The Valero Texas Open at the TPC San Antonio begins Thursday and has a lot of interesting threads woven into the week.
The most dominant one is that Rory McIlroy decided literally at the last minute to commit to the tournament; it wasn’t originally on his schedule. When he had another so-so outing in Houston, he opted to get more competitive rounds under his belt rather than roll into Augusta early.
This is interesting in light of his club change and the criticism that he’s drawn for it in some quarters. Writing at the Tour Insider at pgatour.com, Fred Albers does a good job of putting that criticism to rest. All his numbers are better with the new clubs. The only numbers that are down is the number of competitive stroke play rounds he’s played (9).
Now this is going to play out in very interesting fashion. You have Steve Stricker seriously talking about playing a 12-tournament season and through just 4 events he has two 2nds, a T5 and a T38 in Houston last week. With $1.8 million in the bank, it seems to be working for him.
McIlroy went out in the first round of the Match Play in Tucson, famously withdrew from the Honda, finally had a good outing in Miami with a T8, and then fell back into recent habits with a T45 in Houston. Given his talent, his $228,000 pales in comparison to Stricker’s success.
Then you have Tiger Woods who didn’t come out until La Jolla which he won. That in itself begs the question about whether you need to competitively play your way into a target tournament. He took a month off before also going out in the first round of the Match Play, wallowing to a T37 at Honda the following week, winning in Miami the following week and after taking a week off, winning at Bay Hill. In five events he’s amassed $3.8 million, leads the FedExCup points list and regained his World No. 1 ranking.
Then you have D.A. Points who only missed a week in 10 tournaments just trying to make cuts. He was 2 for 9 coming into last week’s Houston Open and, feeling like his game was finally coming around, he entered San Antonio. Then he won Houston. You’d think he might be tempted to take a week off now that he’s in next week’s Masters, but a commitment is a commitment…and he wants to keep the momentum going.
Then you have Phil Mickelson who was none too happy that Houston lost its “gateway to the Masters” status when Valero was rewarded for its many sponsorship years in San Antonio. Phil, who always plays the week before the Masters, didn’t think the course was a good tuneup proxy for Augusta. Presumably, he’s in Augusta now at least getting a scouting jump on the field.
Finally, we’ll give the last word on this matter to Padraig Harrington, the loquacious, eminently quotable and affable Irishman. He was asked about the “radically different” nature of the TPC San Antonio compared to Augusta and that some players didn’t feel that it was worth the trip:
As I said at the start, the most important thing for me is competitive practice. A card in my hand, trying to shoot the score, 72 holes, preferably — actually, 54 holes would be ideal, but we can’t have that wish. 54‑hole finish on Saturday would be ideal, but I need competitive practice. [He’ll get it if he makes the cut; the forecast is good.]
The last thing, even if I went to Augusta this week and played seven days in a row, I wouldn’t be as sharp as I would be by playing here and competing. You need to have a card in your hand to figure out exactly how things are working in your swing. Doesn’t matter how many shots, for me, anyway, doesn’t matter how many shots I hit on the range. It’s only when I have a card in my hand that I truly see what my game is like.
There is no doubt in my mind, if this tournament is — this is a fine tournament in itself. But if it was played out on the local runway the week before a major, I’d still be turning up. I need competition. I need to be competing against another 156 guys this week or 155 other guys in order to test my game going into next week.
There are obviously downsides to that. If you get in contention, it’s tiring. It could be a big, long week. You never know, and that is a downside. Maybe some of the conditions, certainly the sand in the bunkers is nothing like Augusta. There is a bit more rough, nothing like Augusta.
But outside of that, there is a slight downside. The competitive part far supersedes anything else in my mind. I’ve got to be competitive the week before a major. As I said, I try to peak this week knowing I usually fail and get right the week after. As a lot of people that play very well at Hilton Head [the week after Augusta] will tell you.
So it will be interesting to see, not only who wins this week, but whether a competitive tuneup guy wins next week in Augusta.