Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Valero Texas Open Tips

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The Valero Texas Open is this year’s curtain-raiser for The Masters. Played on a stretching 7,400+ yard, Par 72 track in San Antonio, Texas, this Greg Norman design is no pushover. This tournament is a bit of a nomad in terms of its PGA Tour schedule position, but when it has been played the week before The Masters we have seen Martin Laird and Corey Conners win at 100/1 and 200/1 respectively. The last Masters invite is also up for grabs for any non-qualified winner this week.

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Before we go into the detail surrounding the Valero Texas Open, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System the week before The Masters.  Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular, 5,800+ strong, private Group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

Course Guide: The Oaks course at TPC San Antonio is not your typical US golf course. This Greg Norman design (remember El Camaleon, home of the Mayakoba 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. Miss the fairway here and the rough is penal, plus there’s all manner of natural hazards. Remember Kevin Na!

Greens are undulating, multi-tiered and exotic in their grass structure featuring Champion Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis. Scoring difficulty, as is the norm in Texas, is dictated by wind strength and firmness of the course, but over recent renewals, strategic sorts have been able to score nicely around here.

Oaks Course, TPC San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas: Designer: Greg Norman 2009; Course Type: Technical; Par: 72; Length: 7,494 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 2; Fairways: Bermudagrass, Rye & Fescue; Rough: Bermudagrass 2″; Greens: 6,400 sq.ft average Champion Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 11ft; 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. 2017: 72.85 (+0.85), Difficulty Rank of 10 of 50 courses. 2018: 72.37 (+0.35), Difficulty Rank of 12 of 51 courses. 2019: 71.24 (-0.76), Difficulty Rank 28 of 49 courses.

Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for the Oaks Course, TPC San Antonio and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:

  • Oaks Course: 250 yards from tee: 33 yards wide; 275:34; 300:29; 325:27; 350:26.
  • PGA National: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:27 350:25.
  • TPC Sawgrass: 250 yards from the tee: 31 yards wide; 275:32; 300:30; 325:28 350:20.
  • Bay Hill: 250 yards from the tee: 32 yards wide; 275:33; 300:33; 325:39 350:29.
  • Riviera: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:26 350:28.
  • Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:33; 300:29; 325:30 350:26.
  • TPC Scottsdale: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:30; 300:28; 325:27; 350:27.
  • Torrey Pines South: 250 yards from the tee: 26 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:24; 350:23.
  • TPC Stadium: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:26; 350:24.
  • Waialae: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:32; 300:34; 325:37; 350:34.
  • Plantation Course: 250 yards from the tee: 59 yards wide; 275:61; 300:65; 325:60; 350:62.

Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Greg Norman designs include:

  • Earth Course – DP World Tour Championship (European Tour)
  • El Camaleon GC – Mayakoba Classic
  • TPC at Sugarloaf – 1997 – 2008 AT&T Classic

Course Overview: The Oaks Course layout is undoubtedly stretching, although 2018 and 2019 renewals of the Valero have seen scoring become more than possible. 2018 saw organisers water the greens throughout, on the basis of strong winds across the opening 36 holes of play. That, in tandem with firm fairways, allowed for short and long hitters alike to strategically score around here with Andrew Landry prevailing with a tournament winning -17/271 total. And 2019 saw 10-15 mph winds throughout and a 60mm deluge on Sunday, which delayed play and saw the surgical, strategic duo of Ryan Moore and Kevin Streelman shoot a pair of -8/64s. Another ball-striking machine in the guise of Corey Conners won his maiden PGA Tour title at a course record low -20/268 total.

But fundamentally I still think that the Oaks Course makes you earn your rewards, with accurate driving and stellar approach play – this is no PGA West or TPC Summerlin. A mixture of course length (which has increased 59 yards since 2019, with those extra yards added to the par-4 5th), intimidating tee shots, all manner of off-fairway hazards, plus undulating green complexes, make the course a challenge. Greens are also perched up with fairway cut around them, taking errant approaches into collection areas. It’s hardly a surprise then that the greens here traditionally rank in the top 10 hardest to hit on the PGA Tour.

Up until the last couple of renewals I would have told you that power hitting is undoubtedly a huge advantage here, allowing the par-5s to be unlocked, and it’s noticeable that 3 of the previous 7 winners here have led par-5 scoring in the week they triumphed: Laird (2013), Walker (2015) and Hoffman (2016) shot -10, -12 and -9 across their 16 looks at the long holes.

But Andrew Landry played a different kind of game here in 2018, scoring equally across the par-3s, par-4s and par-5s shooting -6/-6/-5. Landry was 46th for Driving Distance that week, highlighting that average hitters can win around here. And in 2019 Corey Conners was middle of the road 28th for Driving Distance. Like Landry the year before he was in the top 10 for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, highlighting that straight, accurate hitting here is a great part of the ingredients needed for success. Plus he scored strongly across the card -4/-8/-8. Shorter, straighter sorts can undoubtedly win here.

When you look at the last 3 winners here, Chappell ranked 2nd for SG Approach, Landry 1st and Conners 1st. For me on a course that traditionally ranks as one of the hardest for Greens in Regulation when the wind blows, and also in the bottom 5 on Tour for par-5 Birdie or Better Conversion, we need to look for players who are at the top of their ball-striking powers right now.

valero texas open tips

Winners: 2019: Corey Conners (-20); 2018: Andrew Landry (-17); 2017: Kevin Chappell (-12); 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).

Lead Score Progression:

  • 2019: Round 1 -6; Round 2 -12; Round 3 -15; Round 4 -20.
  • 2018: Round 1 -5; Round 2 -9; Round 3 -13; Round 4 -17.
  • 2017: Round 1 -6; Round 2 -8; Round 3 -8; Round 4 -12.

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 | Combined Stats.

Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Corey Conners, Charley Hoffman, Ryan Palmer, Abraham Ancer, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Brice Garnett, Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth and Scottie Scheffler.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to Phoenix Open / Saudi International, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Driving Accuracy: 1) Jerry Kelly; 2) Abraham Ancer / Brice Garnett; 4) Adam Hadwin / Brian Stuard; 6) Jim Furyk; 7) Ryan Moore; 8) Andrew Putnam; 9) Corey Conners; 10) Ryan Armour / Keegan Bradley / Cameron Tringale; 13) Doug Ghim; 14) K.J. Choi / Matthew NeSmith; 16) Brian Harman / Martin Laird; 18) Rafa Cabrera Bello; 19) Russell Knox / Andrew Landry; 21) Denny McCarthy / Brendan Steele; 23) No Hoag; 24) Roberto Castro; 25) Vaughn Taylor.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Corey Conners; 2) Roger Sloan 3) Jordan Spieth; 4) Cameron Percy; 5) Joseph Bramlett; 6) Harold Varner III; 7) Bronson Burgoon; 8) Hideki Matsuyama; 9) Keegan Bradley / Matthew NeSmith / Greyson Sigg; 12) Andrew Putnam / Bernd Wiesberger; 14) Will Gordon / Cameron Tringale; 16) Roberto Castro / Lanto Griffin; 18) Martin Laird / Phil Mickelson / Danny Willett; 21) Sam Ryder / Aaron Wise; 23) Charley Hoffman; 24) Tony Finau / Charles Howell III / Scottie Scheffler.
  • Scrambling: 1) Scottie Scheffler; 2) Abraham Ancer; 3) Luke Donald / Andrew Putnam; 5) Zach Johnson; 6) Ryan Palmer; 7) Tony Finau / Jim Furyk; 9) Akshay Bhatia; 10) Chris Kirk; 11) Brendan Steele; 12) Jason Dufner; 13) Corey Conners; 14) Brian Harman; 15) Kevin Chappell / Danny Willett; 17) Nate Lashley / Ryan Moore; 19) Adam Hadwin; 20) Austin Cook / Cameron Tringale; 22) Bernd Wiesberger / Aaron Wise; 24) Joel Dahmen / John Huh / Adam Schenk.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Wesley Bryan; 2) D.A. Points; 3) Kevin Chappell; 4) Keith Mitchell; 5) Seung-yul Hoh; 6) Tony Finau / Brendan Grace; 8) Brian Harman; 9) Lanto Griffin; 10) Robby Shelton; 11) Patrick Rodgers / Vincent Whaley; 13) Matt Kuchar / Kevin Stadler; 15) David Hearn; 16) Jordan Spieth; 17) Denny McCarthy / Chase Seiffert; 19) Akshay Bhatia / Corey Conners; 21) Scott Brown; 22) Ryan Armour / Sam Burns / Harry Higgs / Cameron Tringale.

Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Phoenix Open / Saudi International, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Jhonattan Vegas; 2) Brandon Hagy; 3) Tony Finau; 4) John Huh / Brendan Steele; 6) Will Gordon; 7) Charles Howell III / Ryan Palmer; 9) Cameron Champ / Corey Conners / Ryan Moore; 12) Danny Lee; 13) Lanto Griffin; 14) Joseph Bramlett / Rafael Campos / Joel Dahmen; 17) Chris Kirk; 18) Brian Harman; 19) Abraham Ancer / Cameron Tringale; 21) Lucas Glover; 22) Keegan Bradley / Brice Garnett; 24) Luke List / Harold Varner III / Aaron Wise.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Jordan Spieth; 2) Corey Conners; 3) Charley Hoffman; 4) Harry Higgs; 5) Keegan Bradley / Tony Finau / Scottie Scheffler; 8) Lanto Griffin; 9) Ryan Palmer; 10) Abraham Ancer / Doug Ghim; 12) Tom Lewis; 13) Hideki Matsuyama; 14) Jim Furyk / Matthew NeSmith / Roger Sloan; 17) Kelly Kraft / Cameron Percy; 19) Sam Burns / K.J. Choi / Scott Stallings / Gary Woodland; 23) Tom Hoge; 24) Bo Hoag; 25) Nick Taylor.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Akshay Bhatia; 2) Brandon Hagy; 3) Rickie Fowler; 4) Chris Kirk; 5) J.B. Holmes; 6) Bernd Wiesberger; 7) Adam Hadwin; 8) Andrew Putnam / Sean O’Hair / Scottie Scheffler; 11) Erik van Rooyen; 12) Sebastian Cappelen / Zach Johnson; 14) Charles Howell III; 15) Brendan Steele; 16) Scott Harrington / Aaron Wise; 18) Jordan Spieth; 19) John Huh; 20) Keegan Bradley; 21) Nate Lashley / Matthew NeSmith / Ryan Moore / Pat Perez; 25) Jim Furyk / Troy Merritt.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Corey Conners; 2) Jordan Spieth; 3) Brandon Hagy; 4) Keegan Bradley; 5) Scottie Scheffler; 6) Cameron Tringale; 7) Tony Finau; 8) Abraham Ancer; 9) Charley Hoffman; 10) Matthew NeSmith; 11) Ryan Palmer / Roger Sloan; 13) John Huh / Chris Kirk; 15) Harold Varner III; 16) Charles Howell III / Aaron Wise; 18) Jim Furyk / Doug Ghim; 20) Lanto Griffin / Tom Lewis / Hideki Matsuyama; 23) Bo Hoag / Jhonattan Vegas; 25) Brendan Steele.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Akshay Bhatia / Kevin Chappell; 3) Zach Johnson; 4) Andrew Putnam; 5) Lanto Griffin; 6) Ryan Armour; 7) Branden Grace / Patrick Rodgers; 9) Adam Hadwin; 10) Denny McCarthy / Jordan Spieth; 12) Bronson Burgoon; 13) Brice Garnett / Brandon Hagy; 15) Scott Brown / Rafa Cabrera-Bello / Corey Conners / Tony Finau; 19) Charley Hoffman / Nate Lashley; 21) Jim Furyk; 22) Brian Harman / Scottie Scheffler; 24) Will Gordon; 25) Sam Burns / D.A. Points.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Brandon Hagy; 2) Jordon Spieth; 3) Corey Conners; 4) Scottie Scheffler; 5) Akshay Bhatia; 6) Tony Finau / Lanto Griffin; 8) Brian Harman / Charley Hoffman; 10) Cameron Tringale; 11) Brendan Steele; 12) Jim Furyk; 13) Keegan Bradley / Zach Johnson; 15) Andrew Putnam / Roger Sloan; 17) Ryan Palmer; 18) Hideki Matsuyama; 19) Abraham Ancer / Branden Grace / Chris Kirk; 22) Adam Hadwin; 23) Kevin Chappell / Matthew NeSmith; 25) Doug Ghim / Denny McCarthy / Pat Perez / Danny Willett.

Winners & Prices: 2019: Conners 200/1; 2018: Landry 200/1; 2017: Chappell 33/1; 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. Past 6 Renewals Average: 140/1. Overall Average: 141/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 2019: Thursday: Mostly sunny. High of 85. Wind SW 10-15 mph. Friday: Mostly cloudy. High of 82. Wind ESE 10-15 mph. Saturday: Overcast with intermittent showers throughout the day. High of 78. Wind SE 10-15 mph. Sunday: Due to inclement weather, the start to the final round was delayed from 9:40 a.m. until 11:40 a.m. Mostly cloudy in the afternoon. High of 72. Wind NNE 8-12 mph.
  • 2018: Thursday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 78. Wind E 15-25 mph, with gusts to 30 mph. Friday: Mostly cloudy, with a high of 64. Wind SE 15-25 mph. Saturday: Cloudy, with scattered showers. High of 75. Wind SSE 8-16 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with a high of 78. Wind N 10-20 mph.
  • 2017: Thursday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 85. Wind SSE 10-20 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 86. Wind SSE 15-25 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy and cooler, with a high of 67. Wind NNE 15-25, with gusts to 30 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with a high of 74. Wind N 10-18 mph.
  • 2016: Thursday: Overcast, with heavy rains in the morning. Due to inclement weather, the first round was suspended from 8:25 a.m. until 12 p.m. CT. Sunny in the afternoon, with wind NE at 5-10 mph. Due to darkness, play was suspended for the day at 8:10 p.m. and resumed at 8 a.m. Friday. Friday: Sunny, with a high of 81. Wind NE at 8-12 mph. Due to darkness, the second round was suspended at 8:11 p.m. and resumed at 8 a.m. Saturday. Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 81. Wind ESE at 8-12 mph. Sunday: Cloudy, with a high of 77. Wind SSE at 7-12 mph.
  • 2015: Thursday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 62. Wind SSW at 15-25 mph, with gusts to 38 mph. Friday: Sunny, with a high of 77. Wind WSW at 6-12 mph. Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 78. Wind SSW at 7-12 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 82. Wind S at 15-25 mph.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for San Antonio, Texas, is here.

Texas in April can be like 4 seasons in a single day. March has been a dry month in San Antonio, so I’m expecting firm and fast fairway conditions. Temperatures will be between 20 to 22 degrees Celsius, apart for Saturday, where they drop to a chilly (for these guys) 17 degrees. Wind will be 10-15 mph consistently from the west to south-west, which play as cross-winds on many holes, so enough to cause club selection issues. At this early stage, Thursday AM tee-times could be at a disadvantage with gusts up to 30 mph forecast for the morning starters – well worth checking closer to the event.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 10 winners of the Valero Texas Open since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2019, Corey Conners (-20). 302 yards (28th), 64.3% fairways (7th), 81.9% greens in regulation (1st), 28’8″ proximity to hole (2nd), 30.8 % scrambling (70th), 1.53 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2018, Andrew Landry (-17). 298 yards (46th), 58.9% fairways (29th), 73.6% greens in regulation (1st), 33’11” proximity to hole (7th), 78.9 % scrambling (2nd), 1.60 putts per GIR (4th).
  • 2017, Kevin Chappell (-12). 297 yards (25th), 58.9% fairways (35th), 72.2% greens in regulation (3rd), 35’7″ proximity to hole (10th), 65.0 % scrambling (26th), 1.69 putts per GIR (14th).
  • 2016, Charley Hoffman (-12). 301 yards (4th), 64.3% fairways (34th), 68.1% greens in regulation (17th), 37’8″ proximity to hole (47th), 65.2 % scrambling (42nd), 1.59 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2015, Jimmy Walker (-11). 303 yards (4th), 53.6% fairways (45th), 70.8% greens in regulation (1st), proximity to hole 38’10” (16th), 61.9 % scrambling (27th), 1.65 putts per GIR (5th).
  • 2014, Steven Bowditch (-8). 297 yards (15th), 51.8% fairways (49th), 61.1% greens in regulation (15th), proximity to hole 39’7″ (51st), 71.4 % scrambling (11th), 1.64 putts per GIR (5th).
  • 2013, Martin Laird (-14). 298 yards (20th), 66.1% fairways (8th), 69.4% greens in regulation (7th), proximity to hole 36’1″ (37th), 63.6% scrambling (37th), 1.60 putts per GIR (4th).
  • 2012, Ben Curtis (-9). 269 yards (74th), 73.2% fairways (2nd), 68.1% greens in regulation (1st), proximity to hole 31’3″ (2nd), 73.9% scrambling (4th), 1.69 putts per GIR (15th).
  • 2011, Brendan Steele (-8). 303 yards (10th), 64.3% fairways (7th), 58.3% greens in regulation (40th), proximity to hole 39’5″ (51st), 73.3% scrambling (2nd), 1.69 putts per GIR (13th).
  • 2010, Adam Scott (-14). 306 yards (5th), 53.6% fairways (40th), 66.7% greens in regulation (19th), proximity to hole 37’3″ (38th), 79.2% scrambling (2nd), 1.69 putts per GIR (15th).

Tournament Skill Averages:

  • Driving Distance: 23rd, Driving Accuracy: 26th, Greens in Regulation: 11th, Proximity to Hole: 26th, Scrambling: 22nd, Putting Average 8th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 2019, Corey Conners (-20). SG Off the Tee: 4th, SG Approach: 1st, SG Around the Green: 58th, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 26th.
  • 2018, Andrew Landry (-17). SG Off the Tee: 9th, SG Approach: 1st, SG Around the Green: 33rd, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 8th.
  • 2017, Kevin Chappell (-12). SG Off the Tee: 4th, SG Approach: 2nd, SG Around the Green: 32nd, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 21st.
  • 2016, Charley Hoffman (-12). SG Off the Tee: 8th, SG Approach: 16th, SG Around the Green: 49th, SG Tee to Green: 10th, SG Putting: 4th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:

  • SG Off the Tee: 6th, SG Approach: 5th, SG Around the Green: 43rd, SG Tee to Green: 4th, SG Putting: 15th.

Let’s take a view from players as to how the Oaks Course sets up and what skill sets the course favours:

Corey Conners (2019): “Yeah, it was great. I hit the ball really well. Never really got myself out of position except for No. 10, where I drove it a little right. Other than that, it was really solid ball-striking. I was able to make some putts. Basically took care of the holes that you need to take care of, the par 5s, and No. 5, a short par 4, I was able to make birdie. Other than that, just kept it pretty simple. There’s a few pins that are close to some slopes, so played a little safer on some shots, but struck it really well. So just tried to keep it simple and scored well.”

Andrew Landry (2018): “This is a good golf course for me, it sets up well for my driving. You’ve got to be pretty accurate out here. Like you said, the rough, I don’t know what happened but the overseed might have not came in as good as I guess they wanted and you can get some pretty sketchy you lies around those greens. Not sketchy as in it’s in bad shape, but sketchy as in the ball sits down and you’re having to hit some higher shots on some tight lies. But I luckily avoided all those today and I think I had maybe one and I made a par with it.

This place, all around the greens it’s really tough right now, tee shots as well. The wind’s kind of swirling all over the place. The greens, they’ve been really receptive this week. And I went to a new set of irons this week, new shafts, and it’s just made a total difference with being able to get spin on the ball and the height of it that’s coming in, I’ve been able to stop a lot more long irons now. It’s just been nice. It’s been a good treat that I’m finally getting some good golf shots out of it and here we are.”

Kevin Chappell (2017): “Missing it in the right spots is the key. It was windy enough you had to really think about what shots you can take on and, if you did, getting the ball in the right place. I was fortunate to be chipping back into the wind a lot and that made it a lot easier. The ball – it’s warm and windy is the recipe to hit the ball really far. So, we hit a few shots went 10, 15 yards further than we thought they would. Into the kind the ball is going nowhere because it’s blowing so hard. It’s a good mixture on this golf course, lot of holes run north/south. With the wind blowing out of south today, you know, you had a good mixture of both. For me I played enough rounds around here that I probably played every wind they have. So, you know, I look forward to the challenge. My game tends to rise in more difficult conditions so I look forward to that on the weekend.

Charley Hoffman (2016): “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 (2015): “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 winners of the Valero Texas Open since 2010:

  • 2019 – Corey Conners: Round 1: 17th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2018 – Andrew Landry: Round 1: 7th, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2017 – Kevin Chappell: Round 1: 19th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2016 – Charley Hoffman: Round 1: 3rd, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2015 – Jimmy Walker: Round 1: 6th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2014 – Steven Bowditch: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2013 – Martin Laird: Round 1: 17th, Round 2: 15th, Round 3: 7th.
  • 2012 – Ben Curtis: Round 1: 3rd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2011 – Brendan Steele: Round 1: 8th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2010 – Adam Scott: Round 1: 25th, Round 2: 22nd, Round 3: 6th.

From the Lead: Below are the shots from the lead during the tournament of the Valero Texas Open winners since 2010:

  • 2019 – Corey Conners: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2018 – Andrew Landry: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: level.
  • 2017 – Kevin Chappell: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2016 – Charley Hoffman: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2015 – Jimmy Walker: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 1 ahead, Round 3: 4 ahead.
  • 2014 – Steven Bowditch: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 8 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2013 – Martin Laird: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 5 back, Round 3: 5 back.
  • 2012 – Ben Curtis: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 2 ahead, Round 3: 3 ahead.
  • 2011 – Brendan Steele: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2010 – Adam Scott: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 3 back.

Form of winners since 2010:

  • Corey Conners: MC Corales/41st Players/MC Bay Hill /MC Puerto Rico.
  • Andrew Landry: 42nd Harbour/MC PGA National/MC Riviera/MC TPC Scottsdale.
  • Kevin Chappell: 7th Augusta/44th Houston/39th WMP/49th Bay Hill.
  • Charley Hoffman: 14th Harbour/29th Augusta/33rd Houston/11th Copperhead
  • Jimmy Walker: 31st Doral /41st Riviera/21st Pebble/7th Torrey.
  • Steven Bowditch: MC Copperhead/37th Puerto Rico/MC PGA National/MC Riviera.
  • Martin Laird: MC Houston/34th Bay Hill/70th Copperhead/MC PGA National.
  • Ben Curtis: MC Houston/14th Puerto Rico/13th Dubai/47th Qatar.
  • Brendan Steele: 51st Houston/38th Bay Hill /MC Copperhead/MC Puerto Rico.
  • Adam Scott: 26th TPC Sawgrass/MC Quail Hollow/18th Augusta/14th Houston.

First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.

  • 2019 – Si Woo Kim – AM -6/66 – 66/1.
  • 2018 – Murray – AM -5/67 – 100/1.
  • 2017 – Grace – AM -6/66 – 33/1.
  • 2016 – Steele – PM -8/64.
  • 2015 – Hoffman – PM -5/67
  • 2014 – Loupe – PM -5/67.
  • 2013 – Bettencourt / Tomasulo – Both PM -5/67.
  • 2012 – Every – AM -9/63.
  • 2011 – Cink / Henry – AM/PM Split -5/67.
  • 2010 – Jones – AM -6/66.

We face an interesting conundrum this week with regards the difficult 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 was once a real beast of a course, with tough scoring conditions, but recent renewals have been won at -17/271 and -20/268. The Texas wind – and its direction – can really dictate scoring, and it’s abundantly clear that when holes 1, 4 and 10 were made less challenging with green re-sculpting and fairway widening work prior to 2013’s renewal, difficulty was significantly eased. Even so, greens are 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.

Pre-Major tournaments always have a slightly strange feel to them, but the week prior to The Masters in recent times has been pretty straight forward to read. 2020 saw the Houston Open precede The Masters, both played in November, and despite OWGR No 1 Dustin Johnson being right in the mix for victory, non Augusta National qualifier Carlos Ortiz snared his maiden PGA Tour title.

Critiquing the April Masters ‘curtain raisers’, we know that the vast majority of the respective fields were ignoring Augusta on the basis that they weren’t qualified. Corey Conners here at TPC San Antonio in 2019 falls into this category, plus Ian Poulter (2018), Russell Henley (2017) and Jim Herman (2016) across the previous 3 years played at the GC of Houston. And 2014 also saw Matt Jones win in this pre-Masters week with no Augusta qualification weighing on his mind. Extrapolate that to TPC San Antonio in 2013, where Martin Laird again grabbed a last minute invite to the first Major of the year, and there’s a line of enquiry that suggests we look for non-Augusta qualifiers. After all, 7 of the past 8 winners of the Masters warm-up event weren’t already in the field for the following week’s main event.

The exception was J.B. Holmes in 2015 who was ranked 20th in the OWGR and came into Houston off of 2 runner-up finishes in his previous 2015 outings. Whether he thought he had a serious chance of putting on a Green Jacket at Augusta is open to debate, and instead he took the opportunity of lifting his 4th PGA Tour title, when he was undoubtedly playing some of the very best golf of his career.

My final Valero Texas Open tips are as follows:

Jordan Spieth 2.5pts EW 16/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Let’s start with Jordan Spieth, who I’m backing at a bigger price to win this week’s Valero Texas Open than to win The Masters next week. And from a mentality perspective, Spieth must be craving his first PGA Tour win since the 2017 Open Championship, rather than purely prepping himself for a Green Jacket challenge in Augusta next week. A weaker field and Jordan’s game in rude health – sign me up for the Valero this week.

4th at the TPC Scottsdale, 3rd at PebbleBeach and 4th at Bay Hill, Spieth was already trending before his last 16 defeat at the WGC Dell Match Play last week. And you can see that in my 8-week tracker numbers, where in this field he ranks: 3rd for Greens in Regulation, 16th for Putting Average (Putts per GIR), 1st for Strokes Gained on Approach, 19th for Strokes Gained Around the Green, 2nd for Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 11th for Strokes Gained Putting and 2nd for Strokes Gained Current Form. Ah, but what about his driving?

Well at TPC Sawgrass he gained 1.50 Strokes Off the Tee, which was his best performance since Colonial last June and tellingly his Driving Accuracy rank was his best since the 2018 Travelers Championship. And if we look at his Total Accuracy performance (sum of Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation), 5th at TPC Sawgrass was his best in that category since the 2017 WGC Bridgestone Invitational. Back then he’d just won the Travelers Championship and Open Championship in back-to-back outings prior to finishing 13th in Akron.

As stories go, a 12th PGA Tour victory – in his home state of Texas – almost 3 and 3/4 years after his last win and the week before The Masters, would be pretty cool. And with TPC San Antonio form of 10th (2014) and 2nd (2015), plus a trending game and undoubted growing confidence, I’m certainly buying into it. RESULT: Winner

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Charley Hoffman 1.5pts EW 30/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

The ‘horse for the course’ has to be Charley Hoffman and with a stronger field in play at the Valero, we get a stronger 30/1 price over and above the 18/1 we saw last week at the Corales Championship – and in essence he didn’t do too much wrong in the Dominican Republic. 10th after Round 1 and 7th going into Sunday, his bogey-quad finish was the only silver lining for me on a Sunday where Sepp Straka stole my soul, bogeying 3 of the last 5, costing me a sensible 40/1 each-way place payout. At least Charley guaranteed better odds for this week at a course and tournament he absolutely loves.

Hoffman has earned $3.727 million at the Valero Texas Open over the years, both at La Cantrera (pre 2010) and here at TPC San Antonio. 13th (2010), 4th (2011), 13th (2012), 3rd (2013), 11th (2014), 11th (2015), 1st (2016) and 2nd (2019) here on the Oaks Course is second to none. Tie that in with 2020 form which includes 14th at the Sony Open, 7th at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, 10th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and 17th at The Players Championship and it’s a pretty perfect storm.

Plus on a course where Strokes Gained Approach is vital, Charley has ranked 7th (Waialae), 9th (Riviera), 4th (Bay Hill) and 3rd (TPC Sawgrass) with his approach play so far in 2021. Take my 8-week Strokes Gained tracker, in this field Hoffman, ranks 3rd for Approach, 9th for Tee to Green and 8th for Current Form and if the irons took a slight backward step last week, the driver didn’t as the 44 year-old was 2nd for Driving Distance, 12th for Driving Accuracy, 2nd for Total Driving and 17th for Ball Striking. Undoubtedly the sort who could stamp a last-minute ticket to Augusta National this week. RESULT: 2nd

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Si Woo Kim 1pt EW 40/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Si Woo Kim is another primed to go well in Texas this week. He’s always been the sort who goes well on Bermudagrass greens and on courses where accuracy and excellent approach play are a pre-requisite. Wins therefore at Sedgefield (2016), TPC Sawgrass (2017) and this year at PGA West make lots of sense, with supporting top-5s at Waialae (2016), Riviera (3rd 2019), Harbour Town (2nd 2018) and El Camaleon (2017). 9th at The Players Championship, just 3 weeks ago, Si Woo ranked 2nd for Strokes Gained Approach, 9th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green and/or for those with traditional statistical brains he was 7th for Greens in Regulation.

His record here on the Oaks Course is also good. 22nd here in 2017 was his outing before winning The Players, and 2 years ago he finished 4th here behind Corey Conners. Si Woo shot -6/66 to lead after day 1 and was in the mix throughout in a Strokes Gained performance where he ranked 19th for Off the Tee, 9th for Approach, 16th for Around the Green and 4th for Tee to Green – he was also +2.33 Strokes Gained with the putter.

Already qualified for Augusta National next week, at 51st in the OWGR he could do with a good week to gather guaranteed exemptions across both the U.S. Open and Open Championship. Played ok at the WGC Dell World Matchplay despite a 0-2-1 record where he lost to Bryson DeChambeau, Antoine Rozner and was All-Square with Tommy Fleetwood, with the South Korean under-par across all 3 matches. RESULT: T23

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Harry Higgs 1pt EW 100/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Harry Higgs is a Dallas, Texas resident who attended the Southern Methodist University in Dallas and played for the SMU Mustangs, so he’s definitely au fait with golf in the Lone Star State.

An impressive iron-player, Higgs came close to landing a 110/1 winner for this column back at the Safeway Open in September, when he finished runner-up to an inspired Stewart Cink, and the hugely popular Social Media magnet is playing some great stuff again in the Spring of 2021. 29th at The Players Championship was followed by 19th last time out at the Honda Classic, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him being a factor this week at a course where accurate mid-to-long iron play is essential.

1st for Strokes Gained on Approach and 3rd for Tee to Green at PGA National, Harry in this field ranks 5th for Approach in my 8-week tracker and within the top 22 for Putting Average (Putts per GIR), so he’s been making a few putts. 9th at the Korn Ferry Tour’s 2019 Dormie Network Classic, played just down the road at the Briggs Ranch Golf Club, Higgs was also 19th after 36 holes at Colonial last year, eventually finishing a creditable 38th.

You may remember that tournament, as it featured a Major strength field, being the first PGA Tour event after the Covid-19 lockdown. Harry finished with a momentum building -2/68 at the Honda Classic last time out – tied-8th best Sunday score – and I think he’ll enjoy a Texas outing this week on the Oaks Course. RESULT: MC

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Graeme McDowell 0.5pt EW 160/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

7 of the past 8 winners of the Masters warm-up event were not qualified for the main event. Laird 100/1, Jones 125/1, Herman 400/1, Poulter 100/1, Conners 200/1 and Ortiz  160/1 were also all triple-digit prices, so Graeme McDowell makes a level of sense, especially after a confidence-boosting 4th place last week in the Dominican Republic.

10th for Total Accuracy (sum of Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation), 5th for Greens in Regulation, 12th for Ball Striking and 6th for Putting Average (Putts per GIR), if Strokes Gained equipment had been at Corales Golf Club, I’m sure Graeme would have featured very well across Approach, Tee to Green and Putting metrics.

Missing out on Augusta National will undoubtedly be a motivator for G-Mac who played every Masters renewal between 2009 and 2016, plus played there in November, and McDowell has played very nicely across previous visits to the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio. 3 pay cheques out of 3 visits includes 7th spot here the last time the PGA Tour visited in 2019, and that was the week after he won the Corales Championship title.

And this is the thing with McDowell, he’s a player who can still win on the main Tours. 2015 OHL Classic, 2019 Corales Championship and 2020 Saudi International titles show an ability to still close, and remember this is a Major winner who has 4 PGA Tour and 10 European Tour titles to his name. That’s a resume that few can match in this Valero Texas Open field and we know that the Northern Irishman is the kind, who when on his game, can hit his irons close and score well on tougher golf courses.

Disappointed after not getting the win last week in the Dominican Republic, McDowell’s comments post final round were both positive and revealing, “I have to focus on the bigger picture, which is I’m back playing the kind of golf I know I can play. I’m going to San Antonio next week with a chance to compete in the golf tournament, which is what I believe I’m capable of.” RESULT: T54

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 16:15BST 29.3.21 but naturally subject to fluctuation.