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2006 Valero Texas OpenFor the first time since 2003, Fred Funk will be returning to San Antonio, Texas for the Valero Texas Open.
 
Funk hasnt skipped town because of any discrepancies with this event. Rather, over the last two years, hes been busy on this particular week, representing his country in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
 
This year, however, Funk is free to play wherever he chooses ' and he has chosen to play here.
 
Justin Leonard
Justin Leonard is a two-time winner of the Valero Texas Open.
Not that the 50-year-old really had any other choice. There is no Champions Tour event this week, and he was never really in the race to make this years U.S. Ryder Cup team.
 
The Ryder Cup, of course, is being contested this week in Kildare, Ireland. And, for the fourth straight time, the Texas Open will be played opposite it; though, this may be the last time it has to share the spotlight.
 
Next years event will be held Oct. 4-7, which is the week after the Presidents Cup. And if it holds its position on the TOUR calendar, then it shouldnt run up against the Ryder Cup in 08.
 
In all, this is the 76th edition of this event, which began in 1922. Past winners include the likes of Walter Hagen, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer.
 
Robert Gamez won last years event, opening in 62 and closing in 64 on his way to a three-stroke victory ' his first on TOUR since his rookie season in 1990.
 
Defending champions havent had much success in this tournament over the years. Bill Mehlhorn won back-to-back in 1928-29. Palmer won three straight, from 1960-62. And only one person since then has been able to repeat. And that person leads the list of our five favorites.
 
Justin Leonard
It was seven years ago that Leonard was a Ryder Cup hero, draining a 45-foot birdie putt against Jose Maria Olazabal to all but clinch the Americans comeback victory at Brookline. That was the last win in the competition for the U.S., and the last time Leonard was a team member. But its not like hes been sitting at home watching his former teammates on TV around this time of year. Instead, hes been collecting some sizeable paychecks in his home state. Leonard won this event in 2000 and 2001, and has two other runner-up finishes in his career. He has yet to win this year, and hasnt had a top-10 since February, but this should prove the perfect venue for him to turn things around.
 
Bart Bryant
Bryant, who won this event two years ago, is coming off his best finish of the season with a runner-up showing to Jim Furyk at the Canadian Open. The 44-year-old Texas native is quite comfortable at this venue, as seen not only by his victory in 2004 but also the course record he holds - a 10-under 60 he shot during the third round the year he won. Texans have fared well recently at this event, winning four of the last six years.
 
Dean Wilson
Thanks to his victory at The International, Wilson is no longer known simply as The Guy Who Played with Annika at Colonial. And, because of that, he will not have to worry about securing his TOUR card as the season winds down. Last year, he used a seventh-place finish at this event to help regain the card he lost the year before. Wilson had finished 133rd on the 04 money list, despite tying for third at LaCantera. With two top-10s in as many starts in this event ' and not having visions of Q-school on the horizon ' he should have plenty of confidence, and should be plenty relaxed, to make a run at the title.
 
Bob Estes
The Texas Open has been kind over recent years to veteran players. As previously mentioned, Gamez won for the first time in 15 years at this event a year ago. That was a similar story for 2003 winner Tommy Armour III, who also hadn't won since '90. And, in between those two, Bart Bryant captured his first TOUR title at this event in 04. Now, Estes would like to earn his first victory in over four seasons. He nearly ended that winless drought four weeks ago in Reno, but fell one shot short. Estes made this event his maiden TOUR victory in 94, and has four other top-10 finishes here.
 
Shaun Micheel
Micheel only has one top-10 in this event in six career starts, but he has been playing quite well of late. Still seeking a validation victory to his 2003 PGA Championship, Micheel finished runner-up in this years PGA and tied for seventh a few weeks ago in the Deutsche Bank Championship. Last week in England, he knocked off world No. 1 Tiger Woods in the first round of the World Match Play Championship. Despite getting roughed up in the finals against Paul Casey, he should still bring back plenty of confidence.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Valero Texas Open