After the US Masters, the PGA Tour heads to Texas and the Valero Texas Open at the Greg Norman-designed TPC San Antonio.
The course will be staging the event for the second time and is a tough, tree-lined and long 7,500yard par-72 course. The course is reminiscent of Australian-style sandbelt courses, and last year ranked 17th toughest on the Tour. Strong winds can often blow across the course, making scoring tough.
Given the Australian feel to the course, its little surprise that Australians are expected to perform well here this week; indeed, the defending champion is US Masters joint runner-up Adam Scott, and five of the top ten finishers in the season’s first major reoppose this week.
So let’s look at Scott’s chances first. The defending champion will be a popular choice to better last week’s joint runner-up finish, and he will certainly be confident of doing so. However, there’s no telling what that final round took out of him, and the manner of defeat behind Charl Schwartzel when he might have expected a play-off might have deflated him. A best priced 12/1 isn’t enough to tempt me into backing him this week on the strength of his performance at Augusta, and I reckon he’ll struggle for form this week.
Scot Martin Laird has impressed me this season, and won the Arnold Palmer Invitational recently before posting a tied-20th place in the Masters. This will be his first look at TPC San Antonio, but he will be itching to follow up on that win in the Arnold Palmer and playing alongside Tiger Woods last week will have been a thrill in itself for the US-based Scot. All layouts seem to come alike to Laird, who seems able to perform regardless of the course and at 16/1 he can contend again this week.
Ricky Barnes could be overpriced at 40/1, and the Arizona resident shouldn’t have too much difficulty over this course, where hitting greens-in-regulation is of huge importance. Barnes tied-20th with Martin Laird in the Masters last week, on the back of a missed cut and a 4th place finish in preceding weeks, and last year finished 5th at Hilton Head on the back of his 10th place in the Masters. Barnes is a real threat when he gets up a head of steam as is the case this week, and with conditions no problem, I’d expect to see him towards the top end of the leader-board.
For a huge outsider, one could do worse than give a second glance to James Driscoll, who is available at 200/1. Driscoll has played this event twice – in 2009 where he finished 2nd after losing to Zach Johnson in a play-off, and last year where he tied 9th alongside Jason Day. Driscoll opened with a 63 to equal the course record at Trump International a few weeks ago in Puerto Rico, and although he couldn’t hold onto his lead with rounds of 71-74-76, he has to be of interest this week given his tournament record.
Five top-30s in seven starts for Geoff Ogilvy show the Australian is in decent form and while Charl Schwarzel carded four straight birdies to win in Augusta, people seem to have overlooked Ogilvie’s five-in-a-row to haul himself into contention. Like Laird, this will be his first look at the course, but the Australian-style layout of TPC San Antonio should hold no fears for Ogilvy, and he certainly has the length off the tee and the close control of the golf ball. He looks a more value proposition at 12/1 than Adam Scott does at 8s.
JB Holmes has featured a few times already this season, and I believe the Kentucky native can mount a challenge again this week. Holmes led this tournament after 54 holes last year, only to collapse on the final round. However, he did finish second in GIR and topped the charts for driving distance in what counted as one of his 12 top-25 finishes that season. Two top-10s and no missed cuts from seven starts suggest Holmes is holding his form well enough to contend again this week, and with his solid ball striking and GIR stats in 2011, the 28/1 represents good value.
Selection: Geoff Ogilvy
Savers: JB Holmes, Ricky Barnes