Chappell set to defend, Garcia to return at Valero

SAN ANTONIO – 2017 champion Kevin Chappell returned to San Antonio today to participate in the Valero Texas Open’s annual Media Day and is among a list of early player commitments announced by tournament officials for the 2018 Valero Texas Open, scheduled for April 19-22 at TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks Course.

Sergio Garcia, the 2017 Masters champion and currently ranked 11th in the world, has committed and will be making his first start in the Valero Texas Open since 2010. The Spaniard has won 10 times on the PGA TOUR, including THE PLAYERS twice and 36 times worldwide. Garcia has played on eight European Ryder Cup teams since 1999 and has rarely fallen out of the top 15 in the world since 2000.

Chappell is currently ranked 36th in the Official World Golf Ranking and 42nd in the FedExCup standings. He’s one of seven champions of the past decade committed to the third oldest PGA TOUR event on the schedule.

Among them is World No. 23 Charley Hoffman (2016), 2016 PGA Champion Jimmy Walker (2015), Steven Bowditch (2014), Martin Laird (2013), Brendan Steele (2011) and two-time major champion Zach Johnson (2008, 2009)

The tournament has also received commitments from World No. 17 and Olympic bronze medalist Matt Kuchar; World No. 21 Brian Harman; 2017 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, past FedExCup champion and major champion Jim Furyk; 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell; two-time major champions Martin Kaymer and Retief Goosen; 2009 Open Championship winner Stewart Cink; FedExCup champions Billy Horschel and Brandt Snedeker as well as five-time PGA TOUR winner Ryan Moore and four-time PGA TOUR winners J.B. Holmes and Camilo Villegas.

Chappell sank an eight-foot birdie putt in front of a huge crowd on the final hole Sunday for a one-stroke victory over 2017 U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, who was warming up on the range for a possible playoff. It was Chappell’s first PGA TOUR victory. Chappell finished tied for fourth in the 2016 tournament and now has three top-five finishes, including a runner-up in 2011, in his eight starts in San Antonio.

“Prior to coming to San Antonio last year, Kevin had finished in a tie for 7th at the Masters and certainly was playing some great golf. His dramatic finish here marked the second consecutive year we had the winning putt occur on the final hole, adding more lore to our historic event,” Executive Director Larson Segerdahl said. “We look forward to seeing Kevin defend his title against the likes of Sergio Garcia, Matt Kuchar and other top PGA TOUR players this April.”

Joaquin Niemann, the top-ranked amateur player in the world, has accepted a sponsor exemption to play in the tournament. Niemann, a 19-year-old from Chile, will turn pro after this year’s Masters, where he earned an exemption for winning the Latin American Amateur Championship last month.

“We are excited to have this incredible young talent in our field this year,” Segerdahl said. “We have always prided ourselves on providing opportunities to promising young players and we look forward to seeing Joaquin use his start in the Valero Texas Open as a stepping stone to earning his PGA TOUR card.”

This initial collection of players has accumulated eleven major championships and 106 PGA TOUR wins.

Players have until Friday, April 13 at 5 p.m. ET to commit to the Valero Texas Open. They can withdraw from the tournament at any time.

Alex Noren, Webb Simpson weather wind, share Honda Classic lead

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Jack Nicklaus called it on Tuesday night.

“It’s going to be a handful this week with a dry golf course,” Nicklaus said of PGA National, site of the Honda Classic. “You’re going to see some very interesting rounds.”

Only 19 players were under par in Thursday’s opening round, co-leaders Alex Noren and Webb Simpson among them after rounds of 4-under 66.

Justin Thomas is just one shot off the lead at 3 under and Tiger Woods shot even-par 70. Woods is T-20 alongside 15 others.

The field played the back nine an average of 2.16 shots over par and particularly struggled with the “Bear Trap.” The stretch from Nos. 15-17 included three of the four most difficult holes on the entire course, hardest being the 190-yard, par-3 17th. The average score was 3.6 with 22 players making double bogey or worse.

“Some of those holes, you’re just kind of holding on for dear life,” Thomas said.

As predicted, there were some interesting rounds. Smylie Kaufman shot 13-over 83 and Kevin Kisner carded a 9-over 79.

Rory McIlroy was at even par through 17 holes and hoping to finish strong. But he rinsed a 3-wood trying to reach the par-5 18th in two and wound up with a double bogey. He’s now T-56 at 2 over while defending champion Rickie Fowler shot 1 over.

“It was a pretty tough day,” McIlroy said. “Wind was up. Greens got a little, sort of crusty and firm. I felt like I was hanging on pretty well. I was doing everything I needed to do, just sort of grinding out pars. Sort of was pushing for a birdie at the last to try and shoot under par. … Get back out tomorrow morning and try to rectify that mistake.”

McIlroy should have heeded Simpson’s advice. The 2012 U.S. Open champion was one of just nine players to make birdie at 17 and had five birdies with one bogey.

“I think you’ve got to be smarter here than most places we play,” Simpson said. “There’s some times where you’ve got a perfect number over water to a tucked pin and you’re tempted to go 5 feet left of it when you need to go 15 feet left of it. So, you’ll hear it a lot this week, but I think you’ve got to avoid the big numbers, take your medicine and rely on your short game.”

Woods was unable to avoid the big number and made double bogey-7 at No. 3, which actually played as the easiest hole of the day with an average score of 4.7. But he didn’t force anything and stayed mostly within the vicinity of the fairway. He often hit 3-wood or iron off the tee, including a 5-iron at the 365-yard first. He also got rid of the three-putts that led in part to a missed cut last week at Riviera.

“I felt very comfortable today,” Woods said. “I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air. I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

Woods is now in good shape to make it to the weekend, while those who miss the cut Friday might be glad to get out of here as quickly as possible.

New coach, red wine help Eddie Pepperell share Qatar Masters lead

A change of coach and a couple of glasses of red wine helped Eddie Pepperell claim a share of the lead after the opening round of the Qatar Masters.

Pepperell fired eight birdies and a solitary bogey to card a seven-under-par 65 at Doha Golf Club, which was matched by fellow Englishman Aaron Rai and France’s Gregory Havret.

Former winner Alvaro Quiros, Italy’s Edoardo Molinari, England’s Oliver Fisher and Germany’s Marcel Schneider were a shot off the pace on a day when unusually calm conditions led to plenty of low scores, with 91 players breaking par.

“I played well and surprised myself really out there,” Pepperell told Sky Sports. “I made a change this week with personnel, just working on a couple of new things, and I surprised myself with how well I managed to trust it and hit some quality tee shots as well.

“That’s the area I feel like I’ve been struggling with again a bit lately, but the whole game felt good. It’s always tough to go out onto the golf course and take it out there.

“It’s been pretty nice on the range, although yesterday was a bit of a grind, a bit of a struggle in the afternoon, so I was in my room in my boxers doing some drills last night! I even prepared with a couple of glasses of red wine last night, maybe for the pain, but it was really good.

“This week there’s definitely a feeling of the bigger picture for me than tomorrow, and indeed the weekend. I want to keep working on what I’m working on, go out there, and try do the best I can with it.”

Havret, who was runner-up to Graeme McDowell in the 2010 U.S. Open and has not won since 2008, carded seven birdies in his 65, including six in eight holes from the sixth.

Rai, who won three times on the Challenge Tour in 2017 to gain automatic promotion to the European Tour, recorded five birdies and finished his round in style, with an eagle on the par-5 18th.

Get It Done || 63 Year Old Professor

In 1896. the first U.S. Open Golf Championship was held. The winners prize money was S160. In 2012, the winners check was S1,360.000. Requirement 1: What was the annual percentage increase in the winners check over this period?

Graeme McDowell can follow up last week’s good form – TheBack9

The PGA Tour moves back to the east coast this week with the Honda Classic at the PGA National.

Rickie Fowler won last year in dominant fashion. Eventually winning by four despite a couple of late bogeys.

It is another strong field. Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Sergio Garcia and Fowler will be in Florida.

There is plenty of British interest as well. Graeme Mcdowell (SPOILER: more about him later), Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton will all be playing.

Fowler is favourite to take home the trophy and defend his title.

Honda Betting
Odds from Paddy Power

Now for the picks…

As hinted at already. McDowell is the first name that stands out for me. He put himself right in contention last week at the Genesis Open before a final day 77 saw him fall right away.

He has three top 10 finishes here since 2012 so knows and plays the course well. The 38-year-old is based in Florida so will be at home in the conditions.

The Northern Irishman has struggled in recent years but with the Ryder Cup on the horizon, the former US Open winner could be extra motivated this season.

At 66/1, I like him to do well this week and follow up last week’s good form.

Daniel Berger lost out in a playoff to Padraig Harrington in 2015 and looks tempting at 33/1.

He is a Florida native and played this course as a junior so will know it well.

Despite a missed cut last week, his recent form has been good – he had four straight top 20 finishes heading into last week.

Billy Horschel
Billy Horschel has some great course form

The third and final pick is a player that has finished T8 and T4 in the past two years here – Billy Horschel.

At 90/1, I like Horschel to have a good week at the Honda. He is slowly slipping down the rankings and since his win at the Byron Nelson in May his record shows plenty of poor results and missed cuts, he can turn things around.

His win in the FedEx Cup a few years ago show that he is the sort of player that can get hot for a stretch. Hopefully this week is the start of one of those runs for Horschel, who like Berger, is a Florida native.