By Dave Shedloski
One of the oldest events on the PGA TOUR, starting in 1922, the Valero Texas Open is long on tradition, but not at this spot on the schedule. After three years of being played before the Masters Tournament, the event has been pushed back to mid-April. It also has been played in May some years.
The Valero Texas Open has featured some of the lowest scoring in TOUR history — including Tommy Armour’s TOUR record 254 in 2003 at La Cantera. But that hasn’t been the case since it moved to TPC San Antonio. Adam Scott and Martin Laird have shot the lowest 72-hole aggregate score of 274 in 2010 and 2013, respectively. The AT&T Oaks Course, measuring 7,435 yards, par 72, features narrow fairways, deep bunkers and tricky greens. Just off the fairways lurks native vegetation that can be difficult to escape, which Kevin Na found out four years ago when he recorded a 16 on the par-4 ninth.
San Antonio’s own Jimmy Walker is the defending champion against the field that features five other past winners and nine of the top 30 in the world. It also includes nearly everyone who finished in the top 10 last week at the RBC Heritage, including winner Branden Grace. Others top-10 finishers from Hilton Head teeing it up this week include: Luke Donald (T2), Bryson DeChambeau (T4), Bryce Molder (T6), Whee Kim (T6), Jason Kokrak (T6), Ricky Barnes (T9), Aaron Baddeley (T9), Will McGirt (T9), Kevin Chappell (T9) and Matt Kuchar (T9).
CBS Sports’ Peter Kostis, who will be calling this weekend’s action from the 16th hole tower, looks at the tournament’s possible stories.
The Oaks Course, designed by Greg Norman with help from Sergio Garcia, is a difficult layout. Does it favor any particular type of player?
It’s exceptionally tough in the wind. It’s not necessarily the best layout for the conditions you get in San Antonio. It was built at a time when everyone was trying to curtail low scoring. The bunkers are deep. The greens are fairly severe. It’s either fairway or trouble. Overall, it’s very difficult. It doesn’t favor anyone. I suppose it favors the strategist who plots his way around.
Branden Grace, who won his first PGA TOUR title last week at the RBC Heritage, is in the field. Can he win two in a row?
He’s another one of those international players who is really solid. He’s a good, solid ball striker. He’s a fighter. His putting has let him down sometimes, but not last week. The competition is getting faster and more furious on the PGA TOUR all the time.
What do you make of Bryson DeChambeau after his T-4 last week at Hilton Head? He was in the Valero Texas Open field on a sponsor exemption, but now he doesn’t need it after his top-10 finish.
He’s obviously got game. Everyone is focusing on his golf swing and his clubs and the uniqueness of what he’s doing. But in some ways he isn’t unique from the standpoint of managing his game. I’m a big fan of what he’s doing. I’ve been a proponent for years of people making the same length irons and woods — that is, clubs of only two lengths — for juniors to learn only two setups and two swings. It would simplify the process of getting into playing golf.
What should we expect from Phil Mickelson after he missed the cut in the Masters?
He was a late commitment to Valero. Maybe he felt like he needed an extra week of competition. Either he’s testing out something new, or he’s playing really well. I know he is disappointed in missing the cut at Augusta. It will be interesting to see what he brings to the tournament this week.
Can you give us a few names for favorites and dark horses?
I’m going to go a little off of what I saw last week at Harbour Town. I’m looking at some guys like Zach Johnson, who has won this event a few times, and Matt Kuchar. Both are playing well. I’m still waiting for Patrick Reed to come around and start playing well again. Dark horses… I think Charley Hoffman, who has nine top-15 finishes in this event, played well most of last week and should contend again. Jason Kokrak, whom I followed in the final round, is doing a lot of good things. It’s been a while since Brendan Steele played well. Maybe going back to a place where he’s had success will be good for him.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.