29 Nov 2021 | 11:44 | Golf
Two of the best ball-strikers in the field are at the top of the leaderboard after part of Round 1 of the 2021 Houston Open. Russell Henley, Talor Gooch, Marc Leishman and Luke List all share the 5-under lead after play was suspended because of darkness following a rain delay early in the round, but there are currently 73 other golfers within five of that lead and a lot still left to finish their rounds.
Henley and Gooch have been on an absolute tear from tee to green of late and both ranked in the top 10 in this field in strokes gained on approach over their last 20 rounds. Gooch has four top 11s in four starts this season, and he has gained strokes on approach in all three that were measured. Henley has gained at least 1.5 strokes per round on approach shots in three of his last four events. These numbers might not mean a lot to you, but the translation is pretty obvious: Both guys are scorching and stayed there on Thursday in Houston.
We’ll take a closer look at their rounds as well as the other leaders and who all is chasing going into the finish of the first round on Friday and the start of the second. There are currently a few dozen players still have to finish their first 18 holes, including List.
T1. Russell Henley, Talor Gooch, Marc Leishman, Luke List (-5): All three were in the top 120 in this field in approach shots on Thursday, and all three were in the top 10 in putting. When good ball-strikers have great putting days, they lead golf tournaments. Gooch noted that even though he’s been playing well — he was in the final pairing on Sunday last week at Mayakoba — it can be tough to bring that over to the next one.
“Yeah, anytime you’re playing well you try to grab on to that momentum, and it can be tough to take it week to week in golf because there’s such a pause between tournament round and the next week’s tournament starting,” said Gooch. “So, you just try to do everything you can to keep doing the same things. I’ve been able to keep doing that through the stretch, so hopefully we can continue it for the rest of this week.”
5. Jason Dufner (-4): Dufner uncharacteristically did not hit the ball very well on Thursday. Also uncharacteristically, he finished in the top 10 in the field in putting, which means he’s now in position for his first top 10 in the last two years. “I thought I played pretty well,” said Dufner. “I was pretty happy for the most part everything I did, but a couple key parts kind of in the middle of the round a couple times helped kind of glue that round together and maybe turned a 70, 69, 68 into a 66. So, I’ll take those two shots or three shots with those saves and look to improve on my ball-striking.”
T6. Keith Mitchell, Ben Silverman, Jhonattan Vegas, Wyndham Clark, Adam Long, Martin Trainer (-3): Mitchell is who I have my eye on here. He’s still 40-1 to win the tournament, according to Caesars Sportsbook, but in a good position after cruising around off the tee and around these complicated greens on Thursday. He putted horribly (barely top 100 in the field) and still sits near the lead. That 40-1 number is a bit too long.
T12. Adam Scott, Matthew Wolff, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry (-2): Wolff is looking for his third top-five finish in his last four starts, which has been one of the more remarkable (and encouraging) stories of the fall thus far. He did not hit the ball very well on Thursday, though, and that’s something to keep an eye on going into the last 54. Of the top 31 golfers on this leaderboard, only two had a worse strokes gained on approach shots number than Wolff.