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.
TPC San Antonio (Oaks Course), San Antonio, Texas.
Par 72, 7,435 yards. Stroke Index in 2016 - 72.21
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. Just ask Kevin Na!
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.
It's a tough track and the par five 18th hole isn't a straightforward birdie opportunity. It's reachable in two for the big hitters but most have to lay up short of a creek that runs across the fairway in front of the green and the hole averaged 5.01 12 months ago, making it one of just a dozen par fives on the PGA Tour to average an over-par score in 2016.
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Last Seven Winners (at TPC San Antonio)
2016 - Charley Hoffman -12
2015 - Jimmy Walker -11
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 Valero Texas Open?
There have been seven editions of the event at San Antonio but for analytical purposes, to a large extent, I'm disregarding the 2010 and 2013 renewals. The course was brand new and very damp 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 Shell Houston Open, in 2013 the organisers set the course up here to replicate conditions at Augusta. And again the winning score was much lower than usual.
Although the 2012 winner, Ben Curtis, only ranked 79th for Driving Distance and seventh for Driving Accuracy, the wind blew a hooley that year and power off the tee is starting to look more important of late. The last two winners, Hoffman and Jimmy Walker, both ranked fourth for DD and Hoffman became the fourth course winner to play the long holes better than anyone else so the Par 5 Performance stats might be worth checking out.
Greens In Regulation wasn't a key stat last year, with only one player inside the top-12 ranking inside the top-10 for GIR. Texan, Martin Pillar, who finished tied fourth, ranked 10th. Hoffman ranked only 17th for GIR and his victory was down to his prowess on the long holes and his hot putter (he didn't have a three-putt all week) but in truth, statistical analysis doesn't help tremendously so I wouldn't get too hung up on the figures alone - especially give there are a number of other clues to help us find the winner...
Is There an Angle In?
The Lone Star State is notoriously windy and an ability to play well in breezy conditions is usually essential but the best angle in is probably form in Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Mexico in particular.
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.
Last year's Texas Open champ, Hoffman, won the OHL Classic in 2015, 2012 OHL winner, John Huh, was runner-up here in the same year and last year's 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 course - El Camaleón.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Whether the wind blows really hard here or not, it's usually something of a grind and the more experienced pros tend 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 four winners, when conditions were typical, were all in their 30s - Curtis was 34, Steven Bowditch 30, Walker 36 and Hoffman 39.
Inaugural winner, Scott and the 2014 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 Bowditch confirmed the link when said he said the course was like a lot of courses back home.
Scott was well-fancied in 2010, as was Walker in 2015. The Hoff went off at 30.029/1 last year and he and Walker are the only San Antonio winners to have shown any form before the event. Walker had won the Sony a couple of months earlier and Hoffman had finished 29th at the Masters and 14th at the Heritage in his two previous starts but the other four winners all went off at a triple-figure price so don't be discouraged if you fancy an out of form outsider and if he's a Texan then that's all the better.
Nine of the last 21 Valero Texas Open winners have been Texans and last year, the runner-up, Patrick Reed, was a Texan and so were Ryan Palmer and Martin Piller, who both finished tied for fourth.
This is one of those weeks when keeping a close eye on the weather is a good idea. Thursday morning starters were only favoured to the tune of 1.15 strokes on average last year but we've seen some huge draw biases recently and a late tee-time was a big advantage in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
Those drawn late-early on day one two years ago were advantaged to as much as 4.25 strokes over the first two rounds and five years ago late starters on day one 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 three 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.
If we dismiss the rain-softened inaugural event and the quirkily wind-free, Augusta style set-up of four years ago and just look at the other five years, every winner has been right up with the pace.
Walker and Curtis both trailed by four strokes after round one but they were inside the top-six places and four of the five winners were in front at halfway. Hoffman was the exception but he only sat second.
In usual Texan conditions, you need a fast start and shots in hand by halfway. It becomes a real test here as the wind dries out the course. Hoffman fired a 69 in round four last year but Steele, Curtis, Bowditch and Walker all shot final rounds in the 70s but hung on. Don't go too far down the leaderboard - this is not a place to play catch-up.
As touched on above, the par five finishing hole is tough enough but the finish here isn't too demanding. The par five 14th was the easiest hole on the course last year, the par four 15th ranked the fourth hardest but holes 16 and 17 ranked 15th and 16th hardest so it's possible to pick up a few shots coming in.
World number 17, Matt Kuchar, heads the market after a pair of a fast finishing Sundays at Augusta and Hilton Head. After a back door fourth place in the US Masters, Kuchar fired by far the best round of the day on Sunday at the RBC Heritage to finish tied for 11th.
Without a win in three years and with only reasonable course form figures reading 13-22-4-15-42, and with a propensity to give up a winning chance, he makes no appeal before the off.
Defending champion, Charley Hoffman, had a superb record here even before he won 12 months ago but he makes less appeal than Kuchar after his horrendous collapse at Augusta and his missed cut at Hilton Head last week. He went from challenging for the title to falling outside the top-20 at the US Masters so it was no surprise to see him shoot a lacklustre pair of 73s to miss out on weekend employment last week and he'll do very well to lift himself to defend here.
Brooks Koepka's form fell off a cliff after he won in Japan in November and he missed four of six cuts before he found something at the WGC - Match Play at the end of March and he played really well at Augusta, where he eventually finished 11th.
This is Brooks' third appearance at the course and his two previous efforts haven't been impressive. He finished 36th on debut in 2014 but missed the cut last year and he looks too short to me - as he so often does.
In what's a very open heat, a case for favouritism could be argued for many but the one I think should head the market is five time PGA Tour winner and Ryder Cupper, Ryan Moore, and I thought he was a cracking price with the Sportsbook at 28/1.
Moore's form slumped a little after his playoff defeat to Rory McIlroy at the Tour Championship but if his first career top-10 at Augusta last time out is anything to go by, the 34-year-old world number 28 looks ready to go in again.
This is Moore's second appearance at TPC San Antonio and he did okay on debut - finishing eighth back in 2012. He's never won in Texas but he lost a playoff at the Byron Nelson Classic to Adam Scott in 2008, so it's a state he's played well in before.
Ryan Moore @ 28/1 (Sportsbook)
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