With just over seven days to go now until the first major of the year, The Masters, the golfing world will be focused this week on the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio – the final PGA Tour warm up event.
The host course, TPC San Antonio is a par-72 Greg Norman design, playing to just over 7.400 yards.
Historically this course has been tough to crack, with straight driving and strong iron play key. Stray of the fairways and trouble lurks, just ask Kevin Na who infamously carded a 16 here on the par four 9th back in 2011.
This year though the event has been moved from its traditional late April slot to the pre-Masters warm-up gig, and the word on the street is that fairways have been widened and rough shortened in an attempt to replicate the Augusta set-up as much as possible.
As is often the case the week before a Major plenty of big names are choosing to skip the event, preferring instead to tinker on their games back home.
Rickie Fowler, last week’s Matchplay runner-up Matt Kuchar, Texas native Jordan Spieth and regular nearly man Tony Finau have made the trip though, and they head things up.
Spieth is still desperately searching for a spark, whilst Finau must be fed up of being asked when he is going to pick up a second win and you would expect these two to be ‘up for it’.
For the other two though, particularly Kuchar, who you have to think will be running on empty after last week’s exertions, my suspicion is this will simply serve as a warm up for the serious stuff ahead.
While Finau, Spieth or even Fowler could deliver for me, the answer to this week’s puzzle is actually in the history of the Houston Open, which used to proceed the Masters.
To explain, the last event before the Masters offers a final opportunity for players to post a win and qualify for Augusta. It therefore cannot be coincidence that in five of the last six years the event proceeding the Masters has been won by a player not yet qualified for the year’s first Major – with the most recent example being the heroics we saw from Ian Poulter last year.
In other words, the key to this week is motivation and none of my selections here have already booked a place to battle for a Green Jacket. The first player who fits the criteria is Ryan Moore at 40/1.
Moore was in our staking plan two weeks ago at the Valspar and disappointed by missing the cut by a shot.
There is no doubt though he is on the verge of playing some good stuff and as someone who is facing missing the Masters for the first time in seven years, nothing less than a win will do.
His form figures here read 7th, 18th and 8th in his last three visits, so the track clearly suits and I am trusting him to produce the goods when it matters most.
Looking at the recent history of this event players with Texas connections have a great record here and the two who hail from the Lone Star State that I am keen to include are Ryan Palmer (50/1) and Abraham Ancer at 30/1.
Palmer has three top tens here in his past four visits and was fourth two starts ago at the Honda, whilst Ancer has been knocking on the door of a maiden PGA Tour title for a while now and played nicely recently at The Players to finish 18th.
I shall finish this week’s selections with Aussie Aaron Baddeley (40/1) and by giving another chance to Canadian Nick Taylor.
Badds has been rejuvenated this season and his 7th place finish last weekend was his third top 20 in his past four starts. He is yet to miss the cut here in seven starts and has two top 5s to his name.
Taylor meanwhile played great stuff for 68 holes last time out at the Valspar to back up his recent solid play, before costing us a place by finishing poorly.
There is no doubt though he is in a good groove and at an 80/1 price he is worth chancing again.
To win: Ryan Moore 40/1.
Each-way chances: Abraham Ancer 30/1, Aaron Baddeley 40/1, Ryan Palmer 50/1 and Nick Taylor 80/1.
* All odds correct at time of posting.