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Tom Jacobs is back for another First Round Leader article, as he looks at what score it takes to post a number on day one, here at the Valero Texas Open and who may be able to achieve it.

Valero Texas Open First Round Leader Picks and Predictions: Back Corey Conners for a Hot Start

In terms of a winner after four rounds, there’s maybe more to consider when it comes to fatigue prevention, working on something specific for the Masters over the weekend, and more. When it comes to the First Round Leader market, a lot more are in play, as all will be looking for a fast start, to get their very best round in, to start the week competitively.

Valero Texas Open First Round Leader Strategy

In terms of AM/PM splits, it is split perfectly in half in terms of which wave the First Round Leader has come from since 2010.

There have been five players that have led coming from the AM group, five from the PM group, and one year there was one from each wave, which suggests the changeable Texas weather can have an impact on this market.

The weather, including any gusts, looks fairly consistent for now on Thursday, with a pleasant enough day in-store. There is an Eastern wind at 13 MPH in the morning, with 27 MPH gusts, whilst in the afternoon it is a 13 MPH, South-Eastern wind, with 28 MPH gusts forecast. Given the history of the first-round leaders in this event, and how they are split across the tee times, I see no reason at the time of writing to target a wave based on weather. Normally I’d target the morning wave in this case as early starters historically so well, but I am happy to split the group at this event.

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Here are all first-round leaders at the Valero Texas Open since moving to TPC San Antonio (2010)

AM/PM waves were shown only this week.

2021 - Camilo Villegas (PM) - 64

2019 - Si Woo Kim (AM) - 66

2018 - Grayson Murray (AM) - 67

2017 - Branden Grace (AM) - 66

2016 - Brendan Steele (PM) - 64

2015 - Charley Hoffman (PM) - 67

2014 - Andrew Loupe (PM) - 67

2013 - Matt Betterncourt (PM) & Peter Tomasulo (PM) - 67

2012 - Matt Every (AM) - 63

2011 - Stewart Cink (AM) & JJ Henry (PM) - 67

2010 - Matt Jones (AM) - 66

What Score Is Required To Lead After Round 1?

Over the past 11 years, the average leading score has worked out to be 65.81. This would suggest 66 would be enough on Thursday, as does the eight times the leading score has either been 66 or 67. With two of the last five leading scores here on Thursday being 64 though, I think rounding down to 65 to get the target score is the right move.

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The Valero Texas Open Favorites Odds

Rory McIlroy +2200 (Bet $100 to Win $2200)

Rory McIlroy is synonymous with fast starts and in his only start here, back in 2013, he shot 67 and 66 that week when finishing 2nd, but they came in rounds 2 and 4.

Rory started slow last time at the PLAYERS, but he cashed for us in this article at Bay Hill where he opened with a 65, and he’s otherwise lightly run this season.

He’s led or co-led on Thursday 31 times in his career and been within two of the first-round lead a total of 64 times.

McIlroy is always dangerous in this market, and with Augusta on his mind, he may just come out firing on day one.

Jordan Spieth +2800 (Bet $100 to Win $2800)

14 times in his career, Jordan Spieth has led or co-led after day one, with the two most recent occasions coming in May last year, at the Charles Schwab and Byron Nelson, both of which are in Texas.

35 times in total he’s been within two of the lead after day one, and while you have to go back to the Open Championship last year for the most recent time, he now returns to his home state of Texas where we know he loves to play.

In his first few visits here, even when 10th and 2nd his weeks were built on consistently solid rounds, rather than particularly low ones, but in 2019 he opened with a pair of 68’s to sit 6th after round 1 and 2nd after round 2, and last year he opened with a 67 to sit 4th and shot 67-66 over the weekend to seal victory.

If you want a way to back Spieth here, this might be it. He’s currently 29th in Round 1 Scoring Average this season. Spieth is one to keep an eye on when wagering on the first major of the season at Agusta.

Corey Conners +3500 (Bet $100 to Win $3500)

Conners is my first selection this week, so more on him below.

Hideki Matsuyama +3500 (Bet $100 to Win $3500)

Hideki currently sits 11th this season in Round 1 Scoring Average, averaging 68.40 on opening day, in his 10 starts so far.

Matsuyma opened with a 65 at the Shriners to sit four back and T10 on day one, and he followed that with a 66 at the CJ Cup and a 64 at the ZOZO in his next two starts.

Since the calendar flipped, he’s opened with rounds of 69 (Sentry), 66 (Sony), 72 (Torrey), 68 (Phoenix), 72 (Riviera), and 73 (Bay Hill). His last three starts have come on tough courses and he’s been battling injury, so it’s hard to know how he’ll come out this week.

Matsuyma has been within two of the first-round lead 27 times in his career, which includes 7 leads/co-leads.

Matsuyama opened with a 67 here last year on his debut, to sit 4th after day one, and if you get an inkling he’s fit, he’s worthy of consideration in this market, given his price.

Abraham Ancer +4000 (Bet $100 to Win $4000)

Ancer has held four first-round leads in his career, three of which have come on the PGA Tour, most recently at the 2020 Tour Championship which he shared with a 64. He’s never held an outright lead on his own, sharing all his Thursday leads.

In total, he’s been within two of the lead 19 times in his career, with his opening 68 at the PLAYERS two starts ago, one of those.

Ancer opened with a 67 to sit 2nd here in 2019, however, that is his standout round at this golf course, shooting in the 60s just two more times in four total times, and both were 69s.

Ancer is currently 26th in Round 1 Scoring Average this season, with an opening-day average of 68.90, but aside from his 66 at the Hero World Challenge and his effort on a tough scoring day at Sawgrass, it’s been average.

If you believe in his winning chances, I would back him in this market as well, given his ability to start fast historically, but I couldn’t get there in either market.

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Valero Texas Open First Round Leader Picks

Corey Conners +3500 (Bet $100 to Win $3500)

In his career, Conners has been within two of the first-round lead nine times but has converted four of those into leads/co-leads. Two of those recent leads have come at the PGA Championship and Arnold Palmer last year, so he seems to find himself at the top of strong leaderboards on Thursday.

The year he won here, he opened with a 69 but went on to shoot 67-66-66, and last year he shot a third-round 67, which shows his prowess in scoring here.

He’s T65 in Round 1 Scoring Average this season, averaging a little under 70, but he opened and closed with rounds of 64 at the Sony at the start of the year, opened with a 62 at the RSM back in November, a 66 at the Shriners and a 67 at the Sanderson. It has only been in recent months that he’s failed to hit those low numbers, and that’s the tougher nature of the events he's been playing.

He has a lot of momentum coming into the week, after finishing 3rd at the Match Play, and on a course, he knows and plays well, he looks decent value in this market, if you wanted extra juice on his outright odds.

Patton Kizzire +6600 (Bet $100 to Win $6600)

Patton Kizzire was one of my outright selections this week and he’s been a recent pick for me in this market, and I’ll chance him again.

He played here for the first time 12 months ago and shot a final round 65 to climb into the top-10, and hopefully, he can shoot this number on Thursday instead.

Twice already this year he’s been within two of the first-round lead, at the Sony Open and the PLAYERS, and I think he can do it again in Texas.

Kizzire ranks 8th in Round 1 Scoring Average and he can improve on that this week, with another low round.

Brendan Steele +8000 (Bet $100 to Win $8000)

I have bet Steele outright this week and I am going to double down on him here given his history.

He led with an opening 64 here in 2016 and was actually on track for a course-record score, but a weather delay took him off the course when he was -8 thru 14. Steele was also within two of the first-round lead in 2011 when he won, and that’s just one of 33 times in total he’s been within two of the opening day target.

It’s been a while, with his last four occasions being within two coming back in 2020, but he’s playing some good golf of late and has that history here that makes me like chances.

Historically when in form, he can go low on Thursday, and with a 66 possibly good enough to lead, his current tee-to-green might just be enough to get him to that number.

Austin Smotherman +14000 (Bet $100 to Win $14000)

Austin Smotherman led the Korn Ferry Tour event here in 2020 after rounds 1 and 2, as he opened 66-69. This is a different setup at a different time of year, so I don’t want to read too much into it, but there are other positives for Smotherman.

At Valspar, he opened with a 67 and closed with a 68, and ranked 10th in SG approach for the week. That was his second top-10 SG Approach ranking in his last four starts, and I like his chances of coming out strong here.

Smotherman opened with a 65 at Pebble and a 67 at Torrey earlier this year, both of which are good opening rounds, and given his history on this course in an albeit weaker field, I’ll chance him at the odds.

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Article Author


Tom Jacobs is the host of the Lost Fore Words golf podcast and has been writing betting articles on golf for the past decade. Tom also co-hosts the DP World Tour Picks & Bets show on the Mayo Media Network, so has his finger on the pulse on all the major Tours. A long-suffering Nottingham Forest fan, Tom also enjoys watching Soccer at the weekend, and was delighted to see his Forest team win promotion this season!


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