2021 Houston Open Betting Guide, Odds, Picks: Back Matthew Wolff, Cameron Smith & More
Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images. Pictured: Matthew Wolff
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|Harold Varner III||+5000|
|Erik Van Rooyen||+6000|
|Dawie Van Der Walt||+25000|
Not many of us will step up to a roulette table, notice that 00 just hit on the last spin and decide to take a single-bullet shot on a repeater. Granted, we understand that the odds of hitting any specific number remain 38-to-1, whether it hasn’t happened in 100 spins or just happened a minute ago. So, it’s less about math and more about our perceived biases toward the spurious “law of averages” which so often prevents us from betting on a repeat occurrence.
For the analytically challenged, think of it this way: If I flip a coin nine times and it comes up heads every time, then I ask you to make a bet on the 10th flip, do you automatically put it all on tails? While the odds of a 10th straight time landing on heads are obviously long – 1,024-to-1, according to the Internet, which seems like a much better source than me trying to do that math on my own – the probability of that coin landing on heads during that specific flip remains 50/50.
All of which brings us to Viktor Hovland and — soon, I promise — Carlos Ortiz.
There are those who bet Hovland to successfully defend his title at Mayakoba last week, based largely on the fact that he’d already done it. We’d witnessed it with our own eyes, which means it didn’t take an act of imagination to foresee it happening again.
As I‘ve written previously in these previews, it’s sometimes difficult for me to recommend outrights on those who haven’t won before – even worthy, talented players such as Scottie Scheffler, Talor Gooch and Cameron Tringale, all of whom are viable options once again this week – because we’re betting a comparatively short number on something which has literally never before happened.
Of course, if we collectively never wagered on things which had never happened, we would’ve automatically eliminated ourselves from tickets on four of the seven major championship winners over the past 15 months, plus so many other first-time champions.
On the flip side of this coin, so to speak, is the perceived bias against a recurring circumstance.
Prior to this weekend, the last player to successfully defend a title on the PGA TOUR was Brooks Koepka at the 2019 PGA Championship – and that’s essentially an outlier for this scenario, considering that edition of the tourney was played some 1,000 miles away from the previous version, with no return-to-the-scene-of-the-crime narrative at play.
It’s no secret that defending a title is tough and successfully defending is improbable. Part of this must revolve around the additional media requests and fan attention for that given player; some of decidedly due to the psychological nature of trying to chase some version of perfection for a second consecutive year.
(Which makes this one of the most underrated and jaw-dropping of all the amazing Tiger Woods statistics: He successfully defended a title 23 different times on the PGA TOUR, including nine during the two-year stretch from 2006-’07. That’s right – he successfully defended more titles than Greg Norman, Ernie Els and Davis Love III ever won, and more than Rory McIlroy owns so far.)
So, while there were some bettors who played Hovland outright this past weekend simply because he’d won there last year, there were undoubtedly those who did just the opposite, leaving one of the game’s most talented ball-strikers off the final card for the sole reason that the “law of averages” would’ve prevented him from winning again.
There’s a valuable lesson in there for all of us.
It’s just like flipping that coin: While the odds of Hovland winning back-to-back were long – essentially, a parlay on the Norwegian to claim both the 2020 and ’21 editions of that event – the probability of him winning last week shouldn’t have been downgraded because he’d done it already. If heads already hit, that doesn’t mean tails is coming next.
This all dovetails quite nicely into the tale of Ortiz, who won the Houston Open last year in the tourney’s return to Memorial Park and is fresh off a runner-up finish this past weekend.
We’re always seeking that intersection of current form and course history, and Ortiz lies dead in the middle of it this week, ticking all those relevant boxes. If there was a reason to fade him, it’s that old rationale which tells us the “law of averages” are against him. That’s not only poor reasoning, it’s antithetical to the cause.
My guess is that Hovland’s win will encourage more action on Ortiz than if the title defense drought was still ongoing – a recency bias for a recency bias, if you will.
While I do like Ortiz, and I’ll mention him shortly, my favorite play this week is another player who’s very much trending in the right direction.
One player to win the tournament.
Matthew Wolff (+2500)
Plenty of the prop plays in recent editions of this weekly preview have cashed, but the lone outright selection has been admittedly awful. Almost makes a guy want to list, say, 17 different outrights, then celebrate when a winner inevitably hits, like some others in the industry. I kid, I kid. Sorta.
Enough digression, I’m going back to one of last week’s prop winners for my favorite outright in Houston. For everything that was troubling Wolff earlier this year, both on and off the golf course, he appears in a much better state of mind these days — and that’s reflected in his results, as well.
Last week at Mayakoba, he opened with a 61 to grab FRL honors and closed with a 65; of the two middle rounds hadn’t included seven bogeys, he might’ve challenged his former Oklahoma State teammate Hovland down the stretch.
“I’m really confident in my game right now and I’ve proven over time when stuff goes well and I am confident, I can kind of carry it over,” he said last week. “So right now my swing feels really good, my head’s in a good spot and I’m just happy to be out here, regardless of the result.”
That performance does serve as a microcosm for his game, though. When he’s on, Wolff is a birdie machine who can rack ‘em up in a hurry. I’ve always cringed at the cliché, “He’s not afraid to go low,” because that literally describes every single player who’s competing at the highest level. I do understand, though, that the premise of that statement fits some better than others.
There will those who get to 7-under in an opening round, then simply play to “protect” that number coming to the clubhouse, while Wolff is a guy who tends to step on the gas pedal when it’s going right, as evidenced by matching 61s in his last two Thursday rounds.
The problem with Wolff’s game, as epitomized last week, is that it can similarly go south in a hurry, making him the proverbial high-ceiling/low-floor play — not just from week-to-week, but within the constraints of an individual tournament or even a single round. That makes him an ideal match for live outrights. We can take advantage of a drifting price after a few inevitable bogeys, comforted by the fact that that he owns so much bounce-back-ability. One of these weeks, though, I really believe he’ll be all ceiling and no floor, cruising to a Sunday coronation much like Hovland this past weekend.
Based on his low opening rounds lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes wire-to-wire at some point, keeping his foot on that aforementioned pedal. Against a middling field, on a course which should suit his style, this could very well be the week off a pair of recent top-five finishes.
Watching his college teammate triumph can only serve as greater motivation for a player who looks like he’s all the way back from some dark times.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Tyrrell Hatton (+2500)
I’m a very casual DFS player when it comes to NBA, so don’t take my strategy as any sort of gospel, but I tend to fade players who have overperformed in their previous game and play those who have underperformed. For whatever reason, it feels like the NBA, more than most other sports, offers that continuing balancing act, as if players’ numbers are always adjusting to scale.
That doesn’t happen much in golf, where we tend to play trends and course history, but Hatton has a little bit of that NBA strategy in him; basically, one of the game’s great temper-tantrum throwers tends to play his best golf after playing his worst golf.
To wit: Until last week, Hatton had finished outside of the top-30 on five occasions since May. His results in his next start after those five are 2nd-18th-17th-MC-2nd. Last week, he finished T-40. For other elite-level players, that might mean they need to start trending in the right direction again before we take them; for Hatton, it could mean he’s ready for another title contention.
Brooks Koepka (+2800)
There are plenty of reasons why bettors might jump on Koepka at what is a decent opening price this week.
First, he served as a consultant when Memorial Park was being renovated, so it should offer some familiarity and a little special place in his heart.
Second, in the return to this course last year, he’d finished outside the top-25 in three straight starts, then produced a T-5 which featured matching 65s on the weekend, proving he can play some solid golf here.
And third, his results after an MC make Hatton’s look inferior by comparison. In his last four starts after missing the cut, he’s finished 1st-MC-2nd-4th.
Aaron Wise (+3000)
I’m not sure if Wise or Scheffler or Gooch is this week’s Occam’s Razor play – essentially, the simplest answer is often the best one – but they each fall into the category of strong selection who is trending.
I don’t know that Wise has more win equity just because he’s won before – you know, those roulette table odds again – but I do think his next win is coming at some point this season and it could be this week. I like him in all formats.
Carlos Ortiz (+3500)
See? Told ya I wouldn’t let any perceived biases keep me from offering up the defending champion this week, though if your OAD pool prevents you from taking last year’s winner, well, send the intro of this piece to your commish, then tell ‘em you’re taking Ortiz anyway … or not.
One player to finish top-five.
Cam Davis (+1400 for top-five)
It would’ve been way easier – and hey, maybe way smarter – to simply list one of the favorites like Sam Burns or Tony Finau or Sungjae Im for my top-five play, but I’m going with a guy who’s much more off-the-radar right now. Of course, with great odds comes great trepidation.
Since his first career victory at the Rocket Mortgage Classic this summer, Davis doesn’t even own a top-25 in eight starts. And the course history isn’t too special, either, as he finished DFL of those who made the cut here last year, posting 75 or higher in his final three rounds.
That said, I love the number, love his ceiling and love the fact that in a limited sample size, Detroit GC could serve as a nice corollary for Memorial Park. Call this one an educated hunch.
One player to finish top-10.
Keith Mitchell (+1200 for top-10)
Over his past few appearances, Mitchell is a guy I’ve identified as critically undervalued in every marketplace. He came through with a T-3 at the CJ Cup, then faltered to a T-56 at Mayakoba, but really, I’ve just been waiting for him to get back to a longer track, one where his advantage off the tee should offer a major edge.
Mitchell hits it long and straight; he ranks 27th in strokes gained off the tee this season after finishing 11th last season. He owns some win equity and tons of value this week, making him one of my favorite plays on the board.
One player to finish top-20.
Brandon Hagy (+700 for top-20)
Ditto everything I just wrote about Mitchell. I think Hagy wins on the PGA TOUR this season and while an alternate-field event like Reno-Tahoe makes the most sense, there’s no reason he can’t catch lightning in a bottle on this type of course and win here.
Not gonna lie: No finishes inside the top-50 in his last seven starts certainly scares me, but this one is a play on talent over form.
One player to finish top-30.
Continuing the trend of undervalued big hitters for these props, Mullinax admittedly might be better suited for a higher ceiling play, considering he’s finished top-five in two of his last five starts (including the KFT Championship), but outside the top-50 in the other three.
He’s certainly been something of an all-or-nothing guy throughout his career, so don’t be afraid to throw him into some GPP lineups in DFS, as well; he’s the type who can make or break your whole week.
One player to finish top-40.
Jimmy Walker (+275 for top-40)
Five years ago, Walker won his first and (so far) only major championship title, culminating a few stellar years with a PGA Championship victory at Baltusrol. Since then, his career has largely been derailed due to illness and injury, as that win remains his most recent, but there are signs that he is slowly returning to form. Walker counts a T-11 and T-24 among his last four results and finished in a share of sixth place at the Memorial back in June.
There’s certainly a chance he doesn’t reach the weekend – he’s MC’d in three of his last six starts – but back in his home state of Texas, he’s very much worth a conservative wager or back-end-of-the-lineup DFS play.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
I’ve mentioned him a few times already in this preview, so you knew an official play was coming. I don’t mind Scottie for top-five/top-10 props, although I will point out that last week’s fourth-place finish was his first time cashing tickets for either in his last seven starts.
Even so, I think he owns a higher floor than most of his top-of-the-board peers. Fresh off a week in which seemingly all of the big names fared well, I could see something much different this time around, so be careful with those big-money DFS plays. Scheffler should be safer than most.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
A former stud at Texas A&M, it’s taken Burgoon a while to get his footing in the big leagues. This is the fifth straight campaign in which he’s had his card, thanks to a T-2 at the KFT Championship, and it could be the one where he finally starts to assert himself. There were a pair of runner-up results back in 2018, but otherwise he’s consistently flown under the radar.
On what should be a good course for him, there’s very little risk with the potential for a nice reward this week.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Sepp Straka (+10000 for FRL)
With only one edition of this event at Memorial Park so far – well, in the current era, at least; it hosted this tournament long ago, as well – there’s not a whole lot to go on, as far as course history. I listed a few players who fared well last year, guys such as Ortiz, Hatton and Wise; despite a T-5 here a year ago, Straka is a bit more off the radar, but a guy who is known for getting off to a fast start and should play well.
He opened with a 66 last week, a 68 at this event last year and held FRL honors at the Olympics, so while he doesn’t own a great R1 scoring average, he’s certainly capable of a low Thursday.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Cameron Smith (+1800)
I think there used to be more of a natural progression for up-and-comers on the PGA TOUR: Those with talent could first get their feet wet, then keep their card, then start contending, then win one, then develop some high-level consistency, then start contending and winning more often. I don’t know that this is necessarily the case anymore, but I do think Smith has sort of followed along these lines. Essentially, he’s reached the part of this process where he’s already won, he’s already contended at majors, but now he’s consistently playing solid golf every single time he tees it up.
From what I’ve heard from those who know him well, this has a lot to do with his unending desire to keep moving up the leaderboard. Yes, I know we could say that about every player – just like the “going low” axiom I used in the section about Wolff, but I think Smith has a greater level of grind than many others, which gives him the ability to turn what should be maybe a T-18 result into a top-10.
He owns four top-10s in his last six starts and while I think he’s going to win again soon, this week’s number – he opened tied for second on the board — is too low for me to chase, but I do think his tendency to keep grinding makes him a solid choice in H2H wagers, not just this week, but every week.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Sam Burns (+1200)
Look, I love Burns’ game. I’ve already preemptively predicted that I think he’ll contend at next year’s Masters and make the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2023. But this fade is more about Burns’ odds than Burns himself.
I was a little surprised to see him open as the favorite this week, and very surprised to see him open as so much of a favorite. Now, that can change from the time I write this until Thursday morning – and I think it will – but for Burns to open at 12/1 and nobody else shorter than 18/1 shows too much confidence in his ability to win for a third time so quickly after the second one.
You want to take him for a conservative top-20 or play him in a few DFS lineups? I won’t talk you out of it. But just because he won as the pre-tourney fave at the Sanderson Farms recently doesn’t mean it’ll happen again. I’d rather wait and play him in a better field with bigger odds.