The Valspar Championship was first staged in the autumn of 2000, as an opposite field event. It switched to its now usual March slot ten years ago and it’s grown in stature ever since. Ideally positioned in the calendar between the WGC – Cadillac Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, it was starting to attract a decent field but having last week’s event staged in Mexico instead of Florida hasn’t helped with this year’s line-up and it will have the same problem again next year.
Despite the slightly weaker field, we may well get another exciting finish and if it’s anything like the last two renewals, we’re in for a treat. Jordan Spieth edged out Patrick Reed and former winner, Sean O’Hair, in extra time two years ago and Charl Schwartzel got the better of Bill Haas in a playoff 12 months ago.
Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbour, Florida
Par 71, 7,340 yards, stroke average in 2016 – 72.62
Designed by Larry Packard, Copperhead was opened in 1974. Prior to the establishment of this event the course was restored in 1999 and it underwent a $4.5m restoration after the 2015 renewal.
The changes were subtle, with greens and tee boxes expanded, creating more pin positions and bringing the re-shaped bunkers closer to the putting surfaces. All the fairways were re-grassed with Celebration Bermuda and the greens re-grassed with Tif Bermuda.
It’s a tough undulating, tree-lined track with many dog-legged fairways. Water is in play on a number of holes and the greens usually run at around 11 on the stimpmeter. They were much slower last year but they had only just been renovated so we should see them back up to speed this time around.
Three of the four par five holes – one, 11 and 14 – were the easiest three holes on the course again last year and the last three holes are tough and known as the Snake Pit…
With water right and trees left, there’s no bailout off the tee whatsoever at the par 4 16th. It ranked as the second toughest behind the par three 13th 12 months ago but it usually ranks the toughest and it very often has a say in the outcome of the tournament. The par three 17th is no cakewalk and you need to get your drive away nicely on the tricky 18th, which last year ranked as the sixth hardest hole.
Copperhead is a very tough course – ranked the sixth hardest on the PGA Tour last year and averaged more than a shot and half over par – so it provides a really good test. It’s been the host course for the Valspar Championship since its inception.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday at 19:00 UK time
Last Five Winners
2016 – Charl Schwartzel -7 (playoff)
2015 – Jordan Spieth -10 (playoff)
2014 – John Senden -7
2013 – Kevin Streelman -10
2012 – Luke Donald -13 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the Valspar Championship?
This is a really difficult event to weigh up statistically. Driving Distance or Driving Accuracy aren’t stats to get hung-up on. Gary Woodland is the only big hitter to win recently but in truth, a lot of bombers swerve the event, safe in the knowledge that their power has no advantage here.
The average DD ranking of the last five winners is just 39.6 but the DA average isn’t much better at 37.6 and the last two winners, Charl Schwartzel and Jordan Spieth, have won despite ranking just 66th and 51st for fairways found.
Finding the smaller than average greens is key to victory and 11 of the 16 course winners to date have ranked 11th or better for Greens In Regulation and, as is so often the case, you have to putt really well. The last two winners have had a Putting Average ranking of second and Retief Goosen (when winning for the second time here in 2009) is the only winner to date that didn’t rank inside the top-20 for that stat.
An ability to handle windy conditions is usually an essential prerequisite but the forecast doesn’t look too bad at this early stage.
Is There an Angle In?
This isn’t your typical Florida type of test so looking at results at other events in the state won’t necessarily help.
I’m not going to pretend this is an event I like from a punting potential as it’s a tough one to work out statistically and angles in are hard to find but these two courses appear to correlate…
John Huston, K.J Choi, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk have all won both this event and the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club. Lots of players have been placed at both events and some have been placed in one and won the other and multiple Sony winner, Ernie Els, traded at odds-on here in 2012.
Four men have also won this event and the John Deere Classic – two of the last three winners of this one, Spieth and John Senden, Sean O’Hair and Vijay Singh, and it should really be five. Last year’s John Deere Classic winner, Ryan Moore, threw this one away two years ago. And I see that Brett Quigley, who never got to win on the PGA Tour, finished second in both events, so that’s an event to look at too.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Like Vijay Singh, Mark Calcavecchia, Retief Goosen, and Jim Furyk before them, the last two winners have been major champions and Luke Donald is a former world number one. This is a true test, where patience and guile count for plenty so it’s no surprise to see so many high class winners but the best option could be to look for a decent bank of course form as that stands up well here. In its relatively short history, we’ve seen two men win the event twice and a number of winners have also finished runner-up.
K.J Choi and Goosen are the two that have claimed the prize on multiple occasions and Choi is one of five winners to have also finished second. He finished runner-up behind Jim Furyk in 2010 and Furyk himself subsequently finished second in 2012. O’Hair, Senden (twice) and Singh have all also won the event and finished second.
Schwartzel, who was matched in-running at a high of [90.0], trailed by four after rounds one and two last year and he was a [32.0] shot on Sunday morning, as he trailed by five, but he’s far from the first winner to come from off the pace…
Jordan Spieth was matched at a high of [30.0] after a slow start in 2015 and Reed hit a high of [150.0] after he struggled at the beginning of the week. Spieth sat tied for 38th and five off the lead after round one and Reed trailed by seven in a tie for 80th but as many others have done before them, they were able to make up the lost ground.
Having hit a high of [290.0], Senden was still tied for 35th and fully eight shots back at halfway three years ago. Mark Calcavecchia, the 2007 winner, was ten back after round one and still six back at halfway and although he was tied for the lead after round three, Streelman was eight behind after day one and still seven behind at halfway four years ago.
Luke Donald won a four-man playoff here in 2012 and he and his playoff protagonists had all started slowly. They were five, six, six and eight strokes back after round one and still three, three, four and seven back at halfway, so don’t give up hope if your picks don’t really spark on Thursday or Friday. This is definitely a course where lost ground can be made up over the weekend.
Jim Furyk was three clear through 54 holes before winning in 2010 but he’s the only winner to hold a clear lead in the last ten years and seven of the last nine winners have come from behind. Last year’s third round leader, Ryan Moore, still led by three with just six to play but having been matched at just [1.42] he played the last half a dozen holes in three-over-par and he missed out on the playoff by two strokes. This is clearly not an easy place to get across the line from the front.
Last year’s third round leader, Bill Haas, was matched at [1.26] before getting beat in extra time and 54-hole leader two years ago, Ryan Moore, still led by three with just six to play but having been matched at just [1.42], he played the last half a dozen holes in three-over-par to miss out on the playoff by two strokes. This is clearly not an easy place to get across the line from the front.
The top two have flip-flopped at the head of the market and I can see why. Sony winner, Justin Thomas, who finished 10th and 18th here in his first two visits, fell from first to fifth on Sunday and he’ll need to pick himself up quickly after that disappointment. He putted brilliantly in Mexico but his tee-to-green game was slightly ragged and I much prefer Henrik Stenson who as deposed Thomas at the head of the market.
The reigning Open champ was forced to withdraw before the off last week with a stomach virus but that could be a blessing in disguise. Last week’s event was quite gruelling and missing it could turn out to be a plus. He comes here on the back of five straight top-ten finishes and in two previous visits here he’s finished fourth and 11th. The last time he withdrew from a tournament was at the US Open last year and that didn’t work out to bad. He won the BMW in Germany in his very next start and the Open two starts later. He’s very much the worthy favourite.
I fancy Stenson to contend so I’ve had a small saver on him and I’ve also backed one of Dave Tindall’s picks, Jason Dufner, for the reasons he’s already outlined.
My third and final pick is Harris English, who last year went off at around [32.0]. He’s not in terrific form this year (tied 14th in the Farmers Insurance Open the highlight) and he’s been largely disappointing given his early promise (two PGA Tour wins in 2013 and nothing since) but looks worth chancing at 100points bigger. H has some decent course form here with a seventh, 38th and tenth place bookended by two missed cuts in this event and he won the Southern Amateur Championship here back in 2011.
Henrik Stenson @11/1 (Sportsbook)
Jason Dufner @ [65.0]
Harris English @ [130.0]
I’ll be back on Thursday or Friday with the In-Play Blog.
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