Leaving the East Coast, it's time to head back to the Lone Star State for this week's Valero Texas Open.
After a limited-field event last week at Harbour Town, we'll see a full field of 156 golfers assemble this week in San Antonio.
TPC San Antonio's AT&T Oaks Course is the host this week. It's a Greg Norman design that exceeds 7,400 yards, playing at a par of 72.
As the course name suggests, there are plenty of Oak trees on the property, lining the fairways to provide a difficult test of golf, especially off the tee. Other than the trees, there is also plenty of native area (rocks, bushes, etc.) to punish errant tee shots. Part of the benefit of course knowledge here is knowing when to take your medicine and when to attempt a recovery shot.
Unlike some of the recent Florida courses, water is not a big issue here (in play on Holes No. 3 and 18). Perhaps that's why we've seen noted water magnets like Ryan Palmer and Brooks Koepka have success here. That is also good for Sergio Garcia who headlines the field this week, and also took a part in the course design, acting as a player consultant.
Looking at next year's schedule, this event will take over the role of the Houston Open as the lead-in event to Augusta National. It doesn't seem like an ideal warmup at first glance with all the native area and tight driving windows but Augusta National already shows up on the Correlated Courses section below and could become even more correlated if they decide to make any changes to the course setup. It won't be entirely new for them, either, as they also had that spot on the schedule back in 2013.
The current connection with Augusta National is likely due to the edge that big hitters have. There is a big advantage to distance off the tee this week at TPC San Antonio. Running through on a hole-by-hole basis there are only a few holes where belting it 300+ is not a big advantage. Even if you spray a few drives throughout the week and need to take some penalties, you are still at a big advantage to pull drivers and smack it as far as possible. Just don't pull a Kevin Na and try to (continually) smack it out of the native area.
From a difficulty perspective, this is one of the toughest non-majors. A big part of that is the difficulty of the par 5s. None of them are easily reachable. Only the longest of hitters will reach them and that is often dependent on the wind situation for the day. Despite have the standard four-pack of par 5s, this event ranks 6th lowest in terms of eagle rate. It's also 6th-lowest when it comes to birdie rate since 2014. If you are playing DFS this week, finishing points will be even more important because you won't rack up many birdies and eagles, compared to a normal week on TOUR.
For grasses this week, golfers will see bermuda overseeded with rye and fescue from tee-to-green while the putting surfaces will be Champions Bermuda that has been overseeded with velvet bent and poa trivialis. We are at that time of the year where the bermuda could be coming back to dominance but it's really dependent on the weather. I will keep my eyes peeled for any surface reports but otherwise, I won't put much stock into grass splits this week.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the courses to see how they will play...
Charley Hoffman: "You tend to see guys make a big number trying to pull off miracle shot and I think I played here enough to know if I get in a bad spot, take an unplayable, don’t try to pull off the miracle shot. Something that’s going to happen to everybody."
Martin Laird: "This course sets up nice for me. Lot of the tee shots that I feel comfortable with. I like to move the ball left to right and there seems to be a number of tee shots out here if you can cut it it helps."
Curtis Luck: "It’s an interesting golf course. It’s very different to the courses I’ve been playing recently. It’s quite Australian in a sense, it plays firm and fast and I know it’s notoriously windy..."
Jim Furyk: "It’s a severe golf course. It’s a lot of fun when it’s calm. The problem is it’s never calm, so it’s grueling. The falloffs and some of the run-offs on the greens, I know some of them have been fixed, but it’s a tough, grueling golf course in this kind of weather, and we played in it for four days."
Jimmy Walker: "Yeah, it’s a bummer when the field gets split like that in the morning and afternoon wave. It happens to all of us. It happens quite a bit in the spring. It’s just springtime. We all know that.
I’ve gotten my fair shares of good draws and fair share of bad. But it worked out this week. We got on the right side of it. And played well. You wanted to take advantage of the break you were given yesterday afternoon, so we tried to."
Overview: The theme this week with WIND, LENGTH, and COURSE CONDITIONS. This course is designed to play in firm and fast conditions which helps some of the shorter hitters keep up with the big boys. As Walker mentioned above, this is an event where one side of the draw that gain a huge edge, depending on their THUR/FRI tee time draw. Keep a close eye on weather this week. Looking at past pressers, this is an event where WIND gets asked about maybe more than any other event.
Looking at over- and under-performance of individual golfers, these five events show up as potential pointers:
TPC Four Seasons
Aesthetically, none of these are going to be a great match on paper. However, you can gain a nice edge with distance off the tee at all of these courses/events. That seems to be the common trend and would help explain why these five events popped up when looking for over- and under-performers at the Valero.
This is a week where keeping an eye on the wind forecast could pay dividends. As I type this, the wind is sitting around 15 MPH with gusts exceeding 20 MPH. It looks like that will be a common theme all week.
Thursday: Partly sunny with a high near 79. East northeast wind at 10-to-15 MPH with gusts at 20 MPH or greater.
Friday: Small chance of showers. High near 79 degrees. East northeast wind at 10-to-15 MPH with gusts at 20 MPH or greater.
Weekend: More of the same with temperatures in the mid to upper 70s and steady winds. Saturday brings a chance of storms but that is a long way out to be trusting right now. Let's revisit that on Wednesday.
Players to Watch
He already has the Texas Slam so we know he thrives in these conditions. The Aussie is doing everything but putt well (as usual). This will be his first appearance here since 2011 but his two visits have yielded a WIN and a T23. You may not trust the flat stick, but I'll take my chances as he returns to a course where he's already won. There isn't a clear-cut favorite this week, in my eyes, but Scott is certainly one of my top targets.
He was a player consultant for the Oaks Course but he's played this event just once (T45 in 2010). Given his elite tee-to-green game, he should be a natural fit. The (near) lack of water should help him forget about all that water at Augusta National to clear his mind before taking on a water-heavy TPC Sawgrass in three weeks.
After a slow start to the year he's back on my radar with three straight top 30s. He's a perfect 6-for-6 here at TPC San Antonio with a trio of top 15s. His lack of length is a concern if you are just looking for a winner, but I think another top 15 can't be ruled out. You're paying for consistency here.
The defending champ enters on the heels of back-to-back missed cuts. The safe move is to stay away but at the same time he's proven his love for the Oaks Course. He was the 36-hole co-leader back in 2011 and finished the job last year, converting on a solo 54-hole lead. Chappy also back-doored a top 5 during the 2016 edition. High risk, high reward here.
Speaking of risk, Champ provides some upside this week and he'll likely be off the radar for most gamers. The Texas A&M product doesn't have TOUR status but if he earns his card he'll instantly rise to the top of the "longest on TOUR" lists. That distance should come in handy this week at TPC San Antonio. He's a long shot, but a lively one.
Sticking with the long shots, Niemann is making his pro debut this week. Holding the title of World No. 1 amateur before making this move, Niemann is not short on talent. The data is really thin but early results suggest that driving is the best part of his game. It's time for him to put up or shut up now that he's playing for a paycheck. I think this is a great course to get his career started.
Playing with extreme confidence, List has been inside the top 40 after 30 of his last 32 rounds. As for this event, he is 2-for-3 with nothing better than a T29. On the bright side, he opened with a 68 last year to sit in a share of sixth place. A 6-over 78 rocketed him down the leaderboard to miss the cut. Knowing that go-low round is there at TPC San Antonio is encouraging. Given his current form, he should be one of the more popular options in all formats this week.
He's a past champ here and just flashed some form last week at a course where he's typically struggled. That T32 doesn't look great at Harbour Town but he was T6-T13-T12 after the first three rounds. Could be worth a flyer this week.
Hasn't gained a lot of popularity yet but I'm not sure if that will change after his near-miss against Ian Poulter in Houston and a top 20 to follow it up at the RBC Heritage. This University of Texas standout has that GO-LOW switch in his repertoire. Over his last five starts he's posted better accuracy numbers than the field while also hitting it farther than the field average. That's a sound recipe for success on any course. It's his flat stick that he leans on heavily, though. His ball-striking isn't consistent by TOUR standards, yet, but he is already establishing himself as one of the best putters on TOUR.
His results have been trending well over the last few months. He's still struggling with piecing together four good rounds in one week, but that may be a product of his continued battle with Lyme Disease. He has some "good days" and some "bad days". That makes him an ideal candidate for gamers that are trying their hand at the one-round fantasy games on DFS sites.
Ranking the Field
1. Adam Scott
2. Sergio Garcia
3. Luke List
4. Charley Hoffman
5. Matt Kuchar
6. Brendan Steele
7. Pat Perez
8. J.B. Holmes
9. Jamie Lovemark
10. Ryan Moore
11. Zach Johnson
12. Kevin Chappell
13. Xander Schauffele
14. Brandt Snedeker
15. Keegan Bradley
16. Beau Hossler
17. Martin Laird
18. Bill Haas
19. Chris Kirk
20. Jimmy Walker
21. Kevin Streelman
22. Aaron Wise
23. Nick Watney
24. Scott Piercy
25. Trey Mullinax
The Euro Tour is back in action this week, head over to Dave Tindall's Trophee Hassan II Preview. Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our Expert Picks and then on Wednesday I will return for some last-minute DFS tips in the DFS Dish.