VALERO TEXAS OPEN: The PGA Tour returns to south Texas this week for one of the oldest events on the schedule, the Valero Texas Open, which was first staged nearly 100 years ago and has always been held in the greater San Antonio area. Being that it’s now the final tune-up before the Masters, much more than money is at stake for the vast majority of the field, as a victory here for someone not already exempt would punch one final ticket to the year’s first major. And given that only 23 Masters invitees are teeing it up this week, there’s a good chance we may see someone bask in the glow of an unexpected trip to Magnolia Lane.
First thing’s first, however: the sprawling Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio awaits the players, a Greg Norman design that measures nearly 7,500 yards and can be downright nasty when the wind blows, which it often does. The fairways aren’t overly narrow but the course usually plays firm, and it can be difficult to avoid the trees, bunkers, and native underbrush that line most every hole. The sticky Bermuda rough and the undulating, difficult-to-hold greens only complicate matters, and the scoring generally reflects the rugged layout, though 2019 was an exception, as rains softened things up quite a bit and the winner, Corey Conners, reached the 20-under mark for the first time since this tournament was moved to TPC San Antonio in 2010. With dry and breezy conditions forecasted for this week, we can expect the course to return to form and provide a stiff test.
This event was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, of course, but there are still plenty of players in the field with lots of experience at TPC San Antonio, foremost among them native Texan Jordan Spieth (15.0), who heads BETDAQ’s Win Market on account of his strong recent play and two top-10s in five career starts here. He is joined atop the market by the likes of Tony Finau (17.5), Scottie Scheffler (18.5), and Hideki Matsuyama (24.0), but the big names are scarce this week, so it may be wise to look for value a bit further down the board. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Ryan Palmer (33.0)- You never have to twist my arm too hard to back Palmer on Bermuda and especially in his home state of Texas, where he’s made an absolute killing over the course of his career. This tournament has long been one of his favorites, as he’s registered five top-15s here since 2010, when the event was moved to TPC San Antonio, and went T6/T4/T6 from 2015-2017. He’s been playing some of the best golf of his career this season, logging top-25 finishes in 7 of his last 10 starts, including three top-5s and a runner-up at the Farmers Insurance Open. He finished 17th at The Players and then won his group at the WGC-Match Play last week, so he’s just flowing right now, posting good scores nearly every time out. This is your quintessential “current form meets course history” pick– it just makes too much sense, and at better than 30/1 the price isn’t unreasonable. Palmer is a blue-chip option this week.
Chris Kirk (52.0)- Kirk’s re-emergence has been one of the great under-the-radar stories in the golf world this season, as he’s overcome some personal demons and professional struggles to once again compete at the sport’s highest level. He began 2021 with a runner-up finish at the Sony Open and has kept up the good play, finding the top-25 four times in his last six starts. But I’m sure he won’t feel like he’s fully “back” until he wins again– he notched four victories between 2011-2015, and with the way he’s been trending lately it feels like it’s only a matter of time until he gets No. 5. Considering he plays his best on Bermuda and has been particularly successful in this tournament, finishing 13th or better three times in his last five starts, including 8th-place showings in both 2015 and 2018, now feels like as good a time as any for his journey to come full circle. I’ll be rooting him, for more reasons than one.
Ryan Moore (100.0)- It’s taken Moore awhile to find his footing in 2021 after an extended break from competitive golf last winter, but his game showed signs of life at the AT&T Pebble Beach last month, where he broke par in 3 of 4 rounds and finished T26, and he showed continued progress at The Players a couple of weeks ago, rebounding from a poor opening round to shoot 6-under over the final three days and make himself a nice check. Now he comes to a place where his consistent ball-striking and comfort in windy conditions have served him well over the years– TPC San Antonio. Moore nearly always contends here, finding the top-10 in 3 of his last 4 appearances, including a T3 in 2019. “Horses for courses” is a real thing, and given Moore’s record in this event I’d give him a much better chance of success than his price would indicate. For our purposes, that’s enough.