Prepare to go low in the Lone Star State

May, 13, 2009
05/13/09
9:12
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The PGA Tour begins Week 1 of 3 in the revamped Texas leg of the schedule. The Resort Course at La Cantera hosts the Valero Texas Open just 214 days after Zach Johnson won the event in the Fall Series.

Golf Stats: The Numbers That Matter

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Although the host course and tournament date have varied, the Valero Texas Open is the third-oldest PGA Tour event, dating back to 1922. You get a better idea of the history of this event when you consider a few of its champions: Walter Hagen, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer.

La Cantera will provide some birdie relief this week for those players who suffered through a tough scoring weekend at The Players.

The par-70 course was the fifth shortest on the PGA Tour in 2008 at 6,811 yards. La Cantera also offered up some of the longest drives last year. Here are the specific numbers on this scoreable track:

Shortest PGA Tour courses in 2008

Rank Course Par Yards Avg. Score
1 Brown Deer Park GC 70 6,759 68.79
2 Pebble Beach 72 6,816 72.56
3 TPC River Highlands 70 6,837 69.12
4 Torrey Pines (North) 72 6,874 71.54
5 La Cantera GC 70 6,881 69.19

Courses with the longest driving distance (all drives)

Rank Course All drives
1 TPC Summerlin 296.6
2 Montreux CC 293.8
3 La Cantera GC 292.6
4 Firestone GC (SC) 291
5 East Lake GC 290.6

As shown above, the fifth-shortest course on tour ranked third last year in driving distance, with players averaging 292.6 off the tee. La Cantera gave up the second-most 300-yard drives last year; the field was able to top 300 yards 42.2 percent of the time.

This short track with bombing potential off the tee leads to some great birdie opportunities and low scores. Since the Texas Open moved here in 1995, the average winning score has been 18 under par.

Not only does La Cantera offer up some short birdie attempts, the putts are also makeable. For evidence, examine these two rankings from last year.

Courses with the shortest proximity to the hole on approaches

Rank Course Average
1 Annadale GC 29 feet, 9 inches
2 La Cantera GC 31-0
3 Glen Abbey GC 31-2
4 Bellerive CC 31-7
5 Congressional CC 31-9

Courses with the longest one-putt distance

Rank Course Average
1 TPC Summerlin 8 feet, 4 inches
2 La Cantera GC 8-0
3 Sedgerfield CC 7-11
4 Plantation Course 7-11
5 TPC Scottsdale 7-10

Players at La Cantera had converted some of their best birdie looks all year in 2008. The course was the second easiest on average for getting close to the hole on approach shots, averaging 31 feet.

The fact that players averaged 8 feet on their one-putts shows that a number of those birdie attempts found the bottom of the cup. This combination of a short course with long drives and close approaches with some putts falling leads to many par-breakers; La Cantera had the ninth-most birdies on tour last year out of 54 courses.

The fun doesn't stop there. If you tune in to the tournament coverage this week, you might even get a glimpse of a roller coaster this week as Six Flags San Antonio resides next door to La Cantera.

In the tournament's recent history, the champions have been firing on all cylinders. In the past five years, each winner has ranked in the top 10 in driving accuracy, GIR and scrambling. The field leader in scrambling has won the event in three of the past six years. In two of the past five years, the field leader in GIR has won the event. Last year, Zach Johnson led the field in ballstriking and scrambling. He set personal bests in GIR (85 percent) and scrambling (91 percent.)

Fantasy foursomes
For this week's fantasy picks, you want guys who can get hot and make a lot of birdies. A good strategy for this week is to balance your best firepower picks with some consistent, veteran presence.

• Justin Leonard: The Texan has dominated this event with three wins, two runner-ups and nine top-25s in 11 starts. Leonard is in the top 20 this year in driving accuracy and scrambling. He has shown he can go low as well, carding a 63 in his third round at the Bob Hope this year.

• Anthony Kim: It's been a roller coaster of a season for Kim. The high point was his second round at Augusta when he set a tournament record with 11 birdies on his way to a 65. Kim has only one top-10 this year in eight starts, but this is the type of event to gamble on him. He is second on tour in birdies per round and percent of holes at birdie or better. Kim was also the runner-up here in 2006.

• Chad Campbell: The Andrews, Texas, native appeared to be in the driver's seat at the Masters after putting on quite a display. Known as one of the best iron players, Campbell should be dialed in from the key distances on this short track. Campbell ranks fourth on tour in approach proximity from 100-125 yards; overall Campbell is 26th in GIR at 67.7 percent. He has made the cut in all five of his appearances here with three top-25 finishes.

• Dustin Johnson: Johnson had some success on another short course this year, Pebble Beach, where he picked up his second PGA Tour victory in the weather-shortened event. Johnson has plenty of firepower and with his length, he often plays a different golf course than the rest of the field.

Johnson ranks fifth in driving distance at 302.2, and he has recorded the longest drive on tour this year, a whopping 430 yards. He is fourth in birdies per round and fourth in par breakers. Last year, Johnson shot all four rounds under par and finished T-15 here.

• Alex Cejka: This is really just riding the hot hand.

Through three rounds at The Players Championship, nobody was close to Cejka. When he's on, he drives the ball better than anybody. He hit 83 percent of his fairways for the first three rounds last week, and he ranks 23rd in driving accuracy. He has made three consecutive cuts here with his best finish T-19. He is a solid flier to take this week.

• D.J. Trahan: Trahan is first on tour in ballstriking and third in GIR (70.7 percent). He ranks 10th in total birdies and this is the kind of track where he could get on a roll. Trahan has made nine of 13 cuts this year, including four top-25s.

• Scott Verplank: Born in Dallas, Verplank has been solid lately, making eight consecutive cuts. He is the type of player who should position himself well on this course. Verplank is fifth on tour in driving accuracy, hitting 72.4 percent of his fairways, and 12th in putting average. Last year was the first time Verplank played here in five years and he finished T-38.

• Charlie Wi: Wi shot a final-round 61 last year to finish runner-up here. The short course plays to his strengths as Wi leads the tour in proximity from 50 to 125 yards. He has shown he can repeat that scorching performance from last year -- he shot a 61 already this year in the third round of the Bob Hope. Wi has made eight of 11 cuts this year with four top-25s.

The Starters: Justin Leonard, Chad Campbell, Dustin Johnson, Charlie Wi

Next in Line: Anthony Kim, D.J. Trahan, Alex Cejka, Scott Verplank

Send comments, suggestions and corrections to Nathan.J.Easler@espn.com. Information from the PGA Tour was used in this report.

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