GORDON SEAY PHOTO
By TOM LaMARRE
Most of the best golfers in the world are passing on the Valero Texas Open this week on the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas, and preparing elsewhere for the first major of the season, the Masters next week at Augusta National in Augusta, Ga.
Only top 50 players in the World Golf Rankings plus former Masters champions, PGA Tour winners in the last year and few lucky enough to be granted exemptions are eligible for the Masters, so those ranked in the 50s and 60s will be going all out for the victory in Texas.
Among them is Rickie Fowler, who has bounced back from a slump in the last few years, but finds himself on the outside looking in at No. 59 in the rankings.
“My short-term goal is to obviously get myself back in Augusta,” said Fowler, who has been close this season with a tie for second in the Zozo Championship, a tie for sixth in the Fortinet Championship, a tie 10th in the WM Phoenix Open, a tie for 11th in the Farmers Insurance Open and a tie for 13th in the Players Championship. “If that doesn’t happen, we’re going to continue to move forward and be in a good position.
“It’s definitely been a lot better being able to kind of build some momentum and ultimately build some confidence. The last few weeks, I really haven’t felt that great with the swing. But what I’ve been able to get out of those weeks shows a little bit more quality in the state of my game and how I’m feeling.
“ … If we can finish where we have been while not feeling great, I’m looking forward to when things are feeling really good.”
Fowler played well in the WGC-Dell World Match Play Championship at Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas, upsetting then-second-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, 2 and 1, in the Group Play opener, but he lost to Billy Horschel, 3 and 2, in the second round and then beat Keith Mitchell, 1 up, for a 2-1 record. However, it was Horschel who advanced to the Round of 16 with a 2-0-1 record.
Had Fowler advanced, depending on how he played the rest of the way, he possibly could have climbed into the top 50 or at least got close to make his chore this week in San Antonio a lot easier.
Instead, he will make his third start on Thursday in the Valero Texas Open, where he tied for 17th both 2019 and 2021, before shooting 74-72—146 to miss the cut by two strokes last year—and he needs much better than any of those efforts.
J.J. Spaun of Los Angeles and San Diego State is the defending champion, and other former Valero Texas Open winners in the field include Corey Conners of Canada, Kevin Chappell, Charley Hoffman, Jimmy Walker, Andrew Landry and Martin Laird of Scotland.
Also in the field are Tyrrell Hatton of England, Matt Kuchar, Chris Kirk, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Francesco Molinari of Italy, Si Woo Kim of South Korea, Stewart Cink, Cam Davis of Australia, Andrew Putnam, Lucas Glover, Brian Gay, Sepp Straka of Austria, Cameron Champ, Nick Taylor of Canada, Jason Dufner, Ryan Moore, Luke Donald of England and Padraig Harrington of Ireland.
Fowler will have to beat them all, plus the rest of the field, to get to the Masters next week.
1. Rickie Fowler, United States – Surprisingly Fowler is not yet eligible for the Masters next week despite six finishes in the top 20 this season, including a tie for second in the Zozo, a tie for sixth in the Fortinet, a tie for 10th at Phoenix, a tie for 13th in the Players and a tie for 17th last week in the WGC-Match Play. Rickie tied for 17th in the Valero Texas Open in 2019 and 2021.
2. Tyrrell Hatton, England – Claimed his only PGA Tour victory in the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational, but has won the 2020 BMW PGA Championship and 2021 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship since to give him 10 pro victories. Hatton finished second in the Players, tied for fourth in the API and tied for sixth at Phoenix this season. He’s making his Texas Open debut.
3. Corey Conners, Canada – Recorded four rounds in the 60s to claim his only PGA Tour victory by two strokes over Charley Hoffman in the Valero Texas Open three years ago and tied for 14th in his title defense. Conners has seven finishes in the top 20 this season and is looking forward to the Masters next week because he has three top-10 finishes at Augusta National.
4. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – Will try to bounce back from a neck injury that knocked him out of the WGC-Match Play last week, and he was just getting warmed up with a solo fifth in the Players after a tie for ninth in the Famers. Matsuyama is another player looking forward to the Masters next week because he claimed the biggest of his 17 pro victories at Augusta in 2021.
5. Chris Kirk, United States – After claiming his fifth PGA Tour victory in the Honda Classic, Kirk missed the cut in the Players, but it’s been a solid season as he also finished solo third in the Sony Open in Hawaii and tied for third in The American Express. He is making his ninth start in the Valero Texas Open and he tied for sixth in 2021, and tied for eighth in both 2015 and 2018.
6. Andrew Putnam, United States – The former Pepperdine star, who claimed his only PGA Tour victory in the 2018 Barracuda Championship and also won twice on the Korn Kerry Tour, is coming off a tie ninth in the WGC-Match Play. Putnam also tied for second in the Zozo and tied for fourth in the Sony Open in Hawaii. His best in the Texas Open was a tie for eighth in 2018.
7. Cam Davis, Australia – The Aussie claimed his first PGA Tour victory and fourth as a pro in the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic, and was in the hunt most of the way this season in the Players before a closing 74 that left him in a tie for sixth. Davis is coming off a tie for 19th in the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship and will be making his debut in the Valero Texas Open.
8. Matt Kuchar, United States – Kooch, at 44, was the oldest play to win in Group Play at the WFC-Dell Match Play and finished in a tie for ninth. That came after he tied for seventh in the Sony Open in Hawaii and was solo eighth in the Genesis. Incredibly, Kuchar is playing in the Valero Texas Open for the 18th time and he tied for second last year and way back in 2007.
9. Si Woo Kim, South Korea – In addition to claiming his fourth PGA Tour victory and fifth as a pro this season in the Sony Open, Kim tied for eighth in the Shriners and has five other results in the top 25, including a tie for 19th last week in the WGC-Dell Match Play. His best result in six starts in the Valero Texas Open was a tie for fourth in 2019, and he tied for 13th last season.
10. Matt Wallace, England – After claiming his first PGA Tour victory and 11th as a pro last week in the Corales Puntacana Championship, Wallace is ready to go again. He also tied for seventh in the Valspar, tied for 16th in Dubai and tied for 20th in Abu Dhabi this season. He finished solo third in the Valero Texas Open two years ago, but missed the cut last season.
OTHER PLAYER TO WATCH: J.J. Spaun, United States; Nick Taylor, Canada; Ryan Fox, New Zealand; Adam Schenk, United States; Taylor Montgomery, United States; Thomas Detry, Belgium; Davis Riley, United States; Taylor Pendrith, Canada; Sepp Straka, Austria; Ryan Palmer, United States.
1. Aaron Rai, England – A six-time winner as a pro, Rai is coming off a T-19 in the Players and had a T-7 this season in Houston and a T-20 in the Shriners. T-29 in Texas Open debut last year.
2. Ben Martin, United States – Martin, who has four wins as a pro, finished T-13 at Pebble Beach, T-5 in Honda Classic, T-8 at Puntacana last week. Best in Texas Open was T-34 in 2021.
3. Nicolai Hojgaard, Denmark – Has won three times as a pro and last week was second at Puntacana. Also was T-5 in Thailand, T-10 in Australia and T-10 in Abu Dhabi this season.
4. Pierceson Coody, United States – Won Panama Championship on Korn Ferry Tour in February for first pro title, shot 66 in first PGA Tour round, T-14 in Arnold Palmer Invitational.
5. Akshay Bhatia, United States – Four-time winner on lower tours finished second in Puerto Rico Open, T-17 in Bermuda on PGA Tour, T-4 in Bermuda, T-7 in Bahamas on Korn Ferry Tour.
For first-round tee times visit: https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard