The PGA Tour flips back to the Lone Star State for the third time in five weeks on Thursday so read our man's comprehensive preview of the Valero Texas Open here...
"Billy Horschel caught the eye last week at Hilton Head when he finished fifth and I was happy enough to play him at 40.039/1."
Having first been staged in 1922, the Valero Texas Open is one of the older events on the PGA Tour.
The tournament was staged at La Cantera Golf Club between 1995 and 2009 before switching to its current venue, TPC San Antonio, in 2010 and having signed up until 2028, this is going to be the host course for the next ten years at least.
TPC San Antonio (Oaks Course), San Antonio, Texas
Par 72, 7,435 yards. Stroke Index in 2017 - 72.85
This tough Greg Norman-designed track opened in January 2010 and fellow Aussie, Adam Scott, won the inaugural staging here just a few months later.
As you'd imagine with a course called the Oaks, the track winds its way through stands of oak trees although fairway widths vary and it's not especially tight, avoiding the trees is essential.
A unique feature of the course is that all downhill holes play into the prevailing wind, while the uphill holes play downwind. TPC San Antonio is yet another track laid to Bermuda grass and the greens, which are overseeded with bentgrass and poa, usually run at around 11 on the stimpmeter.
TPC San Antonio was the 10th hardest course of 50 played on the PGA Tour last year.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting with live Featured Group coverage at 18:30 on Thursday. Full live coverage begins at 20:30.
Last Five Winners
2017 - Kevin Chappell -12
2016 - Charley Hoffman -12
2015 - Jimmy Walker -11
2014 - Steven Bowditch -8
2013 - Martin Laird -14
What Will it Take to Win the Valero Texas Open?
This isn't an easy event to get to grips with statistically and two of the previous eight renewals are probably best to ignore. The course was brand new and very damp the first time we came here in 2010, which resulted in easy conditions and low scoring, and in 2013 the tournament was played in the week before the US Masters and the course was set up very differently to the way it is ordinarily. Just as they do at the event that usually precedes the Masters, the Houston Open, in 2013 the organisers set the course up here to replicate conditions at Augusta and as it was in 2010, the winning score was lower than we usually get here.
Greens In Regulation wasn't a key stat in 2016, with only one player inside the top-12 ranking inside the top-10 for GIR but it was a completely different story last year when the top-five all finished tied sixth or better for GIR.
Last year's winner, Kevin Chappell, ranked only 25th for Driving Distance but the second and third, Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, ranked fifth and seventh and the two winners before Chappell, Charley Hoffman and Jimmy Walker, both ranked fourth for DD.
Hoffman was the fourth course winner to play the long holes better than anyone else and only JJ Spaun and Gonzalo Fernandez Castano played them better than the winner last year so the Par 5 Performance stats might be worth checking out.
Is There an Angle In?
Last year's winner, Chappell, didn't frank any of my course form correlations but form at the Sony Open and the Puerto Rico Open looks worth considering and form at the OHL Classic in Mexico stands up really.
The 2015 winner, Jimmy Walker, has twice won the Sony Open and a number of other players have performed well at both here and Waialae Country Club - home of the Sony. No players have won this event and the Puerto Rico Open but I've noted in the past that several players with solid records in Puerto Rico have fared well here and that makes sense. Both venues are wind-affected and both have produced more than their fair share of experienced winners but the best angle in is to look at form at the OHL Classic in Mexico.
The 2016 Valero Texas Open champ, Hoffman, won the OHL Classic in 2015, 2012 OHL winner, John Huh, was runner-up here in the same year and the 2016 OHL winner, Pat Perez has very respectable figures at this course reading 22-5-11-20. It's no surprise that form at the OHL Classic correlates nicely as that event's played at another wind-affected Greg Norman design - El Camaleón.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Whether the wind blows here or not, it's usually something of a grind and the more experienced pros have tended to prosper over the youngsters. The 2011 winner, Brendan Steele, was only 28 when he won but disregarding the 2010 and 2103 editions again, the other five winners, when conditions were typical, have all been in their 30s.
Inaugural winner, Scott and the 2014 champ, Steven Bowditch, like the course designer, Norman, are both Aussies and Aaron Baddeley and Cameron Smith both finished inside the top-six places last year. Competitors from Down Under are well worth considering.
When I first read about the course, back in 2010, it was said to have an Aussie feel about it. The bunkers certainly have that sand belt look about them and Bowditch confirmed the link when he won, saying that the course was like a lot of courses back home.
Scott was well-fancied in 2010, as was Jimmy Walker in 2015. Last year's winner, Chappell, and the 2016 winner, Hoffman, both went off at around 30.029/1 but the other four winners all went off at a triple-figure price so don't be discouraged if you fancy an outsider and if he's a Texan then that's all the better.
Nine of the last 22 Valero Texas Open winners have been Texans and Texans have figured prominently over the last two years. Kevin Tway, Brian Gay and Ryan Palmer all finished inside the top-six and ties last year and in 2016, the runner-up, Patrick Reed, was a Texan and so were Palmer and Martin Piller, who both finished tied for fourth.
The Lone Star State is notoriously windy so an ability to play well in breezy conditions is usually essential and that certainly looks like being the case this week. We've seen some huge draw biases recently and a late tee-time on Thursday may prove beneficial again this week, as it was in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
Those drawn late-early on day one three years ago were advantaged by as much as 4.25 strokes over the first two rounds and six years ago late starters on day one played the first two rounds in an average of over three-and-as-half strokes more than those drawn late-early. And the same thing happened four years ago but to a lesser degree, with the day one afternoon starters shooting the first two rounds in 1.44 strokes less than the early-late starters
It's still very early days but an afternoon start on Thursday may prove beneficial again with the wind forecasted to be quite strong on Friday afternoon. I'll be keeping an eye on the forecast and should it materialise, backing the leaders in the clubhouse on Friday afternoon will be the way to go. The day two afternoon starters are likely to struggle in the tougher conditions and being on the leaders is essential here.
Disregarding the 2010 and 2013 renewals again, for the reasons set out above, the other six previous course winners have been inside the first three places at halfway and Chappell was the fifth of six to be in front after three rounds. Charley Hoffman, who had sat third and two off the lead in 2016 is the only man not to be leading after three rounds.
The front nine is harder than the back-nine and the finish to the course offers up a few chances to score. The par five 14th was the easiest hole last year, with the drivable par four 17th and the par five 18th ranked second and third easiest.
Sergio Garcia, who worked on the course design with Norman, hasn't played here since the first edition at the track in 2010 when he finished 46th. The conditions wouldn't have been ideal for Garcia that year and this looks like a course that should suit him. He has a very solid record in Texas, he's a terrific wind player and other than his disastrous defence at the US Masters last time out, he's been playing well this year but I'm more than happy to swerve him. He doesn't win as often as his price suggests and he's very rarely a value play before the off.
Matt Kuchar's strike rate is even worse than Sergio's so he's even easier to dismiss and a short price but I very nearly backed the third favourite, Charley Hoffman...
With form figures reading 6-2-13-3-11-11-1-40, the Hoff loves it here and he's a cumulative 41-under-par since the event moved here in 2010. The next best is Aaron Baddeley on -18! His worst result here was 12 months ago but that can be excused. Not only was he defending the title, but he was probably also still in shock after his fall from grace at Augusta. Having led through rounds one and two and having sat fourth after three rounds, Charley plummeted to 22nd before comfortably missing the cut at the RBC Heritage. I suspect he wasn't anywhere near mentally ready to defend here. He's highly likely to contend again but if he does, he's also likely to fall short again and he's another with a poor strike rate.
I heard the commentators saying at the RBC Heritage last week that it was only a matter of time before the youngster, Luke List, broke through on the PGA Tour. He's 33. And he's already failed to win on 107 previous occasions on the PGA Tour. He did win one of his 134 Web.com Tour starts but anyone that witnessed his sloppy back-nine at Hilton Head last week might understand his poor record in-the-mix and like me, they won't be backing him at 26.025/1 here, especially given his course form figures read 46-29-MC. One the market loves to love, but I don't get it.
I'm monitoring the weather situation, and I'm keen to get stuck in once the event gets started but I have managed to find three to side with modestly before the off...
Billy Horschel has a decent record here for an in-and-out performer, with form figures reading 74-75-3-MC-3-4-MC. He's been largely in the wilderness since he won back-to-back FedEx Cup events back in 2014 but the 31-year old Floridian was a winner in Texas last year at the Byron Nelson Championship and he finished runner-up at the Houston Open in 2013 so he clearly likes playing here. He caught the eye last week at Hilton Head when he finished fifth and I was happy enough to play him at 40.039/1.
Harris English put in a strange performance last week, playing brilliantly one day and awful the next but nobody bettered his six-under-par 65 on Sunday so I thought I'd chance him at a triple-figure price, given he's a former OHL Classic winner, and I've also thrown a few pounds at the aforementioned Aussie, Aaron Baddeley, at a huge price.
Billy Horschel @ 40.039/1
Harris English @ 100.099/1
Aaron Baddeley @ 180.0179/1
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play blog.
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