5 Players to Watch at The Valero Texas Open
The PGA Tour will remain in Texas for the final event before the first men's major of the season: The Masters.
The attention is rightfully on the impending trip to Georgia, but players will use this week to prepare efficiently for their annual shot at the green jacket.
This year marks special importance for the Texas Open, as they’ll be celebrating their 100th anniversary.
With players such as Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy in the field, you can expect a fascinating warm-up that will lead us nicely into the main event.
The Previous Edition
Jordan Spieth will be returning as defending champion as he pipped Charley Hoffman and Matt Wallace to the title last season.
Hoffman must have been rueing his opening round score of 75, which effectively acted as the difference as he lost by two strokes.
Spieth was steady throughout the majority of the week, carding 67-70-67-66 as he returned to the winner’s circle after a lengthy spell away.
Wallace, who is still seeking his first win on American soil, led after 54 holes but his uninspiring 70 resulted in him being leapfrogged by both Spieth and Hoffman on the final day.
The lowest score of the week went to Camilo Villegas, who put together a marvellous 64 before faltering with three successive rounds in the 70s.
Five to Shine
This will be the final opportunity for players to experience competitive golf before Augusta opens its gates with open arms.
The Texas Open will also act as the last chance for players to earn a slot in the Masters field, so there’s a lot riding on this one for a select few.
We continue to start with the defending champion, and this has become somewhat of a ritual that we must sustain(!). Jordan Spieth will have fond memories of his victory in his home state from 12 months ago, but we know he’d trade it for another green jacket. Can we expect much from him this week? Obviously, that depends on the Spieth that turns up but you would be a fool to remove him from contention without a single ball being driven. If we look at his finishes this term, they will certainly be short of what he expects of himself. Just one top 10 to date - runner-up at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am - and missing the cut at The Players Championship would have stung - although he was unfortunate with the disastrous weather.
One thing we must remember is that he is actively working on his swing. You would have witnessed it when he goes through the motions of his pre-shot routine, he’s dialling in those changes. With that in mind, it’s important we aren’t overly critical of him because as we know, swing changes can take a lot of time to feel comfortable. His statistics aren’t poor by any means, although his scoring average (71.554, 155th) simply isn’t good enough to compete against the world’s best. He’s driving the ball with good distance (308.6 yards, 23rd) but his accuracy of 57.82% (128th) will need to improve across the week if he wants to successfully defend his title. When the American is putting well that’s typically his tell that he’s playing with confidence and if we see a laser-like Spieth on the greens, we can only wish good luck to the rest of the field. A big chance for the 28-year-old to ignite his season.
Remember when we said there are a select few golfers who can earn a Masters invite if they win this event? Richard Bland may be the greatest storyline to follow this week. He was agonisingly close to securing his Georgia plane ticket at the World Golf Championship-Match Play, but defeat to Dustin Johnson - after being two-up - brought a swift end to that potential outcome. In all fairness, away from the final day, Johnson was in sublime form and it would have taken everything that Bland had to overcome his spirited opponent - which he almost produced. Nevertheless, there’s a new opportunity on the horizon and you can bet that Bland will prepare for it as well as anyone could. Will we see him become a PGA Tour champion? Yes. Yes, we will.
He's not featured in many events this season and made his debut in America for the year at the WGC that took place across the weekend. Of the five events he has played on the DP World Tour, he has progressed through to the weekend on three occasions. Missing the cut at the Abu Dhabi Championship would have been frustrating, but to bounce back and force Viktor Hovland to triumph through a playoff the following week demonstrated his elite mentality. Sure, that would have stung, but the opportunities for further glory are certainly there. His driving accuracy on the DP World Tour undoubtedly needs to improve (49.11%, 112th) but a driving distance of 292 yards means he's not as far back as you might expect from a 49-year-old. He’s locating 66.67% of greens (83rd) and boasts a stroke average of 70.13 (47th) - which is comfortably better than the tour’s average of 70.80. He certainly has the tools to do well and it will come down to how much he wants it; we’re sure there’s no-one who wants it more than England’s Richard Bland.
With the Masters looming patiently, it’s difficult not to have the world’s best names dominate this list. For Rory McIlroy, Augusta has been a difficult place. Having been expected to win the event by now, each passing year must compound the misery he seemingly endures on an annual basis. Sure, there were close calls - T5th in 2020, T5th in 2018, T7th in 2017, 4th in 2015 and T8th in 2014 – but he has never finished within the top 3, which is absolutely bonkers if you really think about it. Without a win since 2014 only increases the pressure of every major, but there’s no doubt this is the one he’ll want - the one he needs. A victory here would be PGA Tour win number 21, and it will also act as perfect preparation for the big one.
He's enduring a fairly decent season and picking up the CJ Cup title would have definitely bolstered his confidence. What we are seeing recently, however, is the Northern Irishman start tournaments in true McIlroy fashion before faltering as the event progresses. This has become somewhat synonymous with the golfer in recent years - highlighted annually at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. We do wonder if embracing fatherhood may change his outlook on golf, considering it will no longer be his number one priority. This could easily be the shift in mindset that gets him over the line, although we won’t know more until the conclusion of the final major - The Open Championship. We don’t need to dissect and ponder deeply into his statistics, the time for preparation is almost at the end. A strong performance, not necessarily a victory, will be enough to send him marching to Georgia with the utmost of confidence - and that is exactly what he’ll be targeting.
Charley Hoffman deserves specific praise for his performances in the Texas Open, considering he is the event’s overall money leader. In 15 starts, he has progressed through the cut on each occasion. It doesn’t matter who you are or what reputation you have carved for yourself, that is an astonishing stat that deserves mentioning. Winning the event in 2016 was followed by runner-up finishes in 2019 and 2021, which should speak volumes about how well this man knows the behaviour of every blade of grass at TPC San Antonio. At the age of 45, will there be many more victories? Usually, you’d be inclined to say no. However, the continuous rise of Richard Bland will inspire all golfers in their 40s.
Hoffman has failed to record a top 10 finish this season, with his best week being at the Fortinet Championship (T22nd). His statistics would also suggest that he can’t compete with the world’s absolute best and you would typically agree with that, but he becomes a completely different player for this event and it’s great to see someone away from the world’s top 10 win. Averaging more than 307 yards off the tee at 45 years of age is fantastic but it comes at a costly price, finding just 45.87% of fairways (210th). Whilst he’s accurate with his irons, he’s certainly no wizard, and you need to find more than 66.03% (132nd) of greens if you want to win on the PGA Tour. Perhaps the most disappointing is his scoring average (71.941, 191st). However, the younger players have seriously elevated the standard of competition on the tour, and they also have a 20+ year advantage in terms of flexibility. To summarise, it’s rare for Hoffman not to turn up at the Texas Open - so keep a keen eye on his performance this weekend.
‘One down, three to go’ is what Bryson DeChambeau will be thinking to himself as he prepares for this year’s Masters. He’ll be well aware of Rory McIlroy’s struggles and of all the competitions, perhaps winning the Masters may be the most difficult - not for Phil Mickelson, of course! DeChambeau’s dominance of the U.S. Open looked set to propel his career dramatically, but it hasn’t quite clicked since his inaugural major victory. He looks certain to remain with the approach of muscling his way through a golf course, and that’s acceptable for some layouts, but as demonstrated across the weekend, not every golf course can be attacked that way. Augusta is certainly one that requires careful thought and finesse. He has had to endure six weeks on the sidelines, missing key events such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship - where he was the defending champion for the former.
He did not hit a ball in competition for the duration of February, and he only squeezed in a performance at the end of March. Is he fully fit? It’s highly likely that’s a firm no. However, DeChambeau always keeps his cards tightly close to his chest, so it’s impossible to know his true condition fully. The American has played so little golf, he doesn’t qualify for ranking in his statistics for this season, so to expect him to win here would be naïve to say the least. When you’re an elite athlete, however, you can achieve things that are often thought of being impossible, so we can’t rule out the world’s number 13. It’s great to see him playing professional golf again and you can be sure that when DeChambeau is involved in a tournament, drama can take place at any given moment - welcome back, Bryson!
Those are the five golfers we will be keeping a close eye on over the duration of the Texas Open, but every golfer will be looking to find form at the right time.
Considering that historically, only two players have won the previous event before winning the Masters, the field might want to stay away from victory for this one(!).
Who do you think will win this year’s Texas Open?
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