VALERO TEXAS OPEN: While much of the golf world is focused on Tiger’s private jet as it travels to and from North Georgia and buzzing over what that might mean, there’s still some business to attend to in South Texas, where a stronger than expected field will conduct their Masters preparation (or vie for the last invite) at a course designed by the PGA Tour’s current No. 1 enemy, Greg Norman.
Norman built the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio in 2010 and this will be the 12th consecutive year that it has hosted this tournament, so the majority of the field will be familiar with the layout. A rugged track that measures nearly 7,500 yards and has trees and native underbrush lining almost every hole, the Oaks generally plays firm and fast, and it can get downright nasty when the wind blows, as it often does. The sticky Bermuda rough and the undulating, difficult-to-hold greens only complicate matters, and the scoring generally reflects the rugged layout, as the 20-under mark has only been reached once since this tournament moved to TPC San Antonio in 2010 (Corey Conners, 2019).
Jordan Spieth is your defending champion but his win was an odd one in that he didn’t hit his irons particularly well, ranking in the middle of the field in GIR and SG: Approach stats, but was an absolute master on and around the greens. In years past this tournament has generally been won by steady ball-striking types who rank at or near the top of the “on approach” stats that particular week– players who can flight their irons properly to deal with the gusting winds and firm, plateaued greens. As mentioned at the top, the field this week is a bit stronger than we usually see at this event, and it will be interesting to see whether players like McIlroy, DeChambeau, and Matsuyama are prepared to handle the unique challenges that the Oaks Course presents. If the wind picks up, craftiness and precision with the irons will be required.
With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Gary Woodland (24.0)- A troublesome stretch that included 5 missed cuts in 7 starts is now well behind Woodland, as he’s come roaring back with a pair of top-5s and a T21 in his last four starts. His sudden return to form has coincided with the Tour’s run of Bermudagrass courses, and we’ve got another one on tap this week so Woodland should be right in his comfort zone. He certainly looked plenty comfortable at the Oaks Course last year, shooting 67-69 over the weekend to tie for 6th, his second-best finish of the ’20-’21 season. While it’s been awhile since he tasted victory, Woodland does have four career wins and has danced around number five quite a bit this past month, and given what we saw out of him in this event last year you’d have to think that he has loads of confidence heading into this week. I’m happy to take a chance on him at a price like 24.0.
Davis Riley (47.0)- Riley is fresh off a near-miss at the Valspar, where a third-round 62 propelled him to a playoff that he would eventually lose to Sam Burns. It was the second top-10 of the season for the young Texan, and he now heads to his home state in search of his first career PGA Tour victory. It would not, however, be his first victory at TPC San Antonio– back in 2020, when the Valero Texas Open was cancelled due to the pandemic, the Korn Ferry Tour hosted an event at the Oaks Course that was won by Riley, who fired a Sunday 67 to finish 16-under for the week. Given that history and his spectacular play last time out, it’s easy to see why Riley is a popular play this week at nearly 50/1.
Anirban Lahiri (84.0)- Lahiri nearly shocked the world at TPC Sawgrass a couple of weeks ago, playing brilliantly in the Sunday pressure-cooker and finishing runner-up to Cameron Smith. There would’ve been a playoff had Smith not gotten up-and-down from 57 yards after hitting his second shot in the water on the 72nd hole, but I wouldn’t cry too many tears for Lahiri, as the $2.18 million he earned was easily the biggest payday of his career. After resting (and counting his money) he now returns to action at a place where he’s had success over the years, TPC San Antonio. Lahiri has made the cut in this event in all three of his appearances and he played really well last year, breaking par in all four rounds and finishing solo 5th. Greatness often comes in spurts for professional golfers, and Lahiri following up a tremendous week at The Players with an even better result this week certainly isn’t out of the question, especially when you consider his history at the Oaks Course. He’s absolutely worth a bet at better than 80/1.