PGA Tour Picks: Houston Open

By TOM LaMARRE

Scottie Scheffler could have taken the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings back from Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland last week with a solo second finish in the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, and he barely missed, closing with a 62 to tie for third.

The second-ranked Scheffler has another chance this week in his native Texas, when he plays in the Cadence Bank Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course in Houston, where he is the odds-on favorite.

“Rankings are great and it was definitely fun being No. 1 in the world, it’s definitely something I hope to get back to, but it’s not something that’s going to occupy a lot of my thoughts,” said Scheffler, who claimed his first four PGA Tour victories last season, including the Masters.

“I feel good and my game feels good. I hit the ball nicely all last week outside of the few bad breaks. And if I had a few things go my way, a few more putts go in, I could have been right there with a chance at the end of the tournament.”

The 26-year-old Scheffler, who grew up in Dallas and attended the University of Texas, will be playing in the Houston Open for the fourth time, and last season he took a one-stroke lead into the final round after shooting 62 in the second round and 69 in the third.

However, he closed with another 69 and Jason Kokrak made four straight birdies down the stretch to win thew tournament and Scheffler finished two strokes back in a tie for second with Kevin Tway.

“I felt like I played a lot of good golf this week without really my best stuff,” said Scheffler, who still hadn’t started his sizzling run that took him to No. 1 in the world. “I really felt uncomfortable with my ball-striking going into the week, but I gave myself a chance to win here in the end, I put myself in position on Sunday. I’d say today I just probably didn’t make enough putts. Outside of that, I definitely played good enough to win.

“The fans here were great and supported me all week, and I’d love to win here in Texas, so I’ll just keep trying and hope that it happens someday.”

Kokrak will not defend his title this week because he has joined LIV Golf, but others in the field include Russell Henley, who won last week at Mayakoba, Jason Day of Australia, Danny Willett of England, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Sam Burns, Justin Rose of England, Tony Finau, Sepp Straka of Austria, Mackenzie Hughes of Canada, Cameron Champ, Maverick McNealy, Martin Laird of Scotland, Harris England, Aaron Wise, Brendon Todd, David Lingmerth of Sweden and Sahith Theegala.

The Houston Open dates to 1946, when Byron Nelson claimed the title by two strokes over Texan legend Ben Hogan, and other past winners include Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Vijay Singh, Gene Littler, Cary Middlecoff, Bob Charles, Jack Burke Jr., Mike Souchak, Bobby Nichols, Hubert Green, Gibby Gilbert, Roberto De Vicenzo, Frank Beard, Bruce Crampton, Lee Elder, Curtis Strange, Corey Pavin, Raymond Floyd, Jay Haas, Payne Stewart, David Duval, Fred Couples, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson.          

BEST BETS

1. Scottie Scheffler, United States – The second-ranked Scheffler could have regained the No. 1 spot in the world from Rory McIlroy with a solo second at Mayakoba and he gave it a shot with a tie for third by closing with a 62. Played in the Houston Open for the third time last season, when he won four times, and finished in a tie for second thanks to another 62 in the second round.

2. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – A tie for 25th in the Fortinet Championship was his best finish in three starts on the PGA Tour this season, but he has won eight times on the PGA Tour, including the Zozo Championship and the Sony Open in Hawaii last season, when he had six finishes in the top 10 and 10 in the top 25. Tied for second in only Houston appearance in 2020.

3. Sam Burns, United States – Tied for seventh in the CJ Cup in South Carolina after helping the United States retain the Presidents Cup. Burns ran his victory total on the PGA Tour to four by winning the Sanderson Farms, Valspar and the Charles Schwab Challenge last season among eight finishes in the top 10. Tied for seventh in the Houston Open each of the last two years.

4. Maverick McNealy, United States – Former Stanford star has been close to winning on the PGA Tour with 11 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in the last four seasons, including second at Pebble Beach and the Fortinet in 2021, and has four top 15s this season. McNealy has finished top 20 three straight times in Houston, tying for 19th, 20th and 17th in the last three seasons.      

5. Sepp Straka, Austria – Claimed his first PGA Tour victory earlier this year in the Honda Classic, in addition to finishing second in the St. Jude Classic and tying for third in the RBC Heritage among five top 10s. Straka, who also won the 2018 KC Golf Classic on the Korn Ferry Tour, tied for fourth in the Houston Open in 2019 and also tied for fifth the following season.   

6. Russell Henley, United States – Coming off his fourth PGA Tour victory in the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, Henley also was close last season when he finished second in the Sony Open in Hawaii among 10 finishes in the top 25. He also won the Houston Open in 2017 among his six top-10 finishes in the tournament, including fourth in 2014.

7. Aaron Wise, United States – Captured the 2018 AT&T Byron Nelson among his three wins as a pro and was second in the Memorial Tournament last season among 11 finishes in the top 25, and recently was sixth in the CJ Cup in South Carolina and tied for 15th at Mayakoba. Wise played in the Houston Open three times, tying for 26th last year and tying for 11th in 2020.      

8. Mackenzie Hughes, Canada – Claimed his second PGA Tour victory earlier this season in the Sanderson Farms Championship after also winning the 2017 RSM Classic, and has four victories as a pro. Hughes also tied for 23rd in the Zozo Championship and tied for 25th in the Fortinet this season. His best result in five starts in the Houston Open was a tie for seventh in 2020.

9. Cameron Champ, United States – Three-time winner on the PGA Tour and four-time champion as a pro thanks to a victory on the Korn Ferry Tour, finished eighth in the Zozo Championship this season, but also has missed three cuts. Champ, who tied for 10th in the Masters earlier this year, tied for 23rd in his only appearance in the Houston Open in 2019.

10. Danny Willett, England – The 2016 Masters champion, who has won eight times as a pro, finished second by one stroke to start this season in the Fortinet Championship and also tied for 21st at Mayakoba. His last victory came in the 2021 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, and Willett is trying to end his streak of missing the cut in three starts in the Houston Open.

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jason Day, Australia; Joel Dahmen, United States; Martin Laird, Scotland; Justin Rose, England; Harris English, United States; Brendon Todd, United States; Sebastian Munoz, Colombia; Stewart Cink, United States; Tony Finau, United States; Sahith Theegala, United States.

SLEEPERS

1. Taylor Montgomery, United States – PGA Tour rookie, who won the Nevada Open twice, has recorded five top-15 finishes this season, including solo third in the Fortinet Championship.

2. Davis Riley, United States – Two-time winner on 2021 Korn Ferry Tour lost to Sam Burns in playoff at 2021 Valspar among six top 10s last year, has two finishes in the top 25 this season.    

3. David Lingmerth, Sweden – Won third pro title in 2022 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship on Korn Ferry Tour, and this season was T-11 in Bermuda and T-8 at Mayakoba.

4. Erik van Rooyen, South Africa – Four-time winner as a pro around the world tied for 20th in his first appearance in the Houston Open two years ago. T-35 in Bermuda after starting 66-66.

5. Matthew NeSmith, United StatesWinner of 2019 Albertsons Boise Open on Korn Ferry Tour has placed T-9 at Sanderson Farms, T-2 in the Shriners and T-9 in the Zozo this season.   

For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html

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