Horschel has chance to display full potential at TPC San Antonio

April 06, 2013

By Tim Price, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

SAN ANTONIO -- Steady winds don’t dictate low scores nor furious rallies when the Valero Texas Open comes to TPC San Antonio. History doesn’t either.

If that remains in place -- and it looks like the windy half of the equation can be written in stone already -- Billy Horschel could break through for his first PGA TOUR title. He’s cemented his place as a contender: A two-shot leader who has made 21 consecutive cuts and is following up a second-place finish at the Shell Houston Open last week.

If Horschel, 26, splashes into the win column, he would move into the FedExCup top 5. With that kind of momentum, he’d confidently (some may say “brashly”) warn people to look out.

“I told people, I said ‘It’s going to be a scary thing,’” Horschel said after completing his worst round of his  week, a 2-under 70 on Saturday that has given him that two-stroke lead over Jim Furyk and Charley Hoffman with 18 holes to play. “It’s going to be ‘Scary Billy’ in the sense that my card’s wrapped up and now I can play a little more at ease and a little more free.”

Since coming to the AT&T Oaks Course layout three years ago, frontrunners usually win on Sunday.

Last year Ben Curtis wasn’t able to get his round to even-par until a birdie on the 72nd hole. He won by two shots after being the third-round leader.

Two years ago Brendan Steele managed a 1-under 71, and he still won after leading by a stroke coming into Sunday.

Adam Scott stands as the only winner to rally here on the final day, and that was a marathon Sunday of 36 holes when rains washed out the scheduled playing of the third round.

It looks like the Texas winds aren’t going to skip town any time soon. They blew past 20 mph Saturday, and a repeat is on the top of the weatherman’s list for tomorrow.

“Obviously, the wind made it tough to score,” world No.2 Rory McIlroy said. “It was a tough scoring day. For the most part it’s about trying to play really smart, hit fairways if you could, hit greens and give yourself as many chances as you possibly can.”

McIlroy’s on-again, off-again play switched to neutral for the most part Saturday. After birdies on two of the three opening holes, he came in with a 71 despite the fact that he’s No. 1 in greens hit this week. He had 32 putts in Round 3 and is averaging almost 31 per round.

Those numbers won’t add up to a win, here or at Augusta where McIlroy is craving a Masters win so much he skipped a week off so he could put his game under competitive fire when most of the other major contenders gave it a break leading up to the first major.

McIlroy is 6-under, four back and tied with Bob Estes and Ryan Palmer. Those fellows know Texas winds, having grown up in tumbleweed hangouts (Palmer in Amarillo and Estes around Abilene) that can make winds in San Antonio look like sneezes from ants.

“The wind is supposed to blow again tomorrow,” said Estes, who had his best finish last season here with a tie for fourth. “I look forward to that.”

Overall, Horschel will look for his first career PGA TOUR win while five players will start the round no more than four shots back. Another five (K.J. Choi, Padraig Harrington, Martin Laird, Jeff Overton and Daniel Summerhays) sit within reasonable striking distance at five back. Even Marcel Siem, who won on the European Tour last week and is six shots back, thinks he’s not out of it.

Horschel, in a surprise to no one, likes his chances. He’s played in weekend groupings this season with Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood, and he doesn’t seem fazed.

“I’ve never been star-struck out here,” said Horschel, a former Walker Cup member who played in the competition against McIlroy at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. “I’m as confident as I’ve ever been, and I feel just as good as anyone in the world. I felt I was just as good as they are. I just haven’t had the track record to prove it.”

He’s got his chance.