It's been two years since he won as a Monday qualifier, but Corey Conners is finally able to play the role of defending champ on the PGA Tour.
The 2020 edition of the Valero Texas Open was scrapped because of the pandemic, but it's back this week in its pre-Masters slot. Conners pulled off a remarkable upset in 2019, going from out of the field to the winner's circle in a seven-day span, and there's reason to consider him again this week as you finalize DraftKings rosters.
There's an especially interesting wrinkle for DFS given the absence of Dustin Johnson. The world No. 1 was in the field just long enough to be included in salary assignments, so with his $11,800 off the board it means there are some relative bargains near the top, even for players like Tony Finau ($11,100) and Jordan Spieth ($10,700).
TPC San Antonio is a unique layout on Tour, with plenty of trouble lurking off the tee and big numbers on the scorecard never out of reach. It's a place where ball-strikers tend to shine, especially those who can keep it in the fairway off the tee, and where players like Conners who are often held back by balky putters can sometimes experience outsized success.
With the wind expected to blow at times this week, it's a familiar formula in San Antonio: find guys you can trust to keep it in play. With that in mind, here are some considerations before locking in those DFS lineups:
Hideki Matsuyama ($10,100 on DraftKings): How is it possible that it took this long for Matsuyama to finally tee it up in an event known to favor ball-strikers and excuse inconsistent putting? Whatever the reason he's here now, coming in off a group-stage exit at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. While Matsuyama hasn't won in nearly four years, he has been cobbling together some promising results as of late (T-15 at The Concession, T-18 at Bay Hill) and he's 20th this season in SG: Tee-to-Green. He notched a runner-up finish earlier this season in the Lone Star State, finishing T-2 at the Houston Open the week before the November Masters. Don't be surprised if he puts a similar result on the board this week before heading down Magnolia Lane.
Corey Conners ($9,500): The tee-to-green acumen that netted Conners a pair of shiny new cowboy boots has only gotten better in the subsequent two years. Conners is 14th this season on Tour in SG: Off-the-Tee, 12th in SG: Approach and 15th in SG: Total. The putter remains a long-term concern, but it has cooperated in recent weeks as he nearly won at Bay Hill (finished third) and followed with a seventh-place showing at TPC Sawgrass. He ran into a bit of a buzzsaw last week in a match play group that featured Jordan Spieth and Matthew Wolff, but speaking with media Tuesday he was upbeat about his performance in Austin. There's a certain comfort level that comes with returning to a place where your face is on the hotel room keys as defending champ, and Conners could reap those benefits this week if his ball-striking is up to his recent standards.
Jordan Spieth ($10,700): The Spieth Bandwagon is nearing capacity with the Masters just one week away, but I'm not convinced that this detour to San Antonio will go as swimmingly as the previous two months have. Spieth has undoubtedly undergone a renaissance since February, and it's a big reason why he now has the confidence to head to the Masters as one of the deserved betting favorites. But TPC San Antonio is a different beast, and it's not a ballpark that will excuse some of the foul balls off the tee that he has gotten away with at places like Bay Hill and Austin Country Club. Spieth's iron play is back to elite levels, and he did finish second here in 2015. But given the names at the top, I think he's a riskier selection this week than most in his price range.
Rickie Fowler ($8,100): Fowler has one more chance to keep alive his Masters streak that dates back to 2010, but to do so he'll need to pull off an Ian Poulter-like victory in the final event before the year's first major. Fowler's slide has been well-documented, and trips to places where he won recently in TPC Sawgrass and PGA National did little to end his funk. He's down to 94th in the world ranking and could be out of the top 100 within a couple weeks. While he did record a T-17 finish here two years ago in his Valero debut, his game was in a far different place. I actually think removing the burden of the Masters line of questions will do well to accelerate his return to form, but for another week I think having it hang over his head as a potential storyline won't help his score.
Sepp Straka ($7,300): The burly Austrian has just the type of player profile you might look for this week. Over the last 50 rounds played, Straka is 36th in SG: Off-the-Tee, 30th in SG: Approach and 43rd in SG: Putting. Those are solid numbers for this price range, held back only by some shoddy work around the greens, and he enters off a promising T-9 finish in Punta Cana while many of the stars were toiling away in the match play bracket. Straka missed the cut here in his 2019 debut but only by a shot after rounds of 73-71. Given he put up a solid performance at the Honda (T-33) on another difficult and windy layout, I like his chances of making the weekend this time around and potentially picking up a few points along the way.
Bronson Burgoon ($6,500): With a T-28 finish in Punta Cana, Burgoon has now made six straight cuts since January. It's the best his game has looked since late 2019, when he made eight cuts in a nine-start span while throwing in a pair of top-5 finishes. Those high results haven't been a part of his 2021 credentials to date, as his trip to the Dominican netted his best result and third top-40 of the year. But he's showing some promising signs, even results that might be outpacing his gains on the stat sheet. A former Texas A&M product who won a national championship while at College Station, Burgoon should feel quite comfortable dealing with the wind and playing conditions this week in San Antonio.