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Stat attack!: Valero Texas Open preview

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What a difference a course makes. Prior to the 2010 playing of the Valero Texas Open, the tournament moved from the LaCantera Resort to TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks course. LaCantera was a haven for low scores. Tommy Armour set the PGA Tour’s 72-hole aggregate scoing record there with a 254 in 2003. TPC San Antonio has been anything but accommodating. The average winning score since 2010 is 276.75, more than 13 strokes higher than the 263 average at the par-70 LaCantera from 2006-2009. Martin Laird (pictured) won a year ago with a final-round 63 that tied the course record. From 2002 to 2009 there were 29 rounds of 62 or lower at LaCantera. TPC San Antonio ranked as the fifth hardest par-72 course on tour in 2013, after being the second toughest in 2011 and 2012. The fairways and greens have been among the hardest to hit each of the four years it has been used on Tour.

TPC San Antonio’s statistical ranking on Tour

 Year Scoring Rank Rank among par-72s Accuracy (rank) GIR (rank)
 2013 72.74 15 5 56.34% (13) 59.52% (7)
 2012 73.99 4 2 53.11 (9) 55.26 (4)
 2011 73.66 7 2 51.65 (5) 56.32 (4)
 2010 72.35 17 9 55.02 (6) 59.74 (7)

At 7,435 yards TPC San Antonio is so long that even the bombers have trouble keeping up. In the PGA Tour’s “Going for the Green” statistic – the number of times a players tries to reach the green in two on a par-5 or from the tee on a par-4 if it is a viable option – players made the attempt only 32 percent of the time. They were successful less than 12 percent of the time, the lowest figure on Tour in 2013. The course ranked second the previous three years. The par-5 holes were the hardest on Tour in 2011, second-hardest in 2012 and ranked fourth last year.

Going for the green at TPC San Antonio

 Year Going for the green (rank) Success rate (rank) Par-5 scoring (rank)
 2013 32.49% (4) 11.86 (1) 4.88 (4)
 2012 29.94 (2) 11.49 (2) 4.96 (2)
 2011 36.45 (6) 12.34 (2) 4.94 (1)
 2010 30.23 (4) 12.65 (2) 4.87 (3)

Laird, who beat Rory McIlroy by two strokes after making birdie on his last three holes, took more chances in 2013 than any other player in the field, trying for the green 60 percent of the time when it was a viable option. He only found the putting surface 8.33 percent of the time, which was actually lower than the field average, but the gambling paid off in the long run with the victory. Interestingly, in 2014, Laird’s success rate when trying for the green leads the Tour (33 for 63, 52.68 percent).

PGA Tour leaders in Going for the Green - Hit Green Percentage (*in the Valero field)

  Player Going for the Green Success Pct. Successes Attempts
 *Martin Laird 52.38% 33 63
 *Charlie Beljan 44.07 26 59
 *Danny Lee 42.86 21 49
 Robert Garrigus 39.08 34 87
 *Briny Baird 38.64 17 44

Laird, however, was not on his game at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Playing his first tournament since the birth of his son, Jack, earlier this month, Laird finished last among those who made the cut. Of those who finished in the top-10 at the API, only six are in the field at San Antonio.

Top finishers at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the Valero field

 Player API finish Valero Texas Open history
 Jason Kokrak 4 Two starts, T-15 in 2013
 Erik Compton T-5 One start, WD in 2012
 Ryo Ishikawa T-8 Making his tournament debut
 Freddie Jacobson T-10 Seven starts, Second in 2010, 3 top-10s
 Sean O'Hair T-10 One start, T-58 in 2008
 J.B. Holmes T-10 Three starts, T-11 in 2011, T-13 in 2010

From that list, Freddie Jacobson stands out. In fact, the Swede has never missed the cut at the Valero, no matter where it’s been held, and has never finished worse than T-29.

Freddie Jacobson at the Valero Texas Open

 Year Finish Scores
 2013 T-15 70-74-71-69—284
 2012  T-18 68-76-71-72—287
 2011 T-5 72-75-67-69—283
 2010 2 71-69-65-70—275
 2009 T-5 66-66-68-67—267
 2007 T-21 66-65-71-69—271
 2004 T-29 68-68-64-72—272

Despite his stellar numbers, few eyes will be on Jacobson this week. Phil Mickelson is making his first appearance at San Antonio since a T-47 in 1992. He’s one of several former major champions who are making a rare appearance at the Valero Texas Open

Major champions in the field with less than three Valero Texas Open starts

 Player Majors Texas  Open starts Last appearance
 Phil Mickelson 5 1 T-47 in 1992
 Ernie Els 4 1 T-3 in 2010
 Jim Furyk 1 2 T-3 in 2013
 Retief Goosen 2 1 T-53 in 2013
 Padraig Harrington 3 1 T-10 in 2013
 Trevor Immelman 1 0  
 Geoff Ogilvy 1 2 T-23 in 2011
 Mike Weir 1 2 MC in 2011

What the Texas Open wouldn’t give to have had that group of players a few years ago. Mickelson and Els are looking at this week as key preparation for the Masters. Some of the others, notably Harrington, Immelman and Weir, are looking to get their game back on track.

One final thought: Once the event moved to TPC San Antonio, previous tournament experience became less important than it is at most events. Three of the last four winners - Adam Scott in 2010, Brendan Steele in 2011 and Ben Curtis in 2012 - were all playing the Texas Open for the first time. Laird was making his third appearance in 2013, but runner-up McIlroy was making his Valero debut. Among those making their first appearance this week are Puerto Rico Open winner Chesson Hadley and Ryo Ishikawa, who is 26th on Tour in the FedEx Cup standings.

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