With just over a week to go before the US Masters, the PGA Tour stays in Texas after the WGC Match Play for the Valero Texas Open. Read Steve's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"I was also surprised to see last week’s Corales champ, Graeme McDowell, available at a triple-figure price given how well he putted last week and how much this venue should suit him too. I know it’s not easy to win back-to-back but he holds his form nicely when he finds it and he’s won back-to-back events before."
Having first been staged in 1922, and always played in the San Antonio area of Texas, 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.
With the Houston Open losing its position in the schedule, as well at its sponsors, Shell, the Valero Texas Open is again the last event before the year's first major championship - the US Masters - next week at Augusta. It preceded the Masters in 2013 - the only other occasion until now.
The Houston Open has been the traditional warm-up event for Augusta but that's been moved to the autumn now and it won't feature at all in this season's schedule. The Valero Texas Open is the new Augusta aperitif and it will precede the US Masters for the next ten years at least but only 17 players set to line up next week are the field here.
TPC San Antonio (Oaks Course), San Antonio, Texas
Par 72, 7,435 yards. Stroke Index in 2018 - 72.37
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.
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Last Five Winners
2018 - Andrew Landry -17
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 nine 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 when the tournament was played in the week before the US Masters the first time, the course was set up very differently to the way it is ordinarily. Just as they used to do at the Houston Open, in 2013 the organisers set the course up to replicate conditions at Augusta and as it was in 2010, the winning score was lower than we usually get here, despite the presence of wind.
I've not read anywhere that they plan to try hard to replicate Augusta-like conditions this time around but with little wind forecast, we can probably expect decent scoring again and a winning total somewhere in the region of last year's 17-under-par.
Driving Distance doesn't seem massively relevant given the last two winners have ranked 25th and 46th, but Trey Mullinax, who finished alongside Sean O'Hair in a tie for second topped the DD stats and 12 months earlier, the second and third, Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, ranked fifth and seventh. And the 2015 and 2016 winners, Charley Hoffman and Jimmy Walker, both ranked fourth for DD so although I wouldn't give it huge credence, I'd still favour length over accuracy from the tee. O'Hair ranked 16th for Driving Accuracy last year but nobody else in the top-five and ties ranked any better than 29th and 35h was the best any of the top-five ranked for DA in 2017. That really does look like an irrelevant stat.
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 in 2017, when the top-five all finished tied sixth or better for GIR and last year's one and two, Andrew Landry and O'Hair, ranked first and second for GIR. The 2015 winner, Walker, also topped the GIR stats.
The greens here aren't small but they're not easy to find or should I say hold. The field averaged 11 GIR per round last year and that was the ninth-lowest of the season and it probably explains why Scrambling is such a key stat. At least one player ranked fourth or better for Scrambling has placed here in each of the last five years and last year's winner, Landry, ranked second.
So, Scrambling looks very import but you have to putt exceptionally well. Chappell only ranked 14th in 2017 but four of the last five winners have all ranked inside the top-five for Putting Average and in each of those five years, either the top ranked or second ranked for Putting Average has been placed inside the top-three places.
Is There an Angle In?
The last two winners haven't franked 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 has stood 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 OHL Classic winner, Matt Kuchar (who also won this year's Sony Open) traded at odds-on here in 2014, the 2016 Texas Open champ, Charley Hoffman, won the OHL Classic in 2015, the 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 too. 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.
Last week's opposite field event, the Corales Puntacana R&C Championship, which is new to the PGA Tour rota, may also be worth checking out in future years as that correlates well with the aforementioned events but one word of warning, the correlations may not come to the fore so strongly this year with so little wind forecast.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
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 so it's perhaps not surprising that we've had a couple of Aussies win but the locals rule the roost.
Last year's winner, Landry was born in Port Neches, Texas, and he now lives in Austin, three off the top-four were Texans, and ten of the last 22 Valero Texas Open winners have been Texans. And even when they don't win, they figure largely on the leaderborads.
Kevin Tway, Brian Gay and Ryan Palmer all finished inside the top-six and ties in 2017 and in 2016, the runner-up, Patrick Reed, was a Texan and so were Ryan Palmer and Martin Piller, who both finished tied for fourth.
Scott was well-fancied in 2010, as was Jimmy Walker in 2015. The 2017 winner, Chappell, and the 2016 winner, Hoffman, both went off at around 30.029/1 but the other five 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. Landry was matched at 350.0349/1 before the off last year.
The last two winners were winning their first event on the PGA Tour but experience has counted for plenty here.
The Lone Star State is notoriously windy so an ability to play well in breezy conditions is usually essential and we've seen some huge draw biases in the past but the forecast suggest a largely benign week in store so that shouldn't be the case this year.
Landry was up in the van throughout 12 months ago, sitting two off the lead and tied for seventh after round one, tied third and one adrift at halfway and tied for the lead with a round to go and being up with the pace appears almost essential here...
In the nine renewals here to date, but disregarding the 2010 and 2013 renewals again, for the reasons set out above, the seven previous course winners have all been inside the first three places at halfway and Landry was the sixth of the seven 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 again last year, for the fourth time in five years, and the drivable par four 17th ranked the third easiest. The par five 18th tends to vary form year to year depending on how they set it up. It averaged over-par 12 months ago and ranked as the 11th easiest but in both 2015 and 2017 it was the third easiest on the course.
Course debutant, Rickie Fowler, heads the market and he certainly possess all the skills for San Antonio. He'll also be nice and fresh having missed the last coupe of weeks but he's short enough for me and that applies to all the market leaders.
I'm beginning to wonder if Tony Finau will ever win a tournament. He's notoriously poor in-contention and he even managed to mess up his second match at the WGC Match Play last week, having won his first. He was three up through seven against the eventual winner, Kevin Kisner, but the wheels fell off after that and he made bogey or worse at four of the next five holes! Yet again, he looks far too short.
Matt Kuchar has to overcome tiredness and disappointment after losing last week's WGC Match Play final and he also has to try and avoid hacking everyone off again! He's gone from being a happy, smiley chap that everyone seemed to quite like to something of a villain after a number of poor misjudgements that I touched on in this week's de-brief.
Texan, Jordan Spieth, is next up and he does have form at the venue but it's quite remarkable how poorly he's playing and he's surely only in a desperate search for his game ahead of next week's US Masters.
This is great event to get stuck in to in-running so I'll be back on Friday morning to have a look a the state of play after round one but given I didn't like anyone at the front of the market, it probably makes sense that I fancied quite a few a bit further down the list, starting with the very obvious - Jim Furyk.
The 48 year-old Ryder Cup captain is playing some sensational golf this year and this track is just up his street - he finished third and sixth here back in 2013 and 2014. He simply doesn't miss fairways and he doesn't miss many greens either and when he does, he usually gets up-and-down. The big question for Jimbo is whether he can get the flat-stick to cooperate but it did when putting on Bermuda at Sawgrass where he ranked second for Putting Average when narrowly missing out to Rory McIlroy and I was surprised to be able to back him at as big as 36.035/1. That's a very fair price.
I was also surprised to see last week's Corales champ, Graeme McDowell, available at a triple-figure price given how well he putted last week and how much this venue should suit him too. I know it's not easy to win back-to-back but he holds his form nicely when he finds it and he's won back-to-back events before. His US Open victory in 2010 followed a win in the Wales Open on the European Tour.
I know one swallow doth not a summer make but Luke Donald's stats were brilliant last time out at the Valspar Championship where he faded to finish ninth. He ranked third for Scrambling and 11 for Putting Average and if he repeats those figures he'll contend again.
Having finished 13th at the Valspar in his penultimate start and second behind G-Mac, Mackenzie Hughes has been too readily dismissed at 200.0199/1 and I've also thrown a few pounds at the in-form D.J Trahan at a massive price but the one who's price really astounded me is promising young Texan, Scottie Scheffler, who finished second on the Web.com Tour only last week, where he averaged just 1.56 putts. His Scrambling figures aren't sensational but he's a tremendous prospect who's long off the tee, accurate with his irons, local and putting well. What's not to like at 500.0499/1!
Jim Furyk @ 36.035/1
Graeme McDowell @ 110.0109/1
Luke Donald @ 150.0149/1
Mackenzie Hughes @ 200.0199/1
D.J Trahan @ 260.0259/1
Scottie Scheffler @ 500.0499/1
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter