Billy Horschel kept to his game plan by hitting driver on tight holes at TPC San Antonio. (Dykes/Getty Images)
By Mark Immelman, Special to PGATOUR.COM
It was an exciting week in the Lone Star State, as a strong field assembled at The TPC San Antonio. Chilly temperatures defined Thursday’s play, and a blustery wind made scoring tough over the second and third rounds. Sunday, however, was a different proposition entirely, and near-perfect conditions made the tough Greg Norman design a lot more getable.
Third-round leader Billy Horschel built a three stroke lead early, but Scotsman Martin Laird was not going to go down without a shootout. He fired a course record 63, the lowest round of the week (by three strokes) to overtake the pack for the victory.
I was fortunate to get a ringside seat for Horschel’s play, as I had the call for Sirius/XM PGA TOUR Radio. I thus have a lesson we can learn from him, but Martin Laird’s phenomenal performance in the final round also holds a scoring lesson for us:
Billy Horschel: Horschel was solid throughout the week, but a statistic that defined his performance and something that is key to competitive success was his bounce-back ability. Through 54 holes, Horschel had made seven bogeys, but he managed to bounce back from those with five immediate birdies.
Rebounding from a mistake is imperative if you want to make consistently good scores and there are a few keys to improving your ability to do so:
Have fun despite an error: Horschel told me that he made an effort to enjoy his play no matter what was going on, and I feel like that approach allowed him to stay loose all of the time. That lack of tension thanks to the easy-going approach is imperative to your swing and your putting stroke working as they should.
Go with your money club as often as possible: Billy admitted that he will hit his driver no matter the circumstance, and he stayed true to that approach despite some gusty winds and tight fairways. There is an object lesson in that approach. Just as Horschel did, look for every opportunity to go with your go-to shot and your money club as often as you can. Confidence breeds success, so why not go with a shot (and a club) that you are confident in whenever you can?
Martin Laird: Honestly, Laird’s final round was not something I thought possible considering the difficulty of the golf course. But he got on an early run and then kept the momentum up and closed well for a 63. To me, the key to his record round was not only the fast start he got, it was also his quick three-birdie finish.
Finish strong: In every sports contest, the spoils normally go to the person or the team that closes with a flourish. Certainly, Laird got himself into contention with a great front nine, but his three closing birdies won the event for him. So like Laird, aim to play your final three holes in anything under par, and I promise you that you will move up the leaderboard more often than not.
To that point, whatever your level of play – around par, bogey or perhaps even worse – strive for a strong finish and you will see your results improve. One of many keys to closing well is to stay in the proverbial present on every shot. Make every effort to pull your attentions back to the shot at hand. Those final three holes deserve your undivided attention, so make it a goal to intensify your focus, your decision-making and your visualization on each shot.
Watch the pros, and you will see that happen without fail.
Mark Immelman, the brother of PGA TOUR professional Trevor Immelman, is a well-respected golf instructor and head coach of the Columbus State University (Ga.) golf team. For more information about Mark and his instruction, visit his web site, markimmelman.com or follow him on Twitter @mark_immelman or “Like” Mark Immelman Golf Instruction on Facebook. He also has a golf instruction e-book called “Consistently Straight Shots – The Simple Solution” available on iTunes/iBooks.
Laird took only 22 putts in his final round at TPC San Antonio (Dykes/Getty Images)
By Dr. Gregg Steinberg, Special to PGATOUR.COM
Martin Laird won the Valero Texas Open with his putter. He needed only 22 putts in the final round to tie the course record with a blistering 63 at the TPC San Antonio.
If you watched Laird during this week, you would notice a key component in his pre-putting routine. As he looked at the hole, he would simulate the movement of his stroke with his right hand. He is getting into what I call “the feel zone.”
You need to accomplish only two factors to make a putt-hit the correct line coupled with the correct speed. Of course, those two factors are very difficult to get matched up, but when you do, you will see yourself sinking one putt after another.
The problem with most amateurs is that they focus primarily on line. They first figure how the ball will break. Next, amateurs will take a couple of practice strokes with the desired technique. Then make their stroke so that the ball roles on the chosen line.
Does this sound like your pre-putting routine?
The problem with your putting could be that you get stuck in the analytical mode. To putt your best, you will need to let go of being “too line oriented” and get into the feel zone like Martin Laird did this past week.
Here are 3 steps in your pre-putting routine to help you get into the feel zone:
Step 1. Pick up the ball and pretend to roll it. Although Martin Laird simulated the roll with his right hand, even better is to place the golf ball in your right hand and pretend to roll it toward the target. The weight of the ball helps you to gain better feel.
Step 2. Visualize the break. Visualize how the ball will break from the start position to when it enters the hole. But don’t just visualize the arc of the line, also imagine the actual speed of the putt. The greater your visualization process, the better feel you will have.
Step 3. Take practice strokes for feel only. Your only goal of the practice stroke is to feel the speed so it can take the intended line. Make a few practice strokes until you gain that desired feel.
Let’s be honest, getting your ball close to the hole is not that difficult, however, sinking putts is one of the toughest parts of the game. It gets a little easier when you get into the feel zone.
Dr. Gregg Steinberg is the author of the best selling golf psychology book, MentalRules for Golf. He is a regular guest every Tuesday on “Talk of the Tour” heard on the Sirius/XM PGA TOUR radio. Dr. Gregg is a tenured professor of sports psychology and has been the mental game coach for many PGA TOUR players. You can see more about him at www.drgreggsteinberg.com, and you can e-mail him at email@example.com for any comments or questions about your mental game.
Rory McIlroy made a run on Sunday but couldn't catch a red-hot Marin Laird. (Dykes/Getty Images)
By Tim Price, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
SAN ANTONIO -- It got a bit shaky at times this week for Rory McIlroy, but he accomplished what he wanted by coming to the Valero Texas Open in an effort to get ready to tee it up at the Masters in four days.
“Everything I wanted to accomplish this week, I accomplished,” McIlroy said after a final-round 66 at TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks Course. “I’m very happy that I’m going into next week with my game in good shape and my confidence level pretty high.”
It would have gotten even better if not for Martin Laird. McIlroy had an eight-birdie, two-bogey performance to finish at 12-under for the tournament. But Laird recovered mightily from an 11-month slump and fired a course-record-tying 63 to beat McIlroy by two shots.
The 66 has to be considered even better than the final-round 65 McIlroy shot at Trump Doral to finish eighth at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. TPC San Antonio was a brutal test conducted in winds that consistently blew in the 20-25 mph range.
He increased his number of competitive rounds this year from nine to 13. His solo second is his best finish this year and best since winning the BMW Championship in the FedExCup Playoffs.
But current form isn't always the best indicator for McIlroy. He went into the Masters last year off top-three finishes in each of his three events leading up to Augusta, including the win at The Honda. But he also took three weeks off prior to The Masters.
“I thought if I got to 12-under that it might have been good enough today,” McIlroy said. “But Martin played just too good and holed so many putts. It was hard to keep up.”
Putting, in fact, will be the thing McIlroy must improve between now and his first green at Augusta. He was first in greens hit this week (almost 78 percent hit in regulation), was ranked 15th in total driving, yet he failed to crack the top 60 in putting. It could have been worse if not for his 26 putts on Sunday, his best by three putts. There were two days he had more than 30 putts.
“I think it’s just about getting my short game as sharp as possible around there,” McIlroy said. “I think everything else is pretty good. Iron play is good. Driving the ball -- I didn’t quite drive the ball that well today but my 3-wood was working pretty good.”
McIlroy uncorked a 3-wood 325 yards at the downwind 15th, then made a mistake that probably cost him one last shot at catching Laird. With 125 yards in, he pushed his approach right, flirted with the deep bunker and had to chip from about 20 feet. He ran it past and made a good four-footer coming back to save par.
He birdied 16 with a 13-foot putt, but Laird was able to match everything in the group ahead.
Martin Flores notched his first top-10 finish of the 2013 season this week in San Antonio. (Halleran/Getty Images)
By Tim Price, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
SAN ANTONIO -- Martin Flores sometimes thinks he didn’t get enough golf in when he lived less than 30 minutes from the place that would become TPC San Antonio.
Flores won the state high school championship while playing at the city’s Clark High School. But he left with his family after his sophomore year and only gets back to play when the Valero Texas Open comes to the AT&T Oaks Course.
It brings back good memories, and it only got better when he shot a final-round 68 for a tie for 10th. He was 7-under and seven shots back of winner Martin Laird.
The only thing that makes it better is doing it in front of friends and family -- including his 89-year-old grandfather.
“Yeah, he’s on a little scooter somewhere,” Flores said.
The Flores family left for Dallas-Fort Worth area when his father got a transfer. That was 1998, and TPC San Antonio opened a dozen years later. He finished up high school at Mansfield, losing in a playoff for a second state championship his senior year and then headed to University of Oklahoma where he eventually would be a teammate of Anthony Kim.
This is the 31-year-old Flores’ best finish this year. He has made six cuts in 10 tournaments. His previous best was a 34th-place finish at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“My short game was very solid,” Flores said (he finished in the top 5 in putting and finished every round with less than 30 putts). “I always seemed to keep myself in it.”
His measured drives this week eclipsed 300 yards and put him in the top 10.
The only thing Flores had to explain that was curious about his game was his choice of shirts. A Sooner wearing the orange of arch-rival Texas?
“I’ve got to explain that,” he said sheepishly. “It all started at Q School, the first time I got on TOUR I just happened to have an orange shirt left I shot a final-round 65 to get may card. Ever since then I said I played well in the final round wearing orange.
“Definitely got some criticism from my OU friends for wearing orange. I guess I just have to keep wearing it.”
This was his best finish since coming in sixth at The Greenbrier Classic last year.
“But this is one of my favorite places to come back to,” Flores said. “There are so many good memories of growing up. It was great to see old faces.”
With a finish like this, Flores’ face may be the one people see at future events.
The winner of the Valero Teas Open is headed to the Masters, only it wasn't the player anyone perhaps expected.
Martin Laird shot a sizzling 9-under 63 Sunday, birdieing his final three holes, to win at TPC San Antonio. The victory is his first in two years and will send the Scot to Augusta National.
In eight starts this season, Laird missed the cut in half of them. In the other half, his best finish was a tie for 34th.
Sunday, however, Laird made nine birdies and no bogeys on a difficult TPC San Antonio course that annually ranks among the toughest on the PGA TOUR.
It is the 11th time a player has won the week before the year's first major to get into the field at the Masters. It also helped keep a streak of major appearances alive for the 30-year-old, who will be playing in his 11th straight major.
The win by Laird also ends a streak of U.S. dominance this season. American players had won the first 14 events of the season.
Rory McIlroy, who added the tournament to his schedule at the last minute in order to get more competitive rounds under his belt, finished second two strokes back after a 66.
It was McIlroy's best result on TOUR since winning last year's BMW Championship.
Billy Horschel, who began the day with a two-shot lead and was bidding for his first Masters appearance, tied for third after a 71 along with Charley Hoffman and Jim Furyk.
Martin Laird carded a course-record-tying 63 Sunday at TPC San Antonio to rally and win the Valero Texas Open for his third PGA TOUR victory and first since the 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
The victory moves Laird inside the top 20 in the latest FedExCup standings and securs the Scot a bid in next week's Masters.
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We're down to the last handful of holes at TPC San Antonio, and Rory McIlroy is in contention for his first win of the year.
McIlroy is one back of Martin Laird after two birdies in his last three holes to get to 4 under on his round and 10 under overall.
Two shots back are Billy Horschel and Jim Furyk, while K.J. Choi is another stroke back at 8 under.
In four events on the PGA TOUR this season, McIlroy has just one top 10. But that came in a limited field at Doral. Still, he showed signs of progress with a final-round 65 there.
A victory Sunday wouldn't move McIlroy back to No. 1 in the world -- a position he lost to Tiger Woods after Woods' victory at Bay Hill two weeks ago -- but it would be his first since the BMW Championship last season.
Martin Laird has moved to the top of the leaderboard at 11 under after six birdies through his first dozen holes at TPC San Antonio.
That has the Scot one shot clear of overnight leader Billy Horschel, who is just even par on the day but has made several key par putts.
In all, there are five players within three shots of Laird, including Rory McIlroy and Jim Furyk, who are 9 and 8 under, respectively.
McIlroy is 3 under on the day and has three birdies over his last five holes, his only hiccup a bogey on the par-4 10th.
Should Laird go on to win, it would be his third career victory on the PGA TOUR. His last came in 2011 at Bay Hill.