Two weeks ago at Augusta, England's Danny Willett became maybe the best European player most golf fans hadn't heard of to win his first PGA Tour event (and has since joined the PGA Tour). On Sunday at the RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island, another guy with a great resume on the European Tour, South African Branden Grace, won his first title on the PGA Tour.
Grace, who has seven wins on the European Tour and was the best player for the International Team at last year's Presidents' Cup with a 5-0 record, was three shots behind leader Luke Donald when Grace teed off on Sunday. Grace took the lead for good with consecutive birdies on 12 and 13 and shot a final-round 66 to finish at 9-under 275 and two shots ahead of Russell Knox and Donald. The win was Grace's second of 2016. He also won the European Tour's Qatar Masters in January. He rose three spots in the world rankings to No. 11. That definitely won't be Grace's last PGA Tour win and I expect him to take a major very soon. He was Top 5 at last year's U.S. Open and PGA Championship.
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Donald, meanwhile, is so overdue to win the RBC Heritage. The Englishman has now finished second four times and third twice in the past eight trips to Harbour Town. The other big story last week was Bryson DeChambeau, who turned heads at the Masters as low amateur, finishing T4 in his pro debut. That was easily a better debut than the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy. DeChambeau jumped 144 spots in the world rankings to No. 205, just behind former major winners Ernie Els and Stewart Cink. Thanks to that Top 10, DeChambeau now is automatically eligible for this week's Valero Texas Open and doesn't have to use one of his seven sponsor exemptions.
I didn't have Grace winning last week. Jason Day was clearly the best player in the field, but I thought he'd struggle a bit. He finished T23. My winner was Matt Kuchar and I at least got him at +200 for a Top 10. Ditto on Donald at +400. Kuchar and Donald also won me some head-to-head props.
This week, the Tour heads back to the Lone Star State for the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio. It's a tournament that has moved around quite a bit on the schedule. It's one of the weaker fields of 2016 with guys like Mickelson, Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker leading the way. Spieth usually plays in his native Texas but isn't this week. He's likely still on the mend emotionally from the Masters.
Last year, Walker won his hometown event (he lives about 35 miles away) at 11-under 277. Only 10 players finished under par and TPC San Antonio would see players finish an average of 2.52 strokes over par, the hardest non-major course of 2015. The first-round scoring average of 76.695 was the highest for any round in a non-major since 1999. It was very windy last year. Spieth finished second.
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With no world Top-10 players in the field, there's no heavy favorite. Walker is the top guy at +1400. Obviously he knows the course as well as anyone but hasn't won since this tournament. Walker hasn't had a great season and his last Top-15 finish was at the WGC-Cadillac in early March.
Grace and Reed are +1600. Grace is the top-ranked player in the world entered. He has played here twice with a best finish of 30th. Off that breakthrough win last week, I expect nothing from him. Reed is another Texan but hasn't played here since a missed cut in 2013.
J.B. Holmes, Kuchar, Zach Johnson and Brooks Koepka, all at +2000, round out the favorites. Johnson won this tournament in 2008 & '09 but that was at a different course. He finished T6 two years ago and T20 last year.
Golf Odds: Valero Texas Open Picks
For a Top-10 finish, I like Walker (+150), Kuchar (+190), Mickelson (+230) and Charley Hoffman (+250). Go John Senden (+350) as top Australian, Fredrik Jacobson (+275) as top European and Els (+550) over Grace (-150) as top South African. Head-to-head, I like Johnson (-110) over Grace (-120), Kuchar (-115) over Reed (-115), and Mickelson (-115) over Brandt Snedeker.
I think Kuchar will contend again this week but am not going to pick him to win a second straight tournament. He was T15 here last year and T4 the year before. My pick is Hoffman at +3000. He has played every year since this tournament moved to TPC San Antonio and hasn't finished worse than T13. Hoffman, who was a solid T14 last week at Hilton Head, was third here in 2013 and second in 2011. Hoffman and Walker each have nine rounds under par at this course over the past three years, tied for the most among all players.
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