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 Tyrrell Hatton showed signs of a wrist injury on the range before teeing off and the Englishman never got out of first gear all week. Meanwhile of our other selections Si Woo Kim and Cam Davis both played well as a whole winning two out of three matches but ultimately came up short in their quests to get out of the group while Sahith Theegala was made to pay for losing a one up lead with two to play on the opening day versus Min Woo Lee.
The event was won by Sam Burns who along with Cameron Young ruined the dream Scheffler v McIlroy final everyone was hoping for heading in to Sunday. Full credit to Burns though he got stronger as the week progressed producing some great stuff to see off the world number one before running away with the final against Young.
Over at the Corales three of our four picks made the weekend but unfortunately none of them were ever able to get seriously in to contention with Michael Kim at 28th our best finisher.
In the end it was a win for Matt Wallace who converted on his recent solid form to bag his first PGA Tour title.
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, 2019 and for the last two years 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 and it is left for Englishman Tyrrell Hatton to head up the market 12/1. Hatton is then followed by Rickie Fowler, Corey Conners, Si Woo Kim and Hideki Matsuyama.
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 designs played on the PGA Tour which until this year includes the El Cameleon course used for the OHL Mayakoba along with Vidanta Vallarata course used from last year for the Mexico Open.
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 JJ Spaun
2020 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 the 2021 winner Jordan Spieth would not really be classed in that category either in theory historically, 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 with many Lone Star natives/residents or players who have attended college there making the frame.
These included Si Woo Kim, Danny Lee, Landry, O’Hair, Walker [x2], Gay, Palmer [x3], Piller, Spieth and most recently Beau Hossler and Dylan Frittelli last year.
In addition as noted above the 2014 edition was won by a Texas based Aussie, Steven Bowditch.
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!
In 2021 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. Last year though this ‘formula’ was apparent again as JJ Spaun punched his ticket to a trip up Magnolia Lane.
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 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 while last years winner Spaun had a best of 26th here in four visits with two missed cuts along the way so don’t be too put off if the man you fancy has not done much here before.
With regards to form coming in Conners arrived here on the back of four MC in five events with one 41st place finish while the previous winner to him Andrew Landry had posted an almost identical run in with four MC and a 42nd place finish. Similarly Spaun had nothing better than 27th in his previous five starts so again being in great form coming in does certainly not appear to be too significant!
The winning score has varied over the years at the Oaks Course from -8 to -20 from Conners in 2019, while Spaun won with -13 last year, with the wind as well as changes to the course set up as noted earlier, which have eased the difficulty, being the differentiating factor.
As is often the case in Texas we could see the odd storm this week with over ca st conditions predicted. Temperatures look set to sit in the low 80s.
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 particularly over the first two days.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
DAVIS RILEY – 25/1 - 2pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
In a week where I’ll most certainly be focusing on players not yet qualified for Augusta, and indeed predominantly on those yet to post their first PGA Tour win, I will start with a player who appears primed to do just that, Davis Riley.
Riley who won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour has moved seamlessly up to the big league over the past 18 months or so and knocked on the door on a few occasions to bag that first win in his debut season, most noticeably when agonisingly missing out to Sam Burns at the Valspar Championship. In addition in that debut season alongside the runner up finish in Tampa he posted four further top ten’s in a hugely successful campaign, which saw him finish 36th in the Fedex Cup.
On to his sophomore campaign then and while he is yet to scale the heights of last season there have been signs from Riley over the recent weeks that he is heading back in that direction, firstly with an eighth place at Bay Hill and then with a solid top 20 at the Valspar. Meanwhile at the Matchplay last week he acquitted himself well beating Tom Kim, halving his match with Alex Noren and only losing on the final hole to the juggernaut Scottie Scheffler.
So we’ve established Riley is in good nick but what of his credentials for this week? Well there are several key elements, which point me in his direction. Firstly, as noted earlier the key to unlocking TPC San Antonio is as a rule very much from tee to green, and with Riley ranking 30th on tour in approach play this season we know he has what it takes on that front to compete here.
Secondly, and on that latter point though the good news is we don’t have to speculate as to Davis’ suitability for the track as he won here at TPC San Antonio on the Oaks Course when it hosted a Korn Ferry event in 2020. True he finished way down the field here last year in this event however that was his first start after his narrow defeat at the Valspar so I am happy to put that performance down to a mental let down following that week.
Furthermore Riley who makes his home in Dallas, therefore giving us that all important Texas link, posted two further top tens at the Byron Nelson and Charles Schwab last season to show us how much he enjoys his golf in his adopted home state.
Finally a glance at Riley’s form on the other Greg Norman designs he has played since being on tour gives us a fifth place finish in the Mexico Open last year.
Having just missed out on Augusta through the Fedex rankings last season Riley will be fully motivated to produce the big week needed here and allowing for all the strands noted above he is a must for me this week.
ROBBIE SHELTON – 100/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 15th
Next up is another player who ticks a lot of boxes for me this week, Robbie Shelton.
Shelton who lost his playing privileges after a disappointing second season on tour in 20/21 bounced straight back to the big league this season courtesy of two wins last year on the Korn Ferry Tour, and so far he has produced some solid stuff making 11 of 15 cuts and posting a best finish of sixth at the American Express.
A look at Shelton’s stats this season show us that he is thriving from tee to green ranking 48th in this department and 36th in approach play, with his putter, for, which he is ranked 127th on the campaign, the club, which has held him back from really threatening a win.
Indeed even in his most recent start at the Valspar where he missed the cut Robby ranked 12th in driving accuracy over the first two days and a not disgraceful 64th in approach play but a lowly 119th on the greens. Clearly then the flat stick is a problem this season, as we know though that can all change on any given week and I would rather focus on Shelton’s long game attributes which should suit the tricky test the players will face this week.
Looking at Robby’s history here and this also gives us one big positive as while he missed the cut here when horribly out of form in 2021 if we trawl back further we find that he posted a 16th here way back in 2017 when playing on a sponsors invite, furthermore he actually sat in a tie for third place that year at the halfway stage, alongside the eventual winner Kevin Chappell, before understandably fading over the weekend.
Cast the net wider then to Shelton’s form on other Norman designs and we’ll se that he posted a sixth place at the Mayakoba in 2019 on his debut season on tour so this gives us another good pointer.
Now 27 and a four timer winner on the Korn Ferry Tour Shelton clearly has the pedigree to step up to the next level and win on the PGA Tour and with the big names here most likely focused on next week this seems a perfect opportunity for him to step up and bag his first trophy.
PATTON KIZZIRE – 80/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 64th
Next up this week are three players who I sided with in this event last year and who I am happy to chance again this time around starting with Patton Kizzire.
Two time tour winner Kizzire is currently enjoying a season pretty similar to last year in that he is prone to mixing some steady results in amongst a bunch of missed cuts and the odd bigger finish, basically consistency of late isn’t Patton’s strong suit.
Last time out however things did click for Patton at the Valspar and he produced four solid days to post a tenth place finish with all areas of his game working nicely. Something showed by week long rankings of 18th off the tee, 20th in approach play and 17th in putting.
Meanwhile at TPC the week before while his tee ball let him down his iron play and putting was again solid as he ranked 25th in approach and 13th in putting.
Patton has made two trips to TPC San Antonio over the years, firstly in 2021 when he posted a great ninth place finish and then last year when he disappointingly missed the cut when we were on board, however the ninth obviously shows us he is comfortable here.
In addition his form in Texas as a whole also brings great cause for encouragement. This is because over recent years he has finished third at the Charles Schwab and the Byron Nelson and 11th in Houston.
Furthermore as a former winner of the Mayakoba where Patton was also tenth last fall we have a positive link on Greg Norman designs.
With it being over five years since Kizzire last tasted victory on the PGA Tour a third win is long over due and I see this week as a great opportunity for him to strike again.
BEAU HOSSLER – 80/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 46th
My next selection who I chanced last year and will do again this time around is Beau Hossler.
Hossler as long term readers will know is a player who always comes on to my radar when the tour hits Texas, his adopted home state, and while his form has been poor of late I am happy to go down that road again.
With regards to Beau’s recent form he has missed his last four cuts however there have been some positive signs, for example at the Valspar last time while his approach play was poor, off the tee he was actually ranked fifth over the first two days but struggled with his iron play and on the greens, while at Bay Hill a couple of weeks prior his week was wrecked on Friday with four dropped shots in his last two holes after he had made four straight birdies.
Ultimately though Florida as we know has never really been Hossler’s stomping ground whereas to go full circle Texas certainly is.
Expanding on this further and last year Beau was right in the hunt through 36 holes at the Charles Schwab Challenge last year, while he also played strongly at the Byron Nelson last year to finish 17th on the back of three missed cuts. Meanwhile of course if we go back further most readers will no doubt remember Beau having the title in Houston snatched from him by Ian Poulter in 2018 the week before the Masters
With regards to course form and of course last year Beau so nearly rewarded us with a big win as he held the lead here around the turn on Sunday before a double bogey seven on the par five 14th put pay to his chances. Still though fourth was another strong Texas finish. In addition prior to that he had made the cut on his previous three visits here with a best of 36th.
All in all then its apparent that Hossler springs to life in Texas around this time of year and I’ll roll the dice on him here again.
KEVIN CHAPPELL – 150/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 39th
The final of my three picks from last year that I am going with again 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.
Over the past year since losing his full playing privileges Chappell has become something of a bit part player however I sided with him here last year after he produced an eye catching effort at the Corales the week before to finish 15th his best result at the time on tour in over 12 months. Kevin then duly showed up here at his, no doubt favourite venue, to be in the final group heading out on Saturday before fading over the weekend. Still though it certainly justified the faith in his ability to perform here.
This season has once again been a struggle for Chappell as he initially missed his first five cuts.
Of late though Kevin has started to find a glimmer of form as a 29th place at the Honda was followed by a 15th in Puerto Rico and in very similar style to last year a 16th at the Corales last week. Certainly not ground breaking stuff but three solid cuts made and three top 30 finishes on the spin, the first time he has managed that in solo events since 2018.
A look at Kevin’s stats at the Corales also give us encouragement as he was solid from tee to green ranking 21st in good old fashioned Driving Accuracy and 25th in GIR.
As well as his strong showing last year and his win here Kevin has also posted a runner up and a fourth place finish here so clearly he is comfortable on the track and I am happy to risk him to show up in San Antonio once again.
KEVIN TWAY – 200/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Finally this week I’ll go in again on a player who we were on a few weeks back at Riviera Kevin Tway. That week in Riviera Tway produced a strong performance which looked like it could bag us a place on Sunday until he produced a hugely infuriating moment on the back nine as he and Stephan Jaeger hit each other’s ball to incur a two shot penalty!
No joy for us then that week after that freak incident and after a lowly 63rd at the Honda Kevin then missed his next two cuts in Florida.
Like one of our other picks Hossler though Florida has never been a good hunting ground for Tway in fact he has barely made a cut in the Sunshine State over the years.
From that point of view then I was happy to park Tway until the tour moved on and after a solid 38th at the Corales last week I am happy to jump back on board in Texas at a venue he was third at in 2017.
Furthemore Tway who hails from neighbouring Oklahoma has posted top 20 finishes at the Charles Schwab and Byron Nelson that same year before posting top tens in those same events the following year. Meanwhile Kevin posted a runner up finish in Houston in 2021 to show again his fondness for the Lone Star State.
Returning to Kevin’s form this year and what lead him to catch my eye in the lead up to Riviera was the fact that he had performed strongly with his approach play at Phoenix and he duly continued to perform solidly from tee to green at the Genesis. Roll on to last week then and Kevin ranked 17th for GIR at the Corales so the approach game is still firing.
A one time winner on Tour Tway has shown over the years he can pop up with big finishes particularly in Texas and with his solid play over recent months I can see him kicking things up a notch again here this week.