For the Irish duo of Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, this week’s Valero Texas Open is an Augusta ‘Last Chance Saloon’. The €6.56m event being played again on the Greg Norman designed TPC San Antonio course offers the last invitation into next week’s 85th hosting of the Masters.
There have been some wonderful stories over the years of players winning in Texas, given the Shell Houston Open used to be on the PGA Tour schedule in the week prior to the Masters before the event lost its title sponsor and rival fuel company Valero jumped in to fill the spot.
Eight years ago, Scotland’s Martin Laird, playing the final round in the company of Harrington, hit the flagstick on the final green at the Texas Open and then holed a three-foot birdie putt for an equal course record 63 to deny Rory McIlroy by two shots to secure his place into the Masters.
A year later in 2014, at the Houston Open that was the week prior to the Masters, Aussie Matt Jones defeated Matt Kuchar in a play-off to earn his first and only – until a few weeks ago – Masters invitation.
Both Harrington and McDowell are no strangers to the San Antonio course with Harrington earning a sponsor’s invitation and McDowell teeing-up coming off his super share of fourth last week in Puerto Rico. Harrington made his Masters debut in 2000 and has made the short drive along famed Magnolia Lane on 15 occasions, the last being in 2015 with a best finish of fifth in both 2002 and 2008.
“I’m mostly focussing on my short-game,” Harrington said on Twitter. “My short-game hasn’t been so good this year so I’m really trying to sharpen that up. I’ve got a new set of irons in the bag this week – the Wilson CB Staff models irons. Something different, something new, hoping for a bit of a spark. They’re very nice obviously but it’s always something different when you put a new set of irons in, you have to really play them in tournament before you know them so that should be interesting!”
McDowell teed-up for a first time at Augusta in 2005 and then played each year from 2009 to 2016, before returning last year after muscling his way inside the top-50 thanks to his brilliant Saudi Invitational triumph. However, Augusta has not been kind to GMac as he’s only made the halfway cut three times with a best finish of T12th in 2012.
The good news for McDowell is that he finished T7th in his last appearance in the Texas Open and that was thanks to a closing 66 in 2019, in his next event after winning in Puerto Rico. And he’s been a regular visitor to ‘The Alamo’ city teeing-up in 2018, 2017 and in 2015 but with a lower left ankle injury that year forcing McDowell out after just nine holes.
In 2017, McDowell teed-up in San Antonio having politely turned down an invitation for he and his wife to attend McIlroy’s wedding but there’s no issues this week.
“After playing so well last week at the Corales Championship, I feel I just need to be playing at the moment and that’s the reason for entering this week’s event in San Antonio,” he said. “We all know how important momentum is and how important confidence is in this sport. It’s just nice to be teeing-up this week after having put myself in contention last week.
“I would love to win this week and go to Augusta next week and that’s going to be very difficult to do, a lot of great players here and I’ve got to moderate my expectation levels. But if it gets me an invitation into next year’s Masters that would be fantastic.”
IRISH TEE TIMES (Irish time +6 hours)
- Graeme McDowell – 2.42pm
- Padraig Harrington – 6.42pm
- Full scoring HERE