Texas Open Recap: Walker Eyes a Green Jacket

Texas Open Recap: Walker Eyes a Green Jacket

This article is part of our Weekly PGA Recap series.

Thirteen holes into the third round of the Valero Texas Open, a pair of Texans, Jimmy Walker and Jordan Spieth, were tied for the lead. Just five holes later, at the end of play on Saturday, Walker led Spieth by four shots.

When the tournament concluded Sunday, Walker led Spieth by those very same four shots, becoming the first two-time winner on the PGA Tour this season, moving to a career-best 10th in the world, increasing his advantage atop the FedEx Cup points race and, far from lastly, announced himself as one of the favorites for the Masters in two weeks.

The Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio proved to be the toughest track on tour so far this season, at an average of 74.581 strokes per round on the par-72 layout. Only 10 golfers finished under par, and it's little surprise that two of them were Walker, the Oklahoma native who now makes his home not far from the course, and Spieth, a Dallas native.

Not only are they two of the steadiest players on tour, but it helps to have local knowledge, the way the Texas winds blow. Spieth, the 21-year-old sensation who climbed to No. 4 in the world with his runner-up showing, unsteadied just enough late in the third round to turn the tide. He bogeyed the par-5 14th, then doubled the par-3 16th en route to playing the final five holes at 1-over, while Walker parlayed three birdies into a 3-under finish and the deciding

Thirteen holes into the third round of the Valero Texas Open, a pair of Texans, Jimmy Walker and Jordan Spieth, were tied for the lead. Just five holes later, at the end of play on Saturday, Walker led Spieth by four shots.

When the tournament concluded Sunday, Walker led Spieth by those very same four shots, becoming the first two-time winner on the PGA Tour this season, moving to a career-best 10th in the world, increasing his advantage atop the FedEx Cup points race and, far from lastly, announced himself as one of the favorites for the Masters in two weeks.

The Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio proved to be the toughest track on tour so far this season, at an average of 74.581 strokes per round on the par-72 layout. Only 10 golfers finished under par, and it's little surprise that two of them were Walker, the Oklahoma native who now makes his home not far from the course, and Spieth, a Dallas native.

Not only are they two of the steadiest players on tour, but it helps to have local knowledge, the way the Texas winds blow. Spieth, the 21-year-old sensation who climbed to No. 4 in the world with his runner-up showing, unsteadied just enough late in the third round to turn the tide. He bogeyed the par-5 14th, then doubled the par-3 16th en route to playing the final five holes at 1-over, while Walker parlayed three birdies into a 3-under finish and the deciding four-stroke edge.

Both golfers closed with 2-under 70s on Sunday, leaving Walker at 11-under 277 to Spieth's 281. Spieth got as close as three strokes early in the final round, but that was it.

Both golfers are on the short list of favorites for the green jacket in two weeks, but they are also playing in this week's Houston Open, meaning the Masters will be their third successive event. A lot of golfers like to play Houston, with a course set up similarly to Augusta, but the third week of three is tough sledding on any course, much less one as demanding as the year's first major. Such is the schedule, with two Texas stops leading up to the Masters, and a pair of Texans wanting and perhaps feeling required to play in their home state.

The other top Augusta favorites, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and two-time champion Bubba Watson, have gone the opposite route, sitting out both Texas tournaments. Dustin Johnson played San Antonio but is skipping Houston. There's no right or wrong way to prepare for the Masters, but it will be interesting to see whose strategy pays off come April 12.

MONDAY TAKEAWAY

Billy Horschel

Horschel turned in his finest effort, by far, since winning the FedEx Cup last fall. He wound up third, three shots behind Spieth for his first top-10 of the season. Whether this turns around his season or ends up a one-week aberration, who knows. We'll have to see more before jumping back on the Horschel bandwagon. He will next play at Augusta, where he tied for 37th in his debut appearance last year.

Daniel Summerhays

Summerhays tied for fourth with Chesson Hadley, and now has one more top-10 this season than Horschel, having tied for 10th at the Valspar two weeks back. Summerhays had two top-10s last season and, yes, one of the came when he was runner-up at the Texas Open. So he obviously likes the course. Keep that in mind before thinking what may lie ahead for him.

Chesson Hadley

Hadley had been having a miserable followup to his Rookie of the Year season, with zero top-15s before San Antonio. Again, there's nothing to indicate he's ready to turn his season around, though having success on such a difficult track is nothing to overlook. Hadley's last chance to gain entry to the Masters is by winning in Houston this week. Oddly, Summerhays is skipping the event and therefore won't be at Augusta.

Chris Kirk

Continuing with golfers who have made their best showing of the season at San Antonio ... Kirk notched his first top-10 since October with his T8. He missed the cut three of his previous four starts. Kirk is sitting out Houston before playing the Masters and, again, we'll see whether he's turning around his game at the right time or just played well for one week.

Zach Johnson

The former Masters champion was on the first page of the leaderboard after two early birdies on Sunday, fueling thought that his disappointing season was abating at just the right time. But Johnson bogeyed six of the final 12 holes, registered no more birdies and tumbled to a tie for 20th with a closing 76. Johnson, 83rd in the point standings, is skipping Houston next week.

Gary Woodland

There's a nifty stat circulating about Woodland, and his remarkable success with putts inside three feet. He's 271-for-271 this season, made all 770 attempts last season and all 871 the season before that. Here's another stat about Woodland: While 32nd in the point standings with one runner-up and one third-place showing, he's 67th on tour in final-round scoring. On Sunday in San Antonio, the big-hitting Kansan was in the top 10 on the back nine, only to play his final seven holes in 4-over, falling to T26. (And the reason Woodland takes so many 3-footers is because of all the longer putts he had had missed just prior.)

Phil Mickelson

The flowers are starting to bloom and so is talk of Mickelson finding his game in time for the Masters. After a first-round 2-under 70 at San Antonio, the talk appeared justified. But Mickelson went 72-74-76 over the final three rounds, with a whopping 42 on the front nine on Sunday. He tied for 30th. Mickelson will play Houston, meaning the Masters will be the third successive start for a struggling golfer nearing 45 years old.

Sean O'Hair

A feel-good story two weeks ago, when he lost to Spieth in the Valspar playoff that also included Patrick Reed, O'Hair continued his fine play at Bay Hill with the first three rounds in the 60s. But he closed that tournament with a 76, then shot 77-77 to miss the cut at San Antonio and, just like that, those who swooped in to pick up O'Hair might be thinking "Uh-oh."

Graeme McDowell

McDowell withdrew after nine holes in San Antonio with what was called a left foot injury, later said to be a tendon strain in his left ankle. The Irish Examiner reported that McDowell has been cleared for the Masters, with doctors saying he should heal in time. McDowell, healthy or not, did not seem much of an option for Augusta anyway, mired in a disappointing season.

Sand saves:
Four more golfers qualified for the Masters, bringing the total number of entrants to a 99 -- and that's including will-he-or-won't-he Tiger Woods. The only way it can get to 100, which it hasn't been since 1963, is if this week's Houston winner hadn't previously qualified. And that triple digit would make all the Hooties in Butler Cabin very unhappy. England's Paul Casey, South Africa's Branden Grace, Austria's Bernd Wiesberger and India's Anirban Lahiri each qualified by being in the top 50 in the world at week's end. Scotland's Marc Warren is this year's bridesmaid at No. 51. Harris English could not improve upon his No. 53 ranking.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years. He was named 2020 "DFS Writer of the Year" by the FSWA and was nominated for the same award in 2019.
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