One last prep before Masters

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Like in Las Vegas, the opening act never gets the credit it might deserve.

This week’s PGA Tour stop, the Vivint Houston Open, is no different. The tournament is the warmup act to next week’s headlining star: the Masters.

Confused? Well, allow us to clarify things for you.

The Houston Open for years was the opening act for the Masters before scheduling changes last year altered that scenario. Now, at least for 2020, it’s back in place as the prelim to Augusta, although it will be at Memorial Park Golf Course, a Tom Doak design.

The tournament is attracting a decent number of top-ranked players in the world for one reason: It’s the last chance for them to hit their stride before next week’s Masters. It’s also the first PGA Tour event on U.S. soil to allow fans on site as 2,000 spectators per day will get to see the action in person.

Don’t get us wrong, everyone in the field would love to hoist the trophy come Sunday evening as the Houston Open champion. But for those playing at Augusta National next week, there’s a secondary motive for them to play this week: A gaudy green jacket, more than $2 million in prize money and a lifetime of being able to be called a major champion.

Those are pretty big incentives. But that’s not to say players will overlook this event. In fact, the Houston Open, while it doesn’t have the prestige of a major, can do a lot to help solidify a player’s future on the PGA Tour with a victory.

Lanto Griffin is a perfect example. He won the event last year, his first on the PGA Tour. That victory eventually helped him earn enough FedEx Cup points to make it to the Tour Championship earlier this year where he wound up 18th in the final standings.

Not bad for someone who was struggling just to find his way onto the PGA Tour. After getting his Tour card in 2018, he missed half his cuts and, just that quickly, was back in the Korn Ferry ranks. He spent 2019 on the Korn Ferry Tour where he wound up 7th, got his PGA Tour card back and a chance to redeem himself.

He’s done just that. He opened with four straight top-20s before his win in Houston and the rest, as they say, is history. And that history could repeat itself this week as we’re thinking he can win this event again. At 50-1 odds, it will be a great payday for bettors. Why not pick up your second PGA Tour win in the event where you won your first?

Sure, the field is packed with 13 of the top 50 players in the world. But don’t forget, Griffin’s now closing in on that status as he’s 55th. In his first four events of this wraparound season, he’s got a T-43 in the U.S. Open, a T-7 at the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek and a T-11 at the ZOZO Championship at Sherwood.

We haven’t had a repeat winner in a while since Brooks Koepka at the PGA Championship in 2019. So why not this week?

But, and here’s where we run into a few problems, we can’t forget there are still a lot of powerhouse players in the field to contend with. And every one of them would like nothing better than to head into the Masters off a victory.

And that includes Koepka at 20-1. We’re likely to see him get back in top form this week and at a course he’s very familiar with. How familiar? He was the PGA Tour’s player consultant on a redesign effort in getting Memorial Park Golf Course ready for the Tour to return to action here.

In an interview last year, Koepka admitted course design wasn’t exactly on his radar. But once he got going, he said it wound up being one of his biggest accomplishments.

Oh, and in case you’ve been under a rock and haven’t heard, Tiger Woods is not in the field this week. After a poor performance trying to defend his ZOZO title, he’s not teeing it up here. That probably won’t bode well for his other title defense as the 2019 Masters winner. But, that’s another story — like for next week. 

About the Author

Bill Bowman

Bill Bowman is a Las Vegas-based writer who has more than 40 years in the sports-writing business. He's spent the past 18-plus years covering the golf scene in Vegas including 10 years as a writer/editor with VegasGolfer Magazine. He also contributes to the GolfNow Network of websites and Las Vegas Golf Insider.

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