The PGA TOUR is back on U.S. soil after a week in Bermuda, as players get ready for the Masters next week with a warm up tournament this week at the Vivint Houston Open. It’s a pretty solid field of entrants for this week’s event as some of the top golfers tune up their games for Augusta, so expect another fun week of DraftKings fantasy golf. This event has been a regular stop on the PGA TOUR and was typically played the week before the Masters for many years. Last season, it was moved to the fall but will return to its setup spot the week before Augusta in this year’s modified schedule. Despite the fact that it’s a long-running tournament, we don’t have course history to work with, since the tournament will be returning to the Memorial Park Golf Course for the first time since 1963.
The field is expected to feature the returns of Dustin Johnson ($11,500) and Adam Scott ($9,200), who both tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks. Other big names back in action this week after skipping the Bermuda Championship last week are Tony Finau ($10,900), Tyrrell Hatton ($10,300), Hideki Matsuyama ($10,000) and Viktor Hovland ($9,800). There are also past winners of the Houston Open in the field, including defending champion Lanto Griffin ($8,900) and previous winner Russell Henley ($9,400), but their wins both came at the Golf Club of Houston, so their success may not translate to this new course.
While the PGA TOUR will be playing its first tournament on this version of Memorial Park Golf Course, the course has been around for a long time, originally being designed as a nine-hole course for use by convalescent soldiers from the nearby military hospital at Camp Logan in 1912. It hosted this event from 1951 to 1963, but it recently underwent a major renovation led by Tom Doak with Brooks Koepka ($10,600) serving as the PGA TOUR player consultant. Koepka is in the field this week, so it’ll be interesting to see if his thorough knowledge of the course helps him find his form, which has been inconsistent and limited by injury lately. This will be the first PGA TOUR event held on a Doak designed course, but he’s very highly regarded as a course architect.
What can we expect from the remade course this season? There are only 19 bunkers on the course, and instead the layout utilized tight grass slopes and contours to repel shots around the green complexes. The course is also designed to inject excitement into the finishing stretch with short holes at 13-through-15, followed by a par 5 16th that has plenty of water in play with no place to bail out. The seventeenth can be set up as a drivable par 4, with a lengthy carry over more of the reservoir if the tees are adjusted to put that in play. The final hole is a long, 501-yard par 4, which will also likely result in a variety of scores and plenty of drama on Sunday.
The course will play as a par 72 with about 7,432 yards depending on setup. There are five par 5s and five par 3s on the official setup with two par 3s between 150-175 yards and two between 200-225 yards. This course looks to be a course that values accuracy off the tee to set up shots from the correct side of the fairway, but it will mostly be a second-shot course where proximity will be key. Shots gained on approach will definitely be one of the focuses in DraftKings lineup building this week along with leaning more into recent form and overall game since course history isn’t a factor to be considered.
As the big names start to return, you’ll need to blend the right stars with the correct value plays. There are some nice affordable options, who I think can pay off with a good week at a very affordable salary. Let’s take a look at who stands out this week from the options available for $7.5K or cheaper on DraftKings.
Sam Burns, $7,500
Burns has made the cut in three of his four events this season after starting the year with a top 10 at the Safeway Open in Napa. Burns finished in the top 35 at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship and the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open as well, and could have had a much better finish at Shriners if it wasn’t for a tough final round 70. Burns has been very good off the tee so far this season, gaining .991 shots per round off the tee and another .402 shots per round putting. He ranks ninth on the PGA TOUR in driving distance and is in the top 40 in Driving Accuracy Percentage and Greens in Regulation Percentage. Last season, he also finished in the top 10 in driving distance and gained significant strokes both off-the-tee and putting.
While his approach game and work around the green can sometimes let him down, he has several strengths which should play to this venue. He ranks in the top 25 on the PGA TOUR on birdie or better scores on par 5s and also plays above average on the longer par 3s in the 200-to-225 yard range. Burns is also twelfth on the PGA TOUR with an average of 4.929 birdies per round, and he has shown the ability to contend when the scoring goes low.
Scott Stallings, $6,900
Stallings has been up-and-down in the early going this season but had two strong showings sandwiched around a MC at the Shriners. He finished T6 at the Sanderson Farms Championship and T26 last week in Bermuda. In Jackson, he ranked sixth in the field in Shots Gained: Approach and seemed to find his mid-range game again last week at Port Royal, although ShotLink data is not available for the event. In the 12 rounds he has played with ShotLink data, he ranks No. 14 on the PGA TOUR with 1.102 shots gained on approach per round. Unlike Burns, he doesn’t mash it off the tee, but compensates for it with his irons and approach game.
Last year, Stallings put together a similar statistical profile and made 15 of 20 cuts while notching two top-10 finishes and three top 25s. Stallings missed the cut last year at this event on a different course, but should be poised to play the weekend if he can stay dialed in with his irons.
Austin Cook, $6,900
Since the restart, Cook has been rounding into form and has made the cut in 10 of his past 11 tournaments. He made it into the playoff at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open a few weeks ago before losing to Martin Laird ($7,300) and finishing T2. It was Cook’s best finish since he won the RSM Classic back in 2017, his rookie year on the PGA TOUR. In his three events this season, Cook has gained .796 shots per round on approach and an impressive 1.280 shots per round tee-to-green. Last season, he was an above-average putter but has struggled a bit this season.
He seemed to find his groove, though, in the final round of the Shriners and will look to build on that success this week in Houston. The Arkansas alumnus should be at home in this part of the country on this style of course. He did make the cut and finish T17 at the Golf Club of Houston last season, and he will try to translate that success to Memorial Park this season.
John Huh, $6,300
Huh has only played one tournament since late February, so we’re dealing with a very small sample size for this high-risk, high-reward play in Houston. A few weeks ago, Huh looked sharp at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in his return after the restart finishing T19 after firing four rounds under 70.
While Huh’s flat-stick needs a lot of work after the long layoff, he was locked in with his approach shots, gaining 1.675 shots per round, which is the third-best mark on the PGA TOUR. He also ranks in the top 10 in Shots Gained: Tee to Green, so if he can knock the rust off his putting game, he could be set up for success this week. He had made five cuts in a row before missing the cut at The Honda Classic and heading into his extended hiatus. Huh has made the cut in 6-of-8 trips to this event in the past with a pair of top-25 finishes, but all that was on a different course. On this track and with such limited recent sample size, Huh is a wild card, to be sure, but I do like his upside and his very affordable salary. Including him as a punt play and getting solid production will enable to you pay up for some of the top names on the salary structure.
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is Z.Thompson) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.
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