Valero Texas Open: Hot-putting Grace can go in again

Golfer Branden Grace
Branden Grace - fancied to go well in Texas

With just one week to go before the US Masters, the PGA Tour remains in Texas following the WGC Match Play for the Valero Texas Open. Read Steve's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

"In the ten renewals here to date, eight winners have been inside the first three places at halfway and six of the ten have been leading after three rounds."

Tournament History

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 some time to come.

There was no event last year because of the pandemic but as was the case in 2013, and again in 2019, the Valero Texas Open is the last event before the year's first major championship - the US Masters - next week at Augusta.

The defending US Masters champ, Dustin Johnson, was a last minute entrant after losing at the WGC Dell Matchplay but he's subsequently withdrawn so only 23 players lining up at Augusta are in the field.

Venue

TPC San Antonio (Oaks Course), San Antonio, Texas

Course Details

Par 72, 7,435 yards. Stroke Index in 2019 - 71.24

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 2.jpg

In usual windy conditions (expected to be encountered again this year), this is a tough venue but the 2019 winner, Corey Conners, amassed a 20-under-par total and the course averaged only 71.24. Both were records.

Having experienced very little wind throughout the week, the course was then softened by rain overnight and after play had been delayed for two hours, the course was very receptive on Sunday. The winner made nine birdies and there were two rounds of 64 but it's usually a grind here by the time we get to Sunday and last year looks like a one-off.

We've had ten renewals here to date and we're yet to witness a playoff.

The Oaks also hosted the TPC San Antonio Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour last July.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting with live Featured Group coverage at 13:15 on Thursday. Full live coverage begins at 21:00.

Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2020 - Event Cancelled (Covid)
2019 - Corey Conners -20 260.0259/1
2018 - Andrew Landry -17 150.0149/1
2017 - Kevin Chappell -12 32.031/1
2016 - Charley Hoffman -12 30.029/1

What Will it Take to Win the Valero Texas Open?

This isn't an easy event to get to grips with statistically.

You don't need to be monstrously long to win here and the last four winners have ranked 28th, 46th, 25th and fourth for Driving Distance. Driving Accuracy was important last year with the top-five ranking tied-seventh, tied-seventh, first, 26th and fourth but of the 18 players to finish inside the top-five and ties in the three previous renewals, only two players ranked inside the top 20 for that stat.

The last two winners have topped the Greens In Regulation stats and none of the top-five ranked any worse than sixth for that stat in 2017 but in 2016, none of the top-eight ranked any better than 10th and the only real constant is putting...

If you're not averaging less than 1.7 putts per green for the week you may as well give up and although the 2017 winner, Kevin Chappell, only ranked 14th for Putting Average (1.69), five of the last six 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 finished inside the top-three places. Conners ranked number one in 2019 averaging just 1.53.

Scrambling is a key stat too and at least one placed player has ranked fourth or better for Scrambling in each of the last six renewals but I don't think we can class it as absolutely critical given the winner in 2019, Conners, ranked only 70th!

Is There an Angle In?

Form at the Sony Open, the Puerto Rico Open and the Mayakoba Classic is well worth considering.

The 2019 winner, Conners, was third in the Sony Open before winning here, the 2015 winner here, Jimmy Walker, has twice won the event and the 2011 winner, Brendan Steele, has traded at odds-on in each of the last two renewals of the Sony. A number of other players have performed well at both here and Waialae Country Club - home of the Sony - and that looks like a great angle in.

No player has yet 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 Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico.

The 2018 Mayakoba winner, Matt Kuchar (who also won the 2019 Sony Open) traded at odds-on here in 2014, the 2016 Texas Open champ, Charley Hoffman, won the Mayakoba in 2015, the 2012 Mayakoba winner, John Huh, was runner-up here in the same year and the 2016 winner, Pat Perez, has very respectable figures at this course too. It's no surprise that form at the Mayakoba correlates nicely though as that event is also played at a wind-affected Greg Norman design course - El Camaleón.

Hoffman wins Texas Open.jpg

Last week's opposite field event, the Corales Puntacana R&C Championship, which is fairly new to the PGA Tour rota, may also be worth checking out in future years as that correlates very well with the aforementioned events.

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 Steven Bowditch confirmed the link when he won in 2014, 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 have fared best.

The 2018 winner, Andrew Landry, was born in Port Neches, Texas, and he now lives in Austin, three off the top-four were Texans that year, and ten of the last 23 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 Texan and so were 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, Charley Hoffman, both went off at around 30.029/1 but the other six course 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.

Conners was matched at a high of 420.0419/1 when he first entered the market after Monday qualifying and he was generally a 260.0259/1 chance. He was only the fifth Monday qualifier to win on the PGA Tour since 1980.

The last three winners were winning their first event on the PGA Tour but experience has often counted for plenty here.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2020 - Event Cancelled (Covid)
2019 - Corey Conner- solo 2nd trailing by one 5.04/1
2018 - Andrew Landry - tied for the lead 4.3100/30
2017 - Kevin Chappell - led by a stroke 5.49/2
2016 - Charley Hoffman - tied third trailing by two 8.07/1

In-Play Tactics

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. At this early stage, a late-early draw looks like it may be slightly advantageous this time around.

Conners sat tied for 17th after round one in 2019 but he was only three adrift. He sat tied for second at halfway, four behind the clear leader, Si Woo Kim, but he'd closed the gap to one by the end of round three. Landry was up in the van throughout 12 months earlier, 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...

Corey Conners wins in Texas.jpg

In the ten renewals here to date, eight winners have been inside the first three places at halfway and six of the ten have been 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 fifth time in six years, and the drivable par four 17th ranked the second easiest. The par five 18th tends to vary from year to year depending on how they set it up. It averaged over-par in 2018 and ranked as the 11th easiest but in both 2015 and 2017 it was the third easiest on the course and it was the fourth easiest in 2019 - averaging 4.8.

Market Leaders

After the last minute withdrawal of DJ, another Texan, Jordan Spieth, heads the market. He's making his sixth course appearance this week and he has a mixed bag of results, ranging from a missed cut in 2013 to a second placed finish in 2015, when he finished four strokes behind Texas-based, Jimmy Walker.

After years in the wilderness, Spieth is definitely finding his feet again but he's still lacking that in-contention steel that served him so well between 2015 and 2017. He's come up shot a number of times in-the-mix of late and I thought he should have finished Matt Kuchar off in the Round of 16 at the WGC Dell Matchplay last week so he's short enough here at less than 14.013/1.

After three seconds in-a-row, the perennial bridesmaid, Tony Finau's form has dropped off a bit and he even missed the cut at the Players Championship two starts ago. The likable and languid American was third here back in 2017 and he's more likely to contend than not but he's unlikely to win if he does.

I backed Texas' Scottie Scheffler at 500.0499/1 in this event two years ago when he finished 20th on debut so he's considerably shorter this time around - although it's fair to say his CV's bulked out a bit since then. Clearly straight out of the top draw, logic suggests Scheffler is going to win plenty of PGA Tour titles but he's yet to get off the mark and he may just take some lifting after last week's draining five days at the Matchplay, where he eventually succumbed to Billy Horschel in the final.

Selection

Recent Puerto Rico Open winner, Branden Grace, who has course form figures reading MC-30-9-10, is my only pick at under 100.099/1 so I'll be back later with the rest in the Find Me a 100 Winner column.

Grace took his time to get to grips with the course and he needed weekend rounds of 69-67 to climb from 60th to ninth in 2016 before properly contending 12 months later. He led after round one and he sat second and just a shot out of the lead through 54 holes in 2017 but a 73 on Sunday saw him slip to 10th.

He certainly has the game to fit and although he missed the cut at the Players Championship, when clearly shattered, he was in great form before that and he's been putting brilliantly. I was very surprised to be able to take 85.084/1 on Monday and odds of around 65.064/1 are still fair.

Selection:
Branden Grace @ 85.084/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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