The Valero Texas Open is the last chance saloon for any players not qualified for next week’s US Masters, and all but 17 players in the field are currently set to miss out on the first major of the season unless they win here.
This is a new spot for the Valero Texas Open, which has preceded the Masters in the PGA Tour schedule before but not since 2013. However, it will be doing for at least the next ten-years. Because of that, it will be interesting to see whether the course is set up to resemble Augusta in any way to encourage the top players to play here to get used to Augusta-like conditions. But as only two of the top-15 players in the world this week are playing, there’s a good chance it won’t be.
This week’s venue is the Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio and this 7,400+ yards par 72 normally test all departments of a player’s game. The tall oaks trees after which the course is named can certainly gobble up wayward drives, but the can also spit them back out if you’re lucky.
The greens aren’t the easiest to hit either and a razor-sharp short game and a hot putter have been a big help here in past renewals.
It’s easy to see why Rickie Fowler is the bookies’ favourite this week, but he’ll probably want to save plenty of energy for next week and may not want to put himself into the full heat of the battle. That may also be the case for Matt Kuchar and Tony Finau who will both be hoping for a big showing next week.
However, it’s amazing to think that Jordan Spieth is 20/1 and bigger in places this week, as it’s not long since he was sent off the 8/1 favourite at Augusta. The reason is his putting is no longer as brilliant as it was but, if he’s ever going to be motivated to find his form in a week before a big tournament, it will be the week before his beloved US Masters. He was also tenth here in 2014 and second in 2015 so he has the course form in the bag to go well.
The resurgent Jim Furyk could be another to make a bold bid this week after returning to something like his best in his last few events. It’s also interesting that he was third here in 2013, which was the last time this tournament filled the pre-Masters slot in the schedule.
Lots of things may have changed in the last six-years, but it could also be worth chancing a couple of outsiders that also played well here in 2013. The winner that week was Martin Laird and the Scotsman was also ninth in 2011 and has finished top-20 in each of the last two-years. Admittedly, he arrives here out of form but he could easily find something this week at a place where he has happy memories.
Padraig Harrington was also tenth that week and this is a course where his excellent putting and chipping him skills should always give him a chance. He should also be massively motivated to do well after seeing his fellow Irishman Graeme McDowell bounce back to form with a win in the Dominican Republic last week.
We’ll finish this week’s selections with another former European Ryder Cup player, Luke Donald, who is hoping to bounce back to his best this season after recovering from injury. He proved again two-weeks ago that he plays well at courses that require an array of short game skills, and his thirteenth in 2016 here suggests he could again feature in a weak field.