Valero Texas Open picks: Read this before backing Matt Kuchar this week
Before we shift our attention to next week, the Valero Texas Open offers another chance to earn some capital—perhaps to add to your arsenal for your Masters picks. Though the field is rather weak at TPC San Antonio, there's plenty of intrigue in the week leading up to the year's biggest event, as competitors who aren't qualified yet for the Masters will attempt to do so.
Our expert picks this week, just like every week, includes a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green of this week's Valero Texas Open, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; two of the most respected fantasy golf experts, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
We have some interesting takes this week. There's a consensus on fading Matt Kuchar, which might be a risky game, as he's currently the FedEx Cup leader after a runner-up last week. And that's exactly it: All the golf Kuchar played last week has to have him undoubtedly looking past San Antonio and at the potential of earning his first green jacket at Augusta National. Some other bold takes from our crew: Our two golf handicappers love an under-the-radar player who's playing his best career golf. And they're willing to look past the low number for him.
Here are our Valero Texas Open picks for this week:
2019 Valero Texas Open Picks To Win (Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Billy Horschel (25-1) — This is great value for these odds. Billy has a good record at TPC San Antonio with three top-11s over last four years, highlighted by a solo third in 2015. He’s finally found his putting, finishing inside the top 15 in that category over each of his last three starts. Furthermore, Billy has been incredibly consistent. He hasn’t missed a cut in any of his 12 starts this season. In fact, you’ve got to go all the way back to the RBC Canadian Open last July to find his last missed cut, period. Feels like a win is right around the corner, so why not at a place where he’s done everything BUT win?
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Jason Kokrak (31-1) — It certainly feels like he’s going to pumpkin soon, but the form is tough to overlook. Fresh off a T-2 at Valspar, Kokrak now has three top 10s in his past four starts, and has gone almost a calendar year without missing a cut. Additionally, he’s tops in the field in Approach, Ball Striking, Tee to Green, and Proximity from 150-200 yards over the past 24 rounds, and top 10 Off the Tee. Feels like this is the sucker play of the week. But I’m a sucker, and I’ll roll out Kokrak again.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Jason Kokrak (31-1) — Kokrak has been knocking on the door, with three top-10s in his past four events. This field is pretty weak outside of the very top, and Kokrak’s tee-to-green game has been incredibly steady in 2019, particularly his irons. Kokrak has also played this event seven straight years.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Tony Finau (17-1) — Tony Finau has a T-3 in San Antonio in his last appearance here (2017), and you'd think his game would be nicely suited to TPC San Antonio. With two par 5s over 600 yards, scoring on those holes will be a separator. Finau has the kind of length few others do in this field, coupled with the strong iron play needed to hit these greens. It'd be surprising not to see Finau in contention this weekend.
Golf Digest editors: Jim Furyk (32-1) — Perhaps no one will be more motivated this week than Jim Furyk. The 17-time PGA Tour winner is not currently in the Masters field, but with a victory, he'll find his way back down Magnolia Lane. Furyk will be fully engaged at a course that favors accuracy off the tee. Motivation alone, Furyk has gained almost three strokes on the field in the off-the-tee stat in his past 10 rounds and comes off a ninth-place finish at the Honda, a second-place at the Players and an 18th place finish in Austin. His game is trending in the right direction, and we like the price to back the 48-year-old.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted five of the season’s 19 events. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Golf Digest editor Christopher Powers correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) to start the season at the Safeway Open. Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix. And Brandon Gdula has three picks of his who have finished runner-up.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2019 Valero Texas Open (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Jimmy Walker (80-1) — Another player in the field who calls Texas home. There’s something about this place that brings out the best in Jimmy no matter how he has been playing. He’s got a win and then the solo fourth last year. He’s always got a chance at this place. He’s played better to this point in the season than he did a year ago when he had that high finish. This marks the halfway point in the season. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Jimmy show strong here and go on a little run.
Mayo: Dylan Frittelli (85-1) — He’s got the Texas ties, and TPC San Antonio will emphasize the best part of his game, his driving. Most weeks I point out how much more important strokes gained/approach is over strokes gained/off-the-tee, but TPC San Antonio is one of the few where driving inches closer to overall importance. Driving isn’t quite as big of factor as approaches (spoiler, it isn’t at any course), but this is about as close as you’ll see all year. Long and straight is what you want off the tee, but since everyone isn’t Dustin Johnson, it’s better to be long than accurate. Frittelli is seventh off-the-tee over the past 50 rounds per FantasyNational.com, rode a scorching Sunday last week to a T-18 finish in the Dominican, and did come T-20 in this event a year ago. He’s more live than his odds would indicate.
Gdula: Joel Dahmen (80-1) — Dahmen ranks inside the top 20 in strokes gained/off the tee and strokes gained/approach over the past 100 rounds on tour, per FantasyNational.com. He doesn’t have great form at the course, but he has great recent form, which should matter more.
Riccio: Joaquin Niemann (75-1) — You might remember the Valero Texas Open being where Joaquin Niemann officially jumped onto PGA Tour fans' radars last year, en route to a sixth-place finish. Niemann would go onto finish in the top 10 three times in less than two months before becoming a PGA Tour member. Though he has struggled this season, remember, the kid is 20 years old. A lot comes with turning pro. I'd take a chance that it clicks for Niemann this week at a course that will obviously conjure up sweet memories from last year. My model makes him one of the favorites this week, so it's worth taking a small taste on Niemann.
Golf Digest editors: Jhonattan Vegas (55-1) — It seems like Vegas has been close all year to putting everything together. He'll have a couple strong rounds, like when he led the Honda Classic after one round, but he's been inconsistent from round to round. With a T-3 finish at the Players, it seemed like Vegas figured something out on the weekend, finishing with three rounds in the 60s. Vegas has some strong strokes-gained numbers in his past 10 rounds, according to FantasyNational.com, picking up almost four strokes on the field. His course history might be bad here, but we'll take the favorable odds and the strong recent form.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Matt Kuchar (17-1) — He’s having a tremendous season, but he’s coming off a long week at the Match Play, where he was the runner-up to Kevin Kisner on Sunday. I think fatigue may be an issue early in the tournament for Kooch. And that doesn’t bode well considering he doesn’t have a great record here anyway with only one top 10 in the last five years.
Mayo: Matt Kuchar (17-1) — Kuchar can definitely do well at Valero, but his outright winning odds are a reflection of recent form and a weak field that just aren’t bettable. If you told me he comes in third this week, I can buy that, but if we played this event 16 times, would he win once? Probably not.
Gdula: Jordan Spieth (24-1) — I’m getting the pre-Augusta jitters, sure, but Spieth’s short-term form is really problematic to back him even at 21-1 in this field when his sights are probably set more on next week than this week. He has a pair of top-10s here dating back to 2014 and 2015. We just wouldn’t really back a lesser-name golfer with his profile at this price.
Riccio: Matt Kuchar (17-1) — Sure, there's a fatigue factor of playing seven rounds in four days at the WGC-Match Play. But more importantly, Kuchar does not chart out strongly this week, as opposed to other weeks. He's playing some of the most consistent golf on tour, but when it comes to scoring on par 5s over 550 yards and long-iron approaches, those are his weaknesses. That's reason to fade with Augusta on his mind.
Golf Digest editors: Lucas Bjerregaard (40-1) — Most golf fans were introduced to the long-hitting Danish golfer for the first time at the Match Play, where he took down Tiger Woods. But match play fit his strengths much better—making as many birdies as possible, as opposed to keeping it together for 18 holes. On a course he's never seen before this week on short odds like these, there's better value elsewhere.
2019 Valero Texas Open: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Ryan Palmer (+120) over Daniel Berger (Sportbet) — Give me Palmer playing in his home state. Palmer has three top 10s in last four starts at TPC San Antonio. Berger, meanwhile, is playing here for just the first time since 2015 and he missed the cut that year. Palmer’s got a track record here, whereas Berger only has two competitive rounds.
Mayo: Jason Kokrak (+105) over Billy Horschel (Bovada) — Billy Ho has the track record at this event, but Kokrak’s recent form, especially ball-striking prowess, gives him a distinct advantage this week. Horschel has been riding a hot putter to decent results lately, and I’ll always lean with the player with stronger tee-to-green stats over a hot putter.
Gdula: Tony Finau (-130) over Jordan Spieth (FanDuel) — This seems like a no-brainer to me. Finau has been very, very good over the past calendar year (averaging +2.02 True Strokes Gained, via data golf.ca) while Spieth notoriously has struggled for a player of his caliber (+0.94). That’s carried over into early 2019, and Finau ranks top-10 in strokes gained/off the tee and approach over his past 100 rounds on Tour.
Riccio: Andrew Putnam (-115) over J.T. Poston (Sportbet) — Putnam makes my top-10 in my model this week, due to past experience (he finished T-8 here last year) and his accuracy off the tee. J.T. Poston has had a solid year, but my model gives a clear advantage to Putnam.
Golf Digest editors: Joel Dahmen (-105) over Dylan Frittelli (Sportbet) — Joel Dahmen has sneakily played some of the best golf without a victory on the PGA Tour this year. Look at these stats from his past three events: He gained 7.5 strokes off the field at the Corales Puntacana, 3.6 strokes at the Valspar and 8.9 strokes at the Players, including seven strokes off-the-tee over the field. Those are much stronger numbers than Frittelli, who is interestingly the favorite in this matchup. We'll take it all day.
(Matchup results for the year: Riccio: 7 for 11; PGA Tour Caddie: 7 for 12; GD Editors: 7 for 13 (and one push); Mayo: 4 for 9 with two pushes; Gdula: 4 for 10 with one push.)
Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Tony Finau (+185) — There’s too much quality in his game and he finished T-3 in 2017. With how well he’s played the last few years, it’s so hard to believe that his lone win was in Puerto Rico in 2016. That’s got to change soon. He’s too good for it not to change. He’s such a complete player. He just needs to get four rounds together.
Mayo: HaoTong Li (+500) — Despite a lofty No. 38 world ranking, HaoTong likely will get overlooked in this field, even among the weak top end. Despite a limited sample of PGA rounds, Li does rate out among the tops in the field in a few key areas over the past 24 rounds — Par 5s (eighth), Driving Distance (17th) and Proximity from 175-200 yards (first). Then, look at some of his best career finishes, and you’ll notice the common dominator is the wind—Dubai (win), 2017 British Open (third), 2018 Alfred Dunhill (T-5), and those were against much tougher fields than he’ll face this week.
Gdula: Luke List (+500) — Luke List is pretty much always in the picture any time we look for distance and/or approach play. His issue is always putting. That’ll be the case again this week, but TPC San Antonio is a course that can be a bit forgiving on the greens, so long as you hit them in regulation. He ranks third in the field in greens in regulation over the past 100 rounds, via FantasyNational.com.
Riccio: Vaughn Taylor (+1300) — Taylor charts out in my top-15 in odds to win. So to get him at almost 15-1 odds, this is a pure value play. He excels on small greens, and his irons are usually on point.
Golf Digest editors: Byeong Hun An (+430) — Few players hit their long irons like Ben An, and he leaps off the page when you look at the analytics. We'd tempted to take Ben An to win, but a more likely bet is him finding a spot inside the top 10 come the weekend. These odds feel a little short, so we'll take value where we can get it.
(Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 6 for 12; PGA Tour Caddie: 4 for 12; GD Editors: 3 for 11; Gdula: 2 for 11; Riccio: 2 for 11)
Mayo: Like the rest of the players I’ve hyped, Ben An is the ultimate example of immaculate ball striking in the face of terrible putting. But we’ve seen a slew of crappy putters win here before. No matter the date range, past 12, 24, 36, 50, or 100, the South Korean rates out inside the Top 20 in Approach, Driving, Ball Striking, Distance and Opportunities Gained. And bottom 20 on the greens. Hopefully we’ll get a Keith Mitchell performance from the Honda and An can be simply OK with the flat stick. And Varner, it’s completely hit or miss, but did win in Australia in windy conditions, and his driver will be put to good use this week. Plus, he’s über cheap.
Jason Kokrak $9,400; Byeong-Hun An $9,200; Haotong Li $8,600; Dylan Frittelli $7,300; Harold Varner III $6,600
Golf Digest Editors: If you followed our lineup last week, you made money with us predicting three of the four finalists. In a 25,000-entry tournament, we finished 26th. But last week's results don't matter this week. Yet, we like this lineup perhaps just as much as last week. Our top-5 is loaded here with guys who could make a run at the title. We'd bet any of their odds to finish in the top-20. And Scott Stallings comes off a ninth-place finish at the Valspar where he gained 6.1 strokes/off-the-tee. That should translate well to the Valero, where he has two previous top-15 finishes. All you need him is to make the cut, since we really like the other guys' chances to get through to the weekend.
Jason Kokrak ($9,400); Byeong-Hun An ($9,200); Abraham Ancer ($8,900); Luke List ($8,000); Joel Dahmen ($7,500); Scott Stallings ($7,000).
Riccio: The lower-priced players here: Kevin Tway, Hudson Swafford and Chesson Hadley, have all proven to be strong drivers of the ball and efficient long-iron players, two qualities that translate to success at TPC San Antonio. And picking the winner is a huge benefit to DraftKings success, and being able to include Rickie, Spieth and Niemann in my lineup—all three of the top 5 in my models this week, makes this a confident lineup for me.
Rickie Fowler ($11,700); Jordan Spieth ($10,300); Joaquin Niemann ($7,600); Chesson Hadley ($7,300); Kevin Tway ($6,800); Hudson Swafford ($6,300).
Gdula: In a weak field, Rickie Fowler ($12,500) and Tony Finau ($12,000) stand out, but the safe value plays are somewhat sparse. For that reason, I’ll be opting for more balanced lineups, centering on Luke List ($10,500), Byeong-Hun An ($10,200), and Ryan Moore ($10,100) in the mid-range.
Some intriguing value plays include Joel Dahmen ($9,300), Scott Stallings ($8,700), Chris Kirk ($8,700), and Nick Taylor ($8,700).
Riccio: Similar to my DraftKings lineup, but I get to use Chesson Hadley and Chris Kirk, two players who excel with their long irons and off the tee.
Rickie Fowler ($12,500); Jordan Spieth ($11,700); Joaquin Niemann ($9,600); Chesson Hadley ($9,100); Chris Kirk ($8,700); Kevin Tway ($8,100).
GD Editors: You could be more balanced with your lineup to avoid dipping into the low $7,000 range with Hank Lebioda. But as Pat Mayo and his co-host Geoff Fienberg discussed on their Monday show, Hank Lebioda has been making a ton of cuts this year, so if he makes the weekend, you have a very strong lineup to earn you some cash.
Tony Finau ($12,000); Jim Furyk ($10,900); Luke List ($10,500); Ben An ($10,200); Joel Dahmen ($9,300); Hank Lebioda ($7,100).
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the Valero Texas Open.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.