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18D AGO

Benny and the Bets: 'Strokes Gained: Focus' key component at Valero Texas Open

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    Written by Ben Everill @BEverillGolfbet

    I can find you good reasons to back each of the top eight on the odds board for the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio this week, but instead, I’ll give you one reason why maybe you shouldn’t.

    They’re all in the Masters field next week.

    Rory McIlroy (a +1000 favorite at BetMGM Sportsbook), Ludvig Åberg (+1200), Hideki Matsuyama (+1800), Collin Morikawa (+2000), Corey Conners (+2200), Jordan Spieth (+2200), Max Homa (+2500) and Matt Fitzpatrick (+2800) are all sensational golfers.

    In fact, they have 11 majors between them and of those in the group who don’t… Well, Conners is a two-time Valero champion, Homa is a six-time TOUR winner and Åberg is already a PGA TOUR, DP World Tour and Ryder Cup winner at age 24.

    But the fact is, a player not already qualified for a trip down Magnolia Lane has won seven of the last 10 occasions. with the final April Masters ticket available via a last-ditch TOUR win. Is this coincidence?

    My feelings as to why this has happened, is rooted in absolute focus. The strength of competition on the PGA TOUR is so deep that if you let your mind wander for just a shot or two, you can pay the ultimate price. And with the Masters on the horizon, anyone set to tee it up there, cannot help but have half an eye forward. Lots goes into Masters week, both on and off the course.

    I might be alone in this way of thinking. Colleagues at Golfbet tell me I may be putting too much emphasis on this. And they can point to Conners as one of the outliers on his way to winning last year. Spieth was another in 2021. So, we do have proof from this crew that using TPC San Antonio as a way to get reps in before the first major of the year can result in triumph.


    Corey Conners wins again at Valero Texas Open


    The first round becomes the key for those playing in Augusta the week after. Start strong and they’ll be looking to keep the mojo going in Texas. Start poorly and the energy needed to grind hard for three days gets subconsciously weighed up against pre-tournament practice in another state.

    Perhaps, the best argument against ignoring Masters-bound players is based on field strength. This is the highest quality field in this timeslot for some time, so the trend toward the non-exempt crew might be turning on numbers alone. There were just 11 players in the same boat a year ago compared to 30 this week. The loss of the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship in the lead up to the Masters brings more players to San Antonio looking to sharpen their games.

    Joining the above in heading from Valero to Augusta National are Byeong Hun An, Eric Cole, Austin Eckroat, Harris English, Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler, Ryan Fox, Lucas Glover, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Ryo Hisatsune, Lee Hodges, Nicolai Højgaard, Zach Johnson, Tom Kim, Denny McCarthy, Grayson Murray, Thorbjørn Olesen, Adam Schenk, Adam Scott, Erik van Rooyen and Camilo Villegas.

    I’m not suggesting ignoring these stud players all together. Much as we talked about when we expected one side of the draw to be easier than the other at the recent Valspar Championship because of weather, perhaps we need to look at both Masters-eligible and not-yet-eligible options this week. Spread our units more thinly or cast a wider net.

    I’d like to wait until after the important opening round. Then you’ll have a good idea of who is contending, and who might be out of the mix early. Also, be aware of the early weather forecast calling for Friday afternoon wind gusts. We got burned on this at Valspar, but it’s important to monitor nonetheless. It’s possible the late-early wave is set to get the best of conditions.

    We know TPC San Antonio is a Strokes Gained: Approach course – five of the last six Valero champions were top four in SG: Approach and three of them led the field. Last year the top four on the leaderboard were also the top four in SG: Approach.

    Stretching it out, we see seven of the last eight winners were top five in SG: Tee-to-Green… so it extends to driving and around the green. This is no doubt a ball-striking course.

    The last three winners in Spieth, J.J. Spaun and Conners were all 10 under on the par 5s on the way to victory. This ties into the fact that TPC San Antonio sees a much higher-than-average amount of approach shots from over 250 yards.

    Outrights

    He knew it was coming via his world ranking, but one of the last officially invited players to the Masters is someone I also like this week at TPC San Antonio. An +3300 has had some success here in the past – a T6 last season and T7 in 2019 – and is also quietly putting together a nice season despite missing the cut at THE PLAYERS in his last start. Prior to that, An put up five top-25s and three top-10s. He sits 15th in SG: Off-the-Tee and 25th in SG: Tee-to-Green and also ranks second in birdie average. His propensity to make some errors does concern me a little, but I also appreciate his good proximity from long distance this week.

    From the non-Masters crew, I had to admire (even if somewhat begrudgingly as it helped my lead in the Golfbet expert picks tally disappear) Billy Horschel’s (+3300) efforts last Sunday in Houston, as he surged up the leaderboard for a T7. It made three top-12 finishes in his last four starts and gives hope we are seeing a return to some of the former FedExCup winner's best stuff. He's been missing from Valero for a while but has three top-fours in the event. He ranks sixth in SG: Total, 27th SG: Tee-to-Green and 14th in SG: Putting among other impressive moves. And, I can’t forget the iron clinic he threw at us out of nowhere a few years back in winning the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday.


    Billy Horschel on current state of his game at Valero


    Place Markets

    In the Masters crew, you can’t leave defending champion Conners (+225 for Top 10) out of your thoughts in any format this week. Also the winner in 2019, as a Monday qualifier no less, he has great vibes going at TPC San Antonio. He’s made for this track. Currently ranks second on TOUR in Greens in Regulation percentage, sixth in SG: Approach, 10th in SG: Tee-to-Green, 22nd in driving accuracy, 14th in Proximity, second in approaches from 275+ yards … the list of reasons goes on and on.

    From those not thinking about Magnolia Lane, I am going back to the well on Aaron Rai (+400 for a Top 10) and Andrew Novak (+350 for Top 20, +130 for a Top 40). Rai has finished T28 and T29 in his previous starts here so if you want to go more conservative for a top 20 that might make sense. We did, after all, connect on top 20 and 40 last week. But he is coming off a T7 and sits 19th on TOUR in SG: Tee-to-Green and leads the TOUR in driving accuracy.

    Novak was ninth at the Valero Texas Open a year ago and has since improved as a player. His fade over the weekend in Houston was not fun to watch – falling from a top-10 chance to a T53, but I’m giving him another chance at 16th on TOUR in SG: Approach and 18th in SG: Tee-to-Green.

    Longshots

    Veterans are on my radar this week, starting with Ryan Moore (+12500). This long-timer has three Valero top-10s and a recent T5 at the Valspar Championship. He also ranks fourth on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Approach and 12th in SG: Tee-to-Green. Only his putter is holding him back. Then you’ve also got Matt Kuchar at +125000. His last four trips to TPC San Antonio were T3-T2-T12-T7.

    For resources to overcome a gambling problem, call or text 1-800-GAMBLER today.

    Senior Writer, Golfbet Follow Ben Everill on Twitter.

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