Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Valero Texas Open - Fantasy Picks

FedExCup leader Jimmy Walker returns this week after a two-week hiatus. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

As a man that has battled clinical depression, it was fitting that Steven Bowditch the golfer conquered one of the most challenging tracks the PGA TOUR presents in JW Marriott TPC San Antonio. Since it debuted as host of the Valero Texas Open in 2010, it's ranked among the hardest of any par in every season. Last year's scoring average of 73.286 slotted it the fourth-toughest par 72 in a non-major in 2013-14, but that clip ranks third among the five editions, so there's an argument that it played to its average.

Bowditch shouldered the load after assuming a one-stroke lead at the midpoint. He expanded it to three entering the finale, and then hung on to win by one with a 4-over 76. That's the highest aggregate by a winner in any tournament since Vijay Singh (76) at the 2004 PGA Championship. To find the same qualification in a non-major, you have to go back to 1983 when Fred Couples emerged with the title at the Kemper Open despite a closing 77.

In every sense of the phrase and as proven by his finish (to post 8-under 280), Bowditch simply survived TPC San Antonio. He ranked seventh in distance of all drives, T15 in greens in regulation and led the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green, but finished 64th in strokes gained: putting at minus-0.606. Despite those extremes, he also placed 11th in scrambling and T6 in bogey avoidance.

Indeed, while Bowditch hoisted the hardware, the course won. TPC San Antonio ranked as the hardest host in GIR (55.24 percent) and T1 in par-5 scoring (4.90) last season. The field of 144 will need to remain patient but convert on whatever opportunities it can get to collect par breakers. The 7,435-yard course is a behemoth.

Mother Nature has a history of adding to the test in San Antonio. If the forecast holds, she'll be part of the narrative on Thursday. Sustained winds upwards of 20 mph and out of the north are expected, as is a threat of rain and thunderstorms. Once that energy moves out, calmer and drier conditions take over. Breezes could kick up again by Sunday. Temperatures will top out in the low to mid-70s.
  1. Jordan Spieth - Rested following playoff win at the Valspar. Four top 10s of 2015. Currently 151st in GIR but first in putts per. Solo 10th here last year.
  2. Ryan Palmer - Has confidence off the tee, which matters here. Ninth in strokes gained: tee-to-green; fourth in adjusted scoring. Six top 25s this season.
  3. Jimmy Walker - FedExCup points leader and local resident has gone three starts sans a top 20. Chased opening 76 with three red numbers last year (T16).
  4. Dustin Johnson - TPC San Antonio debut. First start since come-from-behind win at Doral. Three top fives in five starts since return to competition.
  5. Jim Furyk - Didn't escape the bite of Copperhead where he placed T40, ending his streak of top 25s at 13 starts. T3 here in 2013 and T6 last year.
  6. Brendan Steele - Winner here in 2011 placed T4 in his title defense. Active streak of 14 cuts made includes five top 25s. Faded to T35 at Bay Hill on Sunday.
  7. Kevin Na -  Strides in with three consecutive top 10s. Remembered for his infamous 16 in the first round of the 2011 VTO, but shared 11th last year.
  8. Zach Johnson - Just 1-for-2 at TPC San Antonio but T6 in last year's start. Coming off T9 at Bay Hill where he registered 0.576 in strokes gained: putting.
  9. Matt Kuchar -  Arrives in a relative slump, but has survived his last 18 cuts. Fourth in scrambling; T4 in par-4 scoring. Shared fourth here last year.
  10. Matt Jones - Didn't miss a beat after taking three weeks off following a T7-T14 close to West Coast. Solo third at Bay Hill; led field in the all-around.
  11. Martin Laird - The 2013 champ also has a T9 here in 2011. Shares the course record (63). Three top 15s to start 2015. Ranks fourth in bogey avoidance.
  12. Jason Kokrak - Backed up a T7 at Copperhead with a T6 at Bay Hill. From proximity to strokes gained: tee-to-green to scrambling, he's been on point.
  13. Daniel Summerhays - Flashing more form of late than that with which he entered the last two editions of the VTO. Tied for seventh in 2013; T2 in 2014.
  14. Will MacKenzie - Site of the last of nine top 15s of 2013-14 (T2). Tied for sixth in Puerto Rico two weeks ago. Third in proximity; T13 in adjusted scoring.
  15. Charley Hoffman - Getting benefit of the doubt. No better than T30 in last five starts, but 5-for-5 at TPC San Antonio with no worse than a pair of T13s.


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This article was written by Rob Bolton, originally posted on PGATOUR.com. (Connect with Rob on Twitter @RobBoltonGolf)