VALERO TEXAS OPEN: The PGA Tour heads to south Texas this week for an event that doubles as the final chance for players who aren’t already qualified to earn a trip to Augusta National for next week’s Masters.
Of course, the Valero Texas Open is much more than that– it’s a tournament that has been around in some form for nearly 100 years, with a list of past champions that includes names like Walter Hagen, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, and Tom Watson. These days the fields aren’t quite as prestigious, which is mostly due to the event being scheduled the week before the year’s first major, but that unique position does give the back nine on Sunday a bit more juice, especially if the players who are in contention haven’t already qualified for the Masters. Win this week and you’re in.
The Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio has played host to this tournament since it was opened in 2010, so most of the guys in the field will have good familiarity with the place. Designed by PGA Tour Enemy No. 1 Greg Norman, it’s a rugged track that measures nearly 7,500 yards and has trees and native underbrush lining almost every hole. It almost always plays firm and fast, so you don’t have to bomb it off the tee to contend, and things can get really difficult when the wind blows, as it often does. The sticky Bermuda rough and the undulating, difficult-to-hold greens only complicate matters, and scoring is generally a challenge here, as the 20-under mark has only been reached once in the past decade and the cut usually hovers around even par.
The field this week is dotted with players who will be teeing it up at Augusta, but most who have already qualified are sitting this one out in preparation. That said, Tyrell Hatton (15.5) apparently feels like a week in the fire is the best way to prepare, as do Si Woo Kim (23.0), Hideki Matsuyama (27.0), and Corey Conners (29.0). Those are the names atop BETDAQ’s Win Market, along with one Rickie Fowler (21.0), who doesn’t have his ticket to Magnolia Lane punched quite yet but has been in fine form and may just be able to give it a run this week. That said, his price is a bit short for my liking… I’ll ride with these three instead:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Si Woo Kim (23.0)- Kim has quietly been one of the best players on Tour in 2023, following up his win at the Sony Open in January with top-25s in his next three starts, a T27 at the Players Championship, and a solid performance at the Match Play last week, where he won 2 of his 3 matches and narrowly missed advancing beyond the group stage. Nobody should be surprised that he’s playing this week when so many others aren’t– after all, he plays here every year, and this tournament has been a boon to his bank account, as he’s found the top-25 here in 4 of his past 5 appearances, including a T4 in 2019 and a T13 last year. But I’m sure he’s not coming here to simply collect checks– this is someone who has 4 PGA Tour victories, and all things considered, this seems like a good spot for his fifth. I’m happy to hop aboard at better than 20/1.
Brendon Todd (58.0)- Length off the tee has always been the one thing that Todd’s game is sorely lacking, but that’s alright at TPC San Antonio, where the firm fairways make things play much shorter than they appear on the scorecard. Given that reality and the fact that the course is tee-to-green Bermuda, Todd’s best surface, it should come as no surprise that he has a history of success here that includes two top-10s in his past five appearances, including a T8 last year. And he’s been swinging it particularly well this season, ranking 4th on Tour in driving accuracy and 20th in proximity on approach– a pretty deadly combination. Considering his putter is the best club in his bag, Todd should be able to contend for victories swinging the way he is now, and he did finish runner-up at Pebble Beach just five starts ago. He’s been steady since then, finishing T27 in the Players in his last start, so he seems perfectly set up for a big week at a course he likes. He’s a great value at a price like 58.0.
Michael Thompson (82.0)- Like Todd, Thompson does not hit the ball very far off the tee and therefore has a tough time competing certain weeks. This is not one of those weeks, however, and Thompson has a nice history at TPC San Antonio, making the cut in 4 of 5 career appearances at this tournament, with a high finish of 16th. He’s another guy who does his best work on Bermuda grass, and in his last start, on another tight, Bermuda-covered course, he finished T19 at the Valspar, rallying back after an opening-round 74. That would seem to indicate that his game is in a pretty good place, and this is the type of week where a player like Thompson can (and needs to) shine. He’s certainly a longshot at a price like 82.0, but he’s a live one. Don’t be surprised if Thompson makes some noise this week.