Steve takes a detailed look at this week's only event, where he fancies course form will hold-up very well. Read his Valero Texas Open preview here...
“Brendan Steele clearly loves the place and I was very surprised to see him trading so big. In contrast to the last two years, he’s coming in to the event in fair form and I would have played at around [45.0].”
One of the oldest events on the PGA Tour, the Valero Texas Open has been in existence since 1922. Always staged in the San Antonio area, at various different venues, it's been something of a birdie-fest but now the event's been switched to the TPC San Antonio it's a far sterner test.
TPC San Antonio (AT&T Oaks Course), San Antonio, Texas
Par 72 -7,435 yards. Stroke Index in 2012 - 73.99
Designed by Greg Norman, with the assistance of Sergio Garcia, TPC San Antonio only opened in January 2010. It ranked as the most difficult of the 22 par 72 tracks used during the 2011 PGA Tour schedule, and it certainly didn't play any easier last year.
Maybe it's been adjudged to have played just too hard over the last couple of years because the course has undergone a few changes since last year's brutal renewal. The fairways on holes 1 and 4 have been widened. The green on the 12th hole has been flattened and the 1st, 4th and 10th greens have also been renovated - though to quite what extent, I've no idea. Runoff areas around the greens have gone and the rough measures two inches, which is an inch shorter than it did last year.
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 will run at 11 on the stimpmeter.
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Last Five Winners
2012 - Ben Curtis -9
2011 - Brendan Steele -8
2010 - Adam Scott -14
2009 - Zach Johnson -15 (playoff)
2008 - Zach Johnson -19
What will it take to win the Valero Texas Open?
I'm almost completely disregarding the first staging at this venue in 2010. The course had been softened by heavy rain in the lead-up to the event and the usually ever-present winds were almost non-existent. The course played completely differently in 2011 and 2012 and with wind again forecast this year, I suggest concentrating on the last two renewals only.
Is there an angle in?
With just three years of course form to evaluate, and only two if you disregard the 2010 event, we obviously haven't got an awful lot to go on but I have a hunch that previous course form will hold-up very well indeed.
The 2011 winner, Brendan Steele, finished 4th when defending last year, despite being in dire form both before and after the event and Charley Hoffman wasn't in tip-top order in either 2011 or 2012 when he finished runner-up and tied 13th respectfully.
Form at the Mayakoba Classic and the Sony Open should be worth looking at closely. El Camaleon, home of the Mayakoba, is another Greg Norman design, and John Huh came very close to winning both events last year. And Waialae Country Club, home of the Sony, is another Bermuda course, that like this track and El Camaleon is also very much affected by wind. Brian Gay, Matt Every, Adam Scott, and Matt Kuchar have already shown form at both Waialae and TPC San Antonio.
Is there an identikit winner?
An ability to handle the windy conditions is vital and the key stats are Driving Accuracy (Ben Curtis ranked 2nd last year and Steele was 7th in 2011) and Scrambling (Curtis 4th and Steele 2nd). All three winners have played the par threes well too.
Although they haven't won at this venue yet, don't be surprised if a Texan takes the title here soon. Nothing beats years of experience of playing in the tricky Texan winds and there are always a few locals lurking at the top of the leaderboard. Given their obvious advantage, it's only a matter of time before one wins at this venue.
The draw is huge at this event and keeping an eye on the weather is imperative. This course is vastly different in windy conditions and when you get to play it is vitally important. The afternoon starters on day one enjoyed a massive advantage over those drawn morning-afternoon last year. They averaged 3.55 strokes less over the first two rounds and if the early forecasts are to be believed, an afternoon-morning draw looks likely to be advantageous this time around too.
The last two winners have been in front from halfway so history suggests a fast start is required. However, that's a small sample to go placing much faith in and a number of players got involved from a long way back last year. John Huh was 14 shots off the lead after round one but managed to finish tied 2nd, beaten by two and Bob Estes, Brian Gay, Charlie Wi and Brendan Steele were all nine shots or further back after round one but all four finished tied for 4th.
Rory McIlroy, on the advice of his caddy, has added this event to his schedule at the 11th hour. I've been banging on about how little golf McIlroy's been playing for ages and it seems the penny's finally dropped - though I fancy too late.
This event immediately precedes the US Masters this year and many leading fancies have swerved it, considering this a far from ideal tournament to play in to prepare for Augusta. A camp I'm firmly pitched in.
Rory's desperate to get into shape ahead of next week and he could well progress from last week but I think it's a panic move to play here and I'll be very surprised if he wins.
I'm not keen on any of the market leaders but I wouldn't be surprised to see Matt Kuchar in the shake-up over the weekend. He's a great wind player in fair form and he finished tied 13th on his first course visit twelve months ago, from the wrong side of the draw. I've already backed him to win the US Masters so I'd rather he just bobbles around the top-ten for four days. The last think I want to see is him getting into a scrap for the title.
As stated, I really do fancy previous form to hold-up well here and ALL of my picks have played well here over the last two years.
I was able to take [60.0] about Charlie Hoffman on Monday and that was twice the price he traded at last year after his runner-up finish in 2011.
Brendan Steele clearly loves the place and I was very surprised to see him trading so big. In contrast to the last two years, he's coming in to the event in fair form and I would have played at around [45.0].
Matt Every was my big fancy last year but after opening up with a scintillating 63 to take the early lead, he encountered the tough afternoon conditions on Friday and couldn't quite get back in front - eventually finishing tied for 2nd, alongside John Huh, who with a first round 77, had given himself far too much to do. Both are included this time around.
Defending champ, Ben Curtis looked a perfectly fair price at [90.0] and Brian Gay could be the first Texan to win at TPC San Antonio.
Scott Stallings looked over-priced at [160.0], after his tied 11th two years ago on his only event start and a decent week in Houston last week.
And last but not least, I've again thrown a few pounds at Texan Patrick Reed, whose tied 35th last year wasn't an awful debut attempt, given he was on the wrong side of the draw.
Valero Texas Open Pre-Event Selections:
Charlie Hoffman @ [60.0]
Brendan Steele @ [65.0]
John Huh @ [80.0]
Ben Curtis @ [90.0]
Brian Gay @ [120.0]
Matt Every @ [120.0]
Scott Stallings @ [160.0]
Patrick Reed @ [330.0]
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter