Rickie Fowler made a strong statement on the opening day of the Houston Open, carding a fine round of 64 to leave himself in pole position.
The 28-year-old’s progress at the top world golf has stalled over recent years after enjoying a breakout in 2014 when he finished in the top five of all four majors.
However, Fowler was unable to build on his success three years ago, failing to clinch his first slam, while he has recorded just three wins on the PGA Tour since.
The American was at the peak of his powers on day one, although there was a lot of fine golf being played in Houston, with the rest of the field within striking distance.
Fowler will know that he will have to be at his best to clinch the crown and ensure that he enters The Masters on a high note next week as he attempts to break his duck at last.
We’ll now look at the 28-year-old’s performance and see how his impressive display has affected the odds after the first round.
Fowler opted not to play the World Matchplay Championship last week in his bid to hone his skills for The Masters. His decision not to feature looks to have paid dividends already as he came hot from the off in Houston, with a number of delightful strokes.
The 28-year-old has been extremely consistent since the Ryder Cup last year, notching four top-five finishes, including his victory at the Honda Classic.
He appears to have brought that form with him this week as he began on the back nine with a birdie on the opening hole before striking another three on the bounce from the 12th to the 14th. Fowler added another birdie on the 16th to leave him on five-under at the turn.
Back-to-back birdies followed at the third and the par-five fourth, setting him up for a charge towards the end of the round. Fowler almost ended on the highest of notes with a near ace on the ninth, only to miss by a fraction, although he was able to convert the birdie to end eight-under.
The American has put himself a great position and backing him with BetFred at +260 to win the tournament presents the best odds for punters.
The 29-year-old had an impressive outing on his first round in Houston, but he will need to maintain a strong level of consistency throughout to have an opportunity to record his first win on the PGA Tour.
Sung has struggled for rhythm so far during the campaign, missing the cut at eight tournaments, although he did finish in tied-12th at the Phoenix Open, with only one mediocre round spoiling an impressive outing from the South Korean.
He began on the front nine and after record two pars – he quickly found his peak form with four-straight birdies from the third to the sixth hole.
After three holes of going through the motions, Sung kicked back into gear on the back nine with a birdie on the 10th and another on the 12th.
He had momentum behind him for a surge towards the end of the round and notched two further birdies on the 15th and 17th, only to take a step back with a bogey on the final hole.
At +3300 with Bet365 he is an intriguing shout after an opening round of 65, although as highlighted – consistency has been a problem in the past.
The 2009 Open Champion looked in excellent form on the first day of the tournament, rolling back the years with a six-under 66 display to leave himself in a solid position.
Cink has been out of sorts since the turn of the year and has struggled to compete at the top of the leaderboard on the PGA Tour, with mediocre outings at his last six competitions.
The 43-year-old’s best performance of the season heading into Houston was his tied-10th finish at the RSM Classic, and he managed to find that range of form on his opening round.
Cink began his day with a birdie on the first before notching another on the third. He was consistent on the front nine before launching an assault on the leaders after the turn.
He notched back-to-back birdies at 10 and 11 along with 14 and 15, while he made a crucial par save on the 16th after a wayward tee shot put him in trouble.
The American ended just two strokes off Fowler’s place and at +3300 with Bet365 he is a good option to take for value.
The 32-year-old has been a solid player on the tour for a number of years, but only has two victories to his name.
The last of which came in July 2016 at the RBC Canadian Open – although Vegas has put himself on the right course to challenge for a third title after an opening-round display of 66.
Vegas has mixed in two quality displays with a number of mediocre outings this term, finishing in fourth place at the Honda Classic along with a tied-10th placing at the end of last year in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba.
The Venezuelan was a model of consistency throughout his round, with his birdies spaced out evenly across the day. He began on the front nine and notched his first at the second before striking at the fifth and again at the eighth before the turn.
A solid run of three birdies in four holes put on the track of Fowler, with three holes remaining. However, some loose strokeplay limited his output, leaving him six-under for the day.
At +2200 with William Hill – Vegas is an intriguing option should he remain consistent with his form.
The Englishman produced some outstanding shots throughout the day, but two loose holes have left him marginally off the pace of Fowler, carding a five-under round of 67.
Since winning the gold medal at the Olympics, Rose has been within striking distance of adding further PGA titles to his collection, finishing second at the Sony Open in Hawaii and tied-fourth places at the Farmers Insurance Open and the Genesis Open.
Rose’s day began on a low note with a bogey on the fourth hole, but he quickly responded with birdies on the fifth and ninth to leave himself one-under at the turn.
The 36-year-old was at his best on the back nine, reeling off four birdies on the bounce, including a chip-in on the 11th. Another birdie on the 15th left him well placed to attack the final three holes, only for a bogey on the 16th to halt his charge, leaving Rose two shots off Fowler’s pace.
Rose has the pedigree to maintain his challenge and backing him at +900 with Paddy Power could be a solid earner come Sunday night.
Rickie Fowler To Win Houston Open
Sung Kang To Win Houston Open
Stewart Cink To Win Houston Open
Jhonattan Vegas To Win Houston Open
Justin Rose To Win Houston Open