The Valspar Championship
So a cracking week for us in the end in Mexico with Phil getting a well deserved first victory in nearly 5yrs. His play had been so solid over the recent weeks that you could definitely see this coming and I was delighted to see him back in the winners circle.
He was pushed all the way by another of our picks, Justin Thomas who showed again what a force he is after a slow start.
To cap off the week for us it was also a great performance from our trader Aphibarnrat who was in the hunt all week and traded down in single figures.
Moving on and after its brief sojourn across the border the PGA tour returns to Florida for the Valspar Championship.
The tournament is played at the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor near Tampa.
The field from a betting perspective is headed up by defending champion Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson.
Tiger Woods will also make his debut at this event as he continues a comeback which week by week is gaining momentum.
The Copperhead Course is no push over and offers a tough examination of a players game.
It is dissimilar to Florida courses as a whole as it is a tight driving course with tree lined fairways, plenty of elevation and dog-legs.
It has in the past been likened by players to having more of a feel of a ‘Carolinas’ course than Florida.
The course is a par 71 playing at just 7300yds. The course is unusual in that it has four par 5s as per normal but five par 3s.
The signature area of the course is the finishing 3 holes which are known as ‘ The Snake Pit’.
This stretch is made up of two par 4s and the par 3 17th.
Of all the events on the PGA Tour this is one of the more confusing ones to get a handle on from the type of player who wins or indeed the winning score to expect.
Since the event moved to its current March slot in 2007 there have been winning scores ranging from as high as -4 when Sean O’Hair won in 2008 to -15 when Gary Woodland won in 2011.
Jordan Spieth won with -10 in 2015, Charl Schwartzel with -7 in 2016 and Adam Hadwin with -14 last year.
Looking at the role of honour over the last 10 yrs will also leave one slightly confused as well.
There have been wins for major champions Spieth, Schwartzel, Jim Furyk & Retief Goosen, wins for ball strikers, John Senden & Sean O’Hair, a win for a bomber Gary Woodland, which was followed the next year by a win for Luke Donald, and maiden PGA Tour wins for Kevin Streelman and Adam Hadwin.
Equally course form is no great guide either, the following is a list of the last seven winners and there course form in the recent years prior to winning the event.
A Hadwin M/C 71
C Schwartzel M/C
J Spieth 20 7
J Senden M/C 38 15 28
K Streelman 10 M/C M/C
L Donald 6
G Woodland Event Debut
As you can see only three of these winners had notched a previous top 10.
Whether coincidence or not there have been four international winners in the last seven years so this may well be a point to note.
Perhaps the biggest clue where to look for the winner can be found in the recent form of the past winners coming in to the event.
Again taking the last seven winners as a sample, Woodland & Donald had both finished 6th in their previous starts in Florida, Spieth had finished 17th & 7th in his two previous starts, Hadwin had not missed a cut all season and had come close to winning at the Career Builder and Charl had won twice on the European Tour that year already and had finished 17th at Doral the week before.
The clues were less obvious from Streelman and Senden, although Senden had only missed one cut all season and Streelman did have a top 10 to his name earlier in the year.
All in all though it would seem what you should look for at Copperhead is a player who is in control of all parts of his game coming in to the event.
In other words Copperhead being a venue that tests all components of your game is not somewhere where you find your form. You need to be in it when you get there.
As some of you may have already seen me post I will be at the Copperhead Course this week to watch the action in person. I am therefore a bit disappointed to see that the forecast for Thursday & Friday is for cooler conditions of around 16 degrees. Still, compared to what we have been experiencing in the UK I’m certainly not complaining!
Saturday and Sunday are warmer although Saturday does hold the possibility of showers or even a storm as I write.
As for Sunday, well, if the forecast I’m looking at proves to be accurate things could get very interesting! The issue doesn’t look to be storms but the wind. I am seeing a forecast which is predicting winds gusting up to 50mph+!
In fact the wind looks to be the issue all week with gusts of 20mph + in Thursday’s forecast, 30mph + in Friday’s forecast and 40mph in Saturday’s forecast.
One thing I’ve learned with US Weather forecasts over the years is that they can’t always be trusted [in fact another forecast I’ve looked at doesn’t predict much over 25mph all week] but if this does prove accurate it will no doubt be the talking point of the week and shape how the event plays out.
I have gone with six players this week as follows; The reasons for going with six as opposed to the normal five were two fold really, firstly I was struggling as to who to leave out and felt there was a bit of wiggle room as I am looking at bigger priced players. Secondly as I am going to be at the event I guess I wanted to increase my chances of having someone in the hunt on Sunday!
KEVIN STREELMAN – 50-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 Finished M/C
We were on Streelman a few weeks back at Pebble Beach and he nearly pulled of a great win for us before ultimately delivering a nice chunk of place money by finishing 6th.
I then made a note that barring something majorly unforeseen in the following couple of weeks Kev would make our team for the Valspar and here he duly is.
Since that 6th place at Pebble the Illinois native has had won more outing which was a solid 41st at Riviera, a venue he never plays particularly well at.
I mentioned above that history tends to show that Copperhead is a place you need to be in form coming in to the event if you are going to take home the trophy, and on that front Streelman very much fits the mold of last year’s winner Hadwin, who had come close to a win a few weeks previously and who had not missed a cut all season.
Similarly Kevin has not missed a cut all season and has only missed one since last May. He also currently tops the 2017-18 GIR stats.
Finally, whilst, as I’ve also noted above, past course form is not a requisite here it naturally doesn’t do any harm to have some and as a previous winner of the event Kevin is bound to have really positive vibes returning to the Copperhead track and I can see him going really close again this week.
LUCAS GLOVER – 100-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 Finished 74th
In a week where if the forecast turns out to be correct and the wind blows, I am keen to have some serious ‘ball strikers’ on our side and there are none better in that department than the South Carolinian native Lucas Glover.
When taking the plunge and backing Glover you know pretty much what you are going to get…At worst you will have a week where he frustrates the hell out of you by continually crunching it to 6ft only to miss the birdie putt or worse still to three putt before finishing a never nearer 35th.
At best however if you catch Lucas on the right week, in tough conditions, with ball striking at a premium and a few putts drop, he is still a class act and can get right in the hunt and, as a three time winner on tour including a US Open, he does know how to win a golf tournament!
It is of course a concern that Lucas hasn’t got over the line since 2011 but his game has been in decent nick for a while now and he had an eye catching 17th place finish last time out at the Honda, which included a closing round of 66, so another win may not be too far away.
It’s also worth noting that he made the frame for the e/w places twice in four starts in Florida last year and as a former winner of the now defunct Walt Disney Classic he clearly enjoys playing in the Sunshine State.
On a week where experience, patience and ball striking may well be the key ingredients required I’m happy to give Lucas a chance.
RYAN MOORE – 40-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 Finished M/C
I will at this point confess to be a long time member of the Ryan Moore fan club.
The main reason for this isn’t down to the golf he produces on the course but more his slightly maverick tendencies of it.
These have included deciding to sport a tie for a large chunk of a season long before anyone had even heard of Justin Thomas and playing full seasons without club deals and sponsorship deals.
Indeed in 2016, arguably Moore’s most consistent and best year on tour he played without a club deal, whilst in 2009 the year of his first tour win he played sponsorship free out of choice, costing himself several hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.
Getting back to his on course performance Moore is undoubtedly also a class act and has arguably been one of the most consistent performers year in year out on the PGA tour since his first win in 2009.
With 5 PGA Tour wins now under his belt and with a stellar year in 2016 culminating in a playoff loss to Rory at the Tour Championship and great Ryder Cup debut, 2017 transpired to be somewhat of an anti-climax for the Vegas resident.
After a top 10 finish at Augusta Ryan failed to push on through the summer and he was side lined for a period of time with a nagging shoulder injury which had been troubling him.
Moore then made the decision to take a good break and focus on getting healthy and fit for the 2018 year. This also included a change of coach.
The result is a newer slimline, healthy Moore has emerged on tour in 2018, which he says is geared towards getting the maximum out of his game over the next 5yrs of his career up till he turns 40.
I really do feel we are yet to see the best of Moore and I don’t rule out this former stellar amateur delivering a major championship one day.
In the shorter term though I feel a big week could be in the offing for him at the Valspar.
Whilst Florida has never been his favourite stomping ground he has taken to the Copperhead course in the past with finishes of 18th, 3rd and 5th over the last three seasons.
Add this to the positive signs shown in the top 10 at Riviera and a 49th place the following week at Honda, a venue he has no ‘previous’ at and I feel this is a great week to jump on board with Ryan.
CAMERON SMITH – 50-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 Finished 46th
For my next pick this week I am going back to the well again with a player who has been no stranger to these columns so far this season.
I mentioned above that I felt Copperhead rewards players who arrive with their game in good solid form and Smith perhaps more than anyone in the field can boast that fact this week.
In seven starts on the PGA Tour this season Cam has missed no cuts and has notched 3 top 6 finishes. In addition of course he won the Aussie PGA back in December.
Clearly therefore we have here a player riding a wave at the moment.
The Queensland native has made two starts at this event notching a couple of solid if unspectacular finishes when he didn’t have anywhere near the level of consistency he is now showing.
As I’ve mentioned before when talking about Cameron I also like his game in the wind as he has shown consistently good form at wind effected tracks over the last few years, and of course hailing from Brisbane he should be comfortable on firm, fast, wind effected tracks.
We showed with Phil last week that perseverance with a player in good nick can pay dividends in the end and I am optimistic that Cameron can reward us in the same way this week.
JOHN HUH – 100-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 Finished M/C
Huh is another player who has been ticking along very nicely over the recent weeks and once again therefore fits the mold of a player coming in to the event in good solid form.
Currently ranked 55th in the Fedex Cup, since notching a 3rd place finish at the CareerBuilder Challenge towards the end of January John has made his next four cuts finishing 24th at the Honda Classic two weeks ago.
This is actually a startlingly similar profile to last year’s winner Hadwin who had finished second at the CareerBuilder before notching four solid finishes and winning here.
In fact whilst it may of course be a coincidence, there were two players last year who made the frame at the CareerBuilder and then did so again at the Valspar a few weeks later in the form of Hadwin and Bozzelli.
I mentioned when I put Huh forward for the Farmers a few weeks back that he has shown pedigree in the wind before both at Torrey Pines and when winning the Mayakoba so I’ve no qualms in running with him in this week’s conditions.
Finally Huh has some eye catching progressively improving form at Copperhead with finishes of 33rd, 22nd and then 9th over the past three years, which gives further cause for optimism of a good week ahead.
DOMINIC BOZZELLI – 100-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 Finished 31st
The mention of Bozzelli above leads me on nicely to my last selection of the week.
Regular readers will know that I was on Bozzelli a couple of weeks ago at the Honda at the massive odds of 350-1.
Whilst we got no return on that investment his finish of 13th place more than justified my view that he is a player to keep an eye on and one who could well reward backers at a big price in the near future.
Rolling on two weeks and a combination of the fact that the Auburn grad now has that 13th place under his belt coupled with the fact that he finished 3rd here last year means that there are no such fancy prices around this week.
I still feel however that there is enough juice in the price on offer this week of 100-1 that it would be stupid to turn our backs on him now when he is clearly building momentum and is returning to a course he must have positice vibes from his previous visit last year.
UPDATED 6th MARCH
TRADER - RORY SABBATINI Finished T5th - Traded in 20s
It's been a tough few years for Sabbatini but he is one of those streak players who when he gets on a roll is certainly worth keeping any eye on.
Towards the end of the 2016-17 season he was in a very precarious position with regards to keeping his card, however he delivered the goods when it mattered and produced 6 solid weeks culminating in a 4th place finish at the Wyndham Championship to lock up business for the year.
The 2017-18 season subsequently started a little slowly but once again Rory seems to now be finding a bit of a groove.
Since the start of the 2018 calendar year he has made all his cuts and last time out at the Honda he was in the hunt right up till early on the Sunday before fading in to 13th.
Copperhead has never been a hugely successful hunting ground for the South African but as noted before great course form is not essential here and it is Rory's current form that attracts me to him as a trader option this week.
Currently trading at 350+