SAN ANTONIO – Remembering the Alamo at the Texas Open is easy, thanks to the giant photo backdrop behind the 18th tee.
The turnout, on the other hand, is somewhat forgettable.
The Texas Open has moved around on the PGA calendar and is now at a new course, TPC San Antonio, in hopes of luring golf's bigger names. Matt Kuchar, two weeks after his near miss at the Masters, headlines a lacklustre field that Johnson Wagner called even weaker than usual.
It's a disappointing truth for a tournament that is eager for a bigger profile, and will get another shot next year when the PGA moves the Texas Open date for the fourth time in five years, this time to right before the Masters.
For now, Wagner, ranked fifth in the FedEx Cup standings, sees an opportunity.
“It's weaker than most of our fields out here. But the purse is huge and the golf course is tough and takes a lot of local knowledge — it takes experience to play well here,” Wagner said Wednesday on the eve of the opening round. “When picking this spot on my schedule, I tagged it as a possible contention spot.”
Brendan Steele won the $1.1 million prize last year, and is back to defend his only PGA championship after missing the cut in four of his last six events.
K.J. Choi, ranked 26th in the world, and Fredrik Jacobson are other marquee names. So is Kevin Na, who returns to the site of last year's infamous meltdown on No. 9, when he veered badly off course and hacked away before finishing the hole with a score of 16.
Na arrived in San Antonio with a sense of humour, wielding a chainsaw Monday in the woods at No. 9 while being filmed for a Golf Channel parody. But there was also some truth to the spoof: Responding to player feedback, the native areas in the rough and four greens are among areas of the course scheduled to undergo a makeover by next year.
The Texas Open changed venues in 2010, but in just two years the course designed by Greg Norman and Sergio Garcia has already earned a reputation for being one of the toughest on tour. Last year's second-round average of 75.289, for example, was the highest on the tour since the 2008 British Open. Tony Piazzi, head of the Texas Open, said one player in an anonymous survey suggested, “You need to blow up all 18 greens.”
Jordan Spieth, the nation's top-ranked college golfer at Texas and 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, was humbled by his first brush with the course.
“It's the most difficult — well, it's extremely difficult,” said Spieth, who is making his fifth PGA tournament appearance.
Kuchar, the world's 15th-ranked golfer, has made the cut at all eight tournaments he's played this year and finished tied for third at the Masters. While his peers chose to pass on the court this time, Kuchar said he began thinking he needed to add the Texas Open to his schedule after watching it on TV last year.
“I would hope guys that are the best in the world don't say that course may be too difficult for me. I hope that doesn't happen,” Kuchar said. “I think there are courses that are more enjoyable to play and some may be more fun than others. You might not walk off this course thinking you've had a great deal of fun up there.”
Wagner, the Sony Open winner, put it more bluntly.
“I'm sure a lot of guys coming off the Masters aren't looking to get beat up by a golf course right now,” Wagner said. “The more people that complain about a golf course just means that I have a better chance of winning.”
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