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On the Tee: Valero Texas Open

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist
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TPC San Antonio is ranked 50th of the 52 venues in a player poll released this year. (Getty Images)  
TPC San Antonio is ranked 50th of the 52 venues in a player poll released this year. (Getty Images)  

Everything you need to know about the Valero Texas:

Nuts and bolts

Tee times | Hole by hole | Past champions

Defending the throne

Everything's bigger in Texas.

Including the scores.

With steady breezes blowing through the hills as he directed golf balls into the native hay, rookie Brendan Steele won the 2011 Valero Texas Open with an 8-under 280, the highest winning score at the tournament since 1934.

Steele, a Nationwide Tour grad who three months later would contend in his first major at the PGA Championship, managed to grind out 11 pars in succession and hold on at TPC San Antonio, which hosted the tournament for the second year.

To that point in the season, the sand-blasted venue boasted the highest scoring average of the year, with 73.665 shots. The second-round scoring average was 75.289, the highest since the first round of the 2008 British Open, a major championship.

Winds whipped through the new venue at gusts of around 30 mph daily, making the scoring a chore. It pushed drives into the woods and knocked down approach shots, and continued to blow on Sunday, when Steele shot a 1-under 71.

Kevin Chappell, another rookie, was tied with Steele late into the final round but bogeyed the 17th and finished one stroke back. It marked the first time since 2006 that rookies finished 1-2 at the same event.

That younger players broke through was hardly a shock. The tournament drew no players from the world top 15 and only six from the top 50.

Riveting, it wasn't. The top four players on the final leaderboard combined for two birdies on the back nine on Sunday, which didn't exactly make for compelling television.

Venue and you

The course is open to the public, but only if golfers are staying at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa, which might be the longest name for a hotel in PGA Tour history. For those of you who enjoy a good laugh, the track was designed by Greg Norman and Sergio Garcia, who was dating Greg's daughter at the time. Rates are in the $175 range.

Track and field

It's hard to view the meager ranking numbers as anything other than a yawn of indifference about the tournament's new venue, TPC San Antonio, which ranked No. 50 out of 52 courses in a PGA Tour player poll released this year by GolfWorld. In its third year, the venue will feature no players from the world top 15 for the second straight year. Moreover, from last year, the number of players in the world top 50 has dropped by half to three this time around. Yikes. Past champions Adam Scott (2010) and Zach Johnson (2008-09) didn't show up either.

Three whacks from short range

 We knew people were mad at the oil companies, but geez. The field at the Valero last year was the weakest of the PGA Tour season, not counting the so-called Fall Series or opposite events staged the same week as the majors, and it's likely going to experience the same fate in 2012. The top-player exodus is not exactly a glowing recommendation for the TPC San Antonio, which was used in 2010-11 after years of horrid reviews for the previous venue, La Cantera. There's one quick fix to consider: Title sponsor Valero can sign a bunch of players to "ambassador" bag deals, like RBC has done with Ernie Els, Luke Donald and Jim Furyk, thus ensuring more top players will appear.

 Most of the issue with the Texas Open relates to the date. While Hilton Head last week paid a slew of top players backdoor appearance fees to show up, Valero is left with a tough date two weeks after the Masters, when many of the top guns are home and decompressing. Next year, because of contract language, Houston and Texas temporarily will swap dates, which presumably means Houston will be left to scramble for players for its 2013 event. For we hardcore golf fans who know our history, having a series of tepid events in Texas is increasingly tough to stomach. A rough Texas two-step.

 Kevin Na made PGA Tour history last year when he made a 16 on the ninth hole, the highest score ever on a par-4 in tour annals. He whacked two shots into the gulch, whiffed a shot, had another glance off his leg, and actually lost track of the number of strokes expended. Guess what? Based on his world ranking at No. 52, Na has to be a strong favorite to win this year. He's the fourth-best player in the field in that regard and has three straight top-dozen finishes, including a solid T12 at the Masters.

Odds and evens

Odds on winning, via Golfodds.com and the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino:

Matt Kuchar, 10/1; Kevin Na, 20/1; Fredrik Jacobson, 20/1; K.J. Choi, 25/1; J.B. Holmes, 25/1; Charley Hoffman, 25/1; Bud Cauley, 25/1; Johnson Wagner, 25/1; Ryan Moore, 30/1; Ryan Palmer, 30/1; Boo Weekley, 40/1; Spencer Levin, 40/1; Kevin Chappell, 40/1; Harris English, 40/1; Jimmy Walker, 40/1; Cameron Tringale, 40/1; Kevin Streelman, 40/1; John Rollins, 40/1; Brandt Jobe, 40/1; Kevin Stadler, 40/1; Greg Chalmers, 40/1.

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