29 Nov 2021 | 11:45 | Golf
Next week’s RSM Classic is the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year (!), but this week’s Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open is probably the more intriguing of the final two tournaments on the slate this fall. Its field — filled with names such as Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau, Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns — is strong, and Memorial Park Golf Course can test wills if it’s playing fast and firm. If a few of the 21 top-50 players in this field get in the mix on the weekend and conditions get a little bit wild, this event could provide a great start to a nice closing kick for the Tour this fall.
Let’s take a closer look at this week’s contest with odds provided via Caesars Sportsbook.
Event: Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open | Dates: Nov. 11-14
Location: Memorial Park Golf Course — Houston, Texas
Par: 70 | Purse: $7.5 million
Three things to know
1. Brooks bounce? It’s not been a thrilling start to the new season for Koepka, who helped course architect, Tom Doak, design this course. It’s clear he likes his own work, though, as the four-time major champ finished in the top 10 here last year a week before the 2020 Masters after shooting 65-65 on the weekend. He doesn’t bring much momentum in this time around — no top 25s in three starts this season — and his iron play has not been very good over his last 20 rounds (75th of all the golfers in this field). Still, difficult tests seem to bring out the best in him, perhaps even more so when he’s the one that creates them.
“Tom obviously I think did a great job with this place,” Koepka said last year. “From the moment we kind of sat down … to kind of discuss some things and what I thought would be good in a golf course, and he had his ideas and I had mine and combined them and this is what you get. I think it’s a very tough golf course. 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 putt 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.”
2. Wolff run: One of the more exciting players in the world, Matthew Wolff, is on a nice heater to start the new season. It’s great to see, too, after the bumpy 2021 he endured. He finished T17 at the Sanderson Farms Championship before notching top-five finishes at both the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and last week’s World Wide Technology Championship. Last week was especially impressive because Wolff had to shelve driver more often than he would have liked because of the way the course was constructed. He can let it eat a bit more at Memorial Park, and if it’s rolling, he can let a suddenly-scorching approach game take over as he aims for the second win of his career.
3. Tough scene: Memorial Park may not have played extraordinarily tough last time around, but it did create some separation at the top of the leaderboard, which is the sign of a good test for the best in the world. Carlos Ortiz finished two ahead of Hideki Matsuyama and Dustin Johnson but four ahead of Talor Gooch and six ahead of all but five players. Its defense is its greens (mostly on approach shots), but it’s only a defense if they are — as noted above — playing fast and firm or if the wind is whipping. We should be able to tell most of that early on, but if they’re anything like last year, it’ll be a good week for the best ball-strikers as last year’s top 10 included Burns, Matsuyama, Johnson as well as Talor Gooch, Koepka and Tyrrell Hatton.
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Grading the field
Finau is the highest-ranked player in the field, and he’s joined by other top-25 players including Sungjae Im, Patrick Reed, Cam Smith, Tyrrell Hatton, Scheffler, Burns and Koepka. Outside the top 25 but in the field are Joaquin Niemann, Max Homa, Adam Scott, Shane Lowry, Jason Day and Wolff. For a mid-November event that is on just its second run at a new (sort of new) course, that’s a pretty strong showing. Grade: B-