Fair Value Preview: Houston Open

By Obie Kahne

While this week’s Houston Open will inevitably be overshadowed by next week’s Masters, there are a few great storylines to focus on this weekend, and plenty of money to be made!

To start, the tournament will be played on a 7,400-yard municipal course with weekend greens fees of just $38 (or the value of a $4 investment in Bermuda winner Brian Gay by last week’s end). For reference, a tee time at TPC Harding Park, the muni that hosted the 2020 PGA Championship, will run you around $200 and at Augusta National, well, let’s just say I’m still waiting for my invite.

Memorial Park GC hasn’t hosted a PGA tournament since the 1960s. In 2019, the architect Tom Doak (with consulting help from ​Brooks Koepka​) oversaw a major renovation with the goal of providing “​opportunities for dramatic lead changes and excitement for both golfers and fans.” In pursuit of that goal, Doak included five par-3s and five par-5s, but the Tour brass stepped in and decided the course should play as a par-70, not 72, leaving two 500+ yard par-4s among the final 6 holes. With two less strokes for the players to work with, expect a volatile leaderboard and plenty of opportunities for profitable trades as players come down the stretch. To cater towards the public, Doak also left just 20 bunkers on the course, instead opting for sloped rough off the fairways and tight lies around the greens which will put a premium on a player’s ability to save par if they miss in regulation.

Finally, Doak couldn’t help but lean into the Masters hype in a recent interview when he observed that “​the stretch from 10-12 is probably the most difficult part of the course, so, as at Augusta, the leaders may be backing up a bit right as the challengers are posting birdies and eagles.” While that might be an ambitious comparison, treat this week as an opportunity to test out some trading strategies so you’re ready when that dynamic reappears at The Masters. There may be (​hint hint​) a lot more money on the line.

Now let’s take a look at the Fair Value Rankings and see who looks like they could outperform their IPO pricing:

Viktor Hovland and Hideki Matsuyama

The top two players in our Fair Value rankings this week are eerily similar. Both are amazing ball strikers, 3rd and 5th in the field respectively, and both consistently lose strokes putting (Hovland is also a self-described horrible chipper). Memorial Park does not have especially treacherous greens so their abilities from the fairway should be enough for a respectable finish, but if you’re looking for some real gains (i.e. Brian Gay

+1,036% or Wyndham Clark +694%) there are much better options further down the board.

Tony Finau

Although Finau has only played in two events this year, he made them count with a T8 in the U.S. Open and a T11 at the Zozo championship. Finau also trails only Dustin Johnson (1st) and Lee Westwood (2nd) in scoring average on the year. Going back to last season, Finau had 7 top-10s which made him a popular choice every week, but no victories. For those that think he can’t get it done on Sundays, feel free to pass, but you might get burned this week in Houston.

Brooks Koepka

There are plenty of reasons to like Koepka this week. There are also plenty of reasons to fade him. Uninjured, he is a top-5 player in the world. However his lingering knee and hip issues have led to volatile results. Koepka has failed to play under par on Sunday in 4 of the last 7 events where he made the cut. He also has 4 more missed cuts in that time. On the other hand, Koepka thrives around major championships. His best finish last season came the week before the PGA Championship (T2 at the WGC FedEx). In the end, if the uncertainty surrounding him holds his price around $5.00, that’s a great bet given his potential to win any given week. Too much more than that, however, and I’d stay away.

Russell Henley

In contrast to Koepka, there is only one reason not to spend all of your capital on Henley this weekend and that is that virtually everyone else should as well, driving up his price. Henley leads the field in overall strokes gained and Memorial Park’s large putting surfaces likely won’t bring out his weaknesses as a putter. On top of that, he is tied for second in par-3 performance this season and he is top-10 in scrambling (excluding bunkers) which may come into play as well. Coming in hot off of a T3 at the CJ Cup and a T4 at the Zozo Championship Henley is a great play, just don’t get caught in a bidding war if his stock balloons late on Wednesday night.

Zach Johnson

If you’re into consistency, Zach Johnson is your man this week. 2nd in strokes gained overall and 3rd in putting, he also has the 7th best scoring average this year and that includes the four rounds at Winged Foot that led to his 7th place finish at the U.S. Open. For half the price of the most expensive players, Johnson is a great investment.

Kevin Streelman

What Streelman lacks in consistency, he makes up for when he has a good week. Streelman boasts four top-4 finishes across this season and the last as well as a T21 and T28 at the CJ Cup and Zozo Championship, two of the strongest fields this year. He is also 8th in overall strokes gained and averages half a stroke under par on par-5s. At $3.76, a top 20 finish will see you doubling your money with even more upside if he puts together a week like he had at the Safeway open where he finished T3.

James Hahn

Virtually everything suggests that James Hahn is going to have a week worth twice as much as his Fair Value price of $3.20. Hahn has played three tournaments this year and he has three top-10s to show for it (T5, T6, T9). The number five also shows up a lot. Hahn is 5th in strokes gained relative to the field and his average of five birdies per round is the 5th best on tour. In keeping with this theme, I would reach for Hahn up to $5.00, and anything below that is icing on the cake.

Quick Hits:

  • –  Stewart Cink​ continues to post top finishes and his par-3 scoring average of 2.80 strokes translates to a 1.28 stroke advantage over the average PGA player on the four extra par-3s this week.
  • –  After a disappointing 2nd place finish in Bermuda, ​Wyndham Clark​ will look to rebound in Houston. His par-5 scoring average of 4.52 (6th best in 2020) may help him do just that.
  • –  Ollie Schniederjans​, who finished one spot below Clark, is another great value play at $1.68. He dominated the par-5s in Bermuda (-10 on 12 holes) and ranks near the top of the board in most scrambling statistics.
  • –  Padraig Harrinton​ spends most of his time on the European Tour these days so he flew under the radar and returned 240% in last week’s PGA market. ​Lee Westwood​, another European, joins the field this week having made nine consecutive cuts across tours. Only 37 of the 128 men in this week’s field will be invited to next week’s Masters. Fortunately, all it takes is a smartphone for you to get in on the action. What are you waiting for?

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