Valero Texas Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE Valero Texas Open returns this week after an absence of two years. It was one of the first tournaments to be cancelled last year when the PGA Tour went into lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The tournament, which was first played in 1922, is the third-oldest PGA Tour tournament behind the Western Open (1899) and Canadian Open (1904). And it is the oldest tournament to have been held in the same city its entire existence. Every tournament has been played in San Antonio, Texas.
When it was last played in 2019, Corey Conners entered the final round trailing Si Woo Kim by one stroke before a six-under 66 led to a two-stroke victory. He said: "It's been amazing, something that I've dreamt of. It's happened pretty quickly. I spent just one year on the Web.com Tour, got my Tour card through the Finals.
"I had a lot of confidence in my game each step of the way and I've continued to get better and good things have continued to happen. It's an amazing feeling and really fortunate to be in this position and super excited to be able to call myself a winner."
Conners has gone on to establish himself as one the brightest young stars on Tour and will relish his return to the challenging AT&T Oaks Course. The 2019 event raised a record $15m for local charities.
This year’s event marks the last chance saloon for Rickie Fowler. Unbelievably, he has plummeted to 81st in the world rankings and is not in the field for The Masters. The only way he can get to Augusta is by winning the Valero Texas Open. Fowler has not missed a major since 2010.
Like his close friend Jordan Spieth, Fowler's game has fallen off a cliff. Last year he made the surprising decision to part company with long-time swing coach Butch Harmon. It was a move that raised a few eyebrows.
He is a five-time winner on the PGA Tour but his most recent victory came at the Phoenix Waste Management Open two years ago. Just five years ago he was ranked fourth in the world.
As recently as 2018 he finished second at Augusta. the following year he was ninth. In 2014 he finished in the top five in all four majors and he had the world at his feet. But those days now seem like a lifetime ago for a golfer who is 32 years old and should be at the peak of his powers.
He has played at Augusta every year since 2011 but this year it seems certain that he will be watching the year's opening major from the comfort of his front room. It scarcely seems credible.
Brandel Chamblee, the renowned golf analyst, believes the time has come for Fowler to eat some humble pie. Chamblee believes Fowler can still win his maiden major title, but is bemused as to why he decided to leave Harmon, who has helped the biggest names in the sport win multiple tournaments. Among his current charges is world number one Dustin Johnson. Enough said.
"I cannot believe Rickie left Butch," Chamblee said. "Get on a plane and go to Vegas. He had a wonderful relationship with Butch. It’s a risk working with anybody. It could work out or it might not."
Since switching to new coach John Tillery, Fowler has managed just two top-10 finishes. But he insists that he will stand by Tillery. Fowler said: “We’ve been able to see the progress, looking at how the body is moving, where the club is at . . . some of it is a bit more of a mental battle and a trust factor for me . . . but there’s been a lot of good. It’s different when you’re putting it into play.”
It sounds like Fowler is kidding himself. The results certainly don't bear out his optimism. He is one of the most popular players on the PGA Tour and there would be no more popular winner this week but please don’t hold your breath.
Most of the leading players have chosen to take the week off as they prepare for Augusta but there are some notable names in the field, including Tony Finau, Abraham Ancer, Cameron Champ, Scottie Scheffler, Danny Willett and Henrik Stenson.
Stenson is one of those who could do with a decent week. The 2016 Open champion has tumbled down the world rankings and is now outside the top 100. He has endured a truly miserable time since the lockdown ended and seems certain to miss the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. He has missed seven cuts this season and hit a new low when he shot an horrific open round of 85 at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
Finau is, without argument, one of the best ball strikers on the PGA Tour. Week after week he gets himself into contention. Week after week he comes up short. He makes vast amounts of prize money but it is about time that he started winning. His sole victory came at the Puerto Rico Open in 2016. It is a pretty poor return for a golfer of his quality. Scheffler and Ancer are still in search of their maiden victories, which just goes to prove how difficult it is to win on the PGA Tour.
Charley Hoffman will return to one of his favourite tournaments with some great memories. He won in 2016 and was runner-up in 2011 and again two years ago. If you believe in horses for courses, he has to be worth an each-way flutter.
The tournament was won in 2015 by Jimmy Walker, in 2016 by Charley Hoffman, in 2017 by Kevin Chappell, in 2018 by Andrew Landry and in 2019 by Corey Conners.
Tony Finau. It’s time Tony
Charley Hoffman. Adores this tournament
Abraham Ancer. One of the straights drivers in the game
Tony Finau. Good enough to win anywhere, just needs to prove it to himself
Charley Hoffman. Would play here every week if he could
Abraham Ancer. Mr Consistency
Cameron Champ. Hits the ball a mile
Martin Laird. A winner again
Corey Conners. Getting better all the time
Rickie Fowler. More in hope than expectation
Scottie Scheffler. Still looking for that elusive maiden win
Keegan Bradley. Has shown some encouraging flashes of late
Bernd Wiesberger. Has eyes on a Ryder Cup berth
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