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HOUSTON — Fans tuning in to the Houston Open this week are in for plenty of changes since the last time the tournament was held.

First, there’s a new title sponsor: Texas Children’s Hospital. Previous sponsors include Shell, Vivint, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Cadence Bank, but this is the first of a five-year partnership for Texas Children’s and the Houston Open. There will also be increased purses for the duration of the contract.

Then, it’s being played at a new time of year for the first time at Memorial Park Golf Club, site of the tournament since 2020. For three years, it was part of the fall schedule. After having no tournament in 2023, it moved to the slot WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play used to occupy in the new PGA Tour schedule.

Although the venue is the same, the golf course is completely different.

Houston Open: Odds, picks to win | Photos

“Back in the fall it was playing quite fast, the ball was running, the
greens were firm,” defending champion Tony Finau said. “I don’t think that’s going to be the case as much this week.”

In the past, the Houston Open at Memorial Park rewarded accuracy off the tee because of thick rough. This year, there’s not as big of a premium for finding the fairway because the course was overseeded with ryegrass. Then there are the greens, which as Finau alluded to, can be challenging if the course speeds up.

Signage near the 16th green during a practice round prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024, in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

This week, however, someone who is strong with their iron game is likely to rise to the top.

“It used to be some holes where it was really, really important to hit
the fairway, especially with the Bermuda rough,” World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler said. “Now there’s not as much of a premium placed on that. You’ll see a lot more drivers, people hitting it really far and it will be much
more of I’d say a second shot golf course this time around.”

In 2022, Finau set the tournament scoring record at Memorial Park, shooting 16-under 264 for the week. Players think there’s a good chance that is broken this week.

“I would say it’s going to play a little bit easier,” World No. 4 Wyndham Clark said. “In the fall it was very tough because you would hit it in the rough and it was so hard to judge lies. And then around the greens was, you would have into the grain, dormant Bermuda so you could get some squirrely shots. So I predict that scores will be lower than what they normally are in the fall.”

Numerous golfers in the field are using this week as final preparations for Augusta National and the Masters, which is in two weeks.

Scheffler, who donned the green jacket in 2022, said he was surprised with a lack of rough and said they’re probably trying to make it like Augusta National, which he doesn’t mind for his prep.

The 17th hole was also changed, and when the tee is moved up, it makes the green more enticing for players to go for it in two.

Last week’s champion, Peter Malnati, had high praise for the municipal course, saying it looks more like a high-end country club and not a course the public can play any day, any time.

“It’s a completely different course,” Malnati said of the fall-to-spring change. “I think I’d probably possibly be in the minority of Tour players who would say this, but I kind of love the fact that it did have a bit of a muni feel. It felt like a course that any Houstonian could just come out and play, and that’s not something we really get on Tour a lot. We tend to play perfectly manicured, you know, country club-type feeling courses that are just in immaculate condition.

“That’s not how this course has been when we played it in the fall. It’s been a little rough around the edges. This year it looks much more like what we’re used to on the PGA Tour. It’s immaculate, no blade of grass out of place and that’s obviously a really good thing. Huge compliment to the staff here for the job they’ve done to get this that way.”

The Texas Children’s Houston Open is different this year. And that’s not a bad thing.

“It’s aesthetically a lot prettier because normally it’s a little more dormant when we play it,” Clark said. “They’ve done an awesome job, the course is in amazing shape, it looks amazing.”

2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open

Wyndham Clark of the United States plays a shot on the eighth hole during a practice…

Wyndham Clark of the United States plays a shot on the eighth hole during a practice round prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open

Tony Finau of the United States plays a shot on the eighth hole during a practice…

Tony Finau of the United States plays a shot on the eighth hole during a practice round prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open

Tony Finau of the United States walks to the ninth tee during a practice round prior…

Tony Finau of the United States walks to the ninth tee during a practice round prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open

Wyndham Clark of the United States plays a shot on the eighth hole during a practice…

Wyndham Clark of the United States plays a shot on the eighth hole during a practice round prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open

Signage near the 16th green during a practice round prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open…

Signage near the 16th green during a practice round prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open

The flagstick on the 16th green during a practice round prior to the Texas Children’s Houston…

The flagstick on the 16th green during a practice round prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open

Scottie Scheffler of the United States prepares to play his tee shot on the 15th hole…

Scottie Scheffler of the United States prepares to play his tee shot on the 15th hole while recording artist Kelley James performs freestyle rap during a practice round prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan at a press conference prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open…

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan at a press conference prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan claps at a press conference prior to the Texas Children’s Houston…

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan claps at a press conference prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open

Television commentator Brandel Chamblee looks on from the 17th tee during a practice round prior to…

Television commentator Brandel Chamblee looks on from the 17th tee during a practice round prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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Television commentator Brad Faxon looks on from the 17th tee during a practice round prior to…

Television commentator Brad Faxon looks on from the 17th tee during a practice round prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open

Houston mayor John Whitmire speaks at a press conference prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open…

Houston mayor John Whitmire speaks at a press conference prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open

The shoes of Scottie Scheffler of the United States on the 16th hole during a practice…

The shoes of Scottie Scheffler of the United States on the 16th hole during a practice round prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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Story originally appeared on GolfWeek

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