Just down the road to San Antonio
Eleven men who are playing in the Masters are competing in the Valero Texas Open. As we all can imagine, most players are looking forward to their first or annual trip down Magnolia Lane as just 24 of the Top 100 ranked players are in this field. Keep in mind, there is one possible ticket left to get in 2023's first major championship... win the Valero!
It may sound crazy, but six of the last seven winners the week prior to Augusta needed that victory to get into the Masters, including last year's Valero winner JJ Spaun. It's an incredibly cool storyline we get to follow in San Antonio and a large part of the reason long shots have had amazing success here over the last decade.
- The average winner's pre-tournament odds over the last five years have been +13000 (13-1).
- Extend that average to ten years and it jumps to +15000 (150-1).
What makes those averages even more interesting is the difficulty of the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio. Designed by Greg Norman in 2010, this Par 72 scorecard extending over 7,400 yards ranks in the Top 10 longest courses annually on the PGA TOUR. Some of that length may be mitigated by the drought this region has felt over the last year. It's going to play firm and fast which will help the guys cover some ground. Be careful, the temperatures have been unseasonably warm in February and March leading to an early return of the Bermudagrass in the rough.
- Average winning score for the last five years is 16 under par; for the last ten it lowers to 13 under par.
- Average cutline for the previous five editions is +1.2 over par, last ten it jumps to +2.5 over par.
With six of the last ten winner's possessing odds over 100-1 on a difficult golf course, we really need to consider the details that make this design unique. Norman's TPC layout has larger than average greens (6,400 sq/ft) and water only comes into play on three holes. What makes this course difficult to contend on are the 64 bunkers, angles on approach, and endlessly awkward tee shots. Taking advantage from the fairway and excelling with your iron game are two skills needed. We'll get more specific in the outrights section, but Greg gives these guys a strong test.
Those who played in Austin, will face similar weather conditions this week. There's a strong chance (60%) of showers on Thursday, but it shouldn't disrupt play. Temperatures will be in the high 70's to mid-80's during competition. The winds will mainly come from the south during the tournament. It's a significant point due to the fact 15 of the eighteen holes run north or south. It's unique, but with a south wind for three rounds and a northeast wind on Saturday these players won't be facing many crosswinds.
We are all looking ahead to Georgia. As I stated in the opening, one of the 144 players could have a life changing moment at the Valero. Maybe it isn't the $8.9 million dollar purse or the $1.6 million dollar first place check, but the opportunity to qualify for the Masters is special. It will be fun to see which cowboy can win a pair of boots and starting riding east toward Augusta National.
Texas Open on TV:
The Texas Open Play starts in...
What size are you?
Why do long shots win at TPC San Antonio? Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves this week. In 21 events on tour this season, only three winners had pre-tournament odds in the triple digits. With guys like Ricki Fowler vying for an Augusta invite near the top of the betting board, I'm somewhat limiting my long shot expectations.
The Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio has a couple of features and current course conditions we need to consider to contend. I mentioned this earlier, but the weather has been unseasonably warm in southern Texas. The Oaks course is overseeded with Poa Trivialis on the greens, but in the rough they use Rye grass. This standard stalk-like grass is very common for this purpose. With that warm weather, the Bermuda has come back and now that swirly weed like grass has grown up within the Rye. Even though the rough is cut to 2.25", don't miss the fairway this week.
These greens place a very high premium on accuracy. The unpredictability of this rough combo will be impossible to be accurate from. Length helps, but overall, we just want solid drivers of the golf ball. One of the reasons you cannot miss these greens are the bunkers. Sixty-four in total on the course, and seventeen of the eighteen greens have bunkering. Unlike most circular bunkers, these have jagged edges and odd outcroppings. Sand skill and around the green play counts. Players hit well below the Tour average for GIR's. Combine that with hitting below the average for fairway accuracy and scrambling comes into play.
Some of the length of this course is hidden in the Par 5's. I stress this a bunch, but a good scrambler also scores on three shot Par 5's and short Par 4's of which there are five of at TPC San Antonio. I will rank wedge play in my approach as well as the ability to make birdie or better as often as possible (BoB%). The four toughest holes relative to par are Par 4's and they average 468 yards in length testing the tee shot and approach. A well-rounded player will win this week. Guys who can score on Par 4's are the most well rounded.
Building out the card, bogey avoidance and just ball striking skill gets my attention. Recent form from Austin or Corales counts. Guys who can gain GIR's and fairways against the field will stand out. Winning takes the mid-teens, yet the cutline is historically above par. That's a unique combination that separates the field. When it comes to contention this weekend, here's my list of players who will differentiate themselves.
Outright winners - Valero Texas Open
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The hills are alive
At Read The Line, we welcome back a trip to Palos Verdes Golf Club and the DIO Implant LA Open. The scenic George C. Thomas design sitting on a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean was the site for one of our two +9000 wins last season. Marina Alex took down the #1 ranked player in the world, Jin Young Ko, for her second LPGA victory. Needless to say, we had this course handicapped and I plan to extend the streak to back-to-back wins!
Palos Verdes Golf Club is a classic course built on a hilltop about 2 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Characterized by crazy elevation changes, small greens, and tree lined fairways.
- The Par 71 scorecard is not terribly long at 6,258 yards.
- The course is very hilly, elevation changes cover the landscape with half of the holes running uphill, and the other half downhill.
- A true parkland style course, 76 bunkers decorate the design.
- The course has Poa covered greens and Kikuyu fairways and rough. For reference, it is the same grass outline we witnessed last month at Riviera.
Thirteen of the eighteen holes have a view of the Pacific Ocean. This setting is exposed to westerly winds from the sea. Each day this week, we will feel a decent breeze (12-15mph) coming from that direction. There is a very good chance of rain on Wednesday night leading into Thursday morning. The rest of the week, the players will be dry. One thing that is not dry has been the Los Angeles region. Battered by storms since the start of 2023, PVGC has felt 19" of rain. Couple the wet ground with unseasonably cool temperatures, and this week will be a test.
The ladies had great conditions last year, and the winning score was 10 under par. Just 38 women were under par after four rounds. Knowing the course will play even longer this year has caught my attention. Seventeen of the Top 30 Rolex ranked players are competing. The second full field event of the year has a $1.75 million dollar purse and $262,500 first place check. The Top 5 finishers from last year are here in LA this week.
This is a true ball striking test. PVGC doesn't have one level lie. Players will be consistently challenged for eighteen holes hitting approaches from one level of elevation to another. We saw it for four days last year. I knew Marina would play well due to her recent form and my familiarity with the course she grew up on. Consistently playing from uneven lies is difficult. Our card of successful contenders is based primarily on those two attributes again. Who can handle all the hills?
The back nine this week is referred to as a "perfect nine." No two holes play to the same par in a row. I'm not sure if that makes it perfect, but I do know that to win this tourney, one lady will need to play perfect coming in to win.
DIO Implant on TV:
The DIO starts in...
The second act
Palos Verdes Golf Club is a tremendous test of golf. Proof again that a golf course does not have to be long to present a worthy challenge for the best in the world. With a 10 under par total last year, one can quickly discern that an endless number of uneven lies, intimidating small greens, and a marine climate adds up to tough. The Top 5 contenders last year shared a couple of common traits. Each of them was incredibly accurate all week. PVGC is one small landing area after another. With tree lined fairways and perfectly positioned green complexes the contender's bag better be filled with the following tools.
- We need accuracy off the tee. Length will help against the elements, but overall, you have to play from the fairway on this course to keep up. Considering we have only played one full field event and four tournaments total, I used some of the data from last season to narrow down my driving list. Strokes Gained Off the Tee can be great measure, but it favors longer hitters over accuracy. This week we need the opposite. Combine recent form with these fairway finders and we've got a great start to our outright card.
- Six of the eighteen attacking shots come from less than one hundred yards to the green. Three Par 5's and three short Par 4's will test their wedge game. Considering the complete challenge these women face, you must score from this range. Par 5 scoring and scrambling ability are crucial to contending.
- An average green size under 4,000 square feet is small. Consider about half of those targets will be elevated from the player's perspective and the challenge only increases. Each of the 2022 contenders had a great around the green week. The ladies are going to miss greens. Getting up and down from a possible 56 greenside bunkers will be tough as well. My winner list has a couple of great short game players. The uneven lies just aren't on approach. Around the bunkers these hills are alive, and the ladies better have some excellent wedge contact on command.
- All these course tests force us to stress T2G game. The greens are so small and severe, I believe a player can have an average putting week and win. They will need the ball striking confidence to compete. Consistently accounting for distance changes due to elevation, contact from uneven lies, and a cold marine wind will force them to adapt. I want players showing great recent form and leading the LPGA T2G.
This is going to be a fun week to watch. With a west coast start, you'll see all the golf in primetime. Sit back and enjoy each evening as this classic test tortures the LPGA's best. It will be nonstop entertainment tuning in to see our ladies listed below compete for another RTL win!
Outright winners - DIO Implant LA Open
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