There were 144 players in this year’s Valero Texas Open, and 133 of them could have earned a Masters berth with a win. Instead, it was Corey Conners, one of the 11 who had already secured a spot at Augusta National, who came out on top after a steady Sunday performance that saw him overtake Patrick Rodgers early and hold off a charging Sam Stevens late. His 68 gave him a total score of 15 under, good enough for a one-shot victory a week before the year’s first major. This was Conners’ second PGA Tour victory, and it came in the same place as the first; four years ago, he grabbed his maiden win at this same tournament.
Conners started the day one back of Rodgers at TPC San Antonio but capped an almost workmanlike front nine with a 17-foot birdie to post a 33.
Meanwhile, Rodgers was fading in his quest for his first PGA Tour win, suffering a particularly brutal stretch of three bogeys in four holes. By the time they made the turn, Conners held a four-shot lead and had a chance to coast to the win. Rodgers couldn’t recover in time to give the 31-year-old Canadian any trouble, but a pair of Sams, Ryder and Stevens, began to make Conners’ life uncomfortable as the afternoon wore on. Ryder made five birdies on the back nine, including a nine-footer on 18, to reach the clubhouse at 13 under, and then Stevens did him one better, hitting the drive of the day on the short par-4 17th to set up a nine-foot eagle putt. When he made that, he was just one behind Conners at 14 under, and seemed poised to tie him as he stood over an eight-foot birdie putt. That effort slid by on the right, and Conners, who had played consistent, unspectacular golf on the back aside from a massively important downhill 17-footer for birdie on 15, came to 18 needing just a par to secure victory.
After his second shot found the greenside bunker, and he caught his third shot slightly fat, he needed to continue his streak of not three-putting a single green to hold on (the asterisk here is that he did four-putt once, on Friday). A solid if slightly aggressive lag left him three feet for the win, and when he poured it in, he flashed a modest smile as his wife and new daughter greeted him on the green.
“I’ve drawn from some of the experience I had here, and really happy with the way that I hit the ball and got myself in position,” Conners said. “Drove it great, hit a lot of really good iron shots. Yeah, just kept things simple, felt relaxed. It was certainly challenging and a battle out there, but just an amazing day and can’t believe it. It’s a relief that it’s over”
Conners, who has struggled with the putter in the past, including in his rough 0-4 showing at the 2022 Presidents Cup, was respectably middle of the pack in the strokes gained/putting department, finishing 41st in the field, and that allowed his iron game to flourish—he finished first in both in SG/approach and SG/tee to green. It was a tremendous ball-striking display from start to finish, and in the end even the hot putting of Stevens wasn’t enough to bring him down. The fact that he kept up his level in Sunday’s stiff wind impressed his competitors.
“Hats off to Corey, he played amazing,” said Rodgers. “I’m not sure he missed a shot for 18 holes and it was really impressive on this golf course and in the wind.”
“There were a lot of shots that you kind of had to step up and execute or else it was going to be a potential big number and he just, he didn’t miss one,” added Matt Kuchar, his other playing partner. “Every time, [he] stepped up and just hit beautiful shot after shot. It was a clinic that he put on. It was impressive.”
The 26-year-old Stevens was sure Conners had it “in the bag” after he missed his birdie putt on 18, but in the aftermath he felt positive about his effort and his ability to compete on tour.
“I told everybody, or not everybody but a lot of people, I feel like I’ve been playing really well,” Stevens said. “Not really well, but fairly well all year, just getting more and more comfortable. In Puerto Rico I had a chance, or kind of had a chance, I was a couple back going into the last day and that was a learning experience for sure … I’m getting more confident, more comfortable and I feel like yeah, hopefully I can get in contention again soon.”
As for Rodgers, it’s another disappointing Sunday for the man who has now had four 54-hole leads without registering a win.
“It’s one of those golf courses where it doesn’t take much to get pretty far off and that was my day today,” he said afterward. “Disappointing result, but I’ll be back strong.”
Prior to the Valero, Conners had not registered a single top 10 in 2023, and when asked what percentage chance he would have given himself to win at the start of the week, he reacted with typical self-effacement.
“Probably not very likely,” he admitted. “I felt great about my game, but it’s so difficult to win on the PGA Tour. Feel like I’ve been working really hard and haven’t been able to get it done for the last four years, but it sure feels sweet.”
And while the Listowel, Ontario native is plenty patriotic about his home country, he couldn’t resist a kind word for the place that has delivered him his two greatest career moments to date:
“I definitely love Texas.”