Stat attack!: Valero Texas Open review

By John AntoniniMarch 31, 2014, 2:06 am

One week after fellow Australian Adam Scott failed to hold on to a three-stroke lead after 54 holes of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Steven Bowditch found himself in a similar predicament at the Valero Texas Open. If the world No. 2 couldn’t hang on for victory, what chance did Bowditch, 339th on the world ranking, have? Plenty, it seemed. Winless in 109 previous PGA Tour starts, Bowditch gave back his three-stroke cushion with a bogey on No. 2 and a double bogey on No. 4 Sunday. But the 30-year-old persevered; making two birdies and three bogeys the rest of the way on a JW Marriott Course at TPC San Antonio that was to be the Tour’s toughest Sunday test this season. Bowditch’s final-round 76 was enough to hold off Will Mackenzie and Daniel Summerhays by one stroke and earn his first major invitation in more than 10 years.

It was highest final round by a PGA Tour winner in 10 years and Bowditch was the first player ranked outside the top 200 to win on Tour this season. The last previous such winner was Gary Woodland, ranked 268th, at the 2013 Reno-Tahoe Open.

Highest final-round score for a PGA Tour winner since 2000

 Score Player Tournament
 76 Steven Bowditch 2014 Valero Texas Open
 76 Vijay Singh 2004 PGA Championship
 75  Martin Laird 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational
 75 Trevor Immelman 2008 Masters
 75 Peter Lonard 2005 Heritage
 75 Vaughn Taylor 2004 Reno-Tahoe
 75 John Daly 2004 Buick Invitational

Players ranked outside the top 100 to win on the PGA Tour in the 2013-14 season

 Rank Player Tournament
 339 Steven Bowditch Valero Texas Open
 127 Kevin Stadler Waste Management Phoenix Open
 123 John Senden Valspar Championship
 112 Scott Stallings Farmers Insurance Open
 110 Russell Henley Honda Classic

It’s notable that three other players were ranked between 90-100 when they won this year (Matt Every, Chesson Hadley and Chris Kirk), but only one player was ranked in the top 10 at the time of his victory (Zach Johnson was ninth when he won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions).

Bowditch took the lead at the Texas Open with a second-round 67 that included a stellar back-nine 31 at the JW Marriott Course at TPC San Antonio. He took a one-stroke lead into Round 3 and despite his hiccups early Sunday never fell out of at least a share of the lead. He’s the seventh player who held at least a share of the 36-hole lead to go on to win this season.

36-hole leaders who would win on the PGA Tour in 2013-14

 Player Tournament 36-hole lead Final margin
 Steven Bowditch Valero Texas Open Led by 1 Won by 1
 Patrick Reed WGC-Cadillac Championship Shared lead Won by 1
 Zach Johnson Hyundai T of C Led by 3 Won by 1
 Harris English Mayakoba Classic Shared lead Won by 4
 Chris Kirk McGladrey Classic Led by 1 Won by 1
 Dustin Johnson HSBC Champions Led by 5 Won by 3
 Webb Simpson Shriners Las Vegas Led by 4 Won by 6

Bowditch didn’t dominate in any of the stats that normally result in PGA Tour victories. He was 64th in strokes gained/putting at the Valero Texas Open. He was T-69 in distance of putts made. He made only two putts from more than 10 feet. He was T-49 in driving accuracy. He was T-15 in greens in regulation. However, his wedge game was excellent. He led the field in distance to the pin on approaches from 50-125 yards, getting his ball, on average, less than 10 feet from the hole. It was less than half the tour average for the week and more than 11 feet closer than his season average.

Steven Bowditch’s proximity to the hole on approach shots

 Distance of approach 50-75 yards 75-100 yards 100-125 yards 50-125 yards
 Bowditch 10 ft., 9 in. 6 ft., 10 in. 11 ft., 8 in. 9 ft. 11 in.
 Field Avg. 16 ft. 0 in. 19 ft. 0 in. 21 ft. 7 in. 20 ft. 0 in.
 Bowditch Valero rank 18 3 2 1
 Bowditch entering week 22 ft. 0 in. 23 ft. 9 in. 20 ft. 7 in. 21 ft. 6 in.


It was similar to the way Bowditch played when he finished T-2 at the 2013 Greenbrier Classic. His approach shot distance to the pin from 50-125 yards that week was less than 15 feet, nearly 14 feet better than the tournament average. That was his best previous finish on the PGA Tour, and although that runner-up got him into the 2013 PGA Tour Playoffs, this victory has bigger implications. Among other things, it gets him into the Masters, where Bowditch will make his first major-championship appearance since he missed the cut at the 2003 British Open as a 20-year-old. It also earns him $1,116,000, more than he has made in any single season.

Steven Bowditch’s best PGA Tour finishes

 Place Tournament Earnings
 1 2014 Valero Texas Open $1,116,000
 T-2 2013 Greenbrier Classic 415,800
 T-9 2011 AT&T Pebble Beach 163,800
 T-12 2013 John Deere Classic 96,600
 T-15 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach 102,400

Bowditch held on to his victory despite shooting 76 Sunday because his closest competitors entering the day couldn’t do much better. His playing companions, Matt Kuchar (who was ranked 11th entering the week) and Andrew Loupe (ranked 505th) both shot 75 as only two players in the field managed to break 70 for the day. The TPC San Antonio’s final-round scoring average of 73.803 was the highest aggregate on Tour this season, and marked the fourth straight week the Sunday scoring average was higher than 72.90.

Highest final-round scoring averages on Tour in 2013-14

 Average Tournament Course
 73.803 Valero Texas Open TPC San Antonio (JW Marriott)
 73.105 Arnold Palmer Invitational Bay Hill Resort & Spa
 73.026 CIMB Classic Kuala Lumpur G&CC
 73.015 WGC-Cadillac Doral Resort & Spa (TPC Blue Monster)
 72.973 Valspar Championship Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead)
Getty Images

Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

Getty Images

Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

Getty Images

Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

Getty Images

Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”