Our expert golf tipster Jamie Worsley picked up another 33/1 winner last week and is back for the Valero Texas Open, where he has five more picks, as well as his usual in-depth preview.
2pts Matt Kuchar – each way (1/5 7 places) – 28/1
1.25 pts Nick Taylor – each way (1/5 8 places) – 45/1
1pt Ben Martin – each way (1/5 7 places) – 80/1
1pt Sepp Straka – each way (1/5 7 places) – 90/1
1pt Hayden Buckley – each way (1/5 8 places) – 100/1
To whet the appetite for The Masters in a week’s time, we were once again treated to a thrilling event on the PGA Tour. The WGC – Match Play rarely disappoints as a spectacle and this year was as good as any; a week that left most asking why this event was being cancelled next year.
Sunday’s semi-finals were particularly exciting. We had world #1 and reigning Masters champion Scottie Scheffler up against four-time PGA Tour winner Sam Burns and #3 Rory McIlroy against future PGA Tour winner Cameron Young; two already major champions vs two barely-underdogs, who many expect to become major champions.
Both matches ebbed and flowed, with Burns going up early against Scheffler only to inevitably be pulled back and passed in similar fashion to how Scheffler had beaten most of his opponents all week. Meanwhile, McIlroy/Young was a less volatile match, with McIlroy holding a narrow advantage for much of the contest.
Scheffler would go on to lose his lead – thanks to some superb birdies from Burns – needing to win the last hole to force extra holes, whilst Young had to do the same after getting back to within one of Rory going into 18.
Both delivered, to take us to sudden-death playoffs in both matches for the first time; Scheffler and McIlroy still favourites to advance to what would’ve been a mouth-watering final.
Golf is never as simple as that and with birdie on the third extra hole for Burns, then one on the first from Young, we were left with the “underdog final”.
Young went up early in the final and when Burns tied it up on the 5th we looked set for another ding-dong affair. However, Burns had other ideas as he produced a scintillating display, birdying six of his next eight holes to leave Young left standing and gaining a 6 & 5 win in the process.
He now heads to Augusta bursting with confidence, looking to emulate Scheffler in winning the Match Play and then The Masters last year. Whilst Young ultimately came up short, there were plenty of positives on his end too and he goes into next week as an interesting prospect, especially with major-winning caddy, Paul Tesori now on the bag.
As for the third-place match, Rory beat Scheffler 2 & 1. Though not in the championship match they’d have wanted, their strength of performance confirmed that these two players who now sit atop the world rankings are primed for a strong showing at our first major of the year.
We make one final stop before the players drive down Magnolia Lane, staying in Texas for the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio’s Oaks Course.
At over 100-years-old, the Texas Open is one of the longest-running events on the PGA Tour and as such, has seen many of the historied greats of the game pick up the title.
11-time major winner, Walter Hagen won the second Texas Open in 1923, whilst Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead all added their own successes in the 1940s; Lee Trevino and Hale Irwin adding their names to the trophy in the 70s/80s.
Nobody has recorded more wins in the event than the iconic Arnold Palmer, who has three – a record he holds with Justin Leonard – with all of them coming in consecutive years from 1960-1962.
Mike Souchak’s -27 in 1955 holds the record for lowest winning score in the tournament’s history, though Corey Pavin’s 8-stroke success in 1988 is the biggest winning margin.
The event has changed venues multiple times throughout its history but has had a permanent home at TPC San Antonio since 2010, with all of the aforementioned records coming prior to the switch to the current home; Corey Conners’ -20 in 2019 the lowest winning score here.
In 2019 – following initially occupying the same spot in 2013 – the tournament was moved to this space on the schedule, as a direct prelude to The Masters, giving one final chance for any participant not already in next week’s field to earn their place.
Last year we saw that situation unfold, as JJ Spaun didn’t just celebrate his first PGA Tour title with a win but like Conners, earned himself a ticket to The Masters for the first time as a result.
The Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio is a 7438 yard par 72 designed by Greg Norman and opened for play in 2010; hosting this event for the first time that year; whilst it’s also worth noting that it hosted an event on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020: the San Antonio Championship.
It has traditionally provided a strong test, though that looked to be on the wane from 2018 to 2021, with the winning scores of -17, -20 and -18 the three lowest at the course. However, that difficulty returned last year, with JJ Spaun’s -13 – also the average winning score at TPC San Antonio – enough for a two-stroke victory.
Many things combine to make this course such a challenge, this without taking into account that wind usually plays a part, as it so often does in Texas.
The course mixes up more exposed, generous driving holes, with tighter tree-lined fairways and over recent years has developed into a demanding driving course, where said fairways are amongst the seven most difficult to find on the PGA Tour; protected by strategically placed bunkers.
This in turn puts strain on your approach game into the large bermudagrass (with poa trivialis overseed) greens, many of which are elevated and at an angle; with the outer limits of the putting surfaces abound with severe slopes and run-off areas, designed to repel unprecise approach shots; the greens ranking in the top 10 toughest to find on tour.
Heavy, deep bunkering around the greens add more danger, as does water in-play on three of the holes.
It’s a pretty standard par 72 throughout much of the course, though seriously livens up at the finish, where we have two reachable risk/reward holes and a tough par 3.
We kick off that exciting finish on the par 3 16th. Played into a huge donut-shaped green that is not only defended by sand in the middle but on either side, it requires players to be ultra accurate.
Following on from the par 3 is the drivable par 4 17th. Hit the perfect drive and you can set up an eagle look on the long, undulating putting surface. Come up just short and the right-to-left sloping fairway will see your ball trundle down the side of a large bunker on the left side of the green, which not only makes it difficult to find that birdie or better but brings bogeys into the equation.
We finish with the 600+ yard par 5 18th. Finding the narrow fairway is a challenge in itself but then going for the green – one of the more shallow on the course – brings danger front, in the shape of water and back, with more bunkers. A hole where you can find that closing birdie/eagle to get you over the line but equally, one which can end disastrously.
I want to keep it simple and with those serious questions this course asks of your long game, I’m heavily favouring strong ball-strikers, particularly those who excel in approach.
JJ Spaun produced a complete performance when winning last year, part of which included ranking 12th in GIR and 23rd in approach. Though compared to previous years, last year’s renewal looks a bit of an outlier as the leaderboard wasn’t packed with elite approach performances.
We can jump back a year to 2021, where Jordan Spieth won to prove my point. Spieth ranked as the 4th best iron player in the field there, with the next three on the leaderboard ranking 8th, 1st and 5th; seven of the top 11 ranking inside the top 10 and five inside the top 10 in GIR.
It was a similar story in 2019 when Corey Conners won; a victory that was possible because of a hugely inspired approach display, ranking 1st in approach and GIR. This was emphasised further by runner-up, Charley Hoffman ranking 4th for approach and 8th in GIR, whilst Ryan Moore in 3rd ranked 5th in approach and 3rd in GIR; eight of the top 13 ranked top 10 in approach, with six of them top 6 in GIR.
Strong iron play was once again on show in 2018, with Andrew Landry leading the field in approach and ranking 3rd in GIR on his way to victory; whilst Kevin Chappell in 2017 and Jimmy Walker in 2015 won off the back of high-quality approach play.
The driver isn’t quite as important but still meaningful, no surprise with that challenge that finding these fairways has thrown up. Of the last seven winners, five have ranked top 20 with driver, including JJ Spaun last year, who ranked 10th, whilst Corey Conners in 2019 and Kevin Chappell in 2017 ranked 4th and 6th off-the-tee respectively.
Both longer and shorter hitters alike have gone well, with no real preference for either or; just players who simply drive the ball well.
Wind is set to play a part this week and means we’ll see plenty of missed greens. A solid scrambling ability will be needed and we’ve seen many having to scramble well to win here; most notably Jordan Spieth in 2021, who ranked 1st in scrambling and Jimmy Walker in 2015 ranked 4th.
Whilst a good week on the greens is usually a pre-requisite to success at TPC San Antonio, many who win and play well here often do so despite either not being a great putter, or not being in particularly good form on the greens leading up to the event, Corey Conners being a prime example. Therefore, whilst some proven experience on similar surfaces would be an obvious plus, I’m not inclined to place too much importance on it here.
Key Stats: SG: Approach, Greens-in-Regulation, SG: Off-the-Tee, Scrambling
Secondary Stat: SG: Putting (bermudagrass ‘w poa trivialis overseed)
Correlating Events (Courses)
Sanderson Farms Championship (Country Club of Jackson)
Though greens are much easier to hit there, the Sanderson Farms Championship provides a comparably difficult challenge to the Texas Open in driving and matches up well in the lessened strain it puts on the short game; around greens that are close in average size and type to this week’s venue.
2019 Texas Open winner, Corey Conners has finished 2nd in the Sanderson Farms; as have Chris Kirk, who has amassed multiple top 10s in Texas and Chesson Hadley, who finished 4th here in 2015.
Another former Texas winner, Andrew Landry, has finished top 5 at the CCoJ and Trey Mullinax has a runner-up finish here to go with a 4th there; other form ties on offer from Keegan Bradley, Dylan Frittelli and Kevin Streelman.
RBC Heritage (Harbour Town Links)
Coastal events tend to correlate well with tournaments held in Texas due to wind and the RBC Heritage fits that bill. Despite the greens being of a similar makeup to San Antonio, they’re much smaller; however, they still rank closely to the averages shown in relation to GIR and putting difficulty.
Many links exist between the two courses. Matt Kuchar is a past winner there and was 2nd here last year; his latest effort in a strong book of form in Texas. Whilst Brandt Snedeker is another past winner at Harbour Town with a great record here.
Flip that and last year’s Texas Open winner, JJ Spaun has finished 3rd in the Heritage, whilst Corey Conners has finished 4th. Additional correlating form found from Brendon Todd, with multiple top 10s across both; Si woo Kim, who has finished 2nd there and 4th here; whilst Kevin Streelman has a combined five top 10s across the events.
Genesis Invitational (Riviera Country Club)
From a statistical point of view, few courses matched up as closely with TPC San Antonio as Riviera. Both in ball-striking, with driving accuracy and GIR percentages, as well as the short-game, where scramble success rates are closely matched.
Matt Kuchar provides a nice link again, with a 2nd at both courses; Keegan Bradley and Si Woo Kim making another appearance, possessing 2nd and 3rd place finishes in the Genesis respectively.
2015 Texas Open winner, Jimmy Walker has recorded two 4th place finishes in California, with more form ties found from Ryan Moore, Charley Hoffman and Charles Howell III.
Wells Fargo Championship (Quail Hollow Golf Club)
Whilst the Genesis made the best statistical case all-round, from a purely ball-striking point of view it was Quail Hollow that appealed most. It possesses very similar driving accuracy and GIR percentages and compares closely in penalty for missing fairways. For all Quail Hollow is much more demanding of the short game, their greens are similarly sized and use the same poa overseed on bermudagrass that is used here.
Form ties are thin on the ground, though I think that is directly related to the comparative field strengths of each event.
Of the few, Lucas Glover is a past winner at Quail Hollow and has recorded a 4th amongst other top 20s in Texas. Ryan Moore and Kevin Streelman tie the form together again, possessing multiple top 10s in the Wells Fargo, whilst Gary Woodland has two top 5s there to go with two top 10s here; Ben Martin, Adam Schenk and Doc Redman all with form across the two events.
Conditions look difficult in Texas, with thunderstorms set to bring some strong winds over the first two days. This eases off over the weekend, with a potentially wet course in relatively benign conditions likely to be an appealing prospect to players on Sunday.
This week’s field is short on star quality, with many choosing to get their preparation for Augusta elsewhere. Tyrell Hatton is the highest ranked player in the field, at #17, with #21 Hideki Matsuyama the only other player from inside the top 25.
There are a further six from inside the top 50, one of whom is New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, making his debut in the event, one week before heading to The Masters for the first time. A similar story for Japan’s Kazuki Higa, who comes to Texas a week before making his debut at Augusta, an event he earned a special invite to.
Matt Wallace is back in action this week, after earning his first PGA Tour title in the Dominican last week, joined by runner-up Nicolai Hojgaard; two of many in this week’s field hoping to punch their ticket to The Masters with a win, with Wallace’s win there not enough as an opposite-field event.
Tyrrell Hatton Heads the betting at 12/1, followed by Rickie Fowler at 18/1, then the trio of Hideki Matsuyama, Corey Conners and Si Woo Kim at 22/1. Of this leading five, Fowler is the only one not in The Masters and with that, was the most tempting, for all the others have strong credentials for this test.
However, I think Fowler is low enough in the betting and instead I’ll kick off with another high-class operator at a slightly bigger price also showing a return to form, who will himself be hoping to get a win here to gain entry into The Masters following missing it for the first time since 2010 last year, Matt Kuchar.
2pts Matt Kuchar – each way (1/5 7 places)
Kuchar was a mainstay at Augusta throughout the 2010’s, though missed last year’s event due to a loss of the consistent form in recent years. However, with a 2nd place finish here in Texas last year and 3rd in the RBC Heritage the following week, he showed he’s still very much dangerous at this level, with more positive signs on show this year.
In seven starts in 2023, Kuchar has hit the top 10 on three occasions. He opened his year with a 7th place finish in the Sony Open; then producing an 8th place finish in the Genesis Invitational three starts later; before following two missed cuts with a good performance at the Match Play last week, where he advanced out of a tough group and only narrowly lost to Jason Day in the last 16.
During his best years he showed little weakness and we’ve seen that return this season, with Kuchar recording positive strokes-gained numbers in each category. The driver – which went missing the previous two years – is starting to look better and irons look solid if inconsistent, though it’s with the short game he excels most right now, ranking 1st in scrambling on the PGA Tour.
It was this area that took him to his best finish in Texas, as he led the field in scrambling on his way to a 2nd place finish last year, also ranking 3rd on these greens. This part of an excellent overall record, where he’s hit the top 10 on a further two occasions, whilst managing three more finishes inside the top 20.
Correlating form stacks up nicely too, as a past winner of the RBC Heritage, as well as a runner-up at the Genesis and though still looking largely inconsistent this year, the Georgia resident looks as dangerous as anyone in this field, as he looks to book that return to The Masters this week.
1.25 pts Nick Taylor – each way (1/5 8 places)
Nick Taylor has been performing well this year and looks well placed to fight for a spot in next week’s field in Texas this week.
There looked to be little going right for Taylor at the end of last season but he suddenly burst into life at the start of the new season, finishing 6th in the Fortinet Championship in the latter part of last year and followed with another couple of top 25s over his last five starts of 2022.
He’s maintained that level of form this year, even bettered it, recording three top 10 finishes, with the best undoubtedly coming at the Phoenix Open. There he produced an admirable contending performance on a truly elite leaderboard, with winner, Scottie Scheffler only able to shake Taylor off late on, who eventually finished 2-shots shy in 2nd.
Taylor is looking good in most areas, ranking top 20 around-the-greens, top 50 in approach and just outside the top 50 on the greens, whilst the driver has been typically solid, if unspectacular.
Two top 25s in six visits to TPC San Antonio represents a solid return on Taylor’s appearances, though we have an appealing bit of form in the shape of his first PGA Tour victory in 2014, which came in Jackson at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Taylor’s second PGA Tour title came in 2020 at Pebble Beach, where he showed his ability in the wind to book a first trip to Augusta; something he can replicate this week.
1pt Ben Martin – each way (1/5 7 places)
Ben Martin continued his strong run of form with an 8th place finish in the Corales Puntacana last week, form engineered by him looking as good in approach as he ever has and should he continue to show this week, he can get back to Augusta for the first time in eight years.
Martin started this year as underwhelmingly as he finished the last, with two missed cuts and a 32nd place finish on his first three starts, though showed life with a strong performance at Pebble Beach five starts ago, maintaining it since.
There he finished 13th, looking excellent tee-to-green but struggling on the greens, something he would then put right on his next start in the Honda Classic, with a top 5 putting performance seeing him to a 5th place finish at PGA National.
He followed that with a couple of solid displays in THE PLAYERS Championship and at the Valspar, though continued to look good with the ball-striking, particularly at the Valspar, where he ranked 4th off-the-tee and 15th in approach but struggled on and around the greens. Before his 8th in the Dominican last week.
That strength in ball-striking, especially with his irons, where he ranks 20th in approach and 19th in GIR this year can see him to a strong performance here, a place where he finished 9th on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020 and has made the cut on four of his five PGA Tour visits.
A 3rd place finish at the RBC Heritage, along with an 11th at Quail Hollow and top 20s in the Genesis and Sanderson Farms provide further encouragement for Martin’s chances of gaining a significant victory this week.
1pt Sepp Straka – each way (1/5 7 places)
Sepp Straka is the only one of my quintet who has already stamped his place in the field next week, thanks to making it to last year’s Tour Championship. Though he comes here searching for a little bit of something and with the strength of his approach play – which was well on show just five starts ago in the Honda Classic – he can find that something this week.
There’s very little middle ground with Straka, he either puts himself right amongst it or is nowhere near, something we’ve seen this year, with his 5th place finish in the Honda a standout performance amongst three missed cuts and three other events where he’s failed to hit the top 40.
His game has been all about the irons, ranking 17th in GIR and 26th in approach, though as a typically strong driver, it’s been encouraging to see him starting to find form that that club, producing positive strokes-gained numbers in five of his last seven starts.
If able to find further improvement off-the-tee this week, whilst keeping up the strong approach play – the type that saw him rank 2nd when finishing 5th in the Honda – the Austrian would be more than capable of improving a poor record here, where he’s missed the cut and finished 67th in two visits.
A 2nd place finish in the Sanderson Farms and 3rd in the RBC Heritage last year provide further encouragement; and whilst not mentioned amongst my most preferred correlating courses above, his strong record at the Honda Classic could also act as a guide, with this year’s winner, Chris Kirk possessing a good record here in Texas.
1pt Hayden Buckley – each way (1/5 8 places)
Strong-driving Hayden Buckley has suffered a loss of form following narrowly missing out on his first PGA Tour title, when 2nd at the Sony Open on his first start of the year. Though the prior-mentioned strength he possesses off-the-tee is a big positive here, as is the promising approach performance he produced last time out at THE PLAYERS.
His 2nd place finish in Hawaii was a continuation of the form he’d shown at the end of 2022, hitting three top 20s in his final five events, including a 5th place finish at the ZOZO Championship. Though since that disappointing loss, he’s made just one cut in six, which came courtesy of a 29th in the Phoenix Open.
However, despite this loss of form in results, Buckley has maintained a high standard of driving displays and ranks 4th this season OTT; 9th in GIR showing the all-round quality of his ball-striking.
This was certainly evident last time out at TPC Sawgrass, where he narrowly missed the cut but hit the ball well over the first two rounds; a poor couple of days on the greens ultimately his undoing.
He missed the cut on his first start in the Texas Open last year, producing a surprisingly poor ball-striking performance but we can draw encouragement from his apparent taking to the greens. His good record at the Sanderson Farms Championship – where he’s finished 4th and 19th on two starts – is a big positive.
With that, Buckley can make amends for his narrow loss earlier in the year and gain a first PGA Tour title, which would see him tee it up at Augusta for the first time next week.
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