BOB WEST ON GOLF — Finau perfect winner for up-in-air Houston Open

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, November 16, 2022

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Given the current fluid situation on the PGA Tour, and tournaments that find themselves lobbying for a better date, the Houston Open would have had a difficult time picking an easier to promote winner than Tony Finau. Ok, maybe native Texan Scottie Scheffler.

As of today, the HO does not even have a date for next year. Like other fall events, it’s in limbo because of massive changes to appeal to the tour’s biggest names. That, of course is being done to fight off any more significant defections to the LIV Tour.

Striking a serious blow to the drawing power of any event played after the Tour Championship next August, is the fact only the top 70 in Fed Ex points, who don’t have other exemptions, keep their PGA Tour cards. The main bonus for playing in the fall will be for those outside the top 70 to regain their playing privileges.

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Without FedEx points, there will be little incentive for the game’s top players to compete in fall tournaments. Especially since big money events are going to be added in Europe for the game’s elite. Basically, the normal fall stops will be a a step up from the Korn Ferry Tour and a step below the regular PGA Tour.

That’s why Jim Crane and the Astros Golf Foundation are fighting so hard behind the scenes to get a late spring date for 2024. The challenge to that is another established tournament would have to be bumped and several million dollars must be added to the purse.

Crane, who has invested heavily in the saving the Houston Open and making it a prominent tour stop, left no doubt about his intentions with a statement to the Houston Chronicle on Sunday.

“They know we’re interested in switching dates and we have the resources to do it,” he said.

Lamar ex Giles Kibbe, who oversees the operation of the tournament, reinforced that by saying, “We have always made it very clear that we want to be in the spring. There’s a good chance we’ll be in the spring sooner rather than later. But there’s no guarantee at this point.”

Complicating things for Crane and Kibbe involves what is already set in stone. San Antonio’s Valero Texas Open has the prime early April date the week before the Masters and will never give it up. Beyond that, two other tours have tournaments set in Houston in April.

The LPGA’s first major of the season – the inaugural Chevron Championship at Carlton Woods — has been moved from Palm Springs to Houston in mid-April. It will be followed by the Champions Tour’s Insperity Invitational at The Woodlands TPC Course.

So, scratch any chance of an April date.

To get scheduled in May, the Houston Open would have to bump the Wells Fargo Championship, the Byron Nelson or the Colonial. Good luck with that, although the Nelson has lost some luster with the passing of its namesake.

The other May tournament is the PGA Championship. Enough said.   As for June or July, that was discussed before Houston moved to the fall. The offer was rejected because of how hot it can be in the Bayou City during summer months.

Bottom line, Crane’s task with the HO looks tougher than his Astros winning another World Series. And that brings us back to Tony Finau being almost the perfect winner over the weekend at Memorial Park.

After his record-setting 16-under 264, Finau is certain to return to defend his championship. While a bit of a long shot, he could launch his defense as the world’s No. 1 ranked player.

Now that he’s learned how to close, Finau has become a beast. After winning once in his first 185 tournaments, he’s won three of his last seven starts and four of the past 30. Frequently a top 10 finisher in majors, it will not be at all surprising to him see claim one in 2023.

To go with his dynamic skills, Finau will be a terrific ambassador for the Houston event. That’s a fact underscored by him recently being No. 1 in Golf Digest’s PGA Tour Nice Guy Award. With an ever-present smile, he’s the perfect defending champion and attention getter.

CHIP SHOTS: It wasn’t a good week for local interests in the Houston Open. PNG ex Chris Stroud missed the even-par cut by 5 shots on rounds of 72-73. Former Lamar star MJ Daffue had one shot too many after rounds of 68-71.

Stroud, Daffue and PNG’s Andrew Landry are all in the field for this week’s season-ending RSM Classic in Sea Island, Georgia.

In the Monday Senior 50 Plus 2 ball at Babe Zaharias, the team of James Cady, Danny Robbins, Cap Hollier and James Johnson tied the front with plus 2 and won the back with minus 1. Also plus 2 on the front was the foursome of James Shipley, Bob Luttrell, Buddy Elmore and Rufus Reyes.

Closest to the pin winners were Keith Mullins and Hollier (No. 12).

The Friday Super Senior at Zaharias was played in a flighted 6-6-6 format. First Flight was won by the duo of Mullins-Bob Byerly with a 68. The team of Hollier-Joe Gongora took Second Flight with a 72. There was a tie at 72 in Third Flight between Charles Leard-Rick Pritchett and Reyes-Ron Mistrot.

Fourth Flight was taken by Art Turner-Dwayne Benoit with a 75. Closest to the pin winners were Eddie Delk (No. 2, No. 12), Byerly (No. 7) and Dwayne Morvant (No. 15).

The Wednesday Zaharias DogFight was played in an all-points-count format. Winning with 29 points was the team of Glenn Judice, Tommy Bellow, Pritchett and Roy Martinez. Teams captained by Larry Johnson and Ed Holley tied for second with 27 points.

Closest to pin winners were Robert Stansbury (No. 2, 4-4), Dan Flood (No. 7, 10-9), Holley (No. 12, 8-1) and Gary Whitfill (No. 15, 6-4).

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