Sobel’s Houston Open Preview: 5 Players Who Need Momentum Going Into Masters
Jeff Gross/Getty Images. Pictured: Brooks Koepka.
We are officially at Houston Open week … which means we’re one week away from being officially at Masters week … which means we should start getting very, very excited.
Before we can start breaking down the festivities in Augusta, we’ll have to break down the festivities in Houston — but that doesn’t mean we can’t combine the two.
There are a total of 37 players in the Masters field who will first tee it up this week, meaning we should receive plenty of signals on favorites, longshots and everyone in between.
(Since you asked so nicely, here are the names who will be in Houston and at the Masters: Corey Conners, Jason Day, Tyler Duncan, Tony Finau, Dylan Frittelli, Sergio Garcia, Lucas Glover, Lanto Griffin, Justin Harding, Tyrrell Hatton, Max Homa, Sungjae Im, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Sung Kang, Si Woo Kim, Brooks Koepka, Andrew Landry, Nate Lashley, Shane Lowry, Hideki Matsuyama, Graeme McDowell, Phil Mickelson, Francesco Molinari, C.T. Pan, Pat Perez, J.T. Poston, Andrew Putnam, Scottie Scheffler, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Erik Van Rooyen, Jimmy Walker, Lee Westwood and Danny Willett.)
Of those 37, I’ve identified a top-five list of those with something to prove this week — to themselves, at least, if not to us.
This isn’t a list of the top-five Houston Open competitors who could win the Masters, nor is it a list of the top-five Masters competitors who could win the Houston Open. These are simply five guys who could use a little momentum this week before driving down Magnolia Lane next week.
Yeah, I know: There aren’t many players who have finished 6th-1st-2nd-1st-2nd-1st in their last five starts who “could use a little momentum” in the aftermath of a run like that.
Let’s remember, though, that D.J.’s last start came at the U.S. Open seven weeks ago. He planned to play both The CJ Cup and the Zozo Championship, but a positive COVID-19 test knocked him out of those.
Johnson remains one of the Masters favorites entering next week — and deservedly so — but a below-average performance in Houston could signify a drop in form since we last saw him play.
As it stands right now, Koepka is 20/1 for the Masters at DraftKings — and yes, that price is purely based on reputation. If he was still searching for a major instead of being a four-time winner already, Koepka would likely be somewhere in the neighborhood of three times this number, based on a two-month absence to deal with his lingering knee injury, followed by a T28 finish in his only start since then.
Even though he’s repeatedly proven he can show up at a major and find his best stuff, you’d better believe Koepka would like to find something in Houston — even if it doesn’t lead to a strong result.
No elite player this side of Molinari has played less competitive golf since the PGA TOUR’s restart than Scott, whose decision to play less backfired when he was forced to withdraw from the Zozo after testing positive for COVID-19. That means he has now played four events since March, finishing between 22nd and 58th in each, well below his usual level.
At 40 years old, Scott is still very capable of winning another Masters, but it’s hard to think his game is anywhere close to where he needs it to be right now.
The hard truth is that I could write a list of “players who need some momentum” on any given week and Spieth’s name would show up on it, regardless of whether the Masters is right around the corner.
He’s obviously playing at a level many notches below the one which brought him the green jacket five years ago and two other major titles, but there have been some slight glimmers of hope lately. After three consecutive missed cuts, he finished 38th-41st in his last two starts — admittedly, both were no-cut events — and at least counteracted his mistakes with a handful of red numbers on each occasion.
Spieth likely isn’t a serious contender for this year’s Masters — even as a mid-tier selection — but a solid week in Houston could at least get his mind right before heading to Augusta.
Wait a second. Johnson, Koepka, Scott, Spieth … Griffin?! He might be lesser known than the other guys on this list, but the Houston Open’s defending champion should currently be on the short list of dark-horse contenders after finishing T7 at The CJ and T11 at the Zozo.
Based on those results, I really like Griffin for top-10/20 props and as a low-cost DFS play for the Masters, but I’d still like to see one more solid week before committing. We’ll get a chance to see if he can build on that recent momentum.