Brandon Grace returned to form with a bang at the RBC Heritage last week to reward punters with a rather tasty 40/1 winner. The South African looked overpriced at the mark but with a complete absence of form he was easy to overlook – form is temporary, class is permanent as they say – and while two of our own picks flopped the folically-challenged Bill Haas looked set to trouble the money places at a generous 40/1 but ultimately had to settle for 14th. Onwards we must march.
To the Deep South we go then for the Valero Texas Open, an event in which four of the last five winners have set off at 100/1 or greater. Indeed, the 2014 champ Steven Bowditch was matched at 700.00 on the exchanges prior to the start of his successful title assault, so there really is plenty for punters of all persuasions to enjoy here.
But last year’s winner and defending champion, Jimmy Walker, was much more fancied given his Texan connection (he has a home in the area) and he will go off as the 16/1 favourite here. But in a field with a few quality operators in its midst, we can cast the net far and wide for potential winners here.
The Texas Open has been a part of the PGA Tour for the best part of a century, but moved to its present TPC San Antonio home in 2010. This was ranked the toughest of the Par 72 courses on the tour in 2011, and since then a number of the renewals of this event have turned into testing affairs; no wonder such a merry band of winners have enjoyed themselves here.
However, the statistics show that a decent all-round game is essential, and that an ability to ‘grind’ is imperative. The 2015 champ, Jimmy Walker, ranked top five for Driving Distance and first for Strokes Gained: Putting and Greens In Regulation. The Driving Distance leader last year, Dustin Johnson, finished sixth overall, so giving it a whack off the tee helps. But with tough Bermuda rough lining the fairways and greens, Driving Accuracy is also a factor as players won’t want to be playing out of the thick stuff too often.
The wide open nature of this tournament is reflected in the bookmakers’ prices: the head of the market can be backed at 16/1, 20/1 and 22/1 respectively. Walker goes off as favourite in his home State, and while he is a proven performer there is an inconsistency about him that is hard to get on board with. Grace, fresh from his triumph last week, is in at 20s and looks a good punt given the ease with which he conquered the Harbour Town course. Yet, we know how hard it is to win two in a row.
It is the third man in the betting that catches our eye though, supported by another hometown boy with a fine record here and a couple of eye-catching – and not to mention huge priced – hopes.
Zach Johnson (22/1)
While not huge off the tee, two top-20 finishes at TPC San Antonio in his last two attempts – not to mention the fact he is a two-time winner here – suggests that this track holds no fear for Zach Johnson, and indeed his more cautious nature could be a real bonus.
There’s plenty of form to work with too, and if we overlook a missed cut at Augusta – a track which really doesn’t suit him – then we’re left with two top-10 finishes in his last four starts. Even in the RBC last week he had a chance of honours which were eventually foiled by a final round of 77.
We’ve written about the ‘horses for courses’ phenomenon in golf in the past, and it seems few have enjoyed as much success as Johnson in Texas. In a field where nobody stands out an as obvious winner, he has as good a chance as anybody.
Charley Hoffman (30/1)
Admittedly the price does feel on the short side for a player who has won just three tournaments in his career as he approaches his 40th birthday, but Charley Hoffman’s record at TPC San Antonio simply cannot be overlooked. His form here reads 2-13-3-11-11 in his last five visits.
Hoffman hasn’t finished outside the top 40 in any event he has entered since February – so he’s coming to one of his favourite hunting grounds in peak form, and last week at the RBC Heritage he held the lead at the halfway stage before finishing 14th. A week prior to that he tamed Augusta (relatively speaking) when finishing 29th.
If you are looking for slightly more value, then backing Hoffman in the First Round Leader market at 40/1 is an option. He led the way here after eighteen in 2015, and has had either outright or a share of the first round lead in two of his last four starts.
Aaron Baddeley (80/1)
It’s been a stellar season for the Aussies so far, so let’s see if Baddeley can continue that trend in an event which he has enjoyed in the past. Two top-20 finishes in his last three attempts here is promising, as is the fact that he comes to Texas in a rich vein of form: an eighth and a ninth in three starts is a nice indicator of how well he is striking the ball.
Quite simply the Aussie is one of the best putters on the tour – he ranks ninth for Strokes Gained: Putting – so if he can get to the dancefloor in a timely fashion then there’s no reason why he can’t challenge for a top five place.