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We travel to San Antonio, Texas this week for the Valero Texas Open. Traditionally a tough spot on the PGA Tour, the Greg Norman designed AT&T Four 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 2016 sees the tournament fall after the RBC Heritage - a spot traditionally held in recent years by the Zurich Classic of New Orleans which will be played next week. 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) and Jimmy Walker (25/1) 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 it traditionally plays fiery and fast, although 2016 looks like a different scenario. This Greg Norman design (remember El Camaleon, home of the OHL Classic is his other 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 double the length of 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 in previous renewals has been added to by a harsh Texas wind, but 2016 looks relatively tranquil.
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.
AT&T Oaks Course Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for the AT&T Oaks Course, San Antonio and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on the PGA Tour:
Course Overview: This layout is undoubtedly a brute but 2016 is likely to see new course dynamics in play. Players will be spared the standard harsh winds that we see here year-in, year-out. Yes 15 mph winds will be a factor on Sunday, put apart from that we should see light breezes all week. Tie that in with a course that has been doused with rain across late March and early April, with some significant downpours in the immediate build-up, and we will see calm and soft conditions in the main. So we should scoring akin to or even lower than 2013 when longer hitters dominated the leaderboard.
However don't expect a total birdie fest. 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. With a relative lack of roll on the fairways, you can see longer hitters having an advantage even more than usual here.
Winners: 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 the Valero Texas Open which 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 (Predictor Number 1), Brendan Steele, J.B. Holmes, Phil Mickelson and Jimmy Walker.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the AT&T Pebble Beach / Tshwane Open and includes both 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: 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: 158/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for San Antonio is here. Rain pre-event will have softened the AT&T Four Oaks Course to levels we haven't seen as yet since it came onto the PGA Tour rota in 2010. 62mm in April includes 59mm in the past 8 days, so we should expect soft conditions. This venue is traditionally windy and fast, but 2016 will see the polar opposite as receptive conditions will be combined with nothing more than a breeze across the opening 54 holes. Thunderstorms are also possible on Thursday afternoon.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of The Valero Texas Open 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 the AT&T Four Oaks course sets up and what specific skills it requires:
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 water, 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 6 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
We face an interesting conundrum this week with regards the difficult AT&T Four Oaks course itself. 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 traditionally 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. However 2016 sees new course conditions enter the mix. A soft course will undoubtedly help the longer bombers and we should see Greens in Regulation numbers closer to the circa 80% range that Rory McIlroy and Ryan Palmer achieved here in 2013.
It's also worth remembering that this is only the second time that the Texas Open has been played 2 weeks after The Masters. Looking at the past 6 winners in this post Augusta slot, Bohn (801/), 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) here in 2012. As you would 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 solely at the Valero Open winners.
Bookmaker Offers. Two bookmakers have extended their each-way terms again this week plus there's a couple of other offers out there:
My final Valero Texas Open tips are as follows:
Boosted by his first ever Major Championship top 10 finish, J.B. Holmes has to be a dangerous proposition this week. Power-packed and a par 5 slayer, Holmes features in the top-7 of my rolling 10-week Putting Average tracker and in the top-15 of the corresponding Greens in Regulation tracker. Lightly raced after a shoulder injury scare forced him to pull out of defending his Shell Houston Open title 3 weeks ago, Holmes arrived in Augusta and delivered a gritty performance over the opening 54 holes to be only 6 shots off the lead going into Sunday. From there a closing -4/68, which was only bettered by Willett, Casey and Fitzpatrick, propelled Kentuckian Holmes into a 4th place finish. Holmes ranked 19th for Ball Striking, 4th for Putting and 3rd for All-Round. Such a performance around Augusta was a logical extension in a maturing career which has seen the 33 year-old win twice in the past 2 years at Quail Hollow (2014 -14/274) and GC of Houston (2015 -16/272), plus fight his way into last year's United States President's Cup with a gritty 4th place at Conway Farms. In South Korea Holmes delivered an impressive 2.5 points in team formats and only lost his singles match with Hideki Matsuyama 1up. 4 top-11 performances on the West Coast swing had been quietly efficient prior to Augusta and you just get the feeling that calmer/softer conditions than normal here in San Antonio enhances the chances of a player who finished 13th (led after 54 holes) and 11th here in 2010 and 2011. RESULT: T13
Another at the top of the betting market who ticks most boxes is Brooks Koepka. Naturally Brooks can hit it a mile, destroys par 5s and is aggressive when it comes to Going for the Green - all characteristics I really like this week. However Koepka has also shown that he can play technical courses such as Pinehurst Number 2 (4th US Open 2014), TPC Southwind (3rd 2015) and Firestone South (6th 2015) with aplomb. That balance is a positive thing and after a sluggish start to the season Brooks is coming into form. A Quarter Final performance just down the road in Austin where he beat Horschel, Van Zyl and Kuchar at the Dell Match Play was eye-opening especially as his qualifying group contained Danny Willett (he was beaten by him in their match) and he was eventually knocked-out only by eventual winner Jason Day on Saturday afternoon. 21st last time out at Augusta was another solid display which featured top-notch ball striking (2nd) and strong scrambling (16th) despite a weak putting display. With main Tour wins coming at -17/271 (Turkey) and -15/269 (TPC Scottsdale), you get the feeling that the lower than usual scoring at TPC San Antonio will suit the Florida State University graduate and like J.B. Holmes a victory here in lower grade company would be a huge boost for Ryder Cup qualification. RESULT: MC
Jason Kokrak is another who is clearly in good form, loves the AT&T Oaks Course format and is not averse to soft conditions. This 300+ yard bomber when confident is a fantastic ball-striker who has a tasty short game to boot. 20th in Par 5 Birdie or Better Conversion, 42nd in Scrambling, 16th in Going for the Green and 50th in Greens in Regulation when missing the fairway in the 2015/16 PGA Tour statistical categories is a nice statistical cocktail when it comes to San Antonio. 6th last week (5th in All-Round) was a phenomenal effort on a course that is ultimately too tight and Jason is one of those players who can string good form over a couple of immediate weeks. That excites as the Ohio bred 30 year-old, who now lives in Charlotte, South Carolina has finished 15th (2013), 31st (2014) and 11th (2015) on his last 3 appearances here and Kokrak was 4th here after 54 holes last term. Kokrak has always been a Tour winner-in-waiting for me and this tournament has been won twice by Tour maidens since the move to TPC San Antonio. In terms of mental progress when it comes to developing the steel to win, Jason has turned his last couple of serious Sunday contentions into each-way places and he's always been the sort who plays his best golf on classical tests such as Pebble Beach, Bay Hill, Congressional and CordeValle. Those courses correlate well and I think that the slightly lower scoring this week will suit. RESULT: MC
Big hitting Andrew Loupe has impressed on Tour in 2015/16. Currently 68th in the FedEx Cup, Loupe should make the top-125 and keep his card. Naturally he is par 72 positive and has been in contention in weaker fields across Silverado, Country Club of Jackson, PGA West, and a couple of weeks ago at the GC of Houston where he was in the mix after 36 holes. A blaster, who is known for his slow play, Andrew won back his PGA Tour card on the classical Scarlett Course at Ohio State University last September - a course where Justin Thomas and Seung-yul Noh have both won in recent times. So he definitely has a bit about him and that comes through in the fact that he was 4th here 24 months ago after being in contention from the get-go after a opening round 67. Inconsistent, but incredibly sparky, could surprise again this week. RESULT: MC
Our predictions for the 2017 Valero Texas Open will be published here on the Tuesday before the event.