By Tom LaMarre
The Vivint Houston Open this week Memorial Park Golf Course will be the second straight PGA Tour event to allow fans on the course, after none were allowed since the restart in June following the shutdown caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
In addition, a number of top players have committed to the tournament because it is the last competitive warm-up before the rescheduled Masters at Augusta National Golf Club next week in Augusta, Ga.
Top-ranked Dustin Johnson leads the way in the 73rd Houston Open, along with 10-ranked Tyrrell Hatton of England, 2011 Houston champion Phil Mickelson, 2007 winner Adam Scott of Australia, former world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia of Spain, Jason Day of Australia, Padraig Harrington of Ireland, reigning Open champion Shane Lowry of Ireland, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Sungjae Im of South Korea and homegrown Texas favorite Jordan Spieth.
Johnson will be playing for the first time since he was forced to withdraw from the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek three weeks ago after testing positive for Covid-19, and also not being ready to play again in the Zozo Championship at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, were he is a member.
Scott also is returning after a positive Covid-19 test.
Lanto Griffin, one of the rising young stars in the game, will defend his first PGA Tour title, which he claimed by one stroke over Mark Hubbard and Scott Harrington.
Griffin sank a 35-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole to regain the lead he held for much of the day and wrapped up the title with a clutch five-footer for par on the final hole to cap a 3-under-par 69.
“Just a childhood dream, that’s what we all play for,” said Griffin, who won on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2017 and 2018, and on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica in 2015. “It’s mind-boggling It just didn’t seem like it would ever happen, but at the same time, I believe in myself and I was extremely calm.
“It’s just bizarre. … It’s a week that I’ll never, never forget—regardless what happens the rest of my career.”
Among the other young guns in the field are native Texan Scottie Scheffler, Dylan Frittelli of South Africa, Max Homa of Valencia and Cal, Satoshi Kodaira of Japan, Aaron Wise of Lake Elsinore, Kristoffer Ventura of Denmark, Tom Hoge, Carlos Ortiz of Mexico, Doc Redman, Denny McCarthy, Maverick McNealy of Portola Valley and Stanford, Henrik Norlander of Sweden, Xijun Zhang of China, Robby Shelton, Patrick Rodgers of Stanford and Wyndham Clark.
This is the first year since 1963 the Houston Open will be played at Memorial Park after being contested at the Golf Club of Houston since 2003.
“We are very happy that we will have fans at Memorial Park for this year’s Houston Open. We greatly appreciate the efforts of the City of Houston, Dr. David Persse (Chief Medical Officer for the City of Houston), and PGA Tour for working with us in developing a thorough Health and Safety Plan that has enabled this to occur,” said Giles Kibbe, President of the Astros Golf Foundation.
“The health and safety for all on property at Memorial Park and the City of Houston is our highest priority as we welcome members of the community to the newly-renovated venue and to watch the best players in the world compete.”
Tournament officials said 2,000 fans will be allowed on the course each day and they must wear masks.
- Dustin Johnson, United States – Top-ranked DJ will be playing for the first time since he tied for sixth in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in September after recovering from Covid-19. The 2019-20 FedEx Cup champion, who won three times last season, is making his fifth start at Houston, where he was third in 2017 and tied for fourth in 2013.
- Tyrrell Hatton, England – The 10th-ranked Hatton recently tied for third in the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek and one bad round dropped him to a tie for 28th in the Zozo Championship at Sherwood after he won the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour last month at Wentworth outside London. He’s making his debut in Houston Open.
- Stewart Cink, United States – The 47-year-old Cink ended an 11-year drought by winning the Safeway Open to open the season, tied for 12th in Sanderson Farms and tied for fourth in Bermuda last week. He’s second in the FedEx Cup standings and is playing in Houston for the ninth time, with a tie for ninth last year and a tie for sixth in 2013.
- Sergio Garcia, Spain – Claimed his 11th PGA Tour victory and first since the 2007 Masters by winning the Sanderson Farms Championship last month with a birdie on the last hole, and also tied for 21st in the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek. His best finish in the four starts in the Houston Open was solo third in 2014, when he led after opening with 67-65.
- Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – Seems close to the form that took him to five PGA Tour titles, including three in 2017, with three finishes in the top 30 early this season and eight in his last nine tournaments. Tied for 17th in U.S. Open at Winged Foot and tied for third in the BMW Championship in September, and is playing in Houston for the first time.
- Brooks Koepka, United States – The former world No. 1, who is down to No. 12 because of inactivity, returned from two months off because of hip and knee injuries to tie for 28th in the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek three weeks ago, shooting 68-68 in the middle rounds. Koepka missed the cut in his only appearance in the Houston Open in 2016.
- Jason Day, Australia – Another former world No. 1, who has been battling neck and back injuries, posted four straight top-10 results late last season, including a tie for fourth in the PGA Championship, and could be in the hunt if he can stay healthy. Day is making his third start in the Houston Open and he tied for eighth in 2008, closing with a 65.
- Tony Finau, United States – Started the new season with a tie for eighth in the U.S. Open and a tie for 11th in the Zozo Championship. Finau, who won the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, is No. 17 in the world rankings and another victory might lift him into the top 10. A tie for 24th in 2018, when he finished 69-69, is his best result in four starts in Houston.
- Adam Scott, United States – The 2013 Masters champion showed he still has what it takes by winning the Genesis Invitational last season, but a recent positive test for Covid-19 derailed his preparation for Augusta next week. Scott, who won the 2007 Houston Open and tied for sixth in 2002, also tied for fourth in the PGA Championship this year.
- Phil Mickelson, United States – Lefty claimed one of his 44 PGA Tour victories in the 2011 Houston Open, closing with 63-65, and has nine other top-30 finishes in 13 appearances in the tournament. Won his first two starts on the PGA Tour Champions this year and needs to translate that into PGA Tour success heading to the Masters next week.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Padraig Harrington, Ireland; Jason Dufner, United States; Luke Donald, England; Jimmy Walker, United States; Shane Lowry, Ireland; Danny Willett, England; Zach Johnson, United States; Sungjae Im, South Korea; Corey Conners, Canada; Jordan Spieth, United States.
- Scottie Scheffler, United States – Homegrown Texan was T-17 in Zozo after T-4 in PGA, T-4 in Northern Trust and fifth in Tour Championship. T-28 in Houston last year.
- Denny McCarthy, United States – Winner of 2018 Korn Ferry Tour Championship finished T-6 at Sanderson Farms, T-4 in Bermuda and is 27th in FedEx Cup standings.
- Talor Gooch, United States – A winner on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2017, Gooch was fifth recently in CJ Cup at Shadow Creek and T-4 in Houston last year after opening 63.
- Xinjun Zhang, China – Two-time winner on Korn Ferry Tour in 2019 was T-14 in Safeway and T-11 in Puntacana this season after posting a T-4 in Houston Open last year.
- Sepp Straka, Austria – A 2018 winner on the Korn Ferry Tour was T-14 in Safeway and T-21 in Bermuda, and another guy who finished T-4 in the Houston Open last year.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html