Sobel’s 2019 Houston Open Betting Preview: Embrace the Chaos of a Terrible Field
Caylor Arnold, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Bud Cauley
For years, the appeal of the Houston Open resided in its place on the schedule just prior to the Masters and the ability of host course GC of Houston to mirror certain aspects of Augusta National, often leading to an eclectic amalgamation of competitors, from global players hoping to prep for the year’s first major to those without an invitation trying to claim that final golden ticket with a victory.
As it turns out, that appeal doesn’t remain when the tournament is exactly six months before the Masters.
A change in date has also yielded a change in field, as the highest-ranked player competing this week is Henrik Stenson, who is mired at a mere 37th on the world ranking.
(How poor is this field? In the PGA Tour’s “featured groupings,” which always include the biggest possible drawing cards, are past champions Jim Herman and D.A. Points, neither of whom are “featured” very often these days.)
That’s bad news for a tourney that was saved by Jim Crane, owner of the hard-charging Houston Astros (more on him below), but it could be a good thing for high-risk bettors hoping to cash in at an event that won’t include a single sure thing in the mix. The caveat being that the lack of any true stars has caused bookmakers to slash prices on players who normally would carry long odds.
Let’s take a look at one of the least star-studded PGA Tour events we’ll see all season.
One player to win the tournament.
Sam Ryder (+4000)
This is the perfect week to take a flier on a player you think is ready to win, but haven’t wanted to back against stiffer competition. For me, that player is Ryder.
I’ve written recently about why I’m bullish on him moving forward. Last season, he ranked 20th in the all-around ranking, placing amongst the game’s household names and the second-highest on that list (after Sungjae Im) without a career victory.
He finished solo fifth in Houston the last time this tourney was held and is fresh off a T-18 during which his ball-striking stats were all in the positive numbers. This week feels ripe for a first-time champion and there are few options I like better than Ryder.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Bud Cauley (+5000)
As is usually the case with selections in the weekly preview, Cauley qualifies for multiple categories on this list, from a strong DFS play to a top-10/20 wager. Don’t be scared off by last week’s MC; he actually struck the ball very well, but didn’t make enough putts for the first two rounds.
Other than that, he’s trending in the right direction and heading to a track where he owns three top-20 results in four career appearances.
One player to finish top-five.
Russell Henley (+500 for top-five)
You know those Geico commercials where someone performs a task at the ultimate mediocrity, followed by the tagline, “Just OK is not OK”? Well, Henley’s performance so far at the start of this season has been just OK. He owns three made cuts, though none with a finish higher than T-37, all of which should qualify him for a Geico sponsorship.
His results at this event, though, are much better than OK, with five consecutive finishes of eighth or better. That’s right – no matter how he’s playing at the time, Henley continually crushes it here, as his results of 7-4-5-1-8 look like they should be the zip code for some neighboring town around Houston.
One player to finish top-10.
Brendan Steele (+700 for Top-10)
That’s right, guys: #SteeleSZN is upon us. Two of his three career victories have come during the fall part of the schedule; the other happened to occur in the state of Texas, site of this week’s event.
After four sub-70 scores and a final-round 65 only led to a T-29 finish in Las Vegas, expect Steele to benefit from tougher conditions in Houston, where scoring shouldn’t be as low as it was last week. OK, so his last top-10 came in Phoenix more than 20 months ago. That just means the law of averages should be kicking in right about now.
One player to finish top-20.
Johnson Wagner (+430 for Top-20)
There might not be another PGA Tour player who loves a non-major, non-hometown event as much as Wagner loves the Houston Open. He won here in 2008 and lost in a playoff in 2015. But his connection to the local community goes way beyond results. He stays with the same friends in the same house every year.
He circles this one on his calendar when the schedule is released. Wagner might not contend for yet another title this time around, but against a declawed field, he can certainly put together a top-20 performance.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
Daniel Berger (DK $10,400; FD $11,000)
Even during an injury-plagued 2018-19 season, Berger was often a “safe” enough option, making the cut in 15 of 20 starts despite failing to reach the FedEx Cup playoffs. Simply put, he’s too good to not revert to a more elevated status this season – and this could be a nice place to play him after a pair of top-25s to start this season.
Berger is a guy who’s never lacked for confidence. Against a field largely devoid of more talented players, he should be oozing with that confidence this week.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
Chris Stroud (DK $6,800; FD $8,000)
In the intro, I mentioned Astros owner Jim Crane, who rescued this event from oblivion. Well, that might not be his only impact this week. A few years ago, Stroud, who is a Houston native, struck up a friendship with Crane, one that turned into a business relationship, as Crane invested in a company founded by Stroud and other partners. Without many high-priced DFS options, you might not need a low-cost option like Stroud; on the other hand, he could help differentiate your lineup from those that only seek out the bigger names in this field.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Brian Harman (+3000 for FRL)
His track record here is horrible – four MCs and nothing inside the top-50 in six career starts – but there’s reason to believe Harman might get off to a strong start, at the very least. So far this season, he’s opened with a 65 at the Greenbrier and a 64 in Las Vegas. I still don’t believe this course suits his game, but for one round, he’s certainly capable of taking it low.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Let’s face it: Every isn’t a guy who’s usually on our radar unless we’re reminiscing about the more surprising back-to-back champions in recent PGA Tour history. (He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2014 and ’15.) But he should creep onto that radar this week.
Not only is he coming off a nice ball-striking week in Vegas, since the beginning of 2018, he’s owned some success in Texas-based tourneys. Every was T-2 at the Byron Nelson last season, T-17 at the Charles Schwab and, most notably, T-8 here in Houston the last time this event was contested. Against any player the books pit against him, Every should be a smart play this week.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Scottie Scheffler (+3000)
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan of Scheffler’s game. In fact, I think I’ve mentioned him in the weekly preview during each of his previous tournament starts since claiming a PGA Tour card. And I expect him to be a popular selection this week, with so few other viable options.
One week ago, I would’ve been all-in, but that was before a 74-75 weekend in Vegas. On Saturday, he -4.88 strokes gained tee to green; on Sunday, he was only slightly better at -3.24. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think he can’t quickly rebound, but those numbers are alarming enough for me to stay away from a player I really like in a field I previously would’ve recommended him.
My favorite non-PGA Tour play of the week.
Ian Poulter to win the Italian Open (+4500)
Man, my pick of Adri Arnaus looked pretty solid at the Open de Espana last week – that is, until Jon Rahm and his 3-1 odds decided to kick things into overdrive and win by a million.
I’m similarly looking past some of the favorites this week – and could get similarly burned, of course – by going with a player who’s kinda/sorta/not really defending two titles this week.
OK, so Poulter didn’t win the Italian Open last year. That would be Thorbjorn Olesen, who was somewhat ironically calmed down by Poulter on a recent international flight before reportedly being arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and urinating in an aisle, all of which understandably led to a European Tour suspension.
Anyway, back to Poulter. He’s actually the most recent winner of the Houston Open, but chose not to defend his title from 18 months ago. And he’s also the most recent winner of the Italian Open at Olgiata GC, where it was last held 17 years ago.
As if that’s not enough, this is what he looked like the last time he won here. If we all bet on him and he wins, we’ll start a GoFundMe to bring those mysterious sideburns back.