Sobel: Best Sleepers at Valero Texas Open
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
I’ll get to this week’s PGA Tour event, the Valero Texas Open, soon enough, but I’ve got to admit: Based on field and history, it’s not exactly the most intriguing tournament on the schedule.
So instead, let’s start with something a little more exciting.
In an interview with USA Today last week, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained for the first time publicly that regulated and legalized sports gambling would be welcomed if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the current federal ban.
“If it’s legalized and regulated, you get to a point where you can better ensure the integrity of your competitions,” Monahan said. “You can provide adequate protection for consumers, which doesn’t exist today. There are commercial opportunities for us, which is one of the things we’re here to do, which is to create and maximize playing and financial opportunities for our players.”
And here’s the kicker: “We believe we’d reach a much broader audience.”
I’ve gotten to know Monahan a little bit, both before he took his current role and in the 16 months since he’s been commish. While he certainly sees the value in many of the decisions made during the tenure of predecessor Tim Finchem, Monahan is more open-minded and willing to usher the Tour through changing societal issues while continuing to focus on that kicker — how it can simultaneously benefit everyone at Ponte Vedra Beach headquarters.
From social-media policies to drug testing, the PGA Tour has too often been reactive to specific issues instead of proactive. Among the myriad aspects of Monahan’s job is the necessity to change this culture, keeping up with the times and other sports organizations.
Frankly, it would have been discouraging if he didn’t side with peers such as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who clearly understands the various advantages that could emanate from a positive Supreme Court decision.
Now we know that — if he’s true to his word (and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be) — Monahan and the PGA Tour would welcome regulated gambling. Sure, that might be more to benefit the Tour than to appease a certain demographic of fans, but it’s still a major step in the right direction. The previous regime wasn’t always so willing to adapt.
Tying in that news to this week’s event isn’t difficult.
The Valero Texas Open features just a single current top-20 player and only six in the top 30. As far as must-see TV, it stands a chance to pale in comparison to last Sunday afternoon’s final round of the RBC Heritage — and that one was tape-delayed.
So, how does the PGA Tour assure itself of a growing audience for tournaments such as this one that are devoid of much star-power? The answer lies in Monahan’s comments from last week.
Let’s get to some predictions for this week. I’ll cover my tourney winner, a few top-5/10 props, a head-to-head matchup and a few guys I’m fading.
Before Billy Horschel (pictured above) finished 2-1-1 in his final three tournaments of 2014 to claim the FedEx Cup, he had gone MC-58-47-MC in his previous four starts.
Before Horschel won the AT&T Byron Nelson last year, he MC’d in four straight starts.
And so, scores of 76-79 to miss the Masters cut two weeks ago — his fifth MC in six starts — might not have gotten us too excited about Horschel’s immediate future, but recent history proves that he can turn things around more quickly than most others. Last week’s share of fifth place should have us fully aboard the bandwagon.
At +2500 for the Valero, Horschel offers a nice ROI if he indeed turns things around quickly enough to claim this victory.
Let’s not wander too far off the beaten path for a couple of contenders. Chesson Hadley and Luke List should be able to back up last week’s strong performances at Hilton Head with similar results in San Antonio.
Following a start to the season that included top-four results in his first three appearances, Hadley (+675 to finish top-5) has predictably cooled off a bit, but last week’s T-7 should again have the PGA Tour’s skinniest member squarely on our radar.
Meanwhile, since his playoff loss at the Honda Classic, List (+400) has finished in the top 25 in four of five past five tournaments, including last week’s share of third place.
Hunter Mahan is still ranked 613th in the world, but he has showed some signs of life in his past two starts, with finishes of T-35 in Punta Cana and T-43 in Houston. At +2100 to finish in the top 10, the former top-five player could finally be rounding into form — and this is our chance to jump on him before everyone else does.
Want a few steadier names for this category? Try Jason Kokrak (+850 for a top-10), Brice Garnett (+1050), Aaron Wise (+1050) and — most notably — Beau Hossler (+350) here, as the latter in particular could be on the verge of breaking into the winner’s circle soon.
Here’s a stat that might surprise you: Adam Scott hasn’t finished in the top 10 at ANY tournament since the St. Jude Classic last June. He has more missed cuts since then (four) than top-20s (three).
We can get another former winner here, Brendan Steele, at -105 against Scott, which seems like a smart bet considering the latter’s recent history and the former’s course history.
Since his win here in 2011, Steele owns three results of 13th or better. And he’s a player who tends to thrive on course familiarity, playing certain tracks better than others. Remember: He followed his 2016 victory at the Safeway Open with another last autumn.
Horse for the Course
At last year’s edition of the Valero, Charley Hoffman finished a disappointing T-40 — disappointing because he was enjoying one of the best seasons of his career and because he’s owned such a strong record at this event.
There are many players with strong track records at this one, but Hoffman (+1700 to win) remains an outlier. In his eight previous appearances before last year, he’d finished 1-11-11-3-13-2-13-9.
As the only top-20 player in this week’s field, Sergio Garcia (+1200) is easily the favorite, but that might be for name recognition alone.
You might recall that when we last saw Sergio, he was defending his Masters title with an octuple-bogey 13 on the 15th hole at Augusta National, eventually leading to a missed cut.
But hey, here’s some good news: He’ll come into this week’s event fresh off a win. Garcia teamed with Ben Crenshaw — yep, THAT Ben Crenshaw — to win the member-member at Austin GC this past weekend.
So, he’s got that going for him, which is nice. Still doesn’t mean he’ll pay off as the favorite this week.