The Valero Texas Open Championship preview with Skeeter McGillicuddy
Just one week to go, just one more. Ahead of that sunny upland that is Augusta we have the Valero Texas Open. Played at TPC San Antonio’s AT&T course this is one tough week ahead. I was tempted to give this event a miss but unlike last weeks WGC Match Play I have no excuses plus there looks to be some interesting wagering opportunities.
Whatever the merits of this event the week prior to the first major it is a full-blown US PGA Tour event and the winner will rightly be proud to win it. So close to Augusta of course there is a suspicion that many of the contenders are here in hope and desperation. At 7,435 the course is proven to be one of the toughest (actually the 2nd) tee to green course on tour.
Ricky heads the market coming off a three-week break and with not a lot of golf behind him. He did win but he’s never played this event however, which puts me off, along with the price. Spare Change is hardly enhancing his reputation with his run at the Match Play with Sulkio – what a pair! He is also coming off seven matches in five days and this hardly seems ideal preparation for August. Maybe he just thinks he can’t win. Finau’s form has tailed off and he never wins. That brings us to Jordan – fourth in the market – at a course he has done well at but at an event he has skipped for three years. His presence smacks of desperation given where his game is. At Augusta his wizardry can make up for his waywardness tee to green and with his record at Augusta and that freedom bizarrely he looks a better proposition there than this week. The weakness of the field is perhaps best illustrated by the position of Billy Horschel in the market. Despite an infamous run in with Rory when they were kids – they seem to get along fine now – Billy seems a thoroughly decent sort and while his form looks ordinary on paper he has got himself into promising positions over the 2019 season without any real results. He does have a great record around here though. Again 23/1 even in this field won’t do for me.
The market leaders aside this field contains some stable stars that although tempting we will have to leave in the box. Chief amongst them is Im. Super impressive as he has been a best-priced 29/1 is too skinny – galling as will be should he win.
TPC San Antonio is a beast tee to green and not a lot of fun once on them. The course is softer this year and the fairways are a fraction wider but that means a trade off. The softness, if that’s what you call it, comes with colder conditions and a ball travelling less through the air. A typical winner here averages around 300 off the tee. That may be harder to achieve this week and could throw up a slightly different winners profile.
Joaquin Niemann 1pt win at 85 BF
Wyndham Clark 1pt win at 200 BF
Joaquin Niemann (previously / previously/ PREVIOUSLY) is another stable star who we will keep riding while he’s at a price. With just 24 events under his belt he’s posted 5 top tens. His best results came last year but he does have a top 10 this season and his T44 at the Genesis isn’t so bad given the complexities of Riviera and how generally that course takes time to know – Bubba’s first win came at his eighth attempt. In reality Niemann’s game is suffering on the greens, languishing as he does in 218th place in strokes gained putting. While a case can be made that putting isn’t that important at PGA National that only runs true to an extent. He will have to improve but he’s young and super talented and he’s 169/1! Niemann hasn’t set the world on fire but neither has he gone backwards with some solid ball striking since a missed cut at the Waste Management. It’s all about the putting for him but that can turn on a sixpence and at triple figures, in this field, with the premium on ball striking, we won’t abandon him now. Again you may ask? Yes we will thanks. Despite a missed cut last week at the Corales Niemann is worth another chance if only because he showed his undoubted class here last year posting 12 under, including 10 under on the weekend. Interestingly that came after missing the cut at the Masters on nine over. A case could be made that his form has tailed off in 2019 but golf has a habit of throwing results in when least expected. Niewman’s strength is tee to green in 2019 and clearly his weakness is putting. He’ll have to find his form on tricky greens but he has done that once so combined with the great memories he must have we could see his true potential emerge via the winner’s circle.
Wyndam Clark joins the stable off the back of some strong recent tee to green play and putting once he gets there. Players who do well at the Valero typically hit plenty of greens and rank highly in putts per green hit. Amazing. Clark only turned pro in 2017 and in 2019, his second season on tour he’s shown some serious potential. A T7 at the Honda, no easy meat, and a T10 in Puerto Rico were solid if not spectacular performances. What strikes me about Clark is his strong tee to green game since the turn of the year. Disqualified at the Players he posted a T37 at the Valspar at +1 for the event. Curiously that was the only event this season, including the two events where he missed the cut, where he hasn’t shot under par. That’s some achievement. Clark is long too, averaging 312, and his tee to green stats overall belie his current tee to green game. He has posted some juicy strokes gained putting this year, 3.065 at the AT&T and 2.194 at the Honda, that place him 20th overall in strokes gained putting. Add in a 4.56 birdie average and the entirety of the package looks impressive. He’s young and it’s his first start here but he has no Masters expectations hanging over him. And of course he’s a monster price.