Rank outsiders have won the last four editions of the Valero Texas Open so our man advocates backing a few at tasty prices but what else does his in-depth preview reveal? Read Steve's thoughts on this week's PGA Tour action here....
"Scott was well-fancied in 2010 but the four winners since have all gone off at a triple-figure price and Bowditch was a most unlikely winner last year. He was matched at over 700.0699/1 before the off! If you fancy one or two outsiders, or even eight or nine at huge odds, go for it, it might just pay off here."
The Texas Open dates right back to 1922. It's been known by various names and it's occupied numerous different slots in the PGA Tour schedule. As it was last year, the Texas Open looks perfectly positioned now, immediately following the Florida Swing, one week ahead of the Shell Houston Open, and just two weeks before the year's first major - the US Masters.
In recent times, the event was staged at La Cantera Golf Club between 1995 and 2009 before switching to its current venue - TPC San Antonio.
TPC San Antonio (Oaks Course), San Antonio, Texas
Par 72, 7,435 yards. Stroke Index in 2014 - 73.29
The Greg Norman-designed track only opened in January 2010 and fellow Aussie, Adam Scott, won the inaugural staging there just a few months later. San Antonio ranked as the most difficult of the 22 par-72 tracks used during the 2011 PGA Tour schedule and both the 2012 and 2014 renewals developed into something of a war of attrition. Scoring, however, was a bit better in 2013 when the event was staged the week before the US Masters. The wind wasn't too severe and tees were moved up on Sunday to create a course players could be aggressive with. It worked - Martin Laird whizzed round in just 63 strokes to win.
A number of subtle changes were made to the course prior to Laird's success which may also have attributed to the improvement in scoring that year but in tough conditions last time around, the winning total was just 280, or -8, for the third time in four years.
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.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2014 - Steven Bowditch -8
2013 - Martin Laird -14
2012 - Ben Curtis -9
2011 - Brendan Steele -8
2010 - Adam Scott -14
What Will it Take to Win The Texas Open?
Getting a firm handle on the stats here isn't easy. Conditions for the first and fourth editions differed considerably to those encountered in the other three years. The inaugural event was played on a brand new rain-softened course and with Augusta next up in the schedule, the course was set up differently in 2013.
The 2011, 2012 and 2104 renewals are the ones to analyse in depth but nothing clear emerges. Ben Curtis ranked just 74th for driving distance when he won in 2012 and Steven Bowditch ranked only 50th for driving accuracy 12 months ago so it seems it's possible to be a bit short or a bit wayward off the tee and still win. If push comes to shove I'd favour accuracy over length off the tee though - Bowditch received all sorts of luck off the tee last year (especially in the final round) and we won't see many winners here drive that poorly going forward. The Bermuda rough is generally fairly tricky to play from.
Ben Curtis found more greens than anyone else in 2012 but when Brendan Steele won in 2011 he was the only winner here to rank outside the top-20 for greens hit. He ranked just 41st for that stat, despite ranking inside the top-10 for both driving distance and accuracy.
I wouldn't get too hung up on the stats here but two that may be worth checking out are scrambling and par 3 performance. The first three winners ranked inside the top-4 for scrambling and all five winners have played the short holes well, ranking inside the top-10.
Is There an Angle In?
The Lone Star State is notoriously windy and an ability to play well in breezy conditions is absolutely essential. It's likely to be something of a grind again this year so I'd favour the more experienced patient pros over the youngsters.
Form at the Puerto Rico Open looks worth close analysis. A number of players have shown an aptitude for both venues and that's not at all surprising given the Trump International is another wind-affected track.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Inaugural winner, Scott and last year's champ, Bowditch, like the course designer, Norman, are both Aussies and competitors from Down Under are well worth considering again this time around.
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 last year's winner confirmed the link when said he likened the course and that it was like a lot of courses back home. And talking of home...Bowditch actually lives in Texas now so home state advantage is something else to look out for but perhaps the best thing to do is avoid the favourites.
Scott was well-fancied in 2010 but the four winners since have all gone off at a triple-figure price and Bowditch was a most unlikely winner. He was matched at over 700.0699/1 before the off! If you fancy one or two outsiders, or even eight or nine at huge odds, go for it, it might just pay off here.
None of the five winners at San Antonio had shown anything prior to winning so if you fancy someone out of form, don't let it put you off at all.
This is one of those weeks when keeping a close eye on the weather is absolutely essential. A big draw bias is definitely possible. Those drawn early-late three years ago played the first two rounds in an average of over three and half strokes more than those drawn late-early and the same thing happened last year 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.
When I first looked at the forecast, it looked very much as though an early-late draw would be the best this year but the forecast changes from hour to hour, let alone day to day so please keep a close eye on the forecasts.
If the wind does blow, the course will dry out as the week goes on and conditions will just get harder and harder. If we dismiss the rain-softened inaugural event and the quirkily wind-free set-up of two years ago and just look at the other three years, each event played out almost identically.
All three winners won with -8 total, all three were inside the top-8 and within four of the lead after round one and all three were in front after rounds two and three. In usual Texan conditions, you need a fast start and shots in hand by halfway. It becomes a real test and Steele, Curtis and Bowditch all shot rounds in the 70s on day four and basically just clung on for the win. Unless the forecast suggests benign conditions over the weekend, don't go too far down the leaderboard - this is not a place to play catch-up.
As already highlighted, outsiders have had the edge here over the last four years but the two bang-in-form top-drawer players, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, at the head the market can't be discounted lightly.
Spieth has already played here three times, with last year's 10th, when not n the best of form, very much the highlight. He finished 41st on debut in 2012 and missed the cut in 2013. I thoroughly enjoyed his brilliant victory at the Valspar Championship last time out and given he won back-to-back at the end of last year, I wouldn't be surprised if he could repeat the feat here, but he's just a shade short for me to get involved before the off. Spieth is yet to really challenge in his home state and that's certainly off-putting, as is the poor record of market leaders.
With a 4th at the AT&T, a second at the Northern Trust, and a win last time out at the WGC-Cadillac Championship already recorded this year, Dustin Johnson arrives in Texas at the very top of his game. He's a quite brilliant wind player who should take to the venue but the fact he's not played here before has to be viewed as a negative. With the US Masters now very much on the horizon, its questionable how fired-up DJ will be this week given he's already bagged a huge title and that he'll have one eye on Augusta and I'm more than happy to leave him out too.
San Antonio resident, Jimmy Walker, has a surprisingly ordinary record at the track. He was third in 2010 but he hasn't go close to that in his four subsequent starts with last year's tied 16th the highlight. He's gone cold since successfully defending his Sony Open title and he makes little appeal.
Matt Kuchar traded at odds-on last year and arguably should have won and that's pretty standard for him nowadays. He really has been struggling to get across the line of late and so has Jim Furyk, who trades at a very similar price. Both have course form in the book but aren't at their best at present and I'm more than happy to swerve them.
Two-time Valero Texas Open winner, Zach Johnson, isn't one to be dismissed lightly. His back-to-back victories came at La Cantera in 2008 and 2009 and he missed the cut here when going for the three-peat but after three years away, he finished a very encouraging tied sixth last year. He looked to coming into some form at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week but that is a venue he likes. He's probably priced-up about right but I wouldn't put anyone off him.
Given the way this event has panned out in the last four years, I see no sense in risking anything on any of the shorter priced players and I've taken a chance on a number of outsiders listed below. I've got one or two others I'm interested in so I'll tweet them as, when and if they're matched up and I'll also update the preview before the off if necessary.
Brian Harmon @ an average of 155.0
Branden Grace @ 200.0199/1
Sangmoon Bae @ 200.0199/1
Geoff Ogilvy @ 210.0209/1
Boo Weekley @ 250.0249/1
George McNeil @ 300.0299/1
Jerry Kelly @ 400.0399/1
Scott Brown @ 400.0399/1
Ben Curtis @ 500.0499/1
Andres Gonzales @ 500.0499/1
Johnson Wagner @ 500.0499/1
Justin Leonard @ 550.0549/1
Brandon Hagy @ 700.0699/1
* You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
You can read my Valero Texas Open 2016 betting preview behind the link.