Biggest Storylines in Golf Ahead of the 2015 Valero Texas Open

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2015

Biggest Storylines in Golf Ahead of the 2015 Valero Texas Open

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    The Masters is two weeks away! Sorry, we're talking about storylines entering the Valero Texas Open. And while the PGA Tour's brief Texas swing this week and at next week's Shell Houston Open will surely feature some good golf, players and fans are looking ahead to golf's rite of spring at Augusta. 

    Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Jim Furyk are all in the field this week hoping to state their cases as Masters favorites. Still, much of the tour-related chatter concerns a pair of Nike clients not in the field this week: Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods

    What are the other storylines of significance? 

    Read on to find out. 

Matt Every: The New King of the King's Place

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Bay Hill is technically Arnold Palmer's course. And while Woods has maintained a firm grasp on the Orlando-area track over the past decade, Matt Every is Bay Hill's new king. 

    The Daytona Beach, Florida, native emerged as a true horse for the course with his second Arnold Palmer Invitational in as many years.

    Every emerged from a Sunday pack that included Henrik Stenson and Morgan Hoffman. His down-the-hill birdie at the 72nd hole to clinch the tournament will be filed right next to Woods' efforts at the same hole.

    His new status as the king of The King's course will make him the runaway favorite there next year. Now, we'll see if Every can extend his success beyond the confines of Bay Hill Club and Lodge. 

Tiger Woods-Related Speculation Continues

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    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    It seems we've seen some version of this sentence a lot over the past half-decade: Tiger Woods hasn't teed it up since (insert tournament name here). In this case, the 39-year-old hasn't teed it up since the Farmers Insurance Open at the beginning of February. 

    All we've heard from Woods recently is this statement posted on his website March 13:

    I've put in a lot of time and work on my game and I'm making strides, but like I've said, I won't return to the PGA TOUR until my game is tournament ready and I can compete at the highest level.

    I hope to be ready for the Masters, and I will continue to work hard preparing for Augusta.

    How his preparation is going and whether he'll compete at the Masters in two weeks are lingering questions in the world of golf this week as they have been for the better part of the past two months. 

Rory McIlroy Retreating to Prepare for Augusta

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    Michael Cohen/Getty Images

    Following his tie for 11th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy is set to spend the next two weeks preparing for the Masters. Traditionally, the Ulsterman plays in at least one of the Texas events, so his decision to withdraw to practice and prepare is a departure from what he's done in the past. 

    McIlroy was moderately pleased after his Bay Hill performance, saying that he felt he was taking steps in the right direction. McIlroy said, per ESPN.com's Bob Harig:

    There was progress made this week considering what I was working on last week after Doral. A few areas of the game that I need to tidy up going in there, but saw enough good signs, positive signs to be optimistic in the next couple of weeks and I know what I need to work on.

    Wedge play needs quite a bit of work. Not taking advantage of getting it up close to the green. If I'm getting ready for just Augusta and I'm thinking about it, there is quite a few wedges for me there and going to concentrate a lot on from 120 yards in the next couple of weeks and try to get that as sharp as I possibly can.

Drug Testing

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    Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

    Earlier this month, John Daly went off on the PGA Tour's drug testing, insisting that the "random" testing is not in fact random and that he gets tested at the same events every year. 

    More recently, Golf World's Tim Rosaforte confirmed that a tour player told him he's tested at the same events each year, and World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman told Golf.com (h/t Golf World) that the tour's policy has gaps, such as not blood testing or following general WADA guidelines. 

    While the tour is predictably defending both its policy and the policy's randomness, the drug-testing issue (as well as the associated issue of not publicizing suspensions or fines) isn't going away, especially with golf returning to the Olympics next year. 

On-the-Clock-Gate at Bay Hill

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    Michael Cohen/Getty Images

    The specter of slow play is again haunting the PGA Tour. Henrik Stenson, who faltered down the stretch at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, was none too happy that he and Morgan Hoffmann were put on the clock Sunday. 

    Playing in the final group, the pair was put on the clock on the 15th hole. Some might think two golfers with nobody behind them and with a chance to win the tournament ought to be allowed to play at their own pace. Surely that's how Stenson felt.

    A CNN report quoted Stenson:

    "When someone is sitting there with a stopwatch it affects you a little bit..." he explained, accusing officials of "influencing, potentially, the outcome of this tournament towards the end. I didn't really have much time to look at my putt [on the 15th] and rushed that one a little bit, the first one, and three-putted."

    Still, as the tour surely maintains, no competitor should be afforded special privileges based on his position, and all players must be subject to the same set of rules. 

    Regardless, Stenson raises a point worthy of consideration and has further stoked the fires of the slow-play-on-tour debate. 

Big Names Showcasing Pre-Masters Form

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    There are two types of golfers who will make up the 90-man Masters Tournament field in two weeks: those who prefer to prepare and practice away from competitive golf and those who prefer to compete in the week or weeks leading up to the tournament. 

    Fortunately for the organizers of this week's Valero Texas Open and next week's Shell Houston Open, there are some premier players who prefer to tee it up as the Masters looms. 

    Among them: Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker, Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

    Perhaps the most interesting players in the group are Spieth, who is returning to competition after a week off following his Valspar Championship win; Mickelson, whose slumping form will be closely scrutinized; and Johnson, who is competing in his first Valero Texas Open and playing for the first time since winning at Doral. 

    All eyes will be on the golfers above in San Antonio this week. 

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