Valero Texas Open
It was a decent enough week for us across the board at the Matchplay and the Corales Puntacana events as we landed e/w payouts with Louis Oosthuizen in Austin and Kelly Kraft in the Dominican Republic.
I cant help feeling a little disappointed still though as Oosty had his match with Kisner in the quarter finals in the palm of his hand but he failed to turn the screw this allowing Kisner to show great fighting spirit to get the win, before going on to lift the trophy.
A special mention should also go to Gmac who returned to the winners enclosure at the Corales Puntacana event.
It’s no secret that this is a huge year for Gmac as he attempts to make the field for his ‘home’ Open at Royal Portrush as well securing a return to Pebble Beach for the US Open.
Whilst this win doesn’t secure either it’s a huge step in the right direction and he can hopefully build on this over the next couple of months.
Moving on and the tour heads to San Antonio, Texas for the Valero Texas Open for the last stop before the first major of the year, The Masters.
Significantly this is a change in the calendar for this event as with the exception of one year, 2013, this event has been held in the weeks following the Masters rather than the week prior [the spot, which has been held by the Houston Open of late].
The AT & T Oaks course at TPC San Antonio has been host to the event since 2010.
As is usually the case most big names are choosing to swerve the event the week before a Major however Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth and Tony Finau have made the trip and it is the former who is the clear market leader.
The course is a Greg Norman Design with consultation from Sergio Garcia. One angle therefore is to look at form at the other Greg Norman design played on the PGA Tour which is the course used for the OHL Mayakoba.
The course is a Par 72 and measures just over 7400 yards.
The greens are Bermudagrass over seeded with velvet bent grass & potrivialis.
The AT & T Oaks course historically has undoubtedly been one of the tougher par 72 cookies on the PGA Tour to crack.
Finding the fairways has always been key here as the rough has been penal and straying off line has lead to all kinds of trouble.
This is something Kevin Na will certainly vouch for as he memorably made a 16 here on the par 4 9th in 2011.
This year however in an attempt to replicate Augusta conditions fairways have been widened and rough shortened and it remains to be seen how much this will effect scoring and the type of player he comes to the fore.
The course also features Pete Dye type run of areas around the greens and the chances are that with the event taking the pre Masters warm up slot these will be shaved as much as possible in an attempt to replicate ‘Augusta type’ conditions around the greens.
As mentioned Above the AT & T Oaks Course has been the host course for this event since 2010 when the event moved across from La Cantera.
The winners since the event moved here have been as follows;
2010 Adam Scott
2011 Brendan Steele
2012 Ben Curtis
2013 Martin Laird
2014 Steven Bowditch
2015 Jimmy Walker
2016 Charley Hoffman
2017 Kevin Chappell
2018 Andrew Landry
As we can see from this list the main strengths of these players as a whole lie in the long game and/or players who have historically performed well on tough golf courses and this ties in to the nature of the course as outlined above.
The two ‘odd ones out’ on the winners list though are Ben Curtis and Steven Bowditch.
Bowditch is a Texas resident and was able to handle a windy week when he won. You could also wonder if, [allowing for Adam Scott being a winner here as well] there is an Aussie link to the course style with Greg Norman being the designer.
As for Curtis, what can you say, he’s Ben Curtis! From what I remember of the year he won he got up and down from everywhere and holed everything.
Looking at this list of winners it would appear therefore that as a norm the ‘identikit’ winner is a solid ball striker who ‘gets it out there’ of the tee.
One other factor, which cannot be ignored here over recent years is the presence of players with Texas connections on the leaderboard and in the last four additions either two or three Lone Star natives/residents have made the frame.
These include Landry, O’Hair, Walker [x2], Gay, Palmer [x3], Piller, Spieth.
In addition as noted above the 2014 addition was won by a Texas based Aussie, Steven Bowditch.
This year of course we have the complication of the event moving to the pre Masters slot and I feel it would be prudent to look at the historical patterns from the event that previously held this slot, The Houston Open.
The key thing to note here is that for the last four years Houston has been won by a player not yet in the Masters field, Poulter, Henley, Herman & Jones, whilst in 2013 when this event held that slot Martin Laird grabbed an Augusta place with his victory.
The obvious thing to conclude therefore is that this week is very much about motivation. If you are in the Augusta field already you are most likely to be tinkering with your game, thinking ahead to next week and in the case of big names, whether consciously or not, not wanting to peak too early. Whereas if you are not in Augusta you are quite simply here to win.
There have of course been exceptions to this over the years with players like Phil Mickelson not afraid to hack up the week before a Major and then win again the following week, however all in all I would much rather focus on players I see as motivated this week.
Course form here has proved a decent guide to a certain extent over the years, with the likes of Walker and Hoffman in particular course specialists and Chappell as well all having good form here prior to winning. Equally though Landry and Bowditch had no ‘previous’ here to go on so don’t be put off if the man you fancy has not done much here before.
The winning score has varied over the eight years at the Oaks Course from -8 to -17 from Andrew Landry last year with the wind being the differentiating factor.
There is only a small chance of a shower in the first part of the week on Wednesday so if they do avoid this the organisers will get the firm and fast conditions they are no doubt looking for.
Temperature wise we are looking at hot humid conditions in the mid to high 80s for tournament days and for most days we are looking at a dry forecast.
The exception to this is Saturday when we are looking at a decent chance of a thunder storm.
Wind is invariably an issue in Texas and whilst Thursday looks fairly calm Friday, Saturday & Sunday call for the winds to increase to 10-15mph.
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
RYAN MOORE – 40-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 3rd
Call me an absolute glutton for punishment but I can’t get away from Ryan Moore this week again despite his hugely frustrating performance at the Valspar two weeks ago when we were on board.
As regular readers will know I was at The Valspar and had the ‘pleasure’ of watching Moore play some really solid stuff tee to green, miss a bunch of putts and then ultimately three putt 18 on Friday afternoon to miss the cut by one.
The Valspar as we know was a hugely bunched leaderboard and as Louis Oosthuizen proved anyone who made the cut was in with a chance over the weekend so this added to the frustration, and the look on Ryan’s face on the 18th green on Friday after three putting said it all.
Prior to the Valspar Moore had been starting to produce some solid stuff and his numbers this season including 11th in DA and a vastly improved SGP from last year reflect this, and it is for this reason I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, along with the fact he will be hugely motivated this week.
This brings me back to my key driver with my picks for this event, the fact that all of them need to win to make it to Augusta.
When looking through the field the UNLV man therefore jumped off the page at me as someone who hasn’t missed a trip down Magnolia Lane since 2012 and will be desperate for a W.
Pressure of course can work one of two ways, however as noted above we have seen clearly from the recent winners here that picking guys not yet qualified for Augusta is the route to success the week before the year’s first Major.
With regards to form in this event itself it doesn’t harm us that Ryan has shown a clear liking to TPC San Antonio when he has put the event on his schedule.
Three finishes of 7 18 & 8 in his last three visits here are testament to that.
It’s also worth noting that Moore has performed admirably at Augusta itself over the years so if the course this week is more ‘Augustafied’ it should not harm his chances.
All in all I am keen to stick this week with players not yet in the Masters field and on that basis I can’t leave Ryan out.
ABRAHAM ANCER – 40-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 42nd
As noted above players with Texas connections have a great record here over recent years and the first of two Lone Star State men to make our team is San Antonio based Abraham Ancer.
Ancer has been knocking on the door of a maiden PGA Tour title for a while now and has quietly become one of the most consistent performers on tour with five top 10s since late last summer to his name.
In addition the Mexican found time to pop ‘down under’ last November and pick up the Australian Open title so he clearly knows how to get the job done.
Like Moore, Abraham is not in next weeks field for Augusta so his mind will be fully focused on the job in hand.
Ancer has made two previous visits to this event and whilst he has not pulled up any trees he has made the cut on both occasions, the first being in 2016 when he broke a run of nine consecutive missed cuts to start his debut season on tour.
This year he arrives a far better and more accomplished all round player and my feeling is this week presents a great opportunity for him to post his first PGA Tour win.
RYAN PALMER – 50-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
42yr old Texan Ryan Palmer is winless on the PGA Tour since 2010, however there have been signs over the past twelve months or so that another win is not too far away and if it is to come this event represents as good an opportunity as he’ll get.
Since finishing 8th at the Quicken Loans last July Palmer has made twelve out of sixteen cuts and has posted five top 10 finishes.
The latest of these top 10s came at the Honda Classic in his penultimate start when he posted a final round 63 in windy conditions to finish like a train and nearly steal the trophy.
Last year Ryan arrived here in no sort of form at all and duly missed the cut however in each of the three previous years when in solid form coming in he posted a top ten finish, so this is clearly a venue he loves.
Palmer is a resident of Coleyville in Texas, which is about four hours away from San Antonio so this week represents something of a home game for him and based on his results here in the past he obviously thrives on this pressure.
There is always a danger in backing a player who has been winless for a long while that if the chance comes they will falter, however we saw with both Kevin Na and Charles Howell III last year that a return to the winners enclosure is possible after a long absence and I am happy to have Palmer on side this week to add his name to that list.
AARON BADDELEY – 40-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 30th
Another player I feel compelled to include this week is Aussie Aaron Baddeley.
I mentioned earlier that there have been two Australian winners since this event moved to TPC San Antonio and the suspicion has to be that there is an affinity to the design of Greg Norman.
In addition to Scott and Bowditch’s success here Baddeley has added to this ‘Aussie connection’ by performing outstandingly at this venue over the years.
To confirm this we only need to take a look at his record here, which is seven starts, no missed cuts and two top 10s.
As of this time yesterday Aaron was not in this week’s field however a third top 10 finish of the season for him at the Corales Puntacana event took care of this for him and he will arrive here in great spirits.
This really strong play from the 38yr old this season sees him currently sitting 64th in the Fedex Cup standings and his traditional short game seems to be back where it was in his heyday.
This actually is one other reason I have a strong hunch for Aaron this week as if, as we’re lead to believe, fairways have been widened at TPC San Antonio, and greens and their run off areas sped up/shaved to replicate Augusta, this should make the course play even more to the Aussie’s strengths.
Despite having shown inconsistency over recent years Badds actually last tasted victory less than three years ago on the tour so he still knows how to get the job done.
There is no doubt he is trending towards another victory at the moment and despite the odds being a fraction shorter than I’d hoped for I cant leave him out this week.
NICK TAYLOR – 80-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 52nd
For my final selection this week I am going to give another chance to another player who was in our team at the Valspar, Nick Taylor.
For 68 holes that week Taylor played excellent golf to sit in fifth place and he looked good to justify our selection and land us an e/w return at a juicy price.
Unfortunately however a bogey on 15, followed by a double bogey on 16 and a further bogey on 18 saw him tumble down the board.
Whilst this was incredibly frustrating it shouldn’t hide the fact that the Canadian had played some great stuff that week to follow on from his really solid play in his previous four starts.
The key to Taylor’s upturn in form of late has been his long game and this was again in evidence at the Valspar where he finished the week 2nd in DA and 22nd in SGTTG.
Nick has made two previous visits to TPC San Antonio and he has finished in the top 25 on both occasions so this is obviously a course that suits his eye.
I am happy to overlook his poor finish last time out and expect him to continue has recent strong play this week and to that end I am keen to finish of our selections this week by including the Canadian.
UPDATED 3rd APRIL
TRADER - KRAMER HICKOK - FINISHED MC - LOWEST PRICE TRADED 140
Texan Krameer Hickok has been quite highly touted this week across the net and to be honest he was very close to making our main team.
Ultimately though there were others I fancied more at the e/w prices and so in the end I have settled on Hickok as our trader pick.
The case for the 26yr old is a pretty straightforward.
Firstly and foremostly as a Texas man through and through he ticks the obvious box, which connects Lone star State men to this event.
Secondly, his form over recent weeks has been trending very nicely and after making his four previous cuts he notched his first top 10 on the PGA tour last weekend when closing with a 67 at the Corales Puntacana event.
Finally as someone who is reknowned for being a straight hitter his game should ideally suit TPC San Antonio. even allowing for the potential wideining of fairways to create more of an Augusta feel.
Kramer won twice on the Mackenzie Tour of Canada in 2017 and posted his first win on the Web.com tour in the finals in the fall of 2018 after having already secured his card in the main season.
Clearly on this basis Hickok is a player who knows how to get the job done and I am keen to have him on side this week as our trader.
CURRENTLY TRADING BETWEEN 190 - 210