Thursday, December 7, 2023

Valero Texas Open preview and best bets

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Ben Coley put up a 100/1 winner, 100/1 fifth and 45/1 sixth across the tours last week. Get his selections for the Valero Texas Open.

Golf betting tips: Valero Texas Open

2pts e.w. Davis Riley at 25/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Nick Hardy at 100/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Eric Cole at 100/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Kevin Streelman at 100/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. David Lingmerth at 110/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Erik van Rooyen at 125/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

There is one more place available in the field for next week’s Masters Tournament, and one way to get it: you have to win the Valero Texas Open, this hundred-year-old PGA Tour event whose identity is now shaped not by the history books, but by the calendar.

JJ Spaun did it last year and Corey Conners did it in 2019, one as your regular outsider, the other as a player who wasn’t even in the field and had to come through a Monday qualifier. Before all this, when the Houston Open occupied the same slot, Ian Poulter also used it as his way back to Augusta National, beating Beau Hossler in a passable impression of the famed Ryder Cup ‘Postman’.

Russell Henley, Jim Herman, Matt Jones and DA Points are others to have managed to lock their jaws onto one of the biggest carrots this sport can dangle, and there’s a strong chance we’re adding a new name to the list on Sunday. Why? Because there are just eight players in this field who have already received their written invitations to the first major of the year.

As a result, officials at TPC San Antonio don’t have to worry much about whether their course offers any similarities with Augusta National (although there’s a chicken-and-egg element to that), and the two are very different. Just as it seems likely that the Masters field grows by one, it’s unlikely that the winner of it is playing here in Texas, unless Hideki Matsuyama finds something. An osteopath, maybe?

The Masters on Sporting Life

  • Coming this Friday: Ben Coley’s player-by-player guide
  • Next Monday: Full outright betting preview and tips
  • Plus a guide to Augusta, in-play tips, reports and more

Back to matters at hand and well-known Augusta grumbler Tyrrell Hatton heads the betting by default from Conners and Rickie Fowler, the most high-profile Masters absentee as things stand.

It says much about this field that Fowler is the most appealing of the three, but he wasn’t exactly bullish about the state of his swing last week despite beating Jon Rahm in his opening match, and it’s a big ask to take care of the twin aims of qualifying and ending a long winless run at the precise moment people begin to expect it of you.

Winners here are somewhat varied, but so many of them are what you’d call rock-solid drivers of a ball. That description certainly covers Spaun, Conners and Andrew Landry, three of the last four champions, while it extends back to the very first time the event came here and Adam Scott.

Brendan Steele, Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell have all won in the interim, and again they’re strong, pretty long drivers who can build a platform upon a par 72 designed by one of the finest drivers of them all, Lord Voldemort.

With approach play no less important and several winners here what you’d generously describe as average putters, I’m going to start with the player I’m sweetest on at the prices, NICK HARDY.

It’s no doubt been a poor season so far for a player who enjoyed a solid rookie campaign that saw him flirt with the top of the leaderboard in the US Open and get in the mix a couple of times thereafter.

Injury and a slow start ultimately meant Hardy had to go back to Korn Ferry Tour Finals to earn a second crack and it was no surprise to see him take care of business there, before soon securing his best finish yet at this level with fifth place in the Sanderson Farms.

What has been surprising is the way he’s played since, but I like what I heard from Hardy when he spoke to journalist Ryan French recently. He talked about his struggles with a desire for perfection, and reflected on the lessons he learned from an inspiring college coach that he’d let get away from him.

More tangibly, he also talked about how proud he was with his closing nine at the Valspar, the way he’d focused on getting through to the weekend. That he came up one shot short didn’t appear to have concerned him and hearing that, it’s not a big surprise that he’s since taken another step forward with 13th place in the Dominican Republic last week.

Hardy improved as the week went on, rounds of 73-69-67-67 seeing him climb from 58th to a shot out of the top-10 after a 10-under weekend. It has the makings of a real platform, just like when he returned from injury on the Korn Ferry Tour last May and played the best golf of his life in the weeks which followed that confidence-boosting second.

Generally a strong driver, his ball-striking was good at the Valspar and had shown similar signs at Sawgrass, so while we don’t have strokes-gained data from the Corales Puntacana, we do know things have been looking up. At 14th in strokes-gained approach for the season, he currently ranks as the fifth-best iron player in this field, too.

Hardy has some experience of San Antonio, finishing 18th when the Korn Ferry Tour came here in the summer of 2020, and while missing the cut on his return last year, he showed promise with a second-round 70. He’d been in poor form at the time whereas, 12 months on, there’s a fair deal more substance to what he’s achieved.

If he can show any kind of step forward for last week, Hardy might just be able to remind us why he’s so highly regarded and get in the mix at a course that suits.

Keep the Van running…

Back up the betting, it’s generally the European contingent I prefer after Matt Wallace’s win, and there’s even a case that he could go back-to-back. Wallace was third here in 2021, brings some of the best recent form to the table and won four times in five Alps Tour starts at the beginning of his pro career.

The man who finished runner-up to him, Nicolai Hojgaard, is more tempting at 10 points bigger, but there’s plenty of wind in the forecast and while the young Dane is becoming a rounded player, this is a very different test to a rain-softened resort course. For that reason, he and Sam Stevens are both overlooked, although the latter seemed excited to be reunited with his family this week and is also very promising.

There is one player from the Corales Puntacana who I do feel has been unfairly shunted out of view on the strength of one quiet week, and that’s ERIK VAN ROOYEN.

Having sided with him there at 33/1, around the same price as Hojgaard, van Rooyen simply has to be given another chance given the way he’d played in the Valspar Championship before that.

Granted, 56th place in a weak field was at the bottom end of expectations but consistency has seldom been his strong suit, and I do like the fact that he began the year with sixth place in the AmEx. Through Landry and one or two others, that desert golf event has often been a good pointer to this one.

Van Rooyen himself helps tie the two together as he’s played one Texas Open and finished 14th back in 2021, driving the ball well. He’d done next to nothing in stroke play events that year but made the last 16 of the Match Play and carried that improved form with him to San Antonio, a course which looks a nice fit on paper.

Again, he’s a strong driver at his best and, in an event which has so often gone to one of the best iron players in the field, the fact he ranked second just a fortnight ago is notable. I can easily forgive him one quiet week on a new course where the switch from fast greens to slow ones seemed to really catch him out.

It was tempting to ignore the entire front end of the market given the history of this event and the wind that’s forecast, but I can’t get past DAVIS RILEY, a course winner here on the Korn Ferry Tour.

Riley was third at the halfway mark in the Valspar Championship, for which he briefly traded as favourite, and though disappointing at the weekend a share of 19th marked a continuation of the improved form he’s shown ever since returning to the east coast.

Born in Mississippi and educated in Alabama, just like Sam Burns he’s a player who is bound to be more comfortable in the southern states, and we can see that in his record in Texas. Not only did he win on his first start here at KFT level, but he’s added a string of excellent displays back at this one, including when hitting the front during the final round of an event won by Burns last May.

Everything about playing in this part of the US puts him at ease and we saw that to some degree in the Match Play, where he went 1-1-1 and took every game to the 18th hole, including a nightmare opener against Scottie Scheffler.

Prior to all this he’d driven the ball much better for 29th in the Honda and eighth in the Arnold Palmer, and having been a 33/1 chance for a Valspar which featured Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Burns and Matt Fitzpatrick, I’m a little surprised he’s not a bit shorter for this easier-to-win Texas Open.

Perhaps it’s because he finished down the field here last year, but remember Riley’s previous start had been a play-off defeat. Combine that with the fact he was returning to San Antonio for the first time since winning there and I’m not in the least bit surprised that it all proved too much, though he still managed to play well for 36 holes.

Riley has limitless potential and while I’d have preferred a calmer forecast, he’s perfectly capable when the going gets tough.

Cole can score at the second attempt

Last year we hit the crossbar with 300/1 shot Dylan Frittelli, a South African who is now based in Texas having gone to college there. He finished eighth in the end, having held a share of the lead, and I did contemplate following a similar formula to Texas-based flusher MJ Daffue, who has been playing nicely of late.

Prices about Daffue range from 80/1 to 200/1 and the upper end would hold some appeal, but I’ll take the more proven credentials of ERIC COLE, who so nearly landed us a big-priced winner at the Honda Classic.

Cole was outstanding that week, one heavy-handed chip shot ultimately costing him the title before a harsh lip-out ended the play-off. We saw him driving it well, far better than the stats say he should’ve, and to be frank every part of both his game and demeanour left a lasting impression.

Of course, he’s played some poor golf at times since graduating to the PGA Tour at long last but I do think there’s reason to believe he’s a far better driver than the numbers say. Cole is currently 185th in strokes-gained off the tee, but more recently he’s been well above average both at the Honda and then when 27th in The PLAYERS.

Last time out at the Valspar he was just below average and at 54th in approach play, 76th around the green and 29th in putting, he’s beginning to look like a rounded, solid operator very much in the mould of a Landry or Spaun.

And while he did miss the cut at Copperhead, that was the end of a four-week stretch which began with play-off defeat at the Honda. From there it’s little wonder he flattened out on Friday at Bay Hill and I felt he did well to make the weekend at Sawgrass before an admirable climb to the fringes of the top 20.

Cole was 15th at Pebble Beach before all this, too, so there’s plenty of substance to his form now and it includes finishes of 27th at El Camaleon and 36th at the AmEx, two events which correlate really well with this one, and both having attracted stronger-than-usual fields.

His Honda display came in this kind of company and, while it wasn’t the most brutal of renewals, it still required a player to cope with the sort of breeze that’s forecast for San Antonio this week. Cole, who has lived in Florida for a long time now, looked well-versed in controlling that stock draw of his.

As for why he might like this course, he shot a second-round 65 here on the Korn Ferry Tour, bogey-free, having missed the cut next door a week earlier. Although he failed to kick on, it’s a similarly positive experience to those he’d built up at PGA National before so very nearly making his professional breakthough there.

Refreshed after a fortnight off having had the luxury of skipping the Corales Puntacana, I could see him getting back in the mix, where he looked like he belonged.

More Swede success?

Some of those course ties also help point towards Davis Thompson, an outstanding driver who also putts well and nearly used that combination to beat Rahm in the AmEx. He played some nice golf at times in the Match Play and could be a threat here as could Akshay Bhatia, who is a shade bigger than I’d expected him to be.

Nick Taylor was unfortunate to miss out on a last-16 place in Austin, but my final votes go to DAVID LINGMERTH and KEVIN STREELMAN.

Lingmerth was 27th despite putting poorly in the Valspar, a continuation of the form he’d shown when sixth at Sawgrass. It’s been a fine season so far for the Swede, whose approach play can be top-drawer, and who at his best is another tidy driver who keeps it in play.

Having threatened the places at Copperhead, sitting 10th entering the final round, he’s another who is dangled at a similar price in this weaker field on the presumption that the course is less suitable – and form figures of MC-MC-44-51 down the years would make that seem fair enough.

However, on debut he’d been playing poorly coming in, his form was no more than patchy a year later, and in 2015, when he showed signs of encouragement, he was on the wrong side of a huge draw bias. That leaves us with 2018, his last visit, and he managed to shoot a second-round 68 to scrape through to the weekend despite having been out of sorts all year.

This time, revitalised by his heroics at the Nationwide Childrens Hospital Championship, he’s in far better form. Finishes of sixth, eighth, 10th, 10th, 11th and 27th from his last dozen starts tell us that, and most of his poorer displays came out on the west coast, where this Florida-based Swede is generally less effective.

There are also clues that San Antonio ought to suit in his wider profile. Lingmerth’s better efforts in California come courtesy of second place in the AmEx (just like Landry, who went on to win there) and 17th at Silverado, Steele’s favourite haunt. Kevin Tway won that event and was third here, while shock Texas winner Steven Bowditch was runner-up out at Silverado, too.

And we can also throw in eighth place at El Camaleon, one of his this season’s highlights, on another Greg Norman-designed course where San Antonio specialist Hoffman has also won. John Huh was close to doing the same double and so has Matt Kuchar been.

All of this points towards the likelihood that San Antonio is just fine for Lingmerth, which makes him a fabulous bet at three-figure prices given the way he’s been playing for the last couple of months.

Finally we have STREELMAN, who has made seven cuts in seven starts here, six of them resulting in top-20 finishes.

It’s true that he’s not yet had a real chance to win but it could happen this time, as he faces a weaker field on the back of his best performance in a while, having finished 27th at the Valspar thanks to his trademark approach play.

He’s another who has gone close at El Camaleon, the forecast wind holds no fears, and there’s enough juice in quotes of 100/1 to add him to a largely speculative staking plan.

Posted at 2045 BST on 27/03/23

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