Valero Texas Open
There’s no disguising it was a poor week for us across the WGC Matchplay and Corales events as we failed to bank any kind of return.
Things started badly for us on Wednesday when Paul Casey withdrew after two holes of his opening match against Corey Conners with a back injury and that was it for the Englishman for the week. From there on in our week in Austin relied on Sergio Garcia and Si Woo Kim and both came up short in their efforts to get out of the group.
The event was won by Scottie Scheffler who continued his scintillating run of form to bag his third win in five starts and he now heads to Augusta as the brand new world number one. An incredible turn of events!
Over at the Corales two of our four, Greyson Sigg and Seth Reeves, made the weekend but once Sigg faded on Saturday our race was run.
In the end rookie Chad Ramey pipped Ben Martin to win his maiden tour title by one shot. Ramey who had finished fifth in Puerto Rico recently is clearly a player who can thrive in this type of coastal event on the paspalum while Martin who we were on in this last year found some form out of nowhere to show once again how well he is suited to a windy coastal test.
Moving on and the tour heads to San Antonio, Texas for the Valero Texas Open for the last stop before the first major of the year, The Masters.
As was the case in 2013 and again in 2019 and 2021 the tournament takes the slot of being the final event pre Masters whereas on other occasions the event has been held in the weeks following the Masters.
The AT & T Oaks course at TPC San Antonio has been host to the event since 2010.
As is usually the case most big names are choosing to swerve the event the week before a Major however Rory McIlroy is in town for some ‘reps’ and he is a clear market leader at single figure odds. McIlroy is then followed in the market by defending champion Jordan Spieth, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama who returns from injury and former champion here Corey Conners who arrives fresh off his third place at the Matchplay.
The course is a Greg Norman Design with consultation from Sergio Garcia. One angle therefore is to look at form at the other Greg Norman design played on the PGA Tour which is the course used for the OHL Mayakoba.
The course is a Par 72 and measures just over 7400 yards.
The greens are Bermudagrass over seeded with velvet bent grass & potrivialis.
The AT & T Oaks course historically has undoubtedly been one of the tougher par 72 cookies on the PGA Tour to crack.
Finding the fairways has always been key here as the rough has been penal and straying off line has lead to all kinds of trouble.
This is something Kevin Na will certainly vouch for as he memorably made a 16 here on the par 4 9th in 2011.
The last couple of editions have seen a noticeable change to the toughness of the test though with a previously unheard of -20 total winning last time out. This certainly in 2019 can be put down to changes that were made in an attempt to replicate Augusta conditions with fairways widened and rough shortened. In addition the level of winds, always a factor in Texas, affects scoring.
The course also features Pete Dye type run of areas around the greens and the chances with the event taking the pre Masters warm up slot these can be shaved in an attempt to replicate ‘Augusta type’ conditions around the greens.
As mentioned Above the AT & T Oaks Course has been the host course for this event since 2010 when the event moved across from La Cantera.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners here;
2021 Jordan Spieth
2019 Corey Conners
2018 Andrew Landry
2017 Kevin Chappell
2016 Charley Hoffman
2015 Jimmy Walker
2014 Steven Bowditch
2013 Martin Laird
2012 Ben Curtis
2011 Brendan Steele
As we can see from this list the main strengths of these players as a whole lie in the long game and/or players who have historically performed well on tough golf courses and this ties in to the nature of the course as outlined above.
The two ‘odd ones out’ on the winners list though are Ben Curtis and Steven Bowditch, while last years winner Jordan Spieth would not really be classed in that category either in theory, however at the time of his win he was enjoying a renaissance and his long game that week was superb as he ranked third from tee to green and fourth in approach play.
Bowditch is a Texas resident and was able to handle a windy week when he won. You could also wonder if, [allowing for Adam Scott being a winner here as well] there is an Aussie link to the course style with Greg Norman being the designer.
As for Curtis, what can you say, he’s Ben Curtis! From what I remember of the year he won he got up and down from everywhere and holed everything.
Looking at this list of winners it would appear therefore that as a norm the ‘identikit’ winner is a solid ball striker who ‘gets it out there’ of the tee.
One other factor, which cannot be ignored here over recent years is the presence of players with Texas connections on the leaderboard and in the six editions prior to last year either two or three Lone Star natives/residents have made the frame.
These included Si Woo Kim, Danny Lee, Landry, O’Hair, Walker [x2], Gay, Palmer [x3], Piller, Spieth.
In addition as noted above the 2014 edition was won by a Texas based Aussie, Steven Bowditch.
Last year we only had one Texan in the frame, however that of course was the winner Spieth.
With the event now holding the pre Augusta slot it is also worth looking at the recent history of the Houston Open when it used to be held in this same slot and if we do that we’ll see that the last four editions were won by a player not yet in the Masters field, Poulter, Henley, Herman & Jones, whilst in 2013, when this event held that slot, Martin Laird grabbed an Augusta place with his victory.
More recently this event in 2019 was won by Corey Conners, a player who not only wasn’t in the Augusta field heading in to this week but wasn’t even in this field until he Monday qualified!
Last year this trend was bucked by former Masters Champion Spieth winning however having been winless in nearly four years as his game slumped he was certainly not focused on ‘building up to Augusta’ and was fully motivated on a return to the winners enclosure.
The obvious thing to conclude therefore is that this week is very much about motivation. If you are in the Augusta field already you are most likely to be tinkering with your game, thinking ahead to next week and in the case of big names, whether consciously or not, not wanting to peak too early. Whereas if you are not in Augusta you are quite simply here to win.
There have of course been exceptions to this over the years with players like Phil Mickelson not afraid to hack up the week before a Major and then win again the following week, however all in all I would much rather focus on players I see as motivated this week.
Course form here has proved a decent guide to a certain extent over the years, with the likes of Walker and Hoffman in particular course specialists and Chappell as well all having good form here prior to winning, while Spieth had previously finished runner up here. Conners had also put down a marker finishing 26th the previous year on debut.
Equally though Landry and Bowditch had no ‘previous’ here to go on so don’t be put off if the man you fancy has not done much here before.
Conners also arrived here on the back of four MC in five events with one 41st placed finish while the previous winner to him Andrew Landry had posted an almost identical run in with four MC and a 42nd place finish so form coming in here does certainly not look too significant!
The winning score has varied over the years at the Oaks Course from -8 to -20 from Conners in 2019 with the wind as well as changes to the course set up as noted earlier, which have eased the difficulty, being the differentiating factor.
I am pleased to say we look set for a dry sunny week with temperatures in the mid-80s and I would expect the course to play firm.
Wind is invariably an issue in Texas and this week it looks to be a factor again with gusts of 20/25mph in the forecast over the course of the event.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
GARY WOODLAND – 28/1 - 2pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED T8th
When putting my selections together this week I could not get away from the fact that the recent history of the event held the week before the Masters on far more occasions than not has thrown up a winner not yet qualified for the year’s first Major. On that basis that will certainly be the direction of this preview as a whole. Before I head in that direction though there is one player I cant resist from the top end of the market who is already Augusta bound and that is Gary Woodland.
Since landing the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2019 things have gradually gone awry for Woodland as injury and then a subsequent loss of form have derailed him.
This year however Woodland has started to piece things back together and recently he produced back to back fifth place finishes at the Honda and Bay Hill.
At the latter event Gary had a great chance to bag the trophy as after making eagle on 16 he held the lead as he stood on the par three 17th tee. Unfortunately though Gary finished double bogey, bogey to slip down the leaderboard however despite that finish the week as a whole was clearly another good step in the right direction.
The upturn in Woodland’s form of late can certainly be put down to the return of his strong tee to green game, something that is key to success here and after missing the cut at Sawgrass, a venue he has never been at his best on, he produced another solid long game display at the Valspar to rank 13th from tee to green on his way to a 21st place finish.
Moving on to this week then and Woodland arrives at a course that he has visited three times over the years, making the cut on all three occasions, and where after a lengthy absence from the event he finished sixth last year.
Why Gary chose to return here last year one cannot say for certain however it may just be that he felt with the event now being played the week before Augusta the course would, with its fast undulating greens and four par fives, be set up to mimic the test offered by the years first major as much as possible and as someone who has shown he can fare well at the Masters this would be to his liking. Whether that was the case or not we don’t know of course but what we do know is that even though he had been struggling all year prior to his arrival here Gary relished the challenge of the Oaks Course.
This year then clearly trending towards another win Woodland returns to San Antonio with you would think great memories from last year and I expect a big performance this week.
PATTON KIZZIRE – 66/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
From here on in my picks will all be players as of yet not qualified for Augusta and the first of these is Patton Kizzire. The two time tour winner has been quietly impressive of late as he arrives in San Antonio having made five straight cuts including a best this year of tenth place in Phoenix.
Like our first pick this week Woodland, Kizzire flourished at this event last year to finish ninth and the key to his success that week was his approach play as he ranked second in that department. This week he arrives here ranking 40th for the season in this area so his iron play is again ticking over very nicely.
As well as his strong showing here last year, which came when he was not in the best of form a Look at Patton’s form in Texas away from here of late also brings great cause for encouragement. This is because in addition to his ninth here his other three most recent stops in the Lone Star state have seen him finish third twice at the Charles Schwab and the Byron Nelson and 11th in Houston.
A former winner of the Mayakoba the other Greg Norman design used regularly on the PGA Tour the Alabama man clearly enjoys Norman’s layouts and with a current ranking of 15th in the par five scoring averages he can hopefully thrive on the four in play here.
All in all Kizzire has a lot going for him this week and as someone who will be fully focused on the job in hand I expect a bold showing.
BEAU HOSSLER – 125/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 4th
Those with long memories will no doubt remember that we came very close to landing a nice pay day courtesy of Beau Hossler back in 2018 when he finished second in Texas the week before the Masters, narrowly losing out to Ian Poulter in a play-off.
The first thing to point out of course is that the event that week was on a different track in Houston, however my logic that week that Beau would up his game on a return to his adopted home state proved to be 100% correct and I am happy to side with him again this week for similar reasons.
Since that near miss Beau of course has not had things his own way by any stretch of the imagination and he has had to head back to the Korn Ferry finals on a couple of occasions.
This season however Hossler has made great strides forward and he has built on the momentum of a third place finish at Pebble Beach to produce further eye catching efforts at the Genesis, The Honda and the API before missing the cut at Sawgrass.
Looking at Hossler’s stats for the season and his putter, his historical strength, is firing on all cylinders as he currently ranks eighth on the greens. With regards to his long game his seasons long stats don’t give much encouragement however his more recent efforts have seen great improvement as he ranked 40th in approach play and second in good old fashioned GIR at the API while at the Honda he was 27th in approach play.
With regards to course form and while Beau hasn’t produced anything spectacular here he has made the cut on his last three visits with a best of 36th, with the last two performances coming when in no form what so ever. This year then returning in his best form since 2018 on the tour I expect a far bolder showing and potentially a big run at his first tour title.
KEVIN CHAPPELL – 175/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 18th
Our final three picks this week in keeping with an event that has certainly seen its share of big priced shock winners over the year are all available at 175/1 or bigger and the first of these that I couldn’t resist chancing is Kevin Chappell.
Chappell landed his lone PGA Tour title here in 2017 and at that point of his career he looked destined for big things.
As is often the way however things didn’t go as planned and a major back injury saw Kevin’s career derailed.
At the Phoenix Open earlier this year Chappell had his last roll of the dice on his Medical Extension to secure his playing privileges however a 43rd place was not good enough so the 35yr old who seemed fairly relaxed about his fate is now relying on occasional starts when he can get them in the lesser events.
Once such opportunity came Kevin’s way last week at the Corales and a closing effort of 66 saw him charge up the leaderboard to finish 15th, his best result on tour in over 12 months.
The key to Chappell’s success in the Dominican was the putter for, which he ranked second for the week, however historically of course he was known as someone who had a strong long game, which would be at its best on a tough layout such as the one here.
Buoyed then one would hope by that effort Kevin returns here this week to the scene of his finest hour and where he has also finished fourth and second on other occasions.
Chappell has continued to find greens this season despite his struggles, ranking 43rd in GIR and with the Oaks Course having some of the toughest surfaces to find on tour the hope is that he can bring that improved putting display to a course he knows well and surely loves, and if he can ally that to a solid iron display he could potentially spring a shock.
AUSTIN SMOTHERMAN – 200/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 61st
Next up is my second player with Texas connections this week, Austin Smotherman.
Close followers of the tour will have noted that in 2020 a Korn Ferry Tour event took place at this track just after the Covid lockdown was lifted and the winner that week was another Texan Davis Riley.
While Riley will no doubt then be popular this week with his odds having tumbled hugely based on his superb display at the Valspar I will instead take my chances at four times the odds on the player who was fourth that week and who lead halfway, Austin Smotherman.
While Smotherman is yet to produce on tour the big eye catching week that Riley did in Tampa the one time Korn Ferry winner has produced some solid efforts including a best of 11th at the Farmers and as a player whose strengths clearly lie in his approach play he should certainly be suited to this weeks challenge.
Thirteenth on tour in strokes-gained-approach-to-the-green backs up the above while 26th off the tee and 33rd from tee to green are further pointers to his strong long game.
Like many strong ball strikers Austin struggles on the greens however this week he gets to tee it up on surfaces he has performed well on before and significantly for the first time since joining the big league full time, in his adopted home state and where he attended college.
Sure to have good local support then I expect Austin to bounce back from his missed cut last week at the Corales and produce a strong effort on a far more suitable track for him.
NICK WATNEY – 300/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
For my final roll of the dice this week I will chance at huge odds a player I have been keeping a close eye on Nick Watney.
Regular readers will know I included Watney in my ‘six to follow’ piece for 2022 this year on the back of some eye catching form before Christmas and while he is yet to produce anything really big this year there has been enough in his play to show he is still on the right track.
Looking at Watney’s results this year and his last four outings have see him make the cut on all four occasions with a best of 20th at the tough Bay Hill a couple of starts ago. A finish , which it should be noted could have been much better but for a disappointing closing 76.
Watney’s strengths this season have been so far his approach play and his putter, arguably the two key attributes here and we know that as a rule he is at his best when the set up is tougher, something, which we certainly have this week.
A runner up at the Sandersons last Fall what I really like about Nick is while his chances to win have been few and far between of late the last couple of times he has been in the hunt, at the CC of Jackson and at Quail Hollow in 2018 he did not shy away and he looks to me like a player who could still close out a victory.
Talking of 2018 and a couple of starts prior to that big effort at the Wells Fargo Watney produced a solid 20th place finish here so we know he can handle the track and as someone who is at his best on a testing course this really should suit him.
We know how much this game is a game of fractions, whith one shot a day or so potentially the difference between 30th place and a top five and with Nick ticking over nicely of late I am happy to risk him at the odds to step up on his recent solid play and produce a big week.
UPDATED 29th MARCH
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - BRANDEN GRACE - DK VALUE $6900 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 26.5
I'll start this week by chancing that course form trumps current form and side with Branden Grace.
When on song Grace's pedigree is not in doubt however this year there has been very little to get enthused about in the South African's game.
Over the years though this has been a track that Branden has always enjoyed, making the cut on all five visits and posting two top tens.and at $6900 I'll take the risk that he can spring back to life here again this week.
PICK 2 - MARTIN TRAINER - DK VALUE $6000 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 31
My second pick Martin Trainer is in his customary spot right down at $6000 however with a fifth place and a seventh place on his CV this season, the latter coming last week, there are certainly signs he is getting back on track.
This week the former Puerto Rico champion returns to a venue he has made the cut at on both previous visits and I'll take the risk at the price that he can at least manage that again on the back of last weeks strong showing.