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Justin Rose losing The Masters in a play-off was a hit to the solar plexus, but having 2 selections tied for the lead after 5 holes on Sunday at the RBC Heritage and then seeing them collapse like a pack of cards to both finish 11th was certainly a double blow. But in golf betting there's always next week and sure enough we travel to San Antonio, Texas for the Valero Texas Open to see if our luck can change.
Traditionally a tough spot on the PGA Tour, the Greg Norman designed AT&T Oaks Course is a long and tough Par 72. The tournament has always been the nomad of the PGA Tour as it has been played historically across the Fall Series, before moving to before The Masters and 2017 sees the tournament fall after the RBC Heritage for the second season on the bounce. The tournament was also played pre-2010 at the low scoring Par 70 at La Cantrera, so bear that in mind when it comes to our form and tournament average statistics. The winners' list here includes Adam Scott (30/1), Jimmy Walker (25/1) and Charley Hoffman (30/1) as well as Steven Bowditch (350/1), Brendan Steele (300/1) and Ben Curtis (150/1). Very much from the logical to the illogical!
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Shenzhen International - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: The AT&T Oaks course at TPC San Antonio is not your typical US golf course and, if conditions allow, it traditionally plays fiery and fast. This Greg Norman design (remember El Camaleon, home of the OHL Classic, is his other currently scheduled PGA Tour course) is a stretching Par 72 measuring 7,435 yards and features tight fairways at over 300 yards carry, the like of which we saw at GC of Houston a few weeks back. However miss the fairway and the rough is more penal than Houston plus there are all manner of natural hazards. Greens are undulating, multi-tiered and exotic in their grass structure featuring Emerald Dwarf Bermudagrass overseeded with a combination of Velvet Bentgrass and Poa Trivialis. Scoring difficulty, as is the norm in Texas, is dictated by wind strength, so despite the AT&T Oaks Course playing soft and with very little wind, the fact that Charley Hoffman won 12 months ago with a -12/276 total is testament to this being a very hard golf course.
AT&T Oaks Course, TPC San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas: Designer: Greg Norman 2009; Course Type: Technical; Par: 72; Length: 7,435 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 1; Fairways: Bermuda Rye & Fescue; Rough: Bermuda Rye & Fescue 2.5"; Greens: 6,400 sq.ft average Emerald Dwarf Bermudagrass overseeded with Velvet Bentgrass and Poa Trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 11.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 73.97 (+1.97), Difficulty Rank 4 of 49 courses. 2013: 72.74 (+0.74), Difficulty Rank 15 of 43 courses. 2014: 73.29 (+1.29), Rank 8 of 48 courses. 2015: 74.52 (+2.52), Difficulty Rank of 2 of 52 courses. 2016: 72.21 (+0.21), Difficulty Rank of 17 of 50 courses.
AT&T Oaks Course, TPC San Antonio Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for the AT&T Oaks Course and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on the PGA Tour:
Course Overview: The AT&T Oaks course layout is undoubtedly a brute. Despite a soft course, relatively receptive greens and tranquil conditions across the opening 3 days of play here 12 months ago, only 3 players made it into double-digit under par numbers. A mixture of course length, intimidating tee shots, all manner of off-fairway hazards and tough, undulating green complexes make the course a technical beast. Power hitting is undoubtedly a huge advantage here, allowing the par-5s to be unlocked, and it's noticeable that 3 of the previous 4 winners here have led par-5 scoring in the week they triumphed: Laird (2013), Walker (2015) and defending champion Hoffman shot -10, -12 and -9 across their 16 looks at the long holes. Shorter hitters can contend, but since Greg Norman re-sculpted the course prior to the 2013 renewal, power wins.
With a weather forecast that promises higher levels of wind than we saw 12 months ago, don't expect a birdie fest this week. Although critical, par-5 scoring on this course is tremendously hard with 3 of the 4 'scoring holes' measuring over 590 yards. Greens are severely contoured so putting is difficult and the fairways are some of the most testing the Tour pros will face this season. For me though on a course that traditionally ranks in the top 10 hardest courses for Greens in Regulation when the wind blows, and also the lowest 4 on Tour for par-5 Birdie or Better Conversion, we need to look for aggressive ball-strikers who are very apt at Going for the Green as much as possible.
Winners: 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).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published Valero Texas Open predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Ryan Palmer (No.1), Matt Kuchar, Charley Hoffman, Jimmy Walker and Brendan Steele.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the AT&T Pebble Beach / Maybank Championship and includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: Hoffman 30/1; 2015: Jimmy Walker 25/1; 2014: Bowditch 350/1; 2013: Laird 100/1; 2012: Curtis 150/1; 2011: Steele 300/1; 2010: Scott 25/1. Average: 140/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for San Antonio, Texas is here. The local area has received plenty of rain in the build-up, with the course also receiving precipitation (10mm) on Monday of tournament week. However with no significant rain forecast for the rest of the week, we should see AT&T Oaks green complexes at their usual tricky best. Wind will be a feature throughout the tournament, with magnitude definitely up from the tournament 12 months ago with Friday, Saturday and Sunday looking a little testing.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 7 winners of this event since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how TPC San Antonio sets up and what specific skills it requires:
Charley Hoffman (2017): "Tee to green is very visual, shapes with the trees and it's a tough driving golf course. I usually drive it pretty good and got to be accurate when you're hitting in there. For some reason I've been able to roll the putter. Conditions are a lot different than normal. Usually you're trying to land them short, today you're trying to get them past the hole and suck them back. No rough, no overseeding. Premium on driving isn't quite as much. You can hit them in the rough and have a shot at the green. There's low scores out there, still going to make some putts in the right spots."
Jimmy Walker (2016): "I still think the greens are going to stay relatively firm. Even talking to some guys yesterday that played that even after the rain, they were still getting some nice bounces and release after the rain. The fairways were obviously kind of not running as well. The rough isn't like it was last year. Last year it was overseeded. This year they didn't and the Bermuda has come back but hasn't all grown yet. Driving the ball in the rough isn't going to be, I don't think, a big deal this week, just because it's not very long. You can get some pretty nice lies in the rough. So that's just a South Texas thing right now this time of year. The transition and everything is coming back.
They keep making minor improvements to the golf course. It's really resonating with the guys. A lot of guys like to show up and play a tough golf course. It's kind of the deal if you get bad weather you feel like half the field is out. They're in a bad mood. There's guys that enjoy coming and playing tough tracks where you don't have to shoot 18, 25-under. We shot 9-under last year and won, something like that. It's a tough track. The opening stretch here is pretty good. 1 through 4 you got to kind of have all your stuff together. You do have a par 5 in there but it's really not too reachable by 90-some-odd percent of the field. It's a good par 5. And then 3 is a tough par 3 and 4 is a great, tough, 485-yard hole with a tiny green. You got to be precise. It's got some tough tee shots, got some tough second shots and the greens can be a little tricky to read. They've got some South Texas grain in them. It can play with you a little bit."
Jordan Spieth: "Well, for one, the trouble isn't the hazard. You're going in to try to find your ball or you're walking up thinking you're going to find it in a good spot. And then when it's not in a good spot, well, now I don't want to find it. You want to play it as a lost ball. You get guys that are coming up and walking all the way back. That takes a lot of time. If it's a hazard and you didn't find it, you know it went in, take a drop there, that saves five to ten minutes on that hole. So because it's so challenging on both sides of the fairway, you get any shots astray, which will happen tomorrow in the wind, it's going to slow down the round significantly, especially if you're trying to grind. Any tough course is going to play slow towards the lead groups because for whatever reason you're normally grinding it out a little bit more. I don't think it should change, no matter what position you're in, but I do it for whatever reason, and it just happens. So, yeah, I just think because of the trouble off the tee that this course maybe could yield slower play than other places."
Steven Bowditch: "I mean maybe the fairways are a little more softer or forgiving, if that's what you want to call it. There's good and bad things to that. It tends to make the golf course fraction wider, because the ball doesn't run out on the same lines. But it makes it longer, too. I think it's playing a little tougher this year already, just because the greens are a little firmer. The ball is not going as far and especially with the weather coming for the first couple of days, anyway, it's going to cool right down, so that will make it even longer.
I think all in all the scoring, depending on the wind I think the scoring will pretty much be similar. But the greens being so perfect to putt on, if you get your putter rolling, you might come from anywhere. The golf course just doesn't give you too much, there's no let up out there. Every hole you can make a birdie, hit a good shot. But every hole as a bogey and double, all around. Just finer points, ball running off the green, the rough is sticky around the greens, it can be hard to get it up and down. So I would probably say under and over probably be about 10 under, pretty similar this year."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 7 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Greg Norman designs include:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their group and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
We face an interesting conundrum this week with regards the difficult AT&T Oaks course itself in an event that can be very fanciful from a betting perspective. Let's firstly start with my views on the course. It's abundantly clear that this Norman design is a bit of a brute. Even though holes 1, 4 and 10 were made less challenging with green re-sculpting and fairway widening work prior to 2013's renewal, the course is perennially one of the toughest Par 72s on the Tour as par-5 scoring on this course is tremendously hard. Greens are severely contoured so putting is difficult and the fairways are some of the most testing the Tour pros will face this season. Long and tight and surrounded by masses of trouble. Greens are hard to hit in volume and the putting surfaces themselves repel approach shots from pin positions very ably.
It's also worth remembering that this is only the third time that the Texas Open has been played 2 weeks after The Masters. Looking at the past 7 winners in this post-Augusta slot, Bohn (80/1), Horschel (33/1), Noh (125/1) and Rose (11/1) have won at TPC Louisiana; Snedeker (35/1) at Harbour Town and Ben Curtis (150/1) plus Charley Hoffman (30/1). As you'd expect a mix of players and circumstances across 3 different courses, but all had at least a top 16 finish in their previous 2 outings which differs significantly from the incoming form characteristics if you look purely at the Valero Open winners.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
Branden Grace is warming to the task nicely at the moment and finds himself in a rare position this week on the PGA Tour as he's visiting a course for the 4th consecutive season. As we know with the World Number 21, he tends to like certain courses and one look at his results CV highlights that he tends to generate results at particular tracks. Back-to-back wins across the famously windswept Doha GC in 2015 and 2016 is a fine example and Grace has made a habit of delivering similar consistent results across Abu Dhabi GC, Harbour Town, the Earth Course and Leopard Creek GC in his homeland.
Visits to this week's venue have produced 79th, 30th and 9th, so it's clear for all to see that he likes the set-up and is continually improving his performances here. An aggressive player, who's more than prepared to Go for the Green when required on driveable par-4s (there are 2 here) and par-5s, Grace's calibre on 'tough' golf courses is also evident for all to see. His win 53 weeks ago at Harbour Town was in seriously windswept conditions which kept his winning score down to -8/276; 4th at Chambers Bay plus 5th at Oakmont across the past 2 U.S. Open Championships tells us all we need to know about how he can handle fast conditions. 11th last week at Harbour Town featured excellent scrambling and an ever-warming putter and I think Grace is all set for his first contention of 2017 this week in conditions that will suit. RESULT: T10
Ryan Moore arrives in San Antonio fresh from a cracking performance at Augusta National where he finished 9th after going out in the 3rd from last group with last year's winner here Charley Hoffman. Buoyed by his joint-best Major Championship finish, Moore in recent times has jumped a level when it comes to the upper echelons of golf and he's undoubtedly now a class act when it comes to a relatively weak heat as we have this week at TPC San Antonio.
2nd at the Tour Championship last September after only being defeated by Rory McIlroy in a play-off, Moore qualified for the United States Ryder Cup and acquitted himself well, contributing 2 points from 3 appearances. Yes, he's not a bomber, but I like him for a number of reasons this week: firstly he hits the tournament with a hot putter and that combined with the fact that he was in the top 20 for Strokes Gained Putting in his only appearance here back in 2012 - where he finished 8th - makes plenty of sense at a tournament where the green complexes are vary challenging; secondly, he's also playing consistently well with his approach play right now (21st in Strokes Gained Approaching the Green); and thirdly he's scoring incredibly well on par-5s, where he sits 20th across this season for Birdies or Better Conversion. Indeed Moore was 6th for par-5 scoring (-9) at Augusta National behind only Schwartzel, Fowler, Koepka, Mickelson and Rahm. Moore can grind with the best of them on tough long tracks such as Copperhead, Bay Hill, Quail Hollow, Bethpage and East Lake, so I expect him to go close this week. RESULT: T18
Kevin Chappell has to be close to the top of the list when it comes to PGA Tour maidens taking their first win - we say this every year - and the tough course specialist loves the AT&T Oaks course as you'd expect. He reminds me of Charley Hoffman from 12 months ago, where he's such an obvious choice he's easy to overlook on the basis that he tends to disappoint. But as we've learnt over the years, for every Jordan Spieth and Wesley Bryan who win early in their careers, there are players of the ilk of Jason Dufner (can't believe I mentioned him after last week), Jimmy Walker, Matt Every and Kevin Kisner (or him), all of whom flattered to deceive for an extended period of time before getting over the line.
Chappell though is one of the few this week who fulfils the criteria I'm looking for - an excellent wind player who thrives on technical golf courses. A player who attacks and converts on par-5s, is comfortable with mid-to-long irons and who is adept at hitting greens when not on the fairway. 2nd here in 2011, 15th in 2013 and 4th here last year suggests that Chappell feels most at home in this part of Texas and we all know that the guy can play brilliantly on some of the PGA Tour's toughest tracks. A look at Chappell's CV highlights a superb set of results across a host of stringent courses including 6th at Pebble Beach (2009), 3rd at Congressional (2011 US Open), 2nd at Muirfield Village (2013), 13th at Valhalla (2014 PGA Championship), 2nd at Bay Hill (2016), 2nd at TPC Sawgrass (2016), 3rd at Firestone (2016) and 2nd at East Lake (2016) on course debut. Indeed he was beaten by Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Players Championship and Tour Championship last term - big events and big performances. Having just delivered 7th at a windy and firm Augusta, he could well have the momentum to challenge this week for that maiden win. RESULT: Winner
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel