Houston Open 2020 expert picks: The curious case of Brooks Koepka
Our leading expert panel—which consists of the best golf handicappers in the industry and went up more than 220 units last season—give their 2020 Houston Open best bets.
This is yet another difficult week to handicap on the PGA Tour. Outside of Bryson DeChambeau’s U.S. Open victory and Patrick Cantlay’s win at Zozo, the PGA Tour’s 2020-’21 “super” season has belonged to the longshots. Winners have ranged from Sergio Garcia at the Sanderson (70-1); Stewart Cink at the Safeway (200-1) to Brian Gay at this past week’s Bermuda Championship (250-1). Will the trend continue at the Houston Open?
Based off the strength of this field, probably not. Dustin Johnson, Tony Finau, Tyrrell Hatton and Brooks Koepka will all tee it up this week, as will Scottie Scheffler, Viktor Hovland and Hideki Matsuyama. Adam Scott, Jason Day—the list of players is strong. Let’s talk about Koepka, though, because at 22-1, those are odds that will tempt a lot of bettors this week.
Interestingly, Koepka consulted on the redesign of Memorial Park, site of this week’s Houston Open, alongside Tom Doak. Does that give Koepka any advantage? Key to finding success in sports betting is finding an edge that isn’t being accounted for by oddsmakers. We’re not sure how much Koepka really did in this redesign—we know he was on site a few times, and we don’t doubt Doak’s team asked Koepka’s opinion as one of the best players in the world. What stands out mostly is this number. At next week’s Masters, Koepka has lower odds at most books. Sure, we know he shines at the biggest tournaments—but the field at the Masters will be extraordinarily better than the Houston Open. So, again, we ask: Is there value on Koepka? One of our experts thinks so—another is on the other side.
Fortunately, we arm ourselves with a diverse group of opinions, comprising the best betting panel in golf. We have a tour caddie reporting anonymously this week; as well as our expert handicappers, including Pat Mayo of DraftKings/Mayo Media Network; Brandon Gdula of numberFire/FanDuel; Rick Gehman, a data scientist and founder of RickRunGood.com; Lee Alldrick of FanShareSports.com; and us. We’re coming off two wins early this season, plus close calls with three of our experts on Doc Redman last week. See who how experts are handicapping this lead up to the Masters.
Read on for our experts' full analysis on the 2020 Houston Open.
Houston Open 2020 expert picks: Outright Predictions (Odds from BetMGM)
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Scottie Scheffler (20-1) — It’s mind-blowing that Scheffler hasn’t gotten his first win yet. He’s had the moments over the past couple months: The final group at the PGA Championship . . . the 59 at the Northern Trust. The rust post-COVID-19 should sufficiently be shaken off; I think he gets his first win in Texas where you can really bomb it off the tee, playing to his advantage.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Brooks Koepka (22-1) — Look, I can bet him at almost double the price he’ll be next week in a much weaker field. I have no real expectations that he’ll use the Houston Open as anything more than a tune up, but his game wasn’t that far away at CJ Cup. The number is too attractive.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Sungjae Im (28-1) — It’s a top-heavy field, but a lot of the top five have odds that are just tough to back when we don’t quite know how engaged they’ll be with Augusta looming. Im rates out well here, though. The irons are trending back up after they’ve been lukewarm for a few months, and he’s on Bermuda greens, a surface on which he putts really well. His win at the Honda was on Bermuda, and four of his six other top-five finishes have also come on Bermuda greens.
Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Tony Finau (18-1) — This is a rare “pick to win” endorsement for Finau, who hasn’t tasted victory since the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. However, Memorial Park should play right into his hands. He will be able to unleash his weapon, the driver, on nearly every hole. Additionally, the rare setup with five par 5s should bode well for Finau, who has been excellent on par 5s over the past two seasons. His recent run has been electric, finishing T-8 at the U.S. Open and T-11 at the ZOZO Championship in his past two starts. It’s Tony’s time!
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Tony Finau (18-1) — It’s seriously an addiction betting Tony Finau. We discussed just as much with Matthew Wiley of Golflandia on our podcast this week (scroll down to listen and subscribe to BE RIGHT wherever you listen to podcasts, shameless plug!). Thankfully, I haven’t burned as much money as most over the years. Scottsdale earlier this year still hurts with Webb Simpson edging him out. This feels like an equally suited course to Finau—bomb it and let his ball-striking separate him. What gives this line some added value is the motivation, I think. Finau is always hungry for a tour victory, as opposed to some of these other guys in a similar range, who are more likely to use this as a stepping stone toward Augusta.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Sungjae Im (28-1) — Full disclosure: I am getting fully sucked in to any and all Bermudagrass narratives this week. And that’s why I’ll be starting my card with the Bermuda king, Sungjae Im. Over the last 50 rounds, per Fantasy National, Im ranks sixth in this field in strokes-gained/putting on Bermuda. That’s enough reason to like his chances this week, but I like them even more because of how well he’s striking it. After an ugly stretch with his irons over the summer, Im has come back alive, gaining strokes on approach in six consecutive starts. He’s also been excellent tee-to-green since early September, having 3.3 strokes or more in four of his last six starts. The overall game is right where it needs to be. If he makes a bunch of putts, too, watch out.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Sungjae Im (28-1) — There are many reasons to love Sungjae Im this week. Memorial Park should suit his razor-sharp iron game, and he enters this week ranking fifth in strokes gained/tee to green against this field and 13th in Opportunities Gained, per FantasyNational.com. I’d be surprised if Sungjae doesn’t contend for his second PGA Tour win this week.
Results from last season: Golf Digest's betting panel predicted 14 winners correctly last season, and collectively on outright winners, top-10 bets and matchups won and lost, our panel went up 225.30 units (the equivalent of being up $2,253 if you wagered $10 on all of our bets) last season. Brandon Gdula of numberFire/FanDuel correctly picked Patrick Cantlay at the Zozo Championship (30-1), giving our panel two outright winners this year, with Christopher Powers nailing Bryson DeChambeau (28-1 at the U.S. Open. Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!
Be sure to subscribe to Golf Digest's new betting podcast, Be Right, for a weekly breakdown of our experts' picks, the sharpest analysis in golf gambling. We have Golflandia's Matthew Wiley on this week—click above to listen!
Houston Open 2020 expert picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win (odds from BetMGM)
Caddie: Matt Jones (100-1) — The Aussie is one of the best wind players on tour, and he’s coming off a T-4 last week. He also won in Houston in that epic playoff victory over Matt Kuchar in 2014.
Mayo: Cameron Davis (70-1) — I’m always a sucker for Aussies playing in Texas, plus the stats on Davis are so good, he’s tough to ignore. Over the past 50 rounds, Davis is 16th tee to green in this field and fifth in strokes gained/overall. That’s ahead of Adam Scott, Brooks, Viktor Hovland, and Jason Day over that stretch.
Gdula: Sam Burns (80-1) — Burns clearly has a path to a big outing here this week because he ranks third in strokes gained/off the tee over the past 50 rounds on tour, per FantasyNational.com. He also is sixth in birdie or better rate gained and third in strokes gained/putting on Bermuda. That sounds like a sleeper recipe here.
Gehman: Denny McCarthy (66-1) — The McCarthy win is coming, and I’m not going to miss out. He’s the best putter on tour and has significantly improved his ball-striking over the last eight events. He’s flashed brilliance at times, including the low round (63) on Sunday in Bermuda to vault him into a T-4 finish. That’s his second top-six finish in the past three starts—and his third top-10 finish in his past seven events.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Lee Westwood (80-1) — Who knew I’d be hyping up Lee Westwood in 2020, but his results speak for themselves. He finished T-13 at the U.S. Open and has four other finishes inside the top 20 on the European Tour, plus his win in Abu Dhabi earlier in the year. I love his par-3 stats—he’s inside the top 10 in this field in par-3 strokes gained from 175-200 yards; 200-225 and 225-250 yards. With Memorial Park’s five par-3 setup, three of them measuring 200 yards or more, we’re looking for good long iron players, and Lee Westwood has been that for damn near two decades.
Powers, Golf Digest: Sam Burns (80-1) — Bermuda. Bermuda. Bermuda. Burns is a chalky pick this week for that reason, in addition to him being a bomber. This course should set up perfectly for the former LSU Tiger to grab his first victory.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Russell Knox (100-1) — Knox ranks second in the field in Opportunities Gained over the past two months, per FantasyNational.com. That means he’s hitting the ball exceptionally well, and he comes to a course that will suit ball-strikers. He has managed to turn those plethora of opportunities into good finishes lately, with six top-25 finishes over his past six events.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Henrik Stenson (100-1) — The Swede hasn’t shown any signs of turning it around. This is an attractive number, but I wouldn’t predict him contending this week.
Mayo: Russell Henley (22-1) — I’m usually a Henley backer, but this price is terrifying with much better players at deeper odds.
Gdula: Russell Henley (22-1) — I love Henley probably more than the next guy, but the recent form has led to odds that are really hard to get in on. Henley is at the top of his game and leads the field in strokes gained/approach. However, he can go ice cold with the putter, which frankly cost him the ZOZO because he led the field tee to green by 3.5 strokes over the next-best tee-to-green golfer. Either he’s climbing toward an inevitable win, or he missed out on his chance two weeks back. There are more enticing names in this price range.
Gehman: Russell Henley (22-1) — As much as I love Henley and the stretch of golf he is in right now, we’ve reached critical mass. With four top-10 finishes in his past six starts, Henley’s odds have plummeted. According to the RickRunGood.com golf database, these are the shortest odds for Henley in at least the last three years. Oddsmakers are now seemingly asking us to pay for a red-hot Henley, who has also racked up a win and four other top-10s at this tournament in the past. The problem is that this will be the first time we travel to Memorial Park, a new course for the Houston Open.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Dustin Johnson (7-1) — This feels like a number the oddsmakers would’ve given us without any break from COVID, so I’m not ready to put my money here. Of course, we probably would’ve been all over him at 9-1, 10-1, so this is the right number—just too rich for my blood.
Powers, Golf Digest: Dustin Johnson (7-1) — Post-COVID Dustin Johnson at a pre-COVID price the week before a major? No thank you.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Brooks Koepka (22-1) — We have still seen nothing from Koepka to suggest he is fit enough to justify this price. He ranks outside the top 30 for both strokes gained/tee to green and Opportunities Gained over the past two months.
Houston Open 2020 expert picks: Matchups
Caddie: Lanto Griffin (-118) over Brian Harman (DraftKings) — Lanto is coming off an 11th-place and a seventh-place in his last two starts, and he’s the defending champion this week in Houston. This is a different course, but you still have confidence in Lanto bringing that form into a tournament where he has great vibes.
Mayo: Sam Burns (-110) over Aaron Wise (DraftKings) — This is a smash spot. Sam Burns on Bermuda greens against Aaron Wise who has missed six of his last eight cuts. I’ll take it. Burns is elite off the tee against this field, ranking third in driving distance gained over the last 50 rounds.
Gdula: Adam Scott (+124) over Viktor Hovland (FanDuel) — Scott and Hovland were both actually in consideration for my main win pick this week; the margin is thin, but the odds are not. Neither are good Bermuda putters. Hovland has a clear edge with the driver in his hands, but Scott is nearly as good or better than Hovland everywhere else, specifically with the overall short game.
Gehman: Doc Redman (-118) over Corey Conners (DraftKings) — Both players are known for their ball-striking prowess, but Redman has been leaps and bounds better than Conners this season. Redman is gaining 1.63 strokes per round from tee-to-green while Conners is only gaining 0.41 strokes per round in the same category. Redman has routinely put himself in contention over the past few months as these golfers appear to be headed in different directions.
Hennessey: Russell Henley (-118) over Brooks Koepka (PointsBet) — If you just looked at Koepka’s stats versus Henley’s over the past 50 rounds per FantasyNational.com, this would be a smash spot. Henley is first in this field in strokes gained/approach and first in SG/tee-to-green in that span. Koepka is inside the top 25 in those categories, so he’s been good over a longer term, but he’s just playing in his second event after returning from injury—and I’m not so sure that’s factored enough into this line.
Powers: James Hahn (-118) over Charley Hoffman (DraftKings) — Hahn has quietly put together an incredible stretch of golf, having gone 9th-6th-5th in his past three starts. Hoffman, meanwhile, flashed at Sanderson with a sixth-place finish but has since missed back-to-back cuts.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Sergio Garcia (-110) over Brian Harman (Bet365) — Garcia should revel playing this course with his excellent ball-striking. Harman on the other end should statistically struggle here at Memorial Park. He also has been in poor form over the last two months, ranking just 55th in strokes gained/tee to green.
Matchup Results from Bermuda: Gdula: 1 for 1 (Denny McCarthy (-118) over Charley Hoffman); Hennessey: 1 for 1 (Will Zalatoris (-120) over Brendon Todd); Caddie, Mayo, Gehman, Powers, Alldrick: 0 for 1.
Matchup Results this season: Alldrick: 7 for 8 (up 5.22 units); Hennessey: 6 for 7 (up 4.20 units); Gdula: 5 for 8 (up 1.71 units); Mayo: 4 for 8 (down 0.23 units); Powers: 2-2-4 (down 2.09 units); Gehman: 2 for 8 (down 4.18 units); Caddie: 2 for 8 (down 4.27 units).
Houston Open 2020 expert picks: Top 10 (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
Caddie: Dylan Frittelli (+600) — The young South African works really hard on his game, and he’s chasing speed just like so many of these guys. Frittelli’s coming off an 11th-place finish at the Zozo in his last start, and he continues that consistency this week.
Mayo: Scottie Scheffler (+275) — It’s been a struggle for Scottie Scheffler returning from illness. He’s been progressively getting better, though. A ball-striking phenom before having to withdraw from the U.S. Open, his driving has remained elite, and he’s actually improved his irons in each of his past four starts.
Gdula: Tom Hoge (+1100) — Hoge has the right game to score a lot of birdies (he’s 12th in opportunities gained over the past 50 rounds, via FantasyNational.com), and he does it from solid approach play (36th). His best putting surface is Bermuda, as well, and we’re getting some great odds for a top-10 finish.
Gehman: Mackenzie Hughes (+750) — The Houston Open, historically, tries to entice players to tee it up by mimicking conditions they will find at Augusta National. The obvious trait is the closely mown areas around the greens that create collection areas and tight lies when chipping. That should be no problem for Hughes, who is one of the better short-game players on tour and has proven that he can compete in any field. He has six top-10 finishes in his past 15 starts.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Cameron Davis (+500) — The Aussie’s ball-striking numbers have been killer. He also ranks seventh in this field in strokes gained on par 5s over the past 50 rounds, per Fantasy National, which will suit Memorial Park well. I’m with Mayo in thinking he will contend, and I like the top-10 odds, too.
Powers, Golf Digest: Ollie Schniederjans (+1100) — Last week, I bet Ollie to win and to finish top 10, and we’re going right back to the well. Oddsmakers must forget that this guy was supposed to be the next big thing, and he appears to be back on track to being just that. He is in full control of his game and is highly motivated to top 10 again to gain entry into the RSM Classic in his home state, and where he picked up his first career top 10. You’d be a fool to not hop on the Ollie train right now.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Keegan Bradley (+650) — Bradley is another player whose razor-sharp iron game will suit Memorial Park. As per Fantasy National, Bradley ranks fourth in the field in strokes gained/tee to green over the past two months. It was only three events ago that Bradley recorded a fourth-place finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Top 10 results from the Zozo: Powers: 1 for 1 (Ollie Schniederjans, +1300). Everybody else: 0 for 1.
Top 10 results from this season: Powers: 1 for 8 (up 6 units); Gehman: 1 for 8 (down 0.5 units); Hennessey: 1 for 8 (down 2 units); Tour caddie: 2 for 8 (down 2.95 units); Alldrick: 0 for 7 (down 7 units); Mayo, Gdula: 0 for 8 (down 8 units each).
One and Done pick
Gehman: Lanto Griffin — Griffin is the defending champion this week, but that doesn’t really matter since his win came at the Golf Club of Houston and not Memorial Park where we will play this year. Despite that, Griffin has been playing great including a T-7 at the CJ Cup and a T-11 at the ZOZO Championship. He’s only missed one cut in his past 10 starts, and there’s no reason to “save him” for future weeks.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Joel Dahmen; U.S. Open: Jon Rahm; Corales: Denny McCarthy. Sanderson: Sebastian Munoz. Shriners: Matthew Wolff. CJ Cup: Xander Schauffele. Zozo: Bubba Watson. Bermuda: Rasmus Hojgaard.
Hennessey: Russell Henley — Where else will you use Henley? Use him while he’s peaking … our experts might be fading him, but that’s based on the low odds … no one would be surprised if he contends.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Phil Mickelson; U.S. Open: Hideki Matsuyama; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Harris English. CJ Cup: Kevin Na. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Doc Redman.
Powers: Russell Henley — As Hennessey put so eloquently, this is a good opportunity to capitalize on Henley’s form, in a tournament where he’s excelled. He’ll be chalky but results are results.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Brendan Steele; U.S. Open: Louis Oosthuizen; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Jason Kokrak. CJ Cup: Daniel Berger. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Denny McCarthy.
By The Numbers:
Courtesy of Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com:
5 — The number of par 5s and par 3s on Memorial Park Golf Course. That leaves just eight par 4s on this par-72 layout.
16-1 — The odds at some books for Russell Henley to win the Houston Open. Those are the shortest odds for Henley in any tournament in the past three years.
9.49 — The number of strokes gained tee-to-green for James Hahn at the Shriner, his last start. It was the best of any player in that field and the fourth-best performance for Hahn since 2015.
1,131 — The number of events played by the 11 winners of the Puerto Rico Open without winning another event on the PGA TOUR. This is referred to as the “Puerto Rico Open Curse”. Tony Finau and Viktor Hovland are the two most notable members of this club.
About our experts
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, owner of the Mayo Media Network and host of The Pat Mayo Experience. (Subscribe for video or audio. Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.
Brandon Gdula, managing editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year *(congrats, Brandon!)*. Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a U.K.-based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.