Two of the best ball-strikers in the field are at the top of the scoreboard after Round 1 of the 2021 Houston Open. Russell Henley, Talor Gooch, Marc Leishman, and Luke List all shared the 5-under lead after play was delayed due to darkness following a rain delay early in the round, but there are still 73 golfers within five strokes of the leaders, with numerous rounds still to be played.
In recent weeks, Henley and Gooch have been on fire from the tee to the green, finishing in the top ten in strokes gained on approach over the last 20 rounds. Gooch has four top 11s in four starts this season, and he has gained strokes on approach in all three that have been measured. Henley has gained at least 1.5 strokes each round on approach shots in three of his last four events. These numbers may be meaningless to you, but the message is clear: both players are on fire and have been since Thursday in Houston.
We’ll take a closer look at their rounds, as well as the other leaders and who’s chasing them, as the first round comes to a close on Friday and the second begins. Only a few dozen players have yet to finish their opening 18 holes, including List.
Russell Henley, Talor Gooch, Marc Leishman, Luke List (T1) (-5) All three were in the top 120 in the field for approach shots on Thursday, and in the top 10 for putting. Good ball-strikers with excellent putting days win golf events. Even when Gooch is having a good run — he was in the final pairing on Sunday in Mayakoba last week — it may be difficult for him to maintain that form into the next tournament.
“Anytime you’re playing well, you try to hold on to that momentum,” Gooch said. “It can be difficult to do that in golf because there’s such a lull between tournament rounds and the start of the next week’s event.” “As a result, you try everything you can to keep doing the same things. I’ve been able to maintain it throughout the stretch, so maybe we’ll be able to do so for the remainder of the week.”
5. Jason Dufner (-4): Dufner struggled to hit the ball on Thursday, which was unusual for him. Unusually, he also finished in the top 10 in the field in putting, putting him on track for his first top 10 in the last two years. “I thought I did quite good,” Dufner remarked. “For the most part, I was thrilled with everything I produced, but a couple important bits in the middle of the round helped glue it together a number of times and possibly transformed a 70, 69, or 68 into a 66. So, with those saves, I’ll take those two or three shots and work on improving my ball-striking.”
Keith Mitchell, Ben Silverman, Jhonattan Vegas, Wyndham Clark, Adam Long, and Martin are in the top six. (-3) Trainer: Mitchell is the one I’m interested in. According to Caesars Sportsbook, he’s still 40-1 to win the tournament, but he’s in terrific shape after gliding around off the tee and around these tricky greens on Thursday. He putted poorly (just in the top 100 in the field) yet is still in contention. That 40-1 number is a tad excessive.
T12 (-2): Adam Scott, Matthew Wolff, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry Wolff is aiming for his third top-five result in his previous four starts, which has been one of the season’s most extraordinary (and encouraging) stories thus far. On Thursday, he didn’t strike the ball particularly well, and that’s something to keep a watch on going into the final 54. Only two of the top 31 golfers on the leaderboard had a lower amount of strokes gained on approach shots than Wolff.