Valero Texas Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
JORDAN SPIETH had gone 1,351 days without a victory. He won The Open in 2017 to record his third major success and 11th win on the PGA Tour in just five years. But then his game fell off a cliff.
He tumbled down the world rankings until starting to show signs of life early in 2021. And, finally, he won again at the Texas Open 12 months ago, and the American will be relishing returning to defend his title this week. He had gone 82 events without winning. Once the No. 1 player, he was headed out of the top 100 in the world.
But now he's back where most of us believe he belongs.
Spieth ended a mystifying slump by giving himself birdie chances and making most of them, closing with a 6-under 66 to hold off Charley Hoffman for a two-shot victory.
"There's peaks and valleys in this sport, but I never expected to go this long," Spieth said. "Back then, in between wins, maybe I took things more for granted than I should have. It's very difficult to win out here and I'll certainly enjoy this one as much as I have any other."
The only surprise was that he figured he would be more emotional. He was too busy holding off a spirited run by Hoffman, who went from a three-shot deficit with six holes to play to one shot behind. Spieth all but sealed it with a wedge to a back pin to 5 feet for birdie.
"This is a monumental win for me," Spieth said. "It's been a long road. There were a lot of times that I didn't know I would be here."
The 12th win of his career allowed him to join some elite company. In the past 40 years, only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas have won at least 12 times before turning 28.
Spieth had shown signs of turning it around after starting last year by missing the cut at Torrey Pines. He was tied for the 54-hole lead in Phoenix. He led by two going into the final round at Pebble Beach. He was two behind going into the last day at Bay Hill. He reached the weekend of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
"I've had a chance on Sundays three or four different times in the last two months, and today was by far the best that I played," Spieth said. "Just to see those putts go in, I felt like I was doing everything right those other Sundays and I hit good putts and they wouldn't go in. Today I hit a couple that I didn't quite strike very well but they went in."
Spieth once said he never really thought much about why he played well and won, he just did. Now after so much inspection of a game that got away from him, and the work it required to get back, he appears headed in the right direction.
"There's some key moments here and there, different time periods where I felt like things were turning around," he said. "There's also moments I look back on where I hit balls till my hands bled and I wasn't doing the right thing and I just went home and thought about it. Lost sleep. This sport can take you a lot of different directions."
Hoffman is a course specialist. He won here in 2016 and finished runner-up in 2011, 2019 and 2021.
With The Masters just around the corner, many of the PGA Tour’s very best players have committed to what is the 100th anniversary of the Texas Open.
Among them is Rory McIlroy, who will be trying yet again to complete the career grand slam when he arrives at Augusta.
Much has been said and written about McIlroy and there is a perception that he has been struggling with his game but, in truth, he is not far from his very best. Surprisingly, he has struggled from the tee, missing too many fairways. This is his first appearance in this event since 2013, when he finished runner-up to Scotland’s Martin Laird.
He said: “I am looking forward to returning to San Antonio and being a part of the 100th anniversary. I have fond memories of my last time competing there.”
McIlroy is, of course, one of the game’s biggest hitters. Abraham Ancer is proof that you don’t need to hit the ball 320 yards to compete at the the very highest level. The Mexican is a slight figure and has long accepted his physical limitations. He knows that he can’t keep up with the likes of McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka.
But there is more than one way to skin a cat - Ancer has become of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour because he hits fairways - lots of them. And he possesses a world-class short game.
Spieth will want to find his best before he gets to Augusta for his favourite major. His record in The Masters is quite extraordinary. He finished second on his debut in 2014, won in 2015, finished second again in 2016, tied 11th in 2017, third in 2018, tied 21st in 2019, tied 46th in 2020 and tied third last year. When you look at that record bear in mind that in 2019 and 2020 he was struggling horribly and in 2016 he was leading until he came to the 12th hole in the final round, took seven and handed the Green Jacket to Danny Willett.
Corey Conners is a man who plays well in tricky conditions and the wind is likely to blow this week. The Canadian is a proper shotmaker so don’t be at all surprised to see him there or thereabouts at a tournament he won three years ago.
It was won in 2015 by Jimmy Walker, in 2016 by Charley Hoffman, in 2017 by Kevin Chappell, in 2018 by Andrew Landry, in 2019 by Corey Conners and last year by Jordan Spieth. It wasn’t played in 2021 because of the pandemic.
The Oaks course at TPC San Antonio is a par 72 measuring 7,435 yards. As the name would suggest, it features oak-lined fairways. It was designed by Greg Norman and requires accuracy from the tee.
It would be a major surprise if Charley Hoffman does not contend here. Forget his recent form - this tournament has been something of a personal benefit for the American. Jordan Spieth hasn’t been in best form but he did finish second at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and if he can keep the ball in play from the tee he will be a threat.
Rory McIlroy. Wouldn’t be here unless he believed he could win
Charley Hoffman. Course specialist
Jordan Spieth. The comeback kid
Five to Follow:
Rory McIlroy. Back to his best
Charley Hoffman. Loves this event
Jordan Spieth. Would love to make a successful title defence
Abraham Ancer. Course should be made for his game
Richard Bland. Could he complete another fairytale?
Five Outsiders to Watch:
Jimmy Walker. Finally restored to health
Corey Conners. Excellent Canadian
Brandt Snedeker. Class is permanent
Matt Kuchar. Looking to arrest his fall down the rankings
Kevin Chappell. Former winner
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