up ahead of next week's major championship. That type of approach may not translate into results this week, but might help solidify a foundation of form those players will be looking to build on heading into Augusta. That may make for a great opportunity for second-tier players to bag a win with a fair chunk of the field most focused on the future than they are on the present.

The Field and the Favorites

A combination of factors have led to a much stronger field at this year's Houston Open as compared to last year. As mentioned earlier, the move to the fall part of the schedule left the Houston Open in a disadvantageous spot last year. Prior to the move, the tournament was in the spot that it is currently in just ahead of the Masters Tournament. It attracted a relatively strong field as a fair number of TOUR players like to play their way into a major. Coincidentally, this year, the COVID pause rescheduled the Masters Tournament and that returned the Houston Open into that same pre-Masters spot despite its fall location on the schedule.

The overwhelming favorite headed into the week is Dustin Johnson who clocks in at +800. DJ will be making his first start since the U.S. Open thanks to his COVID-19 diagnosis and you have to figure that his appearance in this event is due to a lack of starts heading into the Masters. Prior to the unfortunate news of his diagnosis, he was one of if not the hottest player in the world. He had just finished 6th in the U.S. Open on the heels of a run from the PGA Championship through the TOUR Championship of finishing 2nd-1st-2nd-1st in the four events heading into Winged Foot. It's been nearly six weeks since he last competed so rust may be a factor, but his form the last time we saw him is driving the bus on why he is such a large favorite.

Tyrrell Hatton is something of a surprise second favorite at +1600 given that Brooks Kopeka (+2000), Hideki Matsuyama (+2000), Tony Finau (+2000) and Adam Scott (+4000) are all in the field. He's quietly racked up quite a little run over the last couple of months and seems to be back in the form that we saw from him as he entered the COVID pause. While he didn't play particularly well at Sherwood (T28 at the ZOZO Championship), he finished 3rd at the CJ Cup @ Shadow Creek a week after winning the prestigious BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour.

Some of the young guns are high on the board this week as well. Both Scottie Scheffler (+2200) and Viktor Hovland (+2500) enter the week among the top ten favorites and find themselves above more established players like Jason Day (+4000), Sungjae Im (+2800) and Jordan Spieth (+5000). Perhaps the biggest surprise is the installment of Russell Henley (+2200) as the sixth-favorite behind Tony Finau and Hideki Matsuyama. Henley finished 3rd at the CJ Cup @ Shadow Creek and 4th at the ZOZO Championship @ Sherwood and if he can continue his strong form this week he should be a sneaky good choice.

The Golf Course

Memorial Park comes into the week as a bit of an unknown factor as the course has not hosted this tournament since the early 1960s. Moreover, the layout looks markedly different than what the TOUR pros of yesteryear saw back then as Tom Doak's redesign has made a huge difference in terms of the test that this week's TOUR players will face. Given the parameters that Doak was required to work within, the course is not expected to be a brutally difficult test as it needed to remain reasonably playable by its municipal audience the other 51 weeks a year.

The three most critical holes are likely to be the run from the short par-three fifteenth hole through the brutish par-four seventeenth hole. Sandwiched in between those two holes is the eminently reachable par-five sixteenth hole. All three feature water hazards of varying kinds with the fifteenth green guarded closely by a creek and the sixteenth and seventeenth holes playing their way around the largest lake on the property. The strong player could easily play these three holes two or three under par while a struggling player who just wants to get it into the clubhouse could rack up bogies and doubles if he finds the water that awaits on all three holes.

As always in Texas, players should be aware of the wind and an advantage should be gleaned by those players who can control their ball if some gusts start to kick up in the late afternoon. The intensity of the wind is not expected to get too crazy throughout the week (ranging between 8-10 mph on all four tournament days), but it will be a constant presence and is likely to factor into most of the shots faced by the players later in the day.

Here are our selections for this week's Vivint Houston Open:

Group A (Dustin Johnson)

Group B (Tyrrell Hatton)

Group C (Shane Lowry)

Group D (Zach Johnson)

Group E (Scottie Scheffler)

Group F (Stewart Cink)