Recap of the day
Early wave: A 64 has led after day one in each of the last three years here but would the move in date from April to October change that (see Focus On below) with reports that the now all-bermuda course would play faster, firmer and harder? Not in round one. Birdies were flying everywhere for the morning starters and Austin Cook and Talor Gooch both signed for 64s, a shot clear of Sepp Straka. Course specialist Russell Henley, Lanto Griffin and Tyler McCumber all fired 66s. A big group on 5-under included amateur Cole Hammer.
Late wave: With the wind picking up, the afternoon starters struggled to lay a glove on the leaders. China's Xinjun Zhang got it to -6 after 13 before finishing at 5-under while Seamus Power also managed a 67.
Leaderboard: -8 Austin Cook, Talor Gooch, -7 Sepp Straka, -6 Russell Henley, Lanto Griffin, Tyler McCumber, -5 Nick Watney, John Huh, Michael Gligic, Cole Hammer (a), Braden Bailey, Xinjun Zhang, Seamus Power.
Revised outright betting:
15/2 Henley, 10/1 Cook, 14/1 Griffin, Straka, Gooch, 18/1 Zhang, 22/1 Scheffler, 28/1 Tringale, Watney, 33/1 Champ.
Friday weather forecast
Not as good as round one with some morning showers and a thunderstorm predicted. It's cooler, there's plenty of cloud and the wind is set to blow too. With reference to the latter, Talor Gooch (grew up in Oklahoma) replied: "The windier, the better for me. That's comfort."
Leaders after at 18 holes
Austin Cook (64) – This was some round of ball-striking. Cook hit all 18 greens in the right number for the first time at this level and piped 12 (of 14) fairways. Scoring-wise, he did the damage on his front nine, playing Nos. 3-9 in 7-under, a run which included eagle-3 at 8.
Talor Gooch (64) – Gooch matched his low lap on the PGA TOUR after ten morning birdies, one thanks to a 63'2" bomb and another via a hole-out from sand. He dropped a couple of shots too. The World No. 208 hit 15 greens and gained over three strokes with the putter, holing 156 feet of putts.
Sepp Straka (65) – One of his two bogeys was on a par 5 but he surrounded them with nine birdies, including four straight from 10-13. Found 10 fairways, 14 greens and rode a hot putter.
Fate of the favorites
Henrik Stenson (72) – A run of 11 pars and two birdies over the first 13 holes and then a bizarre finish: double bogey, bogey, bogey, birdie, birdie. Terrible stats off the tee (hit just four fairways) and putter cold too although did hit 15 GIR.
Cameron Champ (69) – A somewhat frustrating day for the local resident. Five birdies but twice took six swishes on par 5s he would hope to have gobbled up. Negative SG: Putting.
Brian Harman (72) – Strong recent form but has yet to crack the top 50 in six starts here. #TeamCourseform had bragging rights today after Harman made just one birdie and one bogey in a 72. Only hit 11 greens.
Daniel Berger (77) – Was 6-over after 6 so played the final 12 under par. However, this was ugly: six bogeys and a treble.
Austin Cook (64): "I like those days, especially in this wind. It really picked up on the back side and luckily I was able to take advantage of the front nine, less wind and great greens. Just the ball went in the hole."
Talor Gooch (64): "Anytime you have 10 birdies, double digit birdies, you're doing something right. So I drove it well, got the ball in the fairway, hit a lot of good iron shots and was able to make a few putts, so it was a fun day."
Sepp Straka (65): "Really pleased. The putter was hot today and I was able to hit some iron shots in there close and take advantage of it."
Russell Henley (66): "Nice to see some putts fall. Gave myself some good looks and got it up and down when I needed to. It's kind of weird, I don't really expect it, but it has worked out that way. Hopefully, I can just keep doing it. It would be nice to shoot 6 under every day."
Road to victory at Golf Club of Houston
2018 Ian Poulter – R1: 123rd, R2: 23rd, R3: 1st
2017 Russell Henley – R1: 6th, R2: 2nd, R3: 3rd
2016 Jim Herman – R1: 32nd, R2: 8th, R3: 1st
2015 J.B. Holmes – R1: 2nd, R2: 6th, R3: 18th
2014 Matt Jones – R1: 18th, R2: 3rd, R3: 4th
Notes: Poulter broke all the rules last year but over 50% of the winners since the tournament moved to the Golf Club of Houston were in the top six after 18 holes. Aside from Poulter, Phil Mickelson in 2011 is the only other winner not to have opened with a round in the 60s.
Fate of the 18-hole leaders at the Golf Club of Houston – where did they finish?
Notes: Three first-round leaders have gone on to lift the trophy, although just one since 2008.
Focus on – Differences between October and April
Several times in post-round press conferences today, players were asked to compare how the course played compared to its previous date in April.
Austin Cook: "I mean, the turf's obviously way different playing from rye to bermuda, kind of plays a lot different. But they still have it mowed into -- I mean, it's still going to be pretty long, especially kind of soft. I was playing with Sebastian Cappelen earlier in the week and he said, "Man, it's going to play a lot shorter." I said, "Well, look at it, it's all into the grain and pretty similar to where the balls were going when I played in '15. Bermuda's kind of what I grew up on. I was actually in north Arkansas and we had some bent and some bermuda, but most of the courses were bermuda. Yeah, it's definitely something that I'm comfortable on."
Sepp Straka: "I like it a lot. I love bermudagrass, it's what I grew up playing on. Actually reminds me a lot of my home course that I grew up on, the Kinderlou Forest down in south Georgia. It's a big golf course, bermudagrass, bermuda greens. Yeah, it's nice."
Russell Henley: "The greens are so good still. The biggest thing is chipping out of the bermuda rough and out of the grainy -- you know, into the grain and in the fairways. The greens are still really true and nice speed."
Lanto Griffin: "The guys in my group, we were talking and in the past out here it's been overseed and they've shaved a lot of the banks down, so if you miss the green just right on eight it goes in the water, on six. Now it's bermuda and it's kind of soft so the ball doesn't really roll anywhere, but then again, if you hit in the rough you have jumpers and the rough's pretty thick."
Cole Hammer: "It's a lot different. The only time I ever played this course was when it was overseed and it plays completely different. The rough is thicker. There used to be no rough out here. Also, the greens I would say are probably a little firmer. It's fun to see this golf course like this. It's a lot different. And I don't know, it's what I've grown up on, so I was fairly used to it out there."
Focus on – Henrik Stenson
Well, we can't say he didn't warn us. Asked in Wednesday's press conference how his game compared to when he won the Open Championship in 2016, Stenson replied: "Not even close. Do I need to elaborate more on that?" After the laughter, he continued: "I don't feel like I'm going to go out there and shoot 63s in the final round at the moment, but it's a game you've got to have patience, you've got to keep on working away. There's certainly some parts of the game that's not too bad, but all in all, I don't feel like I'm super confident with my game at the moment. It's been more with the long game. Putting, when I played at Wentworth a couple weeks ago I was putting really well, but striking-wise, there's still some things to be asked for. I think overall my short game stats aren't that great around the green. It hasn't been near as tight as it needs to be. So yeah, there's plenty of things to work on." Well, seems like he called it pretty correctly after hitting just four fairways and managing to get up down just once in three attempts when managing to hit 15 GIR.
Focus on – Cole Hammer
The World No.2 ranked amateur is a University of Texas sophomore, so there was enough interest to get him into the press room on Wednesday. This is just his second PGA TOUR start, the first coming in the 2015. U.S. Open at Chambers Bay where he shot 77-84. It was a very different story today as he outpaced a bogey and a double with eight birdies. Hammer hit just six fairways and 14 greens but was red hot on the greens. Hopefully, he can keep it going this week but, if not, put this in your notebook. The tournament moves to Memorial Park next year and Hammer lives just five minutes away. The course will be revamped but Hammer said: "I've played there a million times growing up. It's the local muni in our neighborhood."