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Valero Texas Open preview

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The PGA Tour exits the Florida swing, and lands in Texas for the next two weeks. This week the players will tee it up at the Valero Texas Open, in San Antonio, before heading to Humble for the Shell Houston Open next week. These are the last two PGA Tour events, before the Masters and players who are playing at Augusta in April need to find their form now, in order to head into the week full of momentum.

Last year, the Valero Texas Open was won by Martin Laird, who tied the course record (-9) in the final round, in order to beat Rory Mcilroy by two strokes, and the trio of Billy Horschel, Charley Hoffman and Jim Furyk by three. The manner in which Laird won last year, was a complete contrast to how Ben Curtis secured the victory a year before, as he opened the week with a pair of 67’s, going on to shoot, 73-72 over the weekend the hold on for the win.

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This event will not only serve as great preparation for those playing in the Masters, but also provide players, who may not be involved in the first major of the year, with a great opportunity to shine amongst some of the top players on Tour right now.

The Course: TPC San Antonio, 7,435 yards, par 72. The Oak’s Course, at TPC San Antonio has been the host venue for this event since 2010. The course was designed by Greg Norman who also consulted Sergio Garcia in the process, and between them, the two have made this a very challenging stop on the PGA Tour.

Narrow fairways means a premium on Driving Accuracy this week, as there are some horrible lies wide of the short stuff, just ask Kevin Na, who made a 16 on the Par 4, 9th hole, here in 2011. To be fair, Na made a right hash of the hole, struggling to free himself from rocks and underbrush, but it highlights the importance of accuracy here, and it is the key factor for me this week.

As well as narrow fairways, bunkers will also cause a problem for the players this week, with some as deep as 12 feet. Avoiding these, with good tee-to-green play can only help your cause, and if you can, scoring will be a lot easier.

Changes were made to the course in 2012, which involved widening the first four fairways, and trimming the rough by an inch, to two inches.In addition to that, run off areas around the greens were removed, and these changes, however small would of made the course easier to navigate than in previous years, something reflected in the winning score.

Although Adam Scott won the inaugural staging on this course, back in 2010 with a -14 winning score, both Brendan Steele and Ben Curtis won with an -8 week, before the changes were made. Martin Laird managed to shoot a 63 in the final round, twelve months ago, and finished on -14 for the week. Matt Every did shoot a 63 in the first round in 2012, but with Sunday pins, the 63 in round 4 from Laird last year was more impressive, and may be something we see more often now the course has been made more accessible.

Market Leaders: Phil Mickelson 16/1, Zach Johnson 18/1, Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar 20/1 and Jimmy Walker 22/1.

Mickelson comes in favourite this week, despite a 22-year absence from this event, whilst Johnson, who was the form man early this year is just behind him. Both players have gone off the boil recently, with Mickelson seemingly still struggling with injury, and Zach Johnson who has failed to emulate his early season showing. Both Johnson and Mickelson shared 16th place at the WGC-Cadillac and this is the best finish for both players, since Mickelson’s 2nd place finish in Abu Dhabi mid-January and Johnson’s 3rd place finish, in the same week at the Humana Challenge.

Like Johnson and Mickelson, Kuchar, Speith and Walker will be looking for their best once again this week, ahead of Augusta and all three have played this course on multiple occasions in the past. All three players are short, because of their ability in comparison to the rest of the field, and in all three cases, their recent form, however only Jimmy Walker has finished in the top-10 here (7th in 2010), with Kuchar’s best finish being 13th in 2012, and Spieth’s 41st in the same year.

With everything in mind, I am happy to take on the head of the market, especially as I think with the Masters round the corner, each of the these five players heads will be geared heavily towards the Masters. This is a week for them to be competitive, but at the same time work on their game ahead of major week, and I am happy to leave each player alone at 22/1 and shorter.

Billy Horschel 40/1 (General) 1.5pts e/w: I am going for “Octopus Pants” again, and no that’s not an official nickname. That is something he has been referred to, ever since wearing his octopus designed trousers at the U.S Open last year, and it’s something he will be remembered for.

What he should be known for however, is his incredible ability to play golf, which is something he hasn’t shown on a consistent basis, so far in 2014. Horschel himself admitted last week on Twitter, that his game is nearly there, and hopefully his game takes shape nicely this week. The exact tweet read ” Game is the closes(t) it has been all year. Just need to cancel out the silly mistakes and make a few more putts!… Come on Matt! Finish it off” That was enough for me to take note, and expect a big week to come from him soon. The Matt he alluded to in the tweet was indeed, last week’s winner, Matt Every who, like Horschel went to Florida State, and hopefully he can take inspiration from Every’s win last week.

Horschel was right about his putting, that does need to improve, he currently ranks 63rd in Strokes Gained-Putting and 91st in Total Putting, two areas I expect he will improve on over the course of the season, and he should rank higher in both statistics by the end of the year.

What he is doing well so far in this 2013-14 wraparound season though, which will help his cause this week is his accuracy off the tee. He currently sits 9th in Driving Accuracy on the PGA Tour, and should he find these narrow fairways, he could pose a big threat.

He finished 3rd here in 2013, after two finishes of 75th and 74th the two years prior, so he obviously found something last time around and hopefully that carries over to this week. He finished 43rd last week, but at times looked as though he would finish the week a bit higher, but as he said himself, mistakes were made.

Last year he did come into the week off the back of a 2nd place finish, but I still think he’s a player that can find a good week at any given time, and hopefully he replicates last year’s form here again this time around.

I believe Horschel is a multiple Tour winner in the making, especially if he can rein in his emotions. He looks a good price in this field, especially considering his performance here last year, when he led the event going in to round 4.

Chesson Hadley 50/1 (Coral & StanJames) 1.5pts e/w: Chesson Hadley is still in his Rookie season, but you would be forgiven for thinking he had previous experience on the PGA Tour, and that’s how many youngsters are making it look now, either coming off the Web.com Tour, or even straight from college.

Hadley took full advantage of a weaker field in the Puerto Rico Open, and got his maiden victory very early on in his career, and he looks as though he is ready to build on that.

The signs were there for Hadley, who had a rough start to the season, after coming T5 in his second event the Shriners. Following that impressive week, he missed five straight cuts, and it looked as though Hadley may struggle to live up to his early expectations. In the manner that has made me come to like him as a player, he bounced back, with an impressive T10 finish at Pebble Beach, and then despite missing the cut at the Northern Trust Open, he then played well at the Honda finishing T24.

He won a week later, and has since then, not let the success get to him and has looked in very solid form. He finished T14 at the Valspar Championship, and T26 last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a week that could of been so much better had it of not been for a terrible final round of 79. This was down to a horrible stretch on the final 6 holes, but he has bounced back from worse, and I expect him to do just that this week.

If he can put the final round last week behind him, which I am convinced he can, he looks overpriced at 50/1 considering his run of recent form. The Georgia Tech alum will need a solo 7th finish or better this week, in order to punch his ticket to the Masters, something I am sure he is desperate to do, so there is plenty of incentive there.

He will need to find more fairways this week, than he has in previous events, as he currently ranks 124th in Driving Accuracy. He’s got away with it so far, as including his win he has posted three top-10s, and a further two top-25 finishes, so he looks a well rounded player, who with improvement should contend even more on Tour.

Pat Perez 66/1 (StanJames) 1pt e/w: Pat Perez, prior to his last three events had a great run of form going in 2014, and I think he can pick that up again here at TPC Scottsdale.

Thru three rounds last week, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Perez shot three straight rounds of 70, which had him at -6, good enough for him to sit T12 going into the final round. Unfortunately, he could not keep up the good form in round 4, and he shot a disappointing 83, enough to see him fall to T67.

He has been throwing in one bad round in each of his last three events, a 78 at the Northern Trust Open, a 77 at the Valspar Championship, and the 83 last week, so if he can eradicate that, he should put himself in good stead to find the form he showed early in 2014.

Perez has finished in the top-10 three times this season, and also has another two top-25 finishes, so it’s been a very solid season so far and he will be ready to put that back on track here in San Antonio.

In 2010 and 2011, Perez played this event, and finished 21st and 5th respectively, two solid finishes. With the form he has shown so far this year, returning to a course he’s proven he can play may well be what he needs to get that win he’s been waiting for since 2009.

It’s hard to believe a player of Perez’ obvious quality has only won once, but his temperament has always been questionable and he will need to keep that in check, in order to play well on a consistent basis.

I really think Perez will return to TPC Scottsdale, and play well again, and he’s a good price to do so. His putting has been a strong part of his game so far this year, and if he can find the fairways this week, he should stand in good stead to compete.

Brian Davis 150/1 (General) 0.5pt e/w: Brian Davis is not a player that catches my eye very often, and this is mainly due to the fact he’s still yet to win on the PGA Tour, but he has gone close in the past, and I do think he can still get the job done.

Davis was very close to a win at the Verizon Heritage in 2010, but after calling a two-stroke penalty on himself in the first play-off hole against Jim Furyk he missed out once again, something he’s all too familiar with. He has finished runner-up on multiple occasions over the years, at events such as the HP Byron Nelson, and the Reno-Tahoe Open, and has placed in the top-5 on many occasions, so why am I picking him to go well here?

Well, on Davis’ sole appearance on this course last year, he finished T29, proving that he was fairly comfortable with the layout, and could well improve on that second time around.

Davis like Horschel ranks very highly in Driving Accuracy (6th) and this will no doubt aid him in playing well this week. If he can keep up his good form off the tee, the Englishman may well be able to compete here, especially if he find greens with more regularity this week.

After a mixed start to the season, Davis recruited Gary Evans (former European Tour pro) to help him with his game, and last week he finished T20 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, something that should give him confidence ahead of Thursday. He wasn’t at his best with the putter last week, and if he can find his stroke, he should go well.

At 150/1 I thought it was worth taking a chance that Davis can put in another good performance on the PGA Tour, taking positives from last week. His accuracy off the tee was a huge plus, and the fact he played pretty well here, after a 6th place finish a week prior, it looks as though he can carry the confidence over from his previous event.

Total Points Staked this week: 9

Profit/Loss for 2014: + 181.45

With just two tournaments on the PGA Tour to go, before we see the players drive down Magnolia Lane, at Augusta, it’s time to see who’s finding form ahead of the first major of the year, the Masters. Two players can still make it to Augusta through World Ranking points this week, and that’s Chesson Hadley and Ryan Palmer, other than that, nothing short of  a win here or at the Shell Houston Open will be good enough to get an invite to the first major of the year.

We were unlucky not to pick the winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, as our selection Keegan Bradley finished 2nd, behind eventual champion, Matt Every.

As ever, you can get in touch with me via Twitter, @TJacobsGolf.