Valero Texas Open betting preview and tips from Ben Coley

Abraham Ancer
Abraham Ancer

There's one event left until The Masters - and golf expert Ben Coley has five selections for the Valero Texas Open.

Recommended bets

2pts e.w. Abraham Ancer at 40/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Joaquin Niemann at 80/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Dylan Frittelli at 80/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Kramer Hickok at 125/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Carlos Ortiz at 150/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

Twelve months ago, Jordan Spieth headed to the Shell Houston Open in search of something to work with at The Masters. What he found was an outstanding tee-to-green performance for third place, and while the following week didn't go exactly to plan, ultimately he had a chance - another chance - to win at Augusta National.

Now, without so much as a top-30 finish in six stroke play events so far in 2019, those so-called problems from last spring look insignificant. Oh, for the days where alarm bells would ring because of a missed cut at the Valspar and an early exit at the Match Play.

As if to add another row of bricks to the wall he's trying to scale, the PGA Tour have since played with the schedule, and Spieth's latest salvage operation will take place not in Houston but in San Antonio, home of the Valero Texas Open.

Houston worked as an Augusta prep because they set it up to mimic Augusta. The greens would be as fast as staff could get them, and steep, sharp, shaved run-off areas made life interesting around them. An absence of rough, meanwhile, allowed players to hit driver upon driver, just as they'll have to do next week, without much in the way of danger.

Ben Coley provides a complete guide to the field ahead of The Masters
Click to read Ben Coley's complete guide to the field ahead of The Masters

Driver is very much a key club at TPC San Antonio, but the difference is that there's real punishment for being wayward here and Spieth, 204th of 215 players in strokes-gained off-the-tee, needs to find significant improvement from somewhere.

He was runner-up here in 2015, his last visit, but there just wasn't enough in his performance at the Match Play to think he will get anywhere near that - I really think he's more likely to win The Masters, despite the relative levels of opposition.

It's that switch from Houston to San Antonio which provides the real puzzle this week. Organisers are said to have widened fairways and trimmed down the rough on what's ordinarily a particularly tough course, and that could render all that we've come to know about the event insignificant.

Then again, only 10 or so players in the field for one of the oldest events on the calendar are in the field for the season's first major. It would be a little silly to pander to them at the expense of what has made this course a genuine test, and in 2013, when again the Texas Open preceded The Masters, the challenge remained much the same. If it's stick or twist time, I'm going to stick.

So, to the formula which has worked. In a nutshell, strong drivers - Brendan Steele, Kevin Chappell, Charley Hoffman, Andrew Landry - have dominated here, and even the surprise winner, Steven Bowditch, was scoring well at the time on par-fives. The scoring holes here will be important, with birdies not easy to come by along a stretch of unrelenting par-fours.

Bowditch went on to win the Byron Nelson, another event in Texas, and it's clear that being a resident of the Lone Star State gave him something of an edge. The same was true when Jimmy Walker held off Spieth here, and also last year, when the Texas-educated, Texas-residing Landry won an effective home game for us at 200/1.

It's with much of this in mind that Abraham Ancer rates my strongest fancy at around the 40/1 mark.

Ancer plays under the flag of Mexico, but in fact holds dual-citizenship having been born in Texas, and he's performed well in this part of the US including when eighth this week a year ago in the Houston Open.

That shows the prospect of playing for the final Masters invite shouldn't be a concern and he went on to make the cut here for the second time in as many visits, driving the ball particularly well but failing to take advantage.

Still, eight rounds of competitive golf at the course is a good starting point and he's rounding into form for his return, having excelled from tee-to-green when 12th in the much stronger PLAYERS Championship, before winning two matches in Austin last week.

Ancer was a little unfortunate that he had to face a buzzing Paul Casey on day one, but he played beautiful golf thereafter, fighting back to beat Cameron Smith before thumping Charles Howell 5&3, the scorecard showing that he was around the eight-under mark for just 15 holes played.

Missing out on a potentially gruelling weekend is no bad thing with this in mind and with his two professional wins elsewhere both under demanding, windy conditions, I fancy this test to be absolutely perfect for one of the best drivers in the field.

Regular readers won't be surprised to see Joaquin Niemann is next, the Chilean having worked his way back onto the radar with a string of promising performances this spring.

Granted, last week's missed cut in the Dominican Republic wasn't ideal, but Niemann can bounce back now returned to the scene of his professional debut a year ago - where he finished an excellent sixth.

"I feel like a veteran right now, I feel like a Tour player now," Niemann said after an outstanding debut in the paid ranks, a clear demonstration of his confidence. "I know I can beat these guys, and just going to wait for my week and try to win."

Three more top-10 finishes to earn his full card suggested that the wait for that win wouldn't be a lengthy one, but Niemann has since stuttered slightly - the sort of small bump in the road that virtually all young stars have to go through.

A series of quality ball-striking performances in Florida suggest he's ready to move back in the right direction, however, and that missed cut last week really doesn't worry me given that his form around this time last year read MC-6-MC-MC-8-6-MC.

It was Niemann's approach play which powered his effort here - he ranked second to the winner, Landry - and with that area still very much a strength, he can remind us again why he was among the most talked-about players in the sport just 12 months ago.

Russell Henley and Sung Kang, the one-two from Houston this week two years ago, both make some appeal at around the 66/1 mark.

Kang is playing some of the best golf of his career, went well here in 2017 and has form on other demanding courses, while Henley is driving the ball extremely well and knows what it takes to play his way into the field for The Masters, in his home state of Georgia.

However, I want to stick to those local ties and spy something of an upset, with Kramer Hickok next on my list.

So far in his short career, one which has seen him coast through the Canadian Tour and the Web.com Tour, Hickok has remained best known for being friends with Spieth - they have lived together in Dallas, and Hickok was born in Austin.

It's expected that he ultimately steps out of the shadow and makes a name for himself on the PGA Tour, and last week's top-10 finish in the Dominican Republic sets him up perfectly for a return home to Texas.

Hickok's chief weapon looks to be an ability to hit fairways, a comment which we could apply to Landry, and his form has steadily improved since the PGA Tour made its switch from west coast to east at the end of February.

Last year's victory in the DAP Championship came on a really tough course and while he'll have to cope with the pressures attached to playing in front of friends and family, he can certainly take inspiration from the defending champion in that regard - and Spieth, of course.

Dylan Frittelli is a former Texas Longhorn, a team-make of Hickok in fact, who also looks to be adjusting to life on the PGA Tour and is worth supporting here.

The South African, a two-time winner on the European Tour, has become known as an excellent driver of the ball and that's remained true despite an up-and-down start to 2019.

Things look to be on the turn, with a top-20 finish last week following on from an improved display at the Valspar, and that makes for good timing given that he finished a solid 20th here on an invite 12 months ago.

Frittelli out-scored Landry on the par-fives for one of his standout PGA Tour finishes to date and, having been strong in that department throughout the first few months of his rookie campaign, he looks a live each-way player.

Grayson Murray also played well here last year and very much caught the eye last week, while of the more seasoned regulars the eye was certainly drawn to Charley Hoffman and Ryan Palmer at the odds.

This is a good course for the talented Bud Cauley, likewise J.T. Poston who was in my staking plan on his last start, with Luke List, Jason Kokrak and Byeong Hun An equally easy to argue for but undoubtedly frustrating.

For my final selection though it's back to some local ties with another Mexican - Carlos Ortiz.

This three-time Web.com Tour winner went to college at the University of North Texas, and he's played this event nicely in the past with 15th place in 2015 despite an opening 79, and 78-67 the following year demonstrating that he can score at the course.

Ortiz has been driving the ball well all season and while every single player in this field who isn't already exempt is of course desperate to play in The Masters, for Ortiz it would be extra special as his younger brother is already in the field.

With two top-10 finishes this season and enough to take from last week's performance, when he ranked second for total driving and 10th in ball-striking, he's worth having on-side at big prices.

Posted at 1945 BST on 01/04/19.

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