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For the Houston Open, Tom Jacobs is here to break it all down and give you his predictions and picks

Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open First Round Leader Predictions and Picks

The Houston Open is the penultimate event on the PGA Tour in 2021, so chances of hitting a first-round leader are limited before the end of the year. Let’s see if the course correlations identified in the outright preview, and the data from last year’s opening round can lead us to hitting the Thursday leader this week.

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How do we go about spotting value in the First Round Leader markets?

Well this tends to change week-to-week depending on weather and course conditions but we tend to target early tee times when playing Stateside, as that seems to give players an edge as they’re out in generally calm conditions, with the best greens and smaller crowds unless in a marquee group, giving them a chance to string together their round in peace.

Looking at the early forecast, which can of course change, it appears it is colder and windier in the morning on Thursday and warms up in the afternoon, so it may be that like last year, the first round leader comes from the afternoon wave. Snedeker shot an opening 65 here last year, and that was two better than anyone from the chasing pack.

Who in this field started fast on Tour last season?

Here are the 10 fastest starters in the field based on Round 1 Scoring Average in the 2020/21 PGA Tour season.

Cameron Smith (1st overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 68.91) – Low Opening Round – 62

(RBC Heritage)

Cameron Tringale (3rd overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.23) – Low Opening Round – 64

(Farmers Insurance Open)

Jason Kokrak (4th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.28) – Low Opening Round – 62

(Sony Open)

Brian Harman (T5 overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.37) – Low Opening Round – 65

(Shriners and Open Championship)

Scottie Scheffler (T5 overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.37) – Low Opening Round – 65 (Farmers Insurance Open and FedEx St Jude)

Patrick Reed (9th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.55) – Low Opening Round – 64

(Farmers Insurance Open)

Seamus Power (10th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.59) – Low Opening Round – 65 (Barbasol Championship)

Russell Henley (T11 overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.65) – Low Opening Round – 62 (Wyndham Championship)

Sam Burns (16th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.67) – Low Opening Round – 64

(Safeway, Genesis, Phoenix)

Joaquin Niemann (18th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.69) – Low Opening Round – 62

(Sony Open)

What score is required to lead after round 1?

This is of course a bit of a guess and subject to change, dependant on the course, but 63 is a good target once again this week. If we average out the leading round 1 scores on the PGA Tour from the 2020/21 season, over 45 individual events we get an average leading round 1 score of 63.97. Last year the first round lead was 65, courtesy of Brandt Snedeker, who led by two after day one, but there is chatter that the course will play easier this week. With Hideki Matsuyama, Mackenzie Hughes and Talor Gooch all shooting 63’s on Sunday last year, 63 seems a good number to lead after day one here. With players making their second trip to a tough venue, where they may have learned a thing or two 12 months ago, I am willing to bet the scoring average drops a little.

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The Favorites

The favorites in this market generally correlate with the favorites in the outright market but may provide better value if you think that either, one of the favorites can start fast but fade away, or they go wire-to-wire, in which case you could double down with an outright and a first-round leader bet.

Sam Burns +3300

There will be more on Sam Burns below, as I make the case for him to be the first-round leader this week.

Scottie Scheffler +3300

Scottie Scheffler has been within two of the lead 11 times at the end of play Thursday, and held the lead once in that span, when shooting 62 to open the 2019 Bermuda Championship.

He was one of the group that shot 67 here 12 months ago to sit two behind Snedeker after day one, and he will be looking for a fast start again.

Considering he was in contention on Sunday in Mayakoba and ultimately came up empty, I will take the chance that he needs time to settle in this week. He still shot a final-round 66 and a 64 in round two highlights his scoring prowess as well, but I will take Burns over Scheffler in this spot.

Adam Scott +4000

Adam Scott is a ridiculously fast starter in general, sitting within two of the lead an extraordinary 72 times in his career after round one, most recently at the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour, where an opening 65 saw him one shot adrift on day one.

21 first-round leads/co-leads in his career is a sign of what you can expect from the Aussie, and he’s decent value to lead from the front on day one, I didn’t quite get to him over Burns, but at the time of posting, Carlos Ortiz has recently withdrawn from the event, and Scott would be the one I would take instead of him in the outright market, so it might be worth doubling down in both markets if you like him in this.

Cameron Smith +4000

Adam Scott’s fellow Aussie, Cameron Smith is another player who’s been known to start fast, with three first round leads in his career to date.

The most recent of those came at The Heritage back in April, where he shot an opening round 62, but I think he’s at a slight disadvantage to some of the field this week, because he’s making his course debut. It was new to everyone last year, but they now have four rounds under their belt, and it showed on the Sunday that once you get to know the course better, you can shoot low as three players posted rounds of 63. Expect Smith to play well, but his best rounds might just come over the weekend.

Sungjae Im +4000

In just five years, Sungjae Im has managed to post 17 separate opening rounds around the world that put him within two of the lead after day one.

On the PGA Tour in isolation this figure stands at five, and of those one of them was a lead. He co-led the Wyndham Championship after day one in 2019 with a brilliant 62 and more recently he opened with a 63 in round one of the Shriners Open to sit behind Sunghoon Kang who posted a brilliant 61.

Im went on to win that event at the Shriners, with a closing round of 62, and a closing 64 was his best round in his next start at the CJ Cup as well, so he’s playing some great golf.

His closing 67 last year here was his best round of the week, and he rolled straight into Augusta the following week and finished T2, so he clearly enjoyed that two-week spell, but I am going to chance that this is one start too many for Sungjae in 2021.

His irons weren’t great in his start either side of his victory and I am going to chance that it was just a good week for him in Vegas.


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Sam Burns +3300 (BetRivers/UniBet)

We tend to see with better players that they can grow into the event, consistently going low as opposed to starting the fastest, but as Sam Burns boosts his profile, his record in the opening round has also improved.

Since the start of last season, Burns has been within two of the lead after day one on six occasions, and held the outright lead at Riviera after a 64 and co-led the BMW Championship with another one in August.

It is Riviera that caught my eye, where he shot a 64 on a tough golf course to lead by two, and the following week he shot the same score at the Phoenix Open which was one shy of the lead. Both of these events stood out to me as correlating events, as did the 3M Open where he shot rounds of 66-66 and 64 when finishing T7 in 2019.

He hasn’t been the fastest out the blocks this season, but rounds of 68, 66 and 67 are fine and he can go a few lower on a track that clearly suited 12 months ago.

He’s the betting favorite for a reason and I like his chances of starting hot.

Sam Burns tees off at 12:09pm off #10 tee with Max Homa and Sungjae Im.

Matthew Wolff +5000 (FanDuel)

I love Matthew Wolff’s outright chances this week, as outlined in my outright preview, but I like him to start fast as well, at twice his outright odds.

His opening rounds this year have been 68, 64, and 61, with the latter coming in Mexico last week, and I can see him shooting another 63/64 this week, which may well be enough.

While Wolff didn’t stand out in much of the correlative form this week, the 3M Open stuck out to me as a potential crossover, and he has finishes of 1st and 12th there. When he finished 12th at the 3M in 2020, Wolff opened with a 65, and while it didn’t come in round 1 during his victory, he shot 62-65 over the weekend in 2019, showing his ability to go low in that event, one we think provides some crossover.

Last week was his first career round one lead, but he’s started fast in each of his three events so far this season and comes to a course where I think he has the perfect profile to win. I suspect he will start fast, given his opening 61 and closing 65 last week and the odds are more than fair.

The win is coming, and when it does, I think it will be courtesy of a fast start.

Matthew Wolff tees off at 7:35am off #1 tee with Marc Leishman and Tony Finau.

Sepp Straka +10000 (General)

Sepp Straka has a habit of starting events fast, most recently evidenced by his first-round lead at the Olympics back in the summer. This was Straka’s fifth lead/co-lead after round 1 from 2017-2021 and has been good for a first-round lead in each year on the PGA Tour.

The 2018 Safeway Open, 2019 Valspar Championship, 2020 Corales, and 2021 Olympics were the sites of his opening round leads, but it is other fast starts that drew me in.

When you dig deeper Straka has been within two of the lead on 11 occasions on day one. One of those came in this event in 2019, albeit on a different course, but I still think it’s valid. His 65 that week left him one shot adrift, and that was the score needed to lead here last year, so if that’s enough again I think Straka is the type to post it.

Most recently, he has started the Mayakoba with a 66, and if you go back to the Wyndham Championship in August, he opened with a 66 and closed with a 64 so there’s been some low rounds from him in recent memory.

Straka has finished inside the top-5 in both Houston Open renewals he has played in and given the strength of field this time last year, they are both impressive finishes.

Elsewhere Straka has closed with a 63 in the 2020 3M Open which I think could be notable and at triple-digit odds, I think he’s a viable option in this market.

Sepp Straka tees off at 8:08am off #1 tee with Anirban Lahiri and Sam Ryder

Wyndham Clark +13000 (DraftKings)

I really like Wyndham Clark, I think there is a lot of upside on him in terms of talent and that comes from his prodigious length and excellent putting stroke. On top of that he’s a reasonably fast starter, even if he doesn’t put it all together for four rounds too often. On 17 occasions, Clark has been within three of the opening-day lead in his career across the Korn Ferry and PGA Tours since 2017 and three of those times were leads or co-leads.

It was a really tough season for him in 2020/21 where he missed 50% of his cuts, and in the 2021 calendar year he managed just one top-10.

That sole top-10 came at Riviera (T8), where he opened with a 67 to sit three back of Sam Burns at the end of Thursday. His only other top-20 of the year came in Texas when he finished T20 at Colonial. Both of these are positives when you consider his chances this week.

His best ever opening round won’t show up without a bit of further digging, as his eventual T34 finish wasn’t one of his best, but at the 2020 Phoenix Open, Clark opened with a round of 61. That 61, plus his tendency to start well at the Genesis Invitational, suggests to me he could get off to a good start here.

Additionally, his T5 finish at the 3M Open in 2019 remains one of his better efforts on Tour and he opened with a 66 and posted a third round 64, so I do think he can go low at this test when in better form.

Clark made two of his first three cuts this season, and finished T25 in the limited ZOZO field last time out, so he’s playing a bit better than he has been in recent months and I think further improvement is coming.

He just missed the cut on the number here last year but bettered his opening 75 by six shots in round two, and I think he’s capable of posting at least one low round this week, so I will chance it comes on Thursday.

Wyndham Clark tees off at 11:36am off #10 tee with Adam Schenk and Peter Malnati.

Others considered

Harold Varner III +6600

Harold Varner is another that starts fast without necessarily being able to piece four rounds together, but thankfully he doesn’t have to in order to pay off this bet.

19 times Harold Varner has been within two of the lead at Thursday’s end, and on four occasions he’s co-led.

One of those leads came at the Phoenix Open in 2019, and another coming courtesy of a 63 at Colonial, showing some Texas form.

Add to that his 67 here last year, which was the closest score to Snedeker’s leading 65 and he can go a couple better this time around.

Varner shot a 65 at the Sanderson Farms three starts ago and backed that up with a 67 at the CJ Cup, so his Thursday efforts haven’t been bad this season.

His 67 to open the Genesis Invitational in 2020 was also the second-best score of the day, so he has previous at multiple correlating courses.

His missed cut last week was his first since the Open Championship back in July, but it was on the number and his 68 in round two was encouraging. I like his chances of continuing his form at this event, where he has T15 and T23 finishes.

Harold Varner tees off at 7:02am off the #10 tee with Kevin Streelman and Scott Piercy.

Martin Laird +10000

Martin Laird has posted back-to-back top-25 finishes for the first time since mid-2019 and will be looking for three in a row for the first time since 2015!

That may not bode well for his outright odds, as it suggests it’s something he doesn’t do, but he now arrives at a course again that I think suits his game, and having been a winner in Texas before, and only missing the cut here last year due to a poor putter (lost four strokes on the green), I think he’s capable of a fast start.

Laird has made numerous fast starts in his career, having shared the lead seven times at the end of play Thursday and leading outright on his own way back in 2007.

Now it doesn’t bode well that he’s never helped cash a full first-round leader ticket in his PGA Tour career, but it also suggests he’s due.

He’s been within two of the first round lead a total of 31 times in his career, most recently at the American Express earlier this year, when a round of 66 left him two behind.

He opened with a 68 to start the Genesis Open at Riviera in 2018, leaving him two shots behind the leader and in 2019 he shot an opening 65 to sit one behind the leader at the Phoenix Open, both of which I identified as correlating events. Another 66 to open the Phoenix Open in 2015 is further evidence he can start quickly, and the signs suggest he’s due a low round again soon.

Four rounds of 68 or better when defending the Shriners two starts again saw him finish T11, after closing with a 66, and in Mexico last week he shot three rounds of 68 or better, closing with a 67.

We know he’s capable of posting low numbers, with three rounds of 65 or better needed to win the Shriners last year, and he can get off to one of his trademark fast starts here, off the back of some improved from.

A T3 finish in the past at Phoenix suggests to me this could be a good course for him, as does his win at the Valero Texas Open and the odds are decent enough.

Martin Laird tees off at 7:46am off #1 tee with Brandt Snedeker and Lanto Griffin.

Article Author


Tom Jacobs is the host of the Lost Fore Words golf podcast and has been writing betting articles on golf for the past decade. Tom also co-hosts the DP World Tour Picks & Bets show on the Mayo Media Network, so has his finger on the pulse on all the major Tours. A long-suffering Nottingham Forest fan, Tom also enjoys watching Soccer at the weekend, and was delighted to see his Forest team win promotion this season!


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