In-form Ben Coley has three selections for this week's Valero Texas Open headed by the big-hitting Brooks Koepka.
There’s been something for everyone over the years since the Valero Texas Open found its home at TPC San Antonio, but this bulky par 72 lends a definite advantage to big hitters, standing it in stark contrast to last week’s event by the coast in South Carolina.
Last year, Charley Hoffman finally converted his unquestionable comfort levels here by holding off Patrick Reed to win by one, completing a double of Greg Norman-design victories having previously stumbled over the line in Mexico at the OHL Classic.
Like Hoffman, Steven Bowditch, Martin Laird, Brendan Steele and Adam Scott are all capable of getting it out there off the tee, making the 2012 victory of Ben Curtis all the more hard to fathom and, for form study purposes, worth treating with caution.
All of this serves to whittle down those at the head of the market, where Matt Kuchar is easy to oppose after a staying-on but never-threatening 11th on arguably more suitable terrain last week, and clear preference is for Brooks Koepka at anything around the 25/1 mark.
Having signed off 2016 in the form of his life, which included an impressive Ryder Cup debut, it’s been a difficult start to 2017 for Koepka, one of the many Nike-branded players who now have licence to experiment with their equipment.
Koepka has thrown in some Mizuno, Titleist and Taylor Made to an eclectic bag and it’s probably not helped in terms of finding consistency, although the fundamental reason for his poor play appears to be a bad habit he says he shook off thanks to some long range sessions at Bay Hill last month.
The signs since have been encouraging. Koepka came to life at the WGC-Dell Match Play, where he told reporters he’d figured things out en route to a share of ninth, before improving his score each day for 11th place in the Masters.
Augusta National is no place to discover a game so it strikes me that Koepka’s claim that everything clicked at Bay Hill is accurate, and he can soon put the first three months of the season behind him and lift what would be his second PGA Tour title.
A missed cut here last year would be a slight concern but he was just a single shot off the mark and had shown promise on his sole previous visit, so I’m more than happy to give him the benefit of the doubt and back up my suspicion that the course plays to his strengths.
One good pointer towards his chances is the Byron Nelson, another event played in Texas and one which Bowditch won following his breakthrough victory here. Koepka was second to Sergio Garcia there last year and I fancy him to go one place better in San Antonio.
There’s no reason Hoffman’s exceptional run at this course should end, bar the fact that he will carry extra responsibilities as defending champion, but he’s not a player to go steaming into when challenging for favouritism and I struggle to make a strong case for Branden Grace at the prices, too.
Steele and Walker are past champions who could go well enough but neither is at their very best right now and I’d be more inclined to look towards Kevin Chappell, who returned to form at the Masters and knows this place inside-out.
However, it’s another PGA Tour maiden who catches my eye at a bigger price with Bud Cauley considered great value at 100/1.
Cauley struck the ball really well on his way to a top-10 finish at the Heritage last week and the move to TPC San Antonio, where he’s twice played well in just three visits, may see him step up another level and contend.
He’s done so several times lately, including when just in behind Garcia and Koepka at the Nelson last summer, and at 58th of over 200 players ranked for driving distance he gets it out there far enough from the tee. Just like Scott, Laird and Steele, driving is a definite strength.
Although disappointed not to kick on from an opening 63 at Harbour Town, that round-of-the-week in which he put on one of the best ball-striking displays you’ll see should set him up nicely for a run of suitable events, starting here.
Alabama native Cauley is at home in this part of the US and is far too talented to remain in search of his breakthrough victory for much longer, so snap up three-figure prices in the hope he can build on a solid T9 at the Heritage.
Luke List played well at the OHL Classic late last year and has been solid in two starts at TPC San Antonio, but he’s not been missed in the market and I prefer the claims of Harold Varner III at 80/1.
Varner won a co-sanctioned European Tour event in Australia last year to demonstrate that he performs well under the sort of tough, windy conditions expected this week.
He showed an immediate affinity with this course when ninth out of nowhere last year but he’s in much better form this time around, making four cuts on the spin and showing plenty of positive signs without quite putting four rounds together.
Another with ties to the OHL Classic, played on a Norman-designed course, Varner looks primed to piece things together in Texas where his power and par-five scoring prowess can be put to use.
Others to watch include Keegan Bradley, another former Nelson champion, Ollie Schniederjans, a big-hitting youngster who contended last Sunday, and local man Martin Flores, but we’ll stick with just three on this occasion.
Posted at 1115 on 18/04/17.
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