China gets another visit in the shape of the Shenzhen International while the PGA Tour returns to windy Texas for the Valero Texas Open where high gales destroyed round 1 last year. It's becoming a bit of a recurring theme in the US with The Masters and all 4 days at Harbour Town played in serious gusts.
Overview and Betting Markets
This is the third time in recent seasons we will get to see Genzon GC - host of the Volvo china Open in 2014, and now holding the Shenzhen International for the 2nd time. Alex Levy - 21.00 - and Kiradech Aphibarnrat - 15.00 - are your 2 winners and that already sparks a trend of aggressive birdie making and par 5 performance. Leading the market this week is Bubba Watson - 6.50 - who travels over following a disappointing Masters. Bubba was here last year but never got going until a final round 65. Home favourite Hao Tong Li - 56.00 - will be looking to put on another big performance after losing out to Kiradech in a playoff in 2015 and he makes the overall staking plan. Joost Luiten - 15.00 - is the form man on tour right now.
The Texas Open has thrown a mixed bag over the years - last year the wind blew away all our picks, while I brought home the 1-2-3 in 2010, and bagged Jimmy Walker at a huge 18/1 for a top 10 in the process. This is also scene of huge Ben Curtis success in 2012 which came by following a strong theme of putting specialists, and we'll be sticking to that again. Top of the betting in Texas is the aforementioned Jimmy Walker who plays on his home track and defends the title, while Patrick Reed is another Texan vying for favouritism.
Courses, stats and trends - Genzon GC par 72 7,145 yards
Generous fairways and large, slow, equalizing greens are the theme at Genzon - a track where an aggressive approach pays dividends. Alex Levy and Kiradech Aphibarnrat were a combined -20 for the par fives in their China Open and Shenzhen International wins here. Total driving and ball striking will be key, especially on the more exposed back 9 around the lake where numerous water hazards are in play. Proximity with the irons will prove pivotal with GIR% the only real standout stat on previous leaderboards at Genzon.
TPC San Antonio - AT & T Oaks Course - par 72, 7,435
"Sculpted corridors" is how the fairways have been described on the Greg Norman designed AT&T Oaks course. Elevated greens are protected by deep bunkering and GIR% is at a premium. We generally see fast and firm conditions but there has been a lot of rainfall recently in Texas and a softer test awaits. Some of the landing areas have been widened, with some run-offs removed from selected greens since 2012. As mentioned wind is usually a factor and the scoring average in last year's round 1 hurricane was 76.695.
"I love it, It's very challenging. It just seems to fit my eye. I like the difficulty of it, and it typically blows here, so it's just very challenging and something I enjoy." - Martin Flores (former resident)
The Oaks course is regarded by many of the pros as the course with the purest greens on tour, and as such a strong theme of top putters runs through this event. Flatstick wizards Freddy Jacobson and Aaron Baddeley come to life here with an 80% top 20 conversion rate combined from 10 events. Another (then) putting specialist Ben Curtis came from nowhere to win in 2012. Jimmy Walker and Jordan Spieth are renowned as 2 of the tour's top putters and they ran away from the field last season with Jimmy topping the putting stats for the week.
Top Betting Tips - Shenzhen International
Pablo Larrazabal - 34.00 or 7.50 - and Alex Levy - 21.00 or 4.50 - are two golfers very much in the same aggressive mould and indeed both featured prominently at Valderrama only to come unstuck eventually due to the unsuitability of a tight treelined track that required good course management skills. Shenzhen is more up their alley. Levy is a former winner at the course and owns another top 25 to add to Pablo's 36 - 22 form line. They own numerous rounds in the sixties between them on the track: the Spaniard hit a round 3 65 at the Shenzhen last season while the Frenchman carded a 2nd round 62 enroute to a -19 total for his win at the Volvo China Open.
Valero Texas Open - Russell Henley - 51.00 Or 11.00
I give more weight to the putting stats here than at any other event on the PGA Tour regular calendar and following this theme there's 1 outstanding candidate that has returned to form over the last few weeks. A top 5 at the Shell Houston was followed by a T23 at Blustery Harbour Town. Henley has no course form at TPC San Antonio but he's proven in the wind with wins coming at the Honda Classic and at the Sony Open - two of the "breezier" stops on tour. Most importantly though, Henley is a short stick specialist ranking 6th in strokes gained putting and 2nd in total Putting; he should find these surfaces very much to his liking.