Valero Texas Open
With the first major of the year fast approaching, the penultimate opportunity for PGA tour players to earn a place in the
Masters field comes at this week's Valero Texas Open - hosted at the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio.
As proven by last year's leaderboard, this is the type of event where backing big-price outsiders might just be the order of the day. The conundrum, of course, comes when trying to pick out which of the many big-price outsiders are likely to contend with each of the last three winners of this event coming here off the back of frankly poor current form.
At over 7,500 yards, the Oaks Course is a bit of a beast. However, at the same time, these aren't the most generous of fairways, so it's no great surprise to see a few excellent 'total drivers' on the roll of honour here in the shape of Adam Scott, Brendan Steele and Martin Laird.
As well as possessing a solid driving game, there's the usual Texan winds to contend with here, and with the course set up to provide something of a warm-up to the Masters, there are some tricky run-off areas around the greens which play into the hands of good Scramblers.
As referenced earlier - I see no great benefit in siding with the obvious 'form players' as this hasn't been a great predictor of success here in recent years. What may be more important however, is previous ability to grind out a sub-70 round here at TPC San Antonio. Although Steven Bowditch limped into a tie for 69th in the 2013 edition, he had opened with a pair of 69s which gave some indication he had right credentials to go well here. Martin Laird's previous visit to TPC San Antonio came two years before his win here - and he too shot a 69 on his way to a tie for 11th.
The first of my selections is a player who declared the Oaks Course as his favourite course on the PGA Tour in a recent Q&A on Twitter – Brendan Steele. Whilst this is no great surprise given it was the venue of his sole PGA tour win, the kind of confidence he'll bring with him to TPC San Antonio could be just what he needs to get him over the line once more. Steele has been playing some excellent golf this year, finishing runner-up in the Humana Challenge and recently posting a personal best tie for 10th in the Honda Classic, and you get the feeling his price would be shorter this week were it not for a final round 76 last week in Orlando having been not far from the frame for much of the event.
Scott Piercy is an interesting player in that, despite conforming to 'bomber' standards from a stats point of view, he knows how to get around courses where accuracy counts too as proven by his runner-up showing in this year's Sony Open. Although Piercy hasn't excelled in his last few starts, he's a player who can turn it on without warning, and I was surprised to see a triple-figure price about a two-time PGA tour winner who boasts rounds of 64 and 65 on recent visits to TPC San Antonio.Scott Piercy - 1pt e/w @ 125/1
Amongst the players in this week’s field who are yet to get over the line, Kevin Chappell surely ranks amongst the best, and the very fact he has a pair of US Open top-10s to his name tells us what we need to know – he doesn’t mind a tough test. The 28-year-old has finished runner-up in this event (back in 2011) and shot rounds of 69 and 68 on his way to a tie for 15th in his penultimate visit. What I really like about Chappell is that he’s an excellent driver of the ball – currently ranking 14th on tour in Total Driving, and he looks a tasty each-way proposition here.Kevin Chappell - 1pt e/w @ 150/1
Having struggled to find consistency over the last few seasons, Geoff Ogilvy has become a tricky player to predict of late. However, he picked up his eighth PGA tour title towards the back end of last season over in Reno and notched a runner-up finish in the Deutsche Bank Championship a few weeks later. 2015 hasn’t been too kind to the 37-year-old as yet, but he can take encouragement from the successes of two of his fellow Aussies (Adam Scott and defending champion Steven Bowditch) here at TPC San Antonio. Ogilvy notched a tie for 11th here 12 months ago off the back of a pair of missed cuts, so with marginally improved (albeit not scintillating) form heading into this week’s event, he’s worth a bet at big odds this week.Geoff Ogilvy - 1pt e/w @ 150/1
At an even bigger price, Andres Gonzales might just be worth a second glance this week. The 31-year-old has been yo-yoing between the PGA tour and web.com tour over the past few years, but this time around he looks more comfortable in the upper echelons, notching a tie for 3rd in the OHL Classic on another Greg Norman design and bagging a top-10 finish at Pebble Beach last month. Gonzales has plenty of distance off the tee, and his approach play has been in solid shape of late too – currently ranking 21st on tour in GIR.Andres Gonzales - 1pt e/w @ 300/1