The Valspar Championship
Once again TPC Sawgrass delivered a fantastic week of golf with a thrilling denouement resulting in Rory McIlroy finally returning to the winners enclosure.
From our point of view it wasn’t quite the result we were looking for as our hopes on Sunday were pinned on Tommy Fleetwood. However with the Englishman notching a full place and Hideki Matsuyama sharing a place return the week, although a losing one, was not a complete washout and we can but hope that a change in our fortune on Sundays isn’t far away.
As regular readers will know I was at TPC Sawgrass to witness last weekend’s events unfold and despite the slight disappointment in the outcome it was an amazing spectacle and I am certainly not begrudging Rory his win.
Moving on and the PGA Tour and I have journeyed approximately 230 miles across from the East Coast of Florida to the West Coast of the state for the Valspar Championship, the final event of this years Florida Swing. The tournament is played at the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor near Tampa.
Despite the event falling between TPC and next week’s WGC World Matchplay the field is a relatively strong one, which is a testament to the high esteem the pro’s hold the Copperhead Course in.
The market is headed up by world number one Dustin Johnson followed Jason Day, Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia.
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 toughest 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, Adam Hadwin with -14 in 2017, whilst it was -10 for Paul Casey last year.
Looking at the role of honour over the recent years 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, Paul Casey, 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 eight winners and there course form in the recent years prior to winning the event.
P Casey M/C M/C 37
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 here.
Whether coincidence or not there have been five international winners in the last eight 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 eight 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, Charl had won twice on the European Tour that year already and had finished 17th at Doral the week before whilst last years winner Paul Casey had two top 12s in in his previous three starts including 12th the week before at the WGC Mexico.
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.
The early part of the week calls for some rain showers on Tuesday morning, however after this we look set for a dry week up until Sunday, when there is rather inconveniently the possibility of a thunder storm in the afternoon.
Temperatures look set for the high 70s all week. As for the wind, this is forecast for 10-15mph on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday with Friday showing the possibility of gusts of up to 25mph.
DJ is obviously a very worthy favourite this week and no one would be surprised to see him, Rahm or Day take the trophy. However with the event sandwiched between TPC and a WGC I can’t help but feel this is an opportunity for a second tier player or rookie even to notch a win. As such I have gone with six players this week as follows;
JT POSTON – 90-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED MC
First up for me this week is [I believe] a first for me, as in the first time I have ever sided with ‘The Postman’, JT Poston.
JT [the other one] is quietly putting a really solid season together for his third year on tour and he is yet to miss a cut in 2019.
His most recent solid effort came with a 22nd at Sawgrass over the weekend where he ranked in the top 25 for the week in DA, GIR, SGP and Scrambling.
Having established that Poston is in really good nick at the moment the case for him is enhanced further by the fact that he notched his second best finish of his rookie campaign here, when placing 14th in 2017. In fact the only finish he had higher was in Puerto Rico, which as we know is an opposite field event.
The fact that the 25yr old appears to have taken to the Copperhead track doesn’t actually surprise me at all in that JT hails originally from North Carolina and, as noted earlier this venue bares more similarities to a Carolina’s course than a Florida one.
The final clincher for me is that it is pretty common knowledge that Poston is very good friends with recent ‘man of the moment’ Keith Mitchell, and indeed when Mitchell landed his Honda title three weeks ago he celebrated the win by sharing pizza with Poston in the Honda locker room.
You can almost picture the conversation where at some point during that evening Mitchell will have turned to Poston and said “it’s your turn now buddy…” etc, and I am certain Poston will be inspired on to greater things by his good friends recent success.
As I said earlier I am keen to have in form players on side this week and as someone who ticks all the boxes ‘The Postman’ looks a cracking e/w bet to deliver.
BRANDT SNEDEKER – 50-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 30th
Next up for me this week is Brandt Snedeker.
Sneds had started 2019 reasonably quietly with, until last weekend, nothing better than a 16th place at the Sony Open to his name.
At Sawgrass this all changed though as Brandt charged through the field over the weekend with rounds of 67 and 69 to finish in 5th place.
Unusually for Sneds the area of his game that carried him to this high finish wasn’t actually the putter, but his iron play, as he was 1st in GIR for the week and 6th in SGTTG. This isn’t to say that Sneds putted badly mind you, as he was also 32nd in this category.
When he gets hot Snedeker is always a man to follow and looking back at his history over recent years his wins always come after a top 10 or top 5 finish in the prior week or two.
As the most recent winner of the Wyndham Championship, a tree lined Carolina’s course you would expect to link well here, you would imagine this to be a venue, which suits Brandt’s game and, whilst he has never set the world alight here, he does have a previous top 5 to his name and has also made his last six cuts here.
One other point to note is that Brandt has recently made a coaching change going back to his original long time coach Todd Anderson and this may well have helped to sparked his upturn in form at Sawgrass.
In a field with the likes of DJ, Day and Rahm heading up the betting there is always a danger that if you are on a rookie/previous non-winner, they will struggle if paired with one of these big names in the hunt on Sunday. I am therefore keen to have a proven multiple winner on side in our team and at the prices on offer I am more than happy for Sneds to be that man.
RYAN MOORE – 55-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED MC
As longer term readers will know I am a big fan of the UNLV man Ryan Moore and feel that with five PGA Tour wins to his name and one of only a handful of players to have made the Fedex Cup Play Offs every year he is much under rated.
Having said that I haven’t sided with Ryan of late and to be honest I have found him frustratingly hard to ‘get right’ over the past twelve months or so.
A perfect example of this would be when I included Ryan in my team for this event last year on the back of a couple of solid finishes and his previous good course form, only for him to miss the cut here and ‘top 5’ at Bay Hill the week after.
So here we are then again twelve months later and I feel with some trepidation I have to include Ryan in our team this week.
Whilst the MC last year still stings the case for Ryan here is still a compelling one. Firstly, despite the MC last year, we do of course have his three top 20 finishes in the previous three years to go on as proof of his liking for the course.
Secondly, and perhaps more pertinently the part of his game that has held him back for the past year plus, the putter, seems to have finally perked up and he currently ranks 31st in this category [compared to 163rd last year].
After a slow start to 2019 in, which he has only played ‘back to back’ weeks on one other occasion, Ryan played solidly at Bay Hill for a 33rd place and improved on this again with a 20th at Sawgrass, so he is getting some momentum going.
As someone who is not yet in the Augusta field it is imperative Ryan builds further on this momentum very quickly as otherwise he will be missing out on a trip down Magnolia Lane for the first time since 2012 and with this factor no doubt motivating him hugely I can see him putting a big performance in this week.
SUNGJAE IM – 66-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 4th
Next up for us this week is last years Web.com player of the season Sungjae Im.
20yr old Im has started life on the PGA Tour as he finished it on the web.com tour, by posting six top 20 finishes, including three top 10s, in his first fifteen events.
Whilst Sungjae will be making his debut at the Copperhead course this week you have to think it is a track that will play to his strengths, his tee to green game.
With all of his long game numbers being really solid so far this season the putter is the club, which has held him back, however there have been signs of improvement in this department since the tour arrived in Florida, particularly at Bay Hill where he ranked 21st for the week SGP.
The 3rd place finish Sungjae logged at the API was his best result of his rookie season and if you add this to his strong showing over the first couple of days at the Honda his game is clearly in decent shape.
Last week the 20yr old reverted slightly with a missed cut at TPC, however this does not concern me too much as it was his first competitive look at TPC Sawgrass and he did only just miss the cut on the number.
I expect this young star in the making to arrive refreshed at The Copperhead course after having a weekend off and I am anticipating another big week for him ahead.
NICK TAYLOR – 125-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 24th
The next player to interest me this week is Canadian Nick Taylor.
Since missing the cut back at Phoenix in February Taylor has played some really solid stuff, finishing no worse than 33rd in four starts, culminating in 16th place at TPC Sawgrass.
After a slow opening round of 73 in Jacksonville Nick shot 69, 69, 67 over his last three rounds and finished the week 10th SGTTG and 3rd in SGTTG, so again like our other picks so far this week his tee to green game, which you require here, is in good order.
Since winning on tour very early in his PGA career at the Sanderson Farms Taylor has struggled to make a the sort of impact that was expected from this former world number one ranked amateur player, and last season he arrived at the Wyndham Championship in danger of losing his card.
At Sedgefield though Taylor proved his quality by shooting a final round 63 to post an 8th place finish and sneak in to the top 125.
The one slight concern in theory coming in to this week is that Taylor is yet to produce anything better than 24th place here in four visits, however as established earlier past course form doesn’t appear to count for much, it is more about being in strong form coming in.
On that basis I am hopeful that this 30yr old talented player can continue to build on his recent strong play and produce a really big performance this week.
KYOUNG HOON LEE – 175-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED WD
My final selection this week is really a price pick as I am struggling to understand what KH Lee has done wrong since finishing 7th in his last start at the Honda to warrant being out at the 200-1 mark [or 175 for 8 places].
Following our theme of strong tee to green performers this week, at the Honda Lee ranked 2nd for SGOTT, 3rd for SGTTG and 4th for DA.
Having backed Lee the previous week in Puerto Rico where he was in contention going in to the final round before posting a 73 to fall down the board it was somewhat galling to see the young South Korean produce a solid final round performance at the Honda to land a place.
If we bear in mind though his strong first three rounds in Puerto Rico and his solid 25th place in his prior start to that at the Genesis, it is clear the Honda effort was not just a flash in the pan, but part of a bigger picture of Lee starting to find his feet on the PGA Tour.
Short of the tee, Lee’s strengths are finding fairways and greens and as already established this is what is required this week and at the prices on offer I am happy to take a chance that he can continue his recent strong play this week.
UPDATED 27th MARCH
TRADER - RORY SABBATINI & 1/2pt e/w FRL 100-1 1/5 odds 1st 7. FINISHED 18th - LOWEST PRICE TRADED 85
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 370
I sided with Sabbatini as our trader pick in this event last year and after he did us proud, eventually finishing fifth, I am hoping lightning can strike twice 12 months down the line.
My logic in going with Rory last year was that he was in a solid run of form and that as a streak player I felt he could keep this going, even though he did not have great course form here.
This year, whilst Rory's form has not been as strong leading in to the event as it was this time last year, he has peaked my interest by playing strongly in the two events he has tee'd it up in so far in Florida, particularly last week at TPC when he was right in the hunt at halfway.
Slovakia's new number one has a good early tee time in one of the first groups out and I can see him building on his recent improvement and getting off to a fast start, which is all we really need from a trader point of view.
In addition as I like Rory's tee time and can see him starting well I have chosen to have a small investment on him for First Round Leader.