This article is part of our DraftKings PGA DFS Picks series.
VALERO TEXAS OPEN
Winner's Share: $1.602M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: San Antonio, Texas
Course: TPC San Antonio (The Oaks Course)
2022 champion: J.J. Spaun
Every year at this time, one week before the first major of the year, the Masters field is set. Or is it? Augusta National Golf Club lists 89 invitees on its website. The thing is, they always leave one potential spot open just in case. Just in case someone who's not already in the field wins the Valero Texas Open. That's the only way in now. The chances of that happening are very slim. But, as J.J. Spaun will tell you, it can happen. It happened to Spaun last year.
While most of the top golfers are off preparing for the Masters, there are a handful who are playing this week. But maybe for the only time all year, the focal point of the tournament shifts to guys just below that top tier. The biggest storyline and most prominent name still looking to catch lightning in a bottle and get into Augusta at the last possible minute is Rickie Fowler. Another one of them is Spaun himself. The 75th-ranked golfer in the world played his way into the Masters at the 11th hour last year, then went out and had himself a great tournament, tying for 23rd place. His Valero win got him one free pass into Augusta National; now, he'll need another. Others looking to grab hold of the brass ring are Matt Kuchar, Taylor Montgomery, Davis Riley and Adam Schenk, who came so excruciatingly close to punching his Masters ticket two weeks ago at the Valspar.
As mentioned, the tournament is not completely devoid of stars. Tyrrell Hatton and Hideki Matsuyama, both battling injuries at last week's WGC-Match Play tournament, are the highest-ranked golfers in the field -- for now (Hatton had a hand injury; with Matsuyama, it was his on-going neck issues). Other top-50s in the 144-man field include Sepp Straka, Chris Kirk, Ryan Fox, Corey Conners, Si Woo Kim and Alex Noren. In all, 11 golfers in the Masters field are taking part, among them Japanese star Kazuki Higa, who was granted one of two special invitations by Augusta National. Also entered is three-time major winner Padraig Harrington. At age 51, the Irishman now plays mostly on the Champions Tour. Wouldn't it be something if he got into the Masters perhaps one final time? Hey, he almost did it two years ago by actually winning another major, the PGA Championship, in which he finished fourth behind winner Phil Mickelson. Lastly, we'll point out that Akshay Bhatia is entered. The 21-year-old with Special Temporary Membership finished 24th last week at the opposite-field event in the Dominican Republic.
Not only was last year a milestone for Spaun, it also was for the tournament. The Texas Open turned 100. It began way back in 1922 and, as you'll recall, Bob McDonald edged Cyril Walker by a stroke to pocket a cool 1,500 bucks. Now embarking on its second century, it is the sixth oldest tournament in the world, behind only the Open Championship, U.S. Open, PGA Championship and the old Western (now the BMW) and Canadian Opens.
To be sure, it has missed two years along the way, in 1943 during World War II and 2020 because of the pandemic, so this is actually the 99th edition. But that shouldn't diminish the accomplishment. In fact, this is the only one of the centenarians to have been played in the same city every year, that being San Antonio.
There is so much history steeped in this tournament. It's been around so long that Walter Hagen once won it. So has Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. And Arnold Palmer -- three times. It had been moved around a great deal before being given the coveted slot before the Masters four ago. (To be honest, that would not have happened without Valero Energy Corporation, the title sponsor since 2002, re-upping for 10 years through 2028.) It's been played in January, February, March, April, May, September, October and even November.
The Oaks Course is -- and Jay Monahan must love this -- a 2010 Greg Norman design with consulting by Sergio Garcia. There's also another course at TPC San Antonio built by Pete Dye, so it's interesting that Norman's is the championship 18. The course is long and has some very long holes, including two 600-yarders and another par-5 at 591. There are five par-4s at about 450-plus. Two of the par-3s exceed 200 yards, one of them a mammoth 241. However, another par-3, the 213-yard 3rd hole, was reduced a couple of years ago to 171 yards on the scorecard. No matter, this course still sounds like it would suit Norman just fine back in his hey day -- you know, when the PGA Tour was his first choice of tours.
There are towering oak trees that line the narrow fairways, water on three holes and some of the 64 bunkers are enormous, including two bigger than many PGA Tour greens. There is a lot of native land that can lead to very crooked numbers. Kevin Na famously found a native area on the par-4, 474-yard 9th hole in 2011, and he eventually walked off with a 16. Despite all those pitfalls, the week could very well tip on the wind, and how hard it's blowing down around San Antone. These are some of the toughest greens to hit in regulation, even they are above average at 6,400 square feet. The bermudagrass putting surfaces iwth poa overseed run a so-so 11 on the Stimpmeter, but many have undulations and multiple levels. They did make things a bit easier in 2019, however, cutting the rough (now 2.25 inches), perhaps to better mimic Augusta. Whatever the reason, Corey Conners shot 20-under in winning that year, the highest winning score at The Oaks in a decade -- by three shots. Jordan Spieth followed up at 18-under two years ago. Last year, things reversed course. Spaun won in windy conditions at 13-under, which was more in line with what we used to see at this tournament.
As for the weather, the forecast is not good. There's a chance of rain every day, with Thursday being the worst of it. Temperatures will rise from the mid-70s for the first round into the upper 80s for the last three. And most important, what about the wind? It will be windy the first three days, especially Friday (gusting to 20 mph). Sunday is the calmest day right now, but as is always the case in Texas, that could change in a heartbeat.
Key Stats to Winning at TPC San Antonio
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Driving Distance/Ball Striking/Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
• Strokes Gained: Putting
• Bogey Avoidance
• Par-5 Scoring
2022 - J.J. Spaun
2021 - Jordan Spieth
2020 - None
2019 - Corey Conners
2018 - Andrew Landry
2017 - Kevin Chappell
2016 - Charley Hoffman
2015 - Jimmy Walker
2014 - Steven Bowditch
2013 - Martin Laird
For the first eight years at The Oaks, the winning score was between 8- and 14-under. Then it jumped for three straight years before returning to that range with Spaun's 13-under last year. What hasn't changed is a focus on guys with strong ball striking/tee-to-green games. Spaun wasn't long with his driver, but he was accurate and ranked 10th in SG: Off-the-Tee. He also was 16th in the field in greens in regulation and fifth in SG: Tee-to-Green. Spieth ranked fourth in SG: Approach and third in SG: Tee-to-Green, plus third in SG: Around-the-Green and sixth in Putting. Conners ranked fourth in SG: Off-the-Tee, first in Approach and second in Tee-to-Green, and even was pretty good on the greens at 26th in SG: Putting. Whether the scores have been higher or lower, the winner has displayed a balanced game with decent play in all statistical areas. The over/under on the winning score on golfodds.com was set at 272.5 -- 15.5 under par.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Tyrrell Hatton - $10,900 (Winning odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook: +1200)
Hatton tops the DK board and also tops our model. Not much of a surprise. He's the class of the field and the only concern is the injury to his right hand suffered while warming up on Wednesday at the WGC-Match Play. He went on to lose all three matches. Presumably, Hatton would not be here if there were a chance to further hurt himself a week before the Masters. This will be his Valero debut.
Rickie Fowler - $10,200 (+1800)
All eyes will be on Fowler this week. He put on a spirited run in the first three months of the year to try to get into the top-50 OWGR to qualify for the Masters. His charge stalled at No. 59. But win this week and he's in. He's the best in this field in Strokes Gained: Approach over his past 24 rounds, and even his putting, which was such an issue early in the year, is vastly improved.
Si Woo Kim - $9,700 (+2200)
Kim has played the past six Valero tournaments, finishing 13th last year, 23rd the year before and fourth in 2019. And it's safe to say he's a better player now. Kim arrives ranked sixth best among the field in bogey avoidance over the past 24 rounds, and he's 10th in ball striking.
Davis Riley - $9,500 (+2500)
They didn't play the Valero Texas Open in 2020, but they did play a Korn Ferry Tour event at the Oaks Course and Riley won it. He played his best golf of the season over the past few weeks, with a top-10 at Bay Hill and a top-20 at the Valspar. There are definitely some voids statistically in Riley's game, but he is ranked 28th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach and has been even better of late.
Tier 2 Values
Chris Kirk - $9,300 (+2500)
Kirk has dipped over his past three starts since winning the Honda, but that's to be expected. He plays the Valero every year and usually does well, recording three top-eight finishes, including T6 two years ago. Kirk is ranked 33rd on Tour in SG: Approach and 26th in bogey avoidance, and most of the guys ranked ahead of him in both categories aren't in this field.
Matt Kuchar - $9,200 (+3000)
Kuchar is in the same position as Rickie Fowler -- he needs to win to play the Masters. If not, he'll miss the drive down Magnolia Lane for the second straight year. Kuchar projects fourth in our model, sound in every stat across the board but especially in bogey avoidance (fourth best in this field across his past 24 rounds). He plays the Valero every year and has had a number of high finishes, none better than last year's co-runner-up.
Ben Griffin - $8,700 (+4000)
Griffin missed the cut in season-opening Fortinet back in September but has made 14 of 15 since then. He's had recent top-25s at the Honda and Bay Hill, moving to 76th in the world rankings. Griffin is above average in every strokes-gained category, especially Around-the-Green, where he's ranked ninth on Tour. This will be his Valero debut.
Cam Davis - $8,300 (+5000)
Davis missed six straight cuts through Bay Hill, but then said he had been dealing with an illness for much of the season. That checks out, because he tied for sixth at THE PLAYERS, then did well at the Match Play, though he didn't advance out of group play. Davis hasn't had any success at the Valero, missing the cut in 2019 and tying for 69th in 2021. He's far better now. Davis is another one with a last-gasp shot at qualifying for the Masters.
Tier 3 Values
Brendon Todd - $7,900 (+4000)
Even though Todd is a bit distance-challenged and the Oaks is on the longish side, he checks in at No. 10 in our model. And at sub-$8000, that's a good deal. He has very good stats other than from the tee box, but great with his short game, putting and bogey avoidance. Todd is coming of made cuts at both Bay Hill and THE PLAYERS, just missing a top-25 at TPC Sawgrass. He was co-runner-up at Pebble Beach. Last year at the Valero, Todd tied for eighth.
Aaron Rai - $7,900 (+5500)
Rai has been playing some very good golf of late. He made the cut in four tough fields at the Farmers, the Waste Management, the Genesis and the Arnold Palmer. And then he had a top-20 at THE PLAYERS. All those results could've been so much better with just a little bit of putting. The Englishman is ranked in the top-75 on Tour in every other strokes-gained category. Rai tied for 29th last year at the Valero.
Garrick Higgo - $7,300 (+9000)
Higgo checks off all the statistical boxes in our model over his past 24 rounds except putting. And he's been a bit better on the greens lately, with made cuts at the Honda, THE PLAYERS and the Valspar. The South African is a bit of an aggressive player, but it often pays off as he's ranked 10th on Tour in par-5 birdie or better.
Ben Martin - $7,100 (+8000)
Martin has made five straight cuts, most of them in lesser fields but also at THE PLAYERS. He was 13th at Pebble, fifth at the Honda and eighth last week in the Dominican Republic. Martin has also made his past four cuts at the Oaks Course -- three of them at the Valero and one at the 2020 Korn Ferry event there in which he tied for ninth. Martin ranks sixth in this field in ball striking and approach play over his past 24 rounds.
Ben Taylor - $6,900 (+13000)
Taylor has moved to the precipice of the top-100 in the world rankings at No. 106. He made the cut at the Genesis, the Honda (TT5) and the Arnold Palmer before missing at the Valspar. His forte is putting -- he's ranked sixth on Tour for the season -- but all of his other stats are better than average. The Englishman hasn't played the Valero before but he did play the Oaks Course in the 20220 Korn Ferry event there and made the cut.
Kazuki Higa - $6,900 (+18000)
Admittedly, this pick could be a reach. Higa is the Japanese sensation who won four times In Asia last year and is ranked 81st in the world. He received a special invitation to the Masters, so he's here tuning up. Most recently, Higa played two DP World Tour events and tied for 11th in Thailand, for fourth in India. Perhaps more importantly, he made the cut at the Sony in January and tied for 36th at the ZOZO last fall.
Henrik Norlander - $6,700 (+25000)
Norlander began 2023 with three straight missed cuts. Now, he's made three in a row, two of them with top-25s at opposite-field events, and also at the Valspar. He also made the cut last year at the Valero. Don't look at Norlander's season-long stats. Instead, look at his past three starts. But he has been very good at avoiding bogeys all season -- he's ranked 34th on Tour.
Michael Kim - $6,500 (+30000)
Kim has been playing in all the non-designated events so far in 2023, and he's made five of his past six cuts, with an 11th at Pebble Beach and a fifth at Puerto Rico. Kim resides in the top-30 of our model, which covers his past 24 rounds. He's been very good at avoiding bogeys and his putting has gotten a bit better as the season has progressed. Kim missed the Valero cut two years ago and didn't play last year.
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