Let’s head to the hill country and the Oaks course at TPC San Antonio for the Valero Texas Open as we all wait patiently for Augusta.
The par-72, 7,495-yard layout is a Greg Norman design with a recent assist from Sergio Garcia and presents some of the most difficult greens to hit in regulation on the PGA Tour – roughly 58 percent compared to the Tour average of 65.5
Gaining shots off the tee is imperative on a course where the rough isn’t penal but the trees and scrubby underbrush can be fatal. A little loose is permitted this week. Wild tee balls could lead to some ugly numbers. They occur at a high rate here despite there only being three water hazards to navigate.
The par-5s are difficult and three of the four are rarely reachable. Top finishers have taken advantage of them in the past, though. That’s important because the three monstrous par-3s play about a tenth of a shot over par.
Strong driving, reliable approach play and the ability to navigate the wind figured heavily in the model this week. We’ve seen some wild results in this tournament in recent years. Anything is possible on the leaderboard come Sunday. But a man with above average distance off the tee and solid iron play will prevail.
As always, good luck.
Hayden Buckley, Joseph Bramlett, Cameron Champ, Danny Lee, Ben Martin, Aaron Rai, Austin Smotherman, J.J. Spaun, Hudson Swafford, Nick Watney.
25. Tony Finau – Making his long awaited return to the Rankings. Hasn’t cracked the top 10 since he won the Northern Trust last August and short game and putting are the culprit. Tied for third in 2017.
24. Anirban Lahiri – Was in the wilderness prior to his runner-up finish at the Players but found something in his iron game that week, gaining 4.2 shots on approach. Has consistently gained shots off the tee over the last month as well (seventh in field over the last 50 rounds).
23. Hideki Matsuyama – Searching for reps in advance of his title defense as he recovers from a lingering back injury that forced him to WD from the Players. Lost 3.2 shots OTT in a T-30 here a year ago. Top 10 in field in opportunities gained, SG: APP and par-5 scoring. Would be higher if not for uncertainty about his health.
22. Nick Taylor – Been on a nice run in the 2021-22 season, making nine of the last 10 cuts and ranks top 25 in the field in bogey avoidance, scrambling and par-4 scoring. Made this cut three of the last four years.
21. Patton Kizzire – He’s made seven of eight cuts in 2022 and gained strokes on approach in five consecutive starts. The driver is always the question mark for Kizzire, but a T-9 in last year’s Valero is also encouraging.
20. Keegan Bradley – A good time of the year for Bradley, who can handle fierce wind and stout ballstriking examinations. Ranks second in the field in SG: Approach and Opportunities Gained while ranking 13th in SG: OTT.
19. K.H. Lee – He won in Texas a year ago and has a solid track record on TPC courses. Has made 11 consecutive cuts although his iron play has prohibited high finishes. Longshots have fared well here in the past and his strong driving (11th in SG: OTT) should create scoring chances.
18. Alex Smalley – Iron play has been streaky over the last month but heated up last week to fuel a second-place finish in Puntacana and nudge him toward a berth in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Love how he consistently gains strokes with the two most important clubs – driver and putter. Also excels on par 3s measuring 200-225 yards.
17. Russell Knox – Enjoying a fruitful partnership with veteran caddie Matt Hauser. The duo has played the weekend in eight of nine tournaments, including a T-6 at the Players. A good wind player with stout Tee-to-Green numbers, leading the field in GIRs over the last 50 rounds.
16. CT Pan – Consistently gains shots on approach and around the greens. Top 20 in the field in scoring on 200-225 yard par-3s and finding fairways. Better than average scrambling and short putting is also an asset at TPC San Antonio.
15. Jordan Spieth – Besides a runner-up at his home away from home, Pebble Beach, Spieth has struggled in 2022. But he is the defending champion and a trusted observer who watched him closely last week in Austin believes his game is closer to form than the stats might indicate.
14. Adam Hadwin – The 34-year-old Moose Jaw native has been grooving with his irons since the Tour hit lounge lizard land in Palm Springs. He gained at least three shots on approach in four of the last five events and the pinpoint iron play produced consecutive top-10s at Players and Valspar. Top 10 in Good Drives, GIRs and scrambling over the last 50 rounds.
13. Abraham Ancer – Rather lackluster 2022 until last week when Ancer advanced out of group play in the WGC-Match Play. Each aspect of his game has been sharp at different times in recent weeks. Just needs to put it all together for four rounds. Made the cut in all four Valero starts with a best finish of T-23.
12. Kramer Hickok – Feels like he’s settling in as a PGA Tour member. Solid showing at the Players, T-13 last week in Puntacana and 14th in scoring on 200-225 yard par-3s. Also a good mixture of driving, green hitting and scrambling should meet the demands of this Greg Norman layout.
11. Kevin Streelman – Should be in good spirits because his Duke Blue Devils are participating in the college basketball Final Four, he’s landed in the top 25 in three of the last four starts and the site of TPC San Antonio, where he’s finished top 10 in his last two trips.
10. Jhonnatan Vegas – Ranks fifth in the field in GIRs and almost as good at creating opportunities with his approach shots. Riding momentum from a fourth place finish in Puntacana. Gained five shots on approach the previous week at Valspar.
9. Chris Kirk – Certain to be a quick click for many fantasy players this week. Attractive combo of current form (three top 15s in last four starts) and course history (three top 15s sandwiched around two MCs in the last five years). Positive SG: OTT in his last eight starts and always sharp around the greens.
8. Davis Riley – Easy to back the native Texan, coming off a playoff loss at Valspar and returning to a course where he won in 2020 on the Korn Ferry Tour. Take advantage of his low price while you can, because his silky swing indicates the discount won’t last. Top 25 in par-4 scoring and GIRs.
7. Luke List – Of all the charter members of “Team No Putt,” not many can putt worse than List (he lost 15 shots on the greens in the last three tournaments. 15!). Still, a mediocre week with the wand can produce a large pile of fantasy points. Mixed results here in the past – two top-30s and three MCs in last five years – but, with one exception, has bettered the field average OTT, ARG and on APP in each of his last seven starts.
6. Gary Woodland – Has he finally regained peak form? A pair of recent top 5s are encouraging as is electric iron play (4.2 SG: APP at Valspar). The driver is the question mark but he’s shown signs of improvement off the tee as well. T-6 in last year’s Valero.
5. Rory McIlroy – For the first time in eight years, McIlroy elects to play the week before the Masters, hoping to find the form necessary to complete the career Grand Slam. Finished runner-up in only Valero appearance in 2013. Gained at least 2.8 shots approach and 3.1 shots OTT at Bay Hill and Players.
4. Corey Conners – Went from Monday qualifier to Masters invitee in one week here in 2019 and hasn’t looked back, cementing his position as one of the best young golfers in the world. Advanced to the WGC-Match Play semifinals in Austin last week, then defeated disinterested DJ in the consolation match. Ranks second in GIRs and SG: OTT.
3. Sahith Theegala – Has all the tools to become a star on the PGA Tour and although he settled for third at the Waste Management Open, he handled himself like a champion under the weekend heat. Has kept the good play rolling since with a T-7 two weeks ago at the
2. Mito Pereira – Premature expectations defined the Florida swing for the young Chilean; perhaps the Lone Star State is where he stakes his claim. Ballstriking is trending upward over the last three events and thrives in the wind. Leads the field in bogey avoidance over the last 50 rounds and is second in par-4 scoring – thriving on those measuring 400-500 yards.
1. Maverick McNealy – He’s fifth in the field in par-5 scoring and top 20 in SG: OTT and GIRs gained over the last 50 rounds. Also an excellent short putter on a course where those testers in the 0-5 foot range are holed at a rate below the Tour average. In general, McNealy is poised to break through and become a PGA Tour winner and his chances are better in a field that includes only five of the top 20 in the world. Needs a victory to play in the invitational in Georgia next week also.