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Valero Texas Open Recap: Chappell Wins a Clunker

Len Hochberg

Hochberg covers golf for RotoWire. A veteran sports journalist, he contributes to Sports on Earth and was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years.

Itís bad enough when the best golfers in the world take a pass on your tournament; itís quite another when your business partners blow it off. The top guys often are idle during the long PGA Tour season (though rarely all of them at once). But when, say, NBC comes on the air without Johnny Miller, you know itís a real clunker.

CBS did NBC one better for the Valero Texas Open, as both Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo didnít go, as the song says, down around San Antone. This is probably a good place to mention that social media wasnít exactly upset to see Bill Macatee and Ian Baker-Finch in the 18th tower.

This is probably also a good place to mention that Kevin Chappell won his first career title at TPC San Antonio, birdieing the final hole to edge a rejuvenated Brooks Koepka.

The Texas Open is a modern-day marvel. Around since 1922, itís the oldest PGA Tour event to be contested in one city. Overall, itís the third oldest tournament on Tour and the sixth oldest in the world (Open Championship, U.S. Open, PGA Championship, Canadian Open and BMW Championship nee Western Open).

It surely deserves better, but itís spot on the schedule in between the Masters and Players Championship Ė one of the Bermuda Triangles on the PGA Tour Ė kept the top 14 golfers in the world rankings from attending. Who knows whether the 15th, Patrick Reed, wouldíve shown had he not been a San Antonio native?

As for Chappell, it only seems heís been trying to win his maiden title for as long as the Texas Open has been around. Mr. Bridesmaid on Tour last year, Chappell entered the week having played 179 career tournaments without a victory. (Talk about doing a 180!)

Whereas two weeks ago we went from talking about the best player never to have a won a major (Sergio Garcia), Chappell was on the leaderboard for best player never to have won, period. He was 41st in the world rankings coming into the week, and everyone ahead of him had at least one title somewhere.

Chappell had four of his six career runners-up last season and, as the B Team on CBS was saying, thereís a big difference in golf and all sports between winning and almost winning. We were wondering whether the rash of second-place cashes last season had, in some way, had a negative effect on Chappell, kind of wearing on him. Because until recently, this season had been a bust for Chappell. Not only hadnít he had a top-10 until the Masters, he hadnít had a top-30!

He had gone from 32nd in the OWGR at yearís end to 41st, which is a precipitous drop that high up the rankings in such a short period (heck Danny Willett only this week fell out of the top-20). Now, Chappell is up to a career-best 23rd.

Something clearly has clicked for Chappell and the obvious question is: How will he do the rest of the season? For some golfers, the first career title is so life-altering that their golf suffers in the immediate aftermath. But Chappell isnít a 21-year-old breakthrough; heíll be 31 this summer. We suspect that whatever switch flipped for Chappell just before Augusta will continue to propel him. Maybe not to another title so quickly, but for fantasy consideration, certainly a much better option than he was in his horrendous first half of 2015-16.

When he tees it up this week, with partner Gary Woodland in the new-fangled Zurich Classic, we canít be sure heíll do well. But we do know that Nantz and Faldo will be back to let us know.

MONDAY BACKSPIN

Brooks Koepka

Like Chappell, Koepka had been having a disastrous-for-him 2016-17 season until recently. After a runner-up at the Shriners back in November, Koepka started missing cuts, four in six events. Suddenly, heís got three good results in a row: T9 at the WGC-Match Play, T11 at the Masters and now this solo second. Before Sunday, I was quite pleased I had lost a bidding war for Koepka in the RotoWire auction draft a few months back. Now, while I suspect that my preseason thoughts that Koepka would be a contender in majors this year is still a bit much, he clearly has flipped his own switch of late and could take off the rest of the way.

Kevin Tway

The son of former major winner Bob Tway was bidding for his first Tour title, in his 44th start. He didnít get it, but the younger Tway undoubtedly is thrilled with a career-best T3, not to mention the $359,600, which beforehand was more than he had earned in his entire career. Tway hadnít had so much as a top-25, so this result is clearly an aberration, even in a watered-down field. The chances of this being a flip-switcher for him arenít great, but weíll see.

Tony Finau

In a week of poor value picks for us, Finau was the lone good one (more on that below). Heís perhaps the best player in the world who didnít qualify for the Masters. His T3 with Tway moves him to No. 66 in the OWGR, still outside the top-60 needed to be exempt into the U.S. Open. Finau had a chance going to 18 on Sunday, but sent his tee ball into a cactus and his approach into a hazard, making a mess of things at the end. Finau has top-5s in two of his past four starts and is one of the very best in the world tee-to-green. Even mediocre putting will land him some victories. Stay tuned Ė it almost happened on Sunday.

Ryan Palmer

Palmer finished in a four-way tie for sixth, but itís hard to get too excited. The Texas historically has done well in this tournament, even while his game has slid the past few years. Still, this result followed up his previous high finish of the season, T11 last week at Hilton Head. Before that, Palmer missed 5-of-7 cuts on the season with nothing better than a T37. Heís probably somewhere between that really bad golfer and the one of the past two weeks. Donít go crazy here, gamers.

Bud Cauley

Cauley has been on the first page of the leaderboard for much of the past two tournaments, finishing the Texas Open tied for 10th. He now has three top-10s on the season and two in a row. He surely looks like the once-promising golfer who was derailed by an injury and is trying to get his bright career back. After missing so much time, it takes a while to get good again. We may be seeing that happen with Cauley. Heís up to 126 in the world, having started the year at 321. This week, Cauley moves into the spotlight again alongside A-lister and pal Justin Thomas in New Orleans.

Martin Laird

Laird had been having a great season well into February before dialing back his schedule Ė and his results. He had played only three times from mid-February until San Antonio, with an MC and two low cashes. So his T18 in the Texas Open is encouraging. We just have to wonder how often he will play and how rusty heíll get when not playing.

Scott Piercy

Piercy has plummeted more in the OWGR than Chappell had, from 36th at year-end to 54th today following another MC on Friday. He began the season well, with four top-25s in the fall events. But since the calendar flipped to 2017, Piercy has been in a freefall: 10 events, four MCs, no top-30s. Heíll be in all the big events this season based on his year-end standing, but this is one guy to avoid.

Roberto Castro

As bad a Piercy is playing, heís got nothing on Castro. Castro missed a fifth straight cut last week, making it seven trunk-slams in this past eight events. And the one where he played the weekend was a no-cut WGC. Castro has had some great years on Tour (2013, 2016) alongside some real stinkers. This may be the worst one yet.

RotoWire Value Picks

Last week: Winner (Bryan), runner-up (Donald), six top-25s, four missed cuts.

This week: One top-10, three top-25s, six missed cuts.

After this nightmare of a tournament, weíre ready for a week off (there is no DraftKings play for the Zurich Classic). Where to begin? Tier 1 was a bust. Three of the four made the cut, but big whoop. Jimmy Walkerís T13 was the best of bunch (Charley Hoffman T40), Adam Hadwin (T72) and Brendan Steele (MC). Tier 2 was our lone bright spot, with Finauís T3 and Ollie Schniederjansí T18. Jhonattan Vegas disappointed with T34 and Billy Horschel cratered with an MC. In Tier 3, two missed cuts (Luke List and Nick Watney) and two T40s (Harold Varner III and Jamie Lovemark). In the long shots, three missed cuts (Seung-Yul Noh, Sam Saunders and Michael Kim) and Blayne Barberís T62. Wait, it gets worse Ö

In our DraftKings cash game, we placed 39th out of 57. Steele, Hadwin Finau, Vegas, Noh and Saunders totaled 303.5 points. We were so certain of our picks, we confidently left $700 in salary cap on the table. We wonít be making that dumb mistake again.

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