The Valero Texas Open eclipsed $100 million in charitable contributions last year, in the process becoming just the fourth PGA TOUR event to surpass that benchmark. While all things San Antonio in springtime are attractive, funds raised for charity has been one of the calling cards for the title sponsor that forged its relationship with the tournament in 2002.
What hasn’t been as, shall we say, generous is the host course, JW Marriott TPC San Antonio. Winning here has proven to be an exercise in survival. It’s not necessarily the American Ninja Warrior of golf, but you can’t rule it out, either. Since the course debuted in 2010, the six champions have averaged 277.33 strokes for the week. TPC San Antonio is a stock par 72, so concluding the tournament at 10-under is worthy of consideration for the title and black cowboy boots awarded every victor.
Last year’s field scoring average of 74.521 was a tournament high as well as the highest of every non-major all season. The first-round scoring average of 76.695 was the highest for any round in a non-major since the final round of the 1999 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (77.563). The third and final round of that season’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am scored an unreal 79.383 several months prior.
A gusty wind is always the primary variable for robust scoring and it was in last year’s lid-lifter, touching 38 mph at times. It’s not going to come remotely close to that extreme this week, but inclement weather will remain a critical component of the narrative, just as it has in recent days in southern Texas. A reasonable threat for rain and storms trickles into Thursday before finally taking a breather until it ramps up again on Sunday. Daytime highs will flirt with 80 degrees and winds should be moderate at worst until the finale when they might freshen, although a change in direction at the midpoint will also draw attention.
The field of 156 will embrace any break it can get at TPC San Antonio, which can stretch to 7,435 yards. Influenced by that bear of a first round last year, the course yielded the second-lowest green-in-regulation percentage of the season at just 51.73. Its average proximity to the hole of 43 feet, 1 inch, ranked as the longest of any course. It measured longest in the stat in every split inside 175 yards. All pars are testy as well. Most notably, at 4.91, the par 5s were the most challenging set of the season.
Defending champion and Boerne, Texas, resident Jimmy Walker led or co-led his field in greens hit, strokes gained: putting, one-putt percentage, par breakers (22 birdies) and par-5 scoring. While that kind of multi-faceted approach would work almost everywhere, if you’re going to simplify the objective, TPC San Antonio will likely host a putting contest simply because hitting the 6,400-square foot greens on the Greg Norman design has been so difficult. To wit, four of the six winners of the VTO have finished inside the top five in strokes gained: putting en route to their titles.
POWER RANKINGS: Valero Texas Open
Rank PLAYER COMMENT 1 Charley Hoffman 2 Jimmy Walker 3 Zach Johnson 4 Matt Kuchar 5 J.B. Holmes 6 Patrick Reed 7 Aaron Baddeley 8 Billy Horschel 9 Freddie Jacobson 10 Branden Grace 11 Brendan Steele 12 Jason Kokrak 13 Daniel Summerhays 14 Bryson DeChambeau 15 Phil Mickelson
ROB BOLTON'S WRITING SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM's Fantasy Columnist Rob Bolton will be filing his usual staples leading up to this week's event. Look for the following features later this week:
MONDAY: Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Fantasy Insider, Comfort Zone, Sleepers
THURSDAY: Most-picked players
* = Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM's Expert Picks, which also publishes on Tuesdays.