Today's Free Picks for
Posted Wednesday, March 28 at 2:00 PM EST.
Cutoff time for this event is March 29 at 8:20 AM EST.
This Week's Course Preview
There is a place at The Masters up for grabs for anyone who can win this week, and that’s a platform from which defending champion Russell Henley, Jim Herman, Matt Jones and D.A. Points have all taken to Augusta in recent years. That ‘back door’ approach will see a number of players not regularly seen in PGA TOUR events so let the Augusta excitement commence.
We are one week away from the first major of the year, and things are shaping up rather nicely with some of the old guard of the PGA TOUR showing their stripes, none more so than Bubba Watson, who has gone from the brink of retirement to a dual Tour winner in the space of a few months. His ridiculous shot making off the tee is back, and he’s starting to make some putts too….what timing from the former two-time green jacket wearer. Bubba followed up his win at the Genesis Open in February with victory at the WGC Match Play last week where, with six wins from seven matches, he was by far the best player over the course of the five days. His bullying win over Kevin Kisner in the final proved that the old, confident Bubba is back. Everybody else had better watch out.
Before talk turns too readily to The Masters, there is one final piece of business to take care of. The Houston Open is a nice predecessor to the battle for the green jacket in that the Golf Club of Houston, according to many, is a dead ringer for Augusta National in some ways. Certainly the Bermuda greens, running at around 13 on the stimpmeter, will provide the players with the ideal ‘look in’ ahead of the trip to Georgia next week. The list of recent winners of this event includes Henley, Herman, Holmes, Jones and Points, which suggests a sleeper has an outstanding chance of winning this week with the great and the good arguably distracted by dreams of slipping on that green blazer on Sunday April 8. Measuring 7,441 yards for its Par 72, the GC of Houston has water in play on nine holes, but the fairways are wide and fairly generous, with the rough less penal than can be expected in Georgia. Some of the holes are tree-lined too, which naturally benefits the straight hitters.
What we’re looking for at the CG of Houston
It seems fairly obvious how to win at Golf Club of Houston: putt the lights out! Henley ranked first for Putting Average 12 months ago on his way to the title, and he was closely followed in that stat by Zac Blair (T5 at halfway), Rickie Fowler (finished T3) and Sung Kang (we all know what happened to him). The point of difference between this course and most others is the slickness of the greens, so clearly good touch with the flat stick is key.
This is an easy enough course, with Henley winning in -20 a year ago and the average winning mark being -16 in the past five years, and with the weather seemingly stable and largely wind-free, we would expect a similar score to be posted once again. Otherwise, there isn’t anything particularly extraordinary about the GC of Houston. The fairways are wider than average so really most players will be making Greens in Regulation (GIR) or scrambling their way to scoring opportunities.
There are a few correlating courses of interest, and it is noticeable that Henley, Fowler, Stenson and Vaughn Taylor have all performed well at GC of Houston and another of Rees Jones’ layouts at Baltusrol; the host of the 2016 PGA Championship. Another couple of strange ones: AT&T Pebble Beach, which both Points and Taylor have won while finishing first and second respectively in Houston; that’s a strange and surely not coincidental pairing. And how about the Sony Open: Henley, Johnson Wagner and Vijay Singh are on a wide-ranging list of players that have won or done well there and in Houston, while Chris Kirk and Carl Pettersson have finished second in both in the past few years alone. Again, in a week where very little stands out, it might just be worth following those in.
Unless otherwise stated, the following bets to win outright will be placed at BET365 because of their cash-out option during the event:
To win outright:
Chris Kirk 66-1
The lure of playing in The Masters is large for any player, but for Georgians born and bred the appeal is obvious. Chris Kirk is yet to book his spot at Augusta and knows that a decent week here is the only chance he has of teeing it up in his home state. He has come close to getting in the mix a couple of times this season, having finished T4 at the RSM Classic and getting into contention at both the Sony Open and Phoenix Open, where final rounds of 70 ruined his chances. A solid putter, Kirk finished T13 in his last start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Kirk ranks 22nd in SG: Approach, 34th in SG: Around-the-Green and 34th SG: Tee-to-Green and is well-enough priced here to take a shot with (Risking 0.2 units to win 13.2 units).
Brandon Harkins 110-1
When he graduated from the Web.com Tour, it was easy enough to expect Brandon Harkins to deliver some good results in California given that he was born, raised and educated in the state, and he did not disappoint with T8 at the CareerBuilder, T12 at the Farmers and T15 at Pebble Beach. The test would come elsewhere in the country, and while he hasn’t hit those heights again, he did finish a respectable T36 on debut at Bay Hill last time out. Decent from tee to green and excellent with the flat stick on Bentgrass and Poa Annua, this week will be a fact-finding mission as to Harkins’ suitability on super-smooth Bermuda. But if he plays like he can, then there’s no reason why he can’t trouble the big boys. He ranks a nifty 34th ON TOUR this season in Par 4 Birdie or Better Leaders and that’s a handy stat in what figures to be a bunch of low scores this week (Risking 0.2 units to win 22 units).
Aaron Wise 125-1
If the stars are going to align, figuratively and metaphorically, then Aaron Wise will begin to crash leaderboards early and often. He entered 2017-18 as one of three on the short list to be the Rookie of the Year. Austin Cook has already won and Peter Uihlein has a pair of top 10s, so Wise has some catching up to do. This isn't to say that he hasn't started to trot. He's made the cut in four of his last five events and already has two top 25s in eight events this season. Two weeks ago, Wise shot an opening round of 65 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. On the http://Web.com Tour in 2017, he ranked fourth in birdies-or-better percentage after hitting greens in regulation and fifth in par-5 scoring. He and Hossler are two pros to keep an eye on and to keep getting behind at odds like this (Risking 0.2 units to win 25 units).
Aaron Baddeley 150-1
With five kids to raise, you can forgive Aaron Baddeley for having peaks and trenches of form; it can’t be easy raising a brood like that and trying to focus on your swing. Once upon a time a putting contest would have been right up the Australian’s alley, and while he doesn’t plunder top-10 finishes with the regularity that he used to, Baddeley remains incredibly reliable when chipping and putting. Even when he hasn't been in form, Baddeley has always made sense at the Golf Club of Houston because of his phenomenal touch. Indeed, he ranks first ON TOUR for Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green and ranks third in scrambling. But what makes him even more intriguing is that he rolls in having survived his last four cuts. That defines modest, but it's his longest stretch in 17 months. Last year's T15 at the Houston Open is one of three career top 15s for him in the tournament and at this price he’s absolutely worth a shot (Risking 0.2 units to win 30).
Sung Kang 150-1
This feels like a week that is open to a surprise winner, and while ‘surprise’ would be an understatement if Sung Kang could somehow win here, lest we forget the likes of Herman, Jones and Points were the unlikeliest of champions. That said, he was six shots clear at the halfway mark 12 months ago so we can say that this is a course that suits his eye and he’ll enter this event with that invaluable information and confidence from last year.
Another interesting stat that caught the eye a few weeks ago was that Kang ranked 13th for Strokes Gained: Putting on the Bermuda of Bay Hill. If his flat stick is hot, at a course that suits his eye, well, stranger things have happened (Risking 0.2 units to win 30).
Talor Gooch 250-1
We are going after bombs every week and we’re going to start adding one HUGE bomb every week because bombs do hit a handful of times every year. This is a great event to go for it because for a lot of the top-tier players, this is just a tune up for the Masters. Be very careful about betting on pros that have their ticket punched to Augusta already. There are probably about 20 guys we could go after this week at long odds like, Grayson Murray (100-1), Abraham Ancer (200-1), Keith Mitchell (160-1) and Ben Silverman (300-1) among others but Talor Gooch is a pro we have been betting every week and will continue to bet him until he wins his first event. This could be that week. Gooch fired an opening round 65 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago. He finished 26 th overall and also finished 20 th at the Genesis Open on Feb 18. At a comparable course, the Sony Open back in mid-January in Hawaii, Gooch finished 18th after an opening two rounds of 64 and 66. Gooch ranks 47 th ON TOUR in Driving Distance, 40th in GIR, 45th in Putting Average and 57th in Birdies Average. He’s not the best at anything but he’s dangerous and his rankings are good enough to win an event. Gooch often gets off to great starts, which is a very good sign moving forward. This kid was a golf prodigy at seven years old, when he was shooting rounds of 80 so in that respect, he was very much like Tiger. Some folks take longer to mature but Gooch is getting playing time and learning more every event he plays. Watch closely (Risking 0.2 units to win 50 units).
Head-to-head Matchups for the Arnold Palmer Invitational
HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCHUPS for the Houston Open
The quality of talent at this level is getting better every year and there are literally between 45 and 50 golfers every event that have a truly legit chance to win but we can’t bet them all. To pick a winner outright is a big time challenge but the real money in these events is in the head-to-head challenges and that’s where our bread and butter will be earned. We may post daily head-to-heads as well so keep your eye out for those. In the meantime, the H2H wagers below are for 72 holes:
The Masters is the most prestigious golf tournament in the world and all golfers yearn for an invitation. It is a defining moment in one’s life to walk up to the first tee at Augusta in early April and tee-off. For Tony Finau, next week will be his Masters debut. Finau does have great talent but what he doesn’t have is ice in his veins. He has choked on more occasions than he’d like to remember and the anticipation of playing at Augusta next week figures to have him off his game or less focused this week. Last year Finau needed to win the Houston Open to get an invite to the Masters and he finished a pedestrian 34th. This year he doesn’t need to win.
Since missing the cut in three straight events, from mid-November to January (did not play in December), Luke List has caught fire and will be playing here for an invite to the Masters. List has made the cut in six straight events while finishing 12, 26, 26, 2, 16 and 7th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Last year at this event and also needing a win for an invite to the Masters, List finished 3rd. List lost a playoff to Justin Thomas at the Honda Classic. He is a focused individual right now that has picked up a new performance coach that he says has helped him tremendously in focusing on what's in front of me, the effort into the shot as oppose to what could have been or what happened in the past. Not only is this a better situational spot for List but he just looks so ready to pop and we trust he’ll easily beat Finau in this H2H matchup (Risking 2.02 units to win 2).
Emiliano Grillo -110 over Shubhankar Sharma BET365
We’re focusing on H2H matchups this week that has one player not going to the Masters matched up against a pro going for the first time. That applies to List over Finau and it applies here too.
You can believe the hype ---Sharma is the real deal, and he proved it in Mexico when he mixed it with the best and, but for a Sunday wobble which was always likely to come, it got the better of him. Sharma will have learned a lot from that experience of going off in the final group on a Sunday, and he is continuing to develop as a player. In his first ever look at match play golf last week he lost 1-down (twice) and 2&1 to a trio of excellent players in Sergio Garcia, Xander Schauffele and Dylan Frittelli, and you can expect Sharma to fly sooner rather than later but it’s unlikely to come here the week before playing his first Masters. An entire country (India) of well over a billion people will be watching and rooting for Sharma next week and he’s quite aware of the situation. This week it is just so unlikely that he’ll be focused on the task at hand. We’re suggesting he’s a bigger threat at Augusta than he is this week. The “sharp sportsbooks” agree too, which Bet365 is not one of them.
Pinnacle has Brandt Snedeker -184 over Sharma. 5Dimes has Sneds -3½ strokes and -110 over Sharma. That’s telling, as a fully-fit Brandt Snedeker would be at least half his 70/1 price in this field to win outright. That he’s 70-1 is telling but the books are in no fear of being exposed to Snedeker winning. The injuries have left Sneds on the verge of missing the trip to Augusta, a course at which he has five top-20 finishes. If a beaten up Snedeker is such a heavy favorite over Sharma, that tells is that these “sharp books” trust that Sharma will be way off his game. That leaves the door open for the talented Grillo, who must win here to punch his ticket to Augusta.
The majestically talented Argentine is another who seems to save his best golf for when it matters. He delivered three top-20 finishes in four major starts in 2016, including T12 at The Open, T13 at the PGA Championship and T17 at The Masters. The 2017 campaign didn’t go that well for Grillo, but timing – being the darling that it is – reveals that Grillo is ready to make some noise again. He has three top-10 finishes in his last eight starts. He finished 8 th at the Honda Classic and followed that up with a sixth place finish at the Indian Open. Grillo’s natural game is well suited to this course and he also figures to be uber-focused here in an attempt to get another invitation to Augusta (Risking 2.2 units to win 2).
There are 19 ways to qualify for the Masters and one way in is to win a qualified PGA Tour event in the 12 months since the last Masters. That’s how Vegas got in this year but it’s not his first time. In fact, Vegas has appeared in two Masters and missed the cut both times, once last year and once in 2011. Thus, next week will be his third rodeo and we have to trust that his focus will not be on the Houston Open but instead on not embarrassing himself for the third time on golf’s biggest stage. What’s also interesting is that back in 2011 when he knew he was going to the Masters, he played the Houston Open and missed the cut. Last year he also played in the Houston Open but after a sizzling 66 opening round, he was in the 70’s the other three rounds. His other appearances at this event have been below average as well. Vegas is not in good form right now either. He has a MC, MC, and 72nd place finish in three of his last four events and finished 52nd in Matchplay last week.
Ever since Kelly Kraft finished second to Jordan Spieth in the AT&T Pebble Beach last year, he has been on the radar. He hasn’t done anything since really although recently there have been signs that the 29-year-old’s game is coming together. T8 at the Honda Classic travelled nicely to the Dominican Republic where he finished T3 in the Corales Punta Cana Championship; the first time in a long time he has connected two quality efforts. So, there’s current form, an excellent performance at a correlated course in Pebble Beach and a decent touch with the flat stick – Kraft ranks 43rd for SG: Putting this season and there is no chance that we’re going to pass on a focused pro here at a price against Vegas. (Risking 2 units to win 2.48).
Others to consider to win outright or for DFS (Daily Fantasy):
Horse for the Course is
One has to be careful here about picking one of the usual suspects for your horse like Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and others because for them, this is merely a tune up for Augusta or an opportunity to stay loose. For Luke List, a pro in fine form and who finished third here a year ago, it’s a chance to punch his ticket to Augusta and we cannot overstate how determined he is to be considered among the game’s elite. Many punters and DFS gamers had noted the potential in Luke List. Long off the tee and with a decent short game, he always looked a bit of class short with the flat stick to really make waves on Tour. Consequently, most had him earmarked as a potential winner of events like the CareerBuilder Challenge or the Barbasol Championship; List would surely get the better of low quality fields here. Thus it has come as something of a surprise that a few of his best ever performances on the PGA TOUR have come at its hardest courses of late: a solo second at the devilish PGA National – where he lost out in a play-off to Justin Thomas, has been followed by a respectable T16 at the Valspar Championship – played at the ‘club down’ Copperhead, which didn’t seem to suit his natural game. We told you about his performance coach and now we’re telling you about his renewed confidence and the proof is in the pudding. List is a dangerous man right now and we’ll trust him to be our horse and one of the most focused pros at this week’s event.
Others to consider:
Peter Uihlein (100-1)
It has taken quite some time, but Peter Uihlein finally looks ready to cash in on the potential he showed at the amateur level. He won the 2010 US Amateur at Chambers Bay – no mean feat, and was expected to achieve great things as a prop. As is often the case in life, these things don’t always go to plan but a decent season on the European Tour led to a milestone win at the http://Web.com Tour’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship, his first as a professional. The Oklahoma State graduate – Uihlein will know how to play in this part of the country. He also beat Rory McIlroy (what a boost to his confidence) at the WGC Match Play, and he figures to be ready to get stuck into some stroke-play action back at this old stomping ground here.
Grayson Murray (100-1)
The set-up at the Golf Club of Houston should suit Murray, who can fire his bombs off the tee with minimal concern about where they end up. One of the things we like about Murray is his ability to shoot low on Par 4s, and as we know, this layout is a scorer’s course particularly when the wind is benign – as it is expected to be this week. T8 at the possibly correlated Pebble Beach in February, Murray was going well at the Arnold Palmer Invitational until a bit of a fold on the Sunday; no doubt partly due to the hubbub surrounding his pairing with Byeong Hun An, with whom he had a badly misjudged social media spat against some time ago. Murray is a good follow on Twitter because he speaks his mind but he’s also been very reliable and underpriced in DFS with a Par 4 Birdie or Better ranking of 34th
TOTAL RISK FOR THIS tournament is 7.42 units and we'll update it when the event is official.
6 golfers to win @ 0.2 units each = - 1.2 units
Emiliano Grillo -110 over Shubhankar = +2 units
#7015 Luke List -101 over Tony Finau (WAS A PUSH)
Therefore 4.48 units in wins - 1.2 units in losses = a total net profit of 3.28 units for this event.
Open an account today at Pinnacle Sports
They offer win-only odds in the outrights and for the PGA, European, Champions and LPGA Tours only, but they make up for this in terms of value in their matchups. They consistently offer unique tournament matchups for the PGA which at 10-20 cent lines and no ties are the best on offer in the business.
Houston Open (Risking 7.42 units - To Win: 0.00)