Thanks largely to the promotion during the absurdly high amount of commercial breaks that have occurred during this year’s NCAA March Madness Tournament, excitement for this year’s Masters has mounted quickly.
With Tiger Woods finally in great form again, and tremendous competition trying to take attention away from the 14-time major champion, this is the most highly-anticipated Masters in years.
However, as much as the sports world might have their eyes on Augusta, it should be noted that there is one more PGA Tour event to go first: this week’s Valero Texas Open.
An event that has been running since 1922, the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio is again hosting a highly-motivated field. A special motivation for most of the course: the winner gets a Masters invite, if they have not already qualified.
The following golfers are the ones we feel are best suited to accomplish that feat:
The Valero Texas Open Power Rankings is presented by Caddies Golf Wipes.
15. Luke Donald
Injuries have largely contributed to the former world No. 1 being the current world No. 568, but Donald is finally healthy, and looked like the Luke Donald of old in his first start since a T9 at the Valspar Championship two weeks ago.
At Innisbrook, he was not tremendous off the tees, but the rest of his game was sharp, and he sounds motivated to get his stalled career back on track. At 41 years young, the diminutive Brit appears to still have some good golf ahead of him.
World Rank: 568th
Last Six: 9, MC, MC, 61, MC, MC
14. Abraham Ancer
After playing the best golf of his life when he contended at several events late in 2018, Ancer hit a slump when the calendar flipped over to 2019. However, he has bounced back in his past two starts, finishing T12 at THE PLAYERS Championship, and then going 2-1-0 in group play at the WGC Match Play.
With his game trending upward, he should be optimistic about his chances against a field infinitely weaker than what he faced in his past few starts.
World Rank: 58th
Last Six: 17, 12, MC, 39, 44, MC
13. Jhonattan Vegas
The Venezuela native has been quietly excellent since the start of February, finishing 26th or better in five of six starts, with a best finish of T3 at THE PLAYERS Championship three weeks ago.
His history in this event is not astounding, but if he shows the kind of complete game he did at TPC Sawgrass, he could challenge for his fourth career victory and make his fourth career appearance at The Masters.
World Rank: 80th
Last Six: 26, 3, 23, 16, MC, 10
12. Justin Harding
This week’s field at TPC San Antonio contains several lesser-known European Tour regulars, and it could be argued that none are more intriguing than South Africa’s Harding, who currently ranks 48th in the world, and held his own at last week’s WGC Match Play, accumulating a 2-1-0 record in group play, with wins over Matthew Fitzpatrick and Luke List.
Internationally, Harding had four wins in 2018 (Two apiece in Africa and Asia), and recently added his first of 2019 at the European Tour’s Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. Harding has little experience in the U.S as a professional, but previously starred at Lamar University.
World Rank: 48th
Last Six: 17, 2, 1, MC, 26, 4
11. Haotong Li
One of the golf world’s brightest young stars, the 23-year-old from China very nearly had his U.S. breakthrough last week, when he knocked off Alex Noren and Brooks Koepka to advance out of the group stage at the WGC Match Play.
Unfortunately for Li, he was matched up with Kevin Kisner in the round of 16, which went very, very poorly. Still, Li is a phenomenal talent who is likely to make his mark in America in the near future.
At least in Europe, he has shown awe-inspiring composure at big moments. He is also an intriguing darkhorse at Augusta next week.
World Rank: 38th
Last Six: 9, MC, MC, 19, 2, 12
10. Joost Luiten
It feels strange seeing the Netherlands’ best golfer (by far) in the field this week, given that it seems like he never plays stateside; this will be just his second U.S. appearance at a non-major since April of 2015 (2017 WGC Match Play).
Despite that inexperience in America, however, he should be taken as a serious threat this week due to his recently hot play in Europe, where he has finished in the top 12 in four of his last five starts, including a T10 at the WGC Mexico Championship where he birdied nine holes on the final day.
His stellar tee-to-green game makes him a good fit at the Oaks Course.
World Rank: 67th
Last Six: 12, 10, 6, MC, 3, 22
9. Billy Horschel
He has not been special in 2019, posting just one top 10 and that was back in January, but he has yet to miss a cut this season and he is putting out of his mind.
The positive outlook for Horschel has more to do with the fact that he is a horse for the course, posting a T11 last year, a T4 in 2016, and third place finishes in both 2013 and 2015.
Horschel played well at last week’s WGC Match Play, halving his match with Jordan Spieth before taking out defending champion Bubba Watson. A loss to Kevin Na kept him from playing the weekend, however.
World Rank: 41st
Last Six: 24, 26, 50, 16, 45, 39
8. Lucas Bjerregaard
Well, everyone knows who he is now. Knocking Tiger Woods out of the elite 8 of last week’s WGC – Match Play was probably not the best way to endear himself to American golf fans, but he is now smack-dab in the middle of the PGA Tour radar.
Coming off that solo-fourth place finish in Austin, the 27-year-old Dane will be in San Antonio, tuning up before his first career appearance at The Masters next week. He is undeniably one of the best players in the field this week, but it is fair to wonder how much he will have left after playing seven rounds last week.
In Europe, he has shown the ability to get hot, and stay hot. Last week might have just been the start.
World Rank: 43rd
Last Six: 4, 30, 12, 69, 29, 49
7. Sungjae Im
It must be good to be young. The 21-year-old rookie has already amassed 17(!) starts in the 2019 season, but with three top-7 finishes in his last four starts, he does not appear to be running out of gas.
Last year’s money leader on the Web.com Tour, appears very close to notching his first PGA Tour victory. Showing a game beyond his years, Im ranks inside the top 37 in five of the six strokes gained categories.
He is set to finally have a week off after the Valero, unless he wins. Do not be surprised if he wins.
World Rank: 43rd
Last Six: 4, 30, 12, 69, 29, 49
6. Jason Kokrak
The 33-year-old Xavier product has yet to miss a cut in the 2019 season, but was especially excellent in March, finishing in the top 10 in three of four starts, including a T2 in his most recent outing, the Valspar Championship.
In another one of those starts, his 10th place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he led a strong field in bogeys, strokes gained: tee-to-green, scrambling, and greens in regulation.
In addition, Kokrak has two top-15 finishes at TPC San Antonio, and with his current tee-to-green game, he seems prime to surpass those.
World Rank: 69th
Last Six: 2, 47, 10, 9, 37, 20
5. Lucas Glover
Among those in the Valero Texas Open field who have not qualified for next week’s Masters, Glover may be the biggest threat to capture a spot this week.
In an impressive career renaissance for the former U.S. Open Champion, Glover has finished 17th or better in nine of 11 starts this season, and boasts the Tour’s sixth best scoring average.
Perhaps, most impressively, the historically very very very bad putter is actually GAINING strokes on the green in 2019. He has played this event just once since it moved to San Antonio in 2010, missing the cut in the 2015 edition, but with the way he his hitting his irons as of late, that should not be too much of a concern.
World Rank: 81st
Last Six: 13, MC, 10, 4, 7, MC
4. Jim Furyk
One of the hottest players in golf right now, the 48-year-old was able to hold his own in the “Group of Death” at last week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, defeating Jason Day and Phil Mickelson before running into the Henrik Stenson buzzsaw on the third day.
Stenson advanced out of the group, but it was still another encouraging week for Furyk.
However, despite his recent hot play, and his long, successful career, he does not currently qualify for next week’s Masters… unless he can somehow win in San Antonio this week. He played fairly well in this event last year (T26) and was T3 in 2013, but what should make him like his chances most is that he currently has the lowest scoring average of anyone in the field.
World Rank: 52nd
Last Six: 17, 18, 2, 9, 37, 14
3. Matt Kuchar
The new leader in the FedExCup Standings very nearly added a third win to his 2019 season last week, reaching the championship match of the WGC-Match Play by mowing down an impressive collection of opponents that included Tyrrell Hatton, Sergio Garcia, and Lucas “The Tiger Slayer” Bjerregaard.
However, he played poorly in that championship match, losing 3&2 to Kevin Kisner. Fatigue could be a factor in San Antonio as he is one of only two players in the field to have played seven matches last week (Bjerregaard), but as the currently Tour leader in greens in regulation, it is difficult to not list him among the favorites anywhere.
Kuchar would like to avoid yet another controversy, and just play great golf to give himself positive momentum heading into The Masters, a major he needs as much as anyone in the sport.
World Rank: 16th
Last Six: 2, 26, 50, 28, 22, 4
2. Rickie Fowler
At No. 8 in the world rankings, Fowler is the highest-ranked player in this week’s Valero Texas Open field. He is also rested after taking off last week’s WGC event.
While Rickie has played well enough to sit at 10th in the current FedExCup Standings, but as of late, he has been the epitome of “hit or miss”, with a win and a T2 in his last five starts, but also finishes of T36, T40, and T47, with those last two coming in his two most recent starts.
He may be the best player in the field, but with so much pressure to finally break through in a major, we suspect his focus will be MUCH more on next week than this week.
In this field, he is still likely to finish highly though, despite not having played this event before. It’s that whole “cream rising to the top” thing.
World Rank: 8th
Last Six: 47, 40, 2, 36, 1, 66
1. Tony Finau
After a very impressive 2018 season, Finau was expected to elevate his game to another level in 2019, but we have yet to really see that. A 1-2-0 showing at last week’s WGC – Match Play was disappointing, but to be fair, he was extremely unfortunate to have been the “A” golfer in a group that included match play wizards Ian Poulter and Kevin Kisner.
The affable bomber has one more week before The Masters to get his game back to the heights it appeared to be heading when 2018 ended. As the second highest-ranked golfer in this week’s field, we suspect this will be his best week in months.
World Rank: 15th
Last Six: 40, 22, 25, 15, 38, MC
Next Five: Jordan Spieth, Joel Dahmen, Graeme McDowell, Ryan Moore, Martin Kaymer