Weekly Recap: A Big Win for Bhatia

Weekly Recap: A Big Win for Bhatia

This article is part of our Weekly PGA Recap series.

Where to begin to tell the story of wild-beyond-words 2024 Valero Texas Open?

  • With Akshay Bhatia leading all week and carrying a six-stroke lead into the back nine on Sunday with a berth in this week's Masters on the line?
  • With playing partner Denny McCarthy birdieing eight of those back-nine holes to stunningly forge a tie as he sought his long-awaited first PGA Tour win?
  • With Bhatia needing to make a 12-footer for birdie on the 606-yard 18th just to force a playoff? He made it, and thrust his shoulder into the air as the crowd roared.
  • With Bhatia calling for medical assistance on his shoulder after hitting his drive on the first playoff hole, back on 18?
  • With McCarthy chunking a mere wedge from under 100 yards into a creek well short of the 18th green to blow the tournament moments after completing a back-nine 28?
  • With Bhatia delaying his third shot from the fairway to get medical attention before safely landing his approach onto the green and making the birdie putt to win his second PGA Tour title to secure entry into his first Masters four days later?

Phew. Exhale.

You'd think that Bhatia played poorly in letting McCarthy back in it. Actually, not at all. He shot a 5-under 67 to McCarthy's 63. The two of them were unreal in reaching 20-under-par, with third-place finisher Rory McIlroy a distant nine strokes back and only one other player even in double figures.

Bhatia and McCarthy played better, statistically, than anyone in the world has played in, oh the past four years.

That stat is also wild-beyond-words.

The win for Bhatia is his second on Tour and comes just a week after he held the lead at the Houston Open on Sunday, only to finish 11th. He's still only 22. He figured out how to hang on in this one opposite incredible pressure from his playing partner.

"Yeah, I've learned a lot being in contention a couple times," he told reporters in San Antonio. "Barracuda was a weird one. I felt like I don't know if I was ready to win. My caddie had a ton of belief in me.

"Then Sentry, you know, I remember getting on that first tee and just not having a clear picture on that first tee shot, make double, kind of throw myself out of the tournament.

"And then last week I held the lead with 10 holes to go and I learned a lot about myself, shots I wish I would have backed off of and I would have probably had a better chance of winning the golf tournament.

"So I took that into consideration this week."

Bhatia is learning on the job. He's up to No. 34 in the world and almost all facets of his game are vastly improved, including putting. His stats say he still has work to do around the green. That could be real problem at Augusta National.

But it's far better to have that problem than not going to Augusta National.

MONDAY BACKSPIN

Denny McCarthy
To say it was a crushing turn of events for McCarthy doesn't begin to tell the story. This was his 174th career PGA Tour event, he might be the best putter in the world and he still hasn't won. Mind you, he's still going to the Masters this week. He's ranked 30th in the world and, even though we've said this before, it's hard to see it taking much longer for that first Tour win to appear.

Rory McIlroy
This was a very good week for McIlroy, just what he needed heading into Augusta. No, he didn't win and, yes, he finished nine strokes back. But this solo third was his first top-10 of the year and, after closing with a 66, constituted his best golf of the season. McIlroy amended his early-season schedule solely to be better prepared for the Masters. We're about to find out about how that works out.

Russell Henley
Henley simply is not thought of in the same sentence as the world's best golfers. Maybe that should that change. Henley tied for fourth, giving him a third top-5 already this season. He moved into the top-20 OWGR for the first time, now at No. 17, which happens to be one spot better than Jordan Spieth, someone who at least used to be thought of in the same sentence as the world's best golfers. Henley now heads to the Masters, where a great history peaked last year with, yes, a top-5.

Brendon Todd
Todd is such a quality player, one who's often hurt by his lack of distance on super-long tracks. But not this week. He tied for fifth by playing the way he always does: getting the ball in the fairway (ranked first in driving accuracy), getting it on the green (13th in SG: Approach) and making a decent number of putts (18th in SG: Putting). He was also sixth recently at another long course at Bay Hill. Todd might be the best player in the world who won't be at the Masters.

Adam Schenk
Schenk has not been able to successfully follow up his great 2023. He hadn't had so much as a top-15 all year, until now. He tied for fifth, and it gives him much-needed momentum heading into the Masters.

Hideki Matsuyama
There may be no hotter player heading into the Masters, non-Scottie Scheffler division, than Matsuyama.  He tied for seventh and didn't play all that well on Sunday.

Ben Martin
Martin, $5,600 on your DraftKings price list and a RotoWire pick earlier in the week, tied for seventh. It's just a course he plays well. Martin tied for 10th at TPC San Antonio a year ago.
 
Tommy Fleetwood
Fleetwood tied for seventh, allowing him to carry his best finish of the season into Augusta.

Jordan Spieth
Watching Spieth stand over his three-footers is painful. He knows what we all know: There's a good chance they won't go in. Still, he tied for 10th. He ranked 37th in the field in SG: Putting, but also fourth in SG: Off-Off-the-Tee. It's good that he had a top-10 the week before the Masters. But he is so good at Augusta, we don't think it really matters how he's playing heading in.

Matt Fitzpatrick
In two tournaments after finding a 4-gram weight in his driver that wasn't supposed to be there, Fitzpatrick has finished fifth (at THE PLAYERS) and now T10 at the Valero. Watch out for him at the Masters.
 
Ludvig Aberg
Aberg played a very sloppy final round, shooting 73. Still, he tied for 14th, giving him another good finish before he plays his first major this week. That's right, the No. 8 player in the world has never been in a major before.

Max Homa
Homa tied for 25th. Now, he's about to begin another season of majors in which so much is expected of him to finally play better in them. We shall see.

Brian Harman
Harman has been largely terrible at Augusta but shouldn't be with his game. He closed with a 68 to share 25th place.

Corey Conners
In defense of his Valero title, Conners tied for 25th. Which may suit him much better than winning did last year. He then missed the cut at the Masters after top-10s the three previous years.

Collin Morikawa
Morikawa plays Augusta so well. But never before has he gone to the Masters playing so poorly. It was another bad week in which he tied for 75th. He ranked – and get this! – 70th in the field in SG: Approach, losing two strokes to the field.

AON SWING 5

The latest segment is complete, and these five players will be in the next Signature Event -- the RBC Heritage -- the week after the Masters.

Brice Garnett
Erik Barnes
Chandler Phillips
Alejandro Tosti
Victor Perez

MISSED CUTS

Byeong Hun An, Eric Cole, Harris English, Rickie Fowler, Ryan Fox, Lee Hodges, Zach Johnson, Tom Kim, Grayson Murray, Erik van Rooyen, Camilo Villegas. These 11 golfers were among the 31 in the field who will play in the Masters. We shouldn't never read too much into whatever happened in any one week. But these missed cuts continued terrible seasons for Fowler, Fox and Kim.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for nine years. Len is a three-time winner of the FSWA DFS Writer of the Year Award (2020, '22 and '23) and a five-time nominee (2019-23). He is also a writer and editor for MLB Advanced Media.
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