The PGA TOUR stays in the Lone Star State for another week but many of the big names have already dined and dashed their way to Augusta National.
There are a few stragglers remaining from the WGC-Match Play. As of Monday morning, there are 16 golfers sticking around to play another week in Texas. Most of those names are either Texas residents or golfers that don't feel completely comfortable with their game ahead of the Masters.
Overall, it's a field of 144 that will be taking on TPC San Antonio this week at the Valero. As usual, the top 65 and ties will play the weekend.
The VTO was not played last year, due to COVID-19, but TPC San Antonio returns this year to host another edition. It's played the role of host since 2010.
Looking at the scorecard, we see a par 72 that can stretch up to 7,494 yards this year. That is a year-over-year increase of 59 yards with a new tee box added on the par-4 fifth.
The Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio has a few notable characteristics but it's also a course that can play very differently from year-to-year or even day-to-day. The Texas weather usually dictates those changes to the scoring environment here.
Off the tee, the course is described as generous but only when the winds are laying down. This is Texas so it's rare to get those calm rounds. Once you add a 15+ MPH stream of wind, the misses can start to really get offline and find some trouble. There is a lot of rocky, native area when steering too far offline, and the fairway bunkers are not fun to play out of.
The course usually plays firm and fast, how course designer Greg Norman would prefer. However, the 2019 edition saw the fairways running a bit slower than usual. That made the course play a bit longer, putting more long irons into the hands of golfers. Was that a product of the weather that year in the lead-up or was it due to the course setup differences that were brought about with the event moving into the "Masters Tune-Up" role? It's tough to say for sure, but we do know the grounds crew will likely attempt to "green this course up" a bit to replicate Augusta National playing conditions.
With that change in course setup in 2019 we also saw more receptive greens. A one-year anomaly or another product of the pre-Masters setup? You can probably see where I'm going with this. Historically, this event has provided a very tough scoring environment but we saw the field average 71.24 (-0.76 RTP) the last time it was played. I could pretend to know which version we will see this week but the better angle is to listen to the pre-tournament press conferences to listen to what the golfers are saying this week.
On approach, golfers see average-sized greens but many of the targets are much smaller than that, and bad shots will leak into the runoff areas.
There are five par 4s under 410 yards and the par 5s are very beefy. None of the par 5s are easy to reach in two. Don't tilt too much when you watch ShotTracker this week and your golfers walk off a par 5s without a birdie. They are tough. Those holes reward great wedge players while the others will benefit big hitters, good long irons, or great scramblers.
For turf, golfers will see a bermudagrass base. The fairways and rough are overseeded with ryegrass while the greens get a Poa Triv overseed. The greens usually run pretty average speeds, around 11 feet on the stimp. Many guessed they would ramp up the speeds in 2019 since they were playing right before the Masters but many golfers actually talked about them being a little slower than usual. It's possible they are able to juice up the speeds this week but it's not a narrative I would follow unless the golfers start bringing it up in their pre-tourney pressers.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Kevin Chappell: "I believe I was third last year in greens in regulation and it’s such a difficult scrambling course because of the wind and how severe some of the runoffs are around the greens. It’s important to get the ball on the green when you can and not necessarily force a shot in there to try to get a birdie look because there’s not many out there."
Charley Hoffman: "It gives you plenty of room out there but if you start hitting it unsolid you can find the native area very quickly and, if that happens, you’re just trying to get it back in play and hopefully have a putt for par or make a bogey and get out. Any golf course bogies don’t hurt you. Definitely not out here.
You tend to see guys make a big number trying to pull off miracle shot and I think I played here enough to know if I get in a bad spot, take an unplayable, don’t try to pull off the miracle shot."
Rickie Fowler: "It’s fairly generous off the tee until you get some wind blowing out here, which I know it can, but it’s very much a second-shot golf course. No, there’s some tough but fun second shots out here. "
Jordan Spieth: "Both sides of every hole has all those trees and cactus and rocks and stuff. When there’s no wind like this, that’s a pretty big miss, but when the wind starts to blow, that comes into play more. "
Andrew Landry in 2019: "I think the golf course is set up so beautiful right now with the overseed, the whole aspect of the course is playing long, way longer than last year. Last year it was firm and fast and this year we get a little bit of firm greens, but the fairway speed is slow. A lot more longer irons in, so it’s kind of setting up a little bit for Augusta. "
Phil Mickelson: "You know, it’s not probably the best place to get ready for the Masters in that it’s very windy and tight. Can’t really unleash drivers the way you want to at Augusta so I probably used other weeks to get ready."
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Silverado Resort & Spa
Bay Hill Club & Lodge
Pebble Beach Pro-Am Rota
None of these courses can really be overpowered and most are susceptible to heavy winds.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 69 degrees. Winds at 10 to 20 MPH.
Friday: Partly Cloudy with a high of 68 degrees. Winds at 12 to 20 MPH.
It's a bit colder than I would have expected for Texas at this time of year but maybe that's just me assuming Texas is always hot. The winds are really going to whip on Wednesday but currently forecasted to calm down a bit and be steady in the 10 to 20 MPH range all week. That could definitely shift before Thursday so keep an eye on those wind numbers. This event has historically had some editions with noticeable tee-time wave splits.
Golfers to Watch
He is the course horse here in San Antonio. He is 10-for-10 at TPC San Antonio with a win, two runner-up finishes, and a third-place finish. Four of the other six finishes also landed inside of the top 15. Even before the move to TPC San Antonio he was 4-for-4 with three top 10s. There is something about this area that brings out the best in Hoffman.
He was a late commit to this week's event after he didn't advance out of pool play last week at the WGC-Match Play. His ball-striking has been a little shaky to start 2021 so he likely wants to find a groove before defending his title next week. DJ is 3-for-4 at this event while his lone appearance at TPC San Antonio was a T6 back in 2015. UPDATE: Johnson removed his name from the field on Monday morning. The top 20 list below has been updated to reflect the change.
The Texan continued his run of good form last week as he played his way out of Group play, as the 49-seed. His results at the Valero have been all over the map. He has a runner-up finish (2015), a solo 10th (2014), a few middling results (T41 in 2012 and T30 in 2019), and a missed cut (2013). It's hard to ignore him currently with the ways he's playing over the last few months.
He made waves here last year by winning the event as a Monday Qualifier. The man above (Spieth) knocked him out last week at the WGC-Match Play, but Conners has been striking it as well as anyone over the last few months.
Si Woo Kim
This is a comfortable course for Kim who has gained strokes over the field in 10-of-14 rounds played at TPC San Antonio. He built up a 4-shot lead thru 36 holes last year but faded to T4 by week's end.
It's the last shot for many golfers to play their way into next week's Masters. The biggest name on the outside is Fowler who has played in every Masters since 2011. Fowler posted a T17 in his course (and tournament) debut in 2019. This time around he arrives with nothing better than a T20 finish in his last 16 events played.
Ranking the Field
1. Jordan Spieth
2. Tony Finau
3. Corey Conners
4. Abraham Ancer
5. Scottie Scheffler
6. Ryan Palmer
7. Charley Hoffman
8. Si Woo Kim
9. Lanto Griffin
10. Hideki Matsuyama
11. Cameron Tringale
12. Chris Kirk
13. Zach Johnson
14. Sam Burns
15. John Huh
16. Brendan Steele
17. Doug Ghim
18. Cameron Davis
19. Charles Howell III
20. Sebastian Munoz