The Valspar Championship
It was a fascinating week at the Zurich Classic pairs event and Sunday provided plenty of drama before the Aussie pair of Leishman and Smith finally got the better of the South African duo of Oosthuizen and Schwartzel in a play off after Oosthuizen found the water with his tee shot on the first extra hole, the par five 18th.
From our point of view as regular readers will know I on holiday last week and therefore did not fully preview the event, however I did put three selections up on twitter including the duo of Horschel and Burns and the American’s rewarded us with a full place and a small profit on the week.
So batteries recharged after a break we move on and the PGA Tour returns to Florida this week to the West Coast of the state for the Valspar Championship.
The tournament is played at the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor near Tampa.
The event, which was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, has had a regular slot over the past decade as part of the March Florida Swing, whether it be at the start of the Florida run or at the end of it, this year however it has moved to a slot in its own, which precedes the trip next week to North Carolina for the Wells Fargo.
The field is a reasonably strong one headed up by world number one Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, two time defending Champion Paul Casey and Patrick Reed.
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.
Let’s firstly take a look at the last ten winners here;
2019 P Casey
2018 P Casey
2017 A Hadwin
2016 C Schwartzel
2015 J Spieth
2014 J Senden
2013 K Streelman
2012 L Donald
2011 G Woodland
2010 J Furyk
As we can see there have been wins for major champions Spieth, Schwartzel, and Jim Furyk [Retief Goosen also won here in 2009], wins for renowned ball strikers like double defending champion Paul Casey, John Senden & Kevin Streelman, a win for a bomber Gary Woodland [another former Major Champion of course], which was followed the next year by a win for Luke Donald, and a maiden PGA Tour win for Adam Hadwin as well as Streelman.
All in all though strong tee to green and approach play in particular appears to be what is needed here with Casey having ranked seventh in SGATTG for both of his two victorious years and first and sixth from tee to green across the two years, while the previous two winners Hadwin and Schwartzel were both ranked in the top three for the week in approach play.
Past course form is no great guide either as the following list of the last ten winners and there course form in the recent years prior to winning the event shows.
P Casey 1 MC MC 37
P Casey MC MC 37
A Hadwin MC 71
C Schwartzel MC
J Spieth 20 7
J Senden M/C 38 15 28
K Streelman 10 MC MC
L Donald 6
G Woodland Event Debut
J Furyk 52
As you can see prior to Casey defending the trophy in 2019 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 ten 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, Schwartzel had won twice on the European Tour that year already and had finished 17th at Doral the week before. As for Casey he had two top 12s in in his previous three starts in 2018 including 12th the week before at the WGC Mexico and in 2019 he had two top three’s in his previous four starts including a third in 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.
Finally since the event moved to a 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 -8 and -10 for Paul Casey over the past two years.
We look set for a dry, warm week with temperatures in the low to mid 80s so I would expect the players to be greeted with firm, fast conditions.
Wind looks like it could be a bit of an issue with gusts of 15mph + a possibility across the four days.
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
COREY CONNERS – 22/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 21st
I’m going to start things off this week with a couple of pretty obvious ‘current form’ picks on players who should certainly be suited to this test, the first of, which is Corey Conners.
I mentioned earlier that Copperhead is not the sort of venue that you tend to find your form at out of the blue with the tough test historically rewarding those who arrive here in good touch.
From that point of view if you’re looking this week for a man in form then you wont find anyone in better nick coming in to the event than Conners, as the Canadian arrives here on the back of five top 14 finishes in his last five stroke play events, including four top tens and two top fours.
As is always the case with Corey the key to this run has been his long game, which saw him rank sixth from tee to green at Hilton Head last time out.
Currently ranked fifth on tour in Ball Striking, ninth in Approach Play and Sixth from tee to green Conners’ game is a perfect fit for the test that Copperhead offers up and this is something that he showed on his one previous visit here in 2018 when he finished 16th.
On that occasion Conners took the lead on the opening day with a round of 67 and held his position at the head of affairs for the next two days after following up with rounds of 69 and 68.
Understandably on that occasion as a rookie with a host of big names including Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed and the eventual champion Paul Casey chasing him down, Conners lost his way on Sunday and a closing 77 saw him tumble down the board, however his performance that week certainly marked this event as one to follow him in in future years.
After his superb fourth place finish recently at The Masters Corey was right in the mix again at Hilton Head the following week however his game was slightly ‘off’ over the weekend and it may just be that Masters fatigue caught up with him.
This week though after a week to recharge the batteries Corey returns to this event for the first time since his great showing in 2018 and in the form of his life a second PGA Tour win can’t be far away. Therefore even at the understandably more restrictive odds on offer this week I find him impossible to leave out.
RUSSELL HENLEY – 35/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
My second ‘obvious’ selection this week is Russell Henley.
After a period in the wilderness Henley rediscovered his game when the tour returned last summer and since July last year he has posted seven top tens in 21 starts while missing the cut on only four occasions.
The early part of 2021 was slower for Russell, however he regained his touch with a third place finish at the Honda recently and kept the momentum going with a ninth place finish last time out at the Heritage.
This week Henley arrives at a course, which rewards a strong tee to green game and it is his stellar form with the long game, which therefore makes him a standout candidate to thrive at Copperhead.
Henley currently sits third on tour this season in approach play and 13th from tee to green while last season he ranked third and 14th respectively in these categories. At Hilton Head meanwhile the Georgia Bulldog lead the field over the week in approach play and was third from tee to green. To put it in a nutshell the 32yr old has been ‘striping it’ from tee to green for a nearly a year now and continues to do so.
In his early days on tour as regular readers will know Henley was more renowned as a strong putter, however it is the flat stick that has held him back over recent years with his ranking in this department last season a lowly 138th. This season though he has improved on this front, currently sitting at 60th in SGP, and in an event which saw Casey victorious whilst ranking outside of the top 40 in putting in its last playing, if he can just produce a solid week with the flat stick it is hard to see him not being in the hunt come Sunday.
Finally looking at Henley’s previous visits to Copperhead we see that he has a best finish of ninth alongside a 42nd and a MC in three starts here so we know he can play the course.
All in all Henley looks a rock solid proposition here this week and I find it impossible to leave him out.
JUSTIN ROSE – 40/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
It’s been a tough ten months or so for Justin Rose since the tour returned last June as despite the odd good performance here and there he has struggled to find any real consistency and prior to his seventh place at Augusta his best result this season had been a 17th place at the Zozo last fall.
In search of answers Rose had briefly split from his long-time coach Sean Foley, however the pair are now back working together again and the results are already beginning to show.
Although the performance at Augusta was Rose’s first top ten this season prior to that he had been in the mix at halfway at Bay Hill in March before a back spasm forced him to withdraw and then subsequently miss The Players, so the positive signs were there before he scorched Augusta with his opening round 65.
While Justin was understandably unable to maintain that sort of level the rest of the way at Augusta his play remained solid for the rest of the week and he will have taken great confidence from that performance.
More confidence should have come from another solid week at the Zurich pairs which saw him and his long time partner in the event, Henrik Stenson post an 11th place finish.
Arriving in Tampa then Rose should be in a positive mood and the fact that he has performed strongly at this event over the years will surely have him in great spirits coming in to the week.
Looking at Justin’s record here over the years and while he has been a sporadic starter in the event he has posted four top thirteen finishes in six visits including two fifth place finishes so the track clearly suits his eye.
In addition as an event, which has seen several Major Champions triumph at over the years he certainly fits the profile on that front.
There is no doubt that the Englishman’s game is not at the level that saw him reach world number one however he clearly seems to have turned a corner and is determined to get himself right in to the Ryder Cup picture.
With generous each way odds still on offer on Rose it may just be we are ahead of the curve with him this week as the layers perhaps aren’t convinced by his Augusta showing. From my point of view though as a proven winner, who likes a tough challenge he should be right in his element again at Copperhead and I am keen to have him onside.
KEEGAN BRADLEY – 60/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 2nd
Next up for us this week is Keegan Bradley.
After a slow start to the season Bradley has quietly been putting some strong weeks together. A run, which began with a 22nd place in Phoenix at the end of January has now seen Keegan make his last six solo cuts and post four top 30 finishes along the way. In addition he posted a fourth place finish at the weekend with his partner Brendan Steele at the Zurich.
Arriving in solid form then, which as previously noted, is what we are looking for this week, similarly to our previous picks of Conners and Henley what makes the former PGA Champion of interest at Copperhead is his solid tee to green game.
Currently eighth on tour in approach play this season and tenth from tee to green like all strong ball strikers who struggle with the flat stick Bradley is one strong putting week away from making a serious bid to adding to his four PGA Tour titles.
Looking at Keegan’s record at Copperhead and there is nothing in it that offers much encouragement as the best he has managed is 31st in five visits. As previously noted however past course form is not that important, however some experience is and it may just be that similarly to Paul Casey for example he can take to the venue after a few spins around it.
All in all Bradley is a proven winner who’s attributes should match the test and with his form trending nicely I believe he is worth chancing at the odds on offer.
KEITH MITCHELL – 150/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 69th
For my final selection this week I’m going to take a chance on Keith Mitchell.
Mitchell has garnered a reputation for being at his best on the Bermuda greens of Florida and the last three seasons have seen him post two top six finishes in the state along with his victory at the Honda, in just seven starts.
This season however things have been a different story for Keith as his struggles across the campaign as a whole, which saw him miss half of his cuts up to the Honda Classic, leaked in to his game in the Sunshine State.
After a disappointing run in Florida though things perked up for Mitchell in his most recent individual start in Texas as he produced a 17th place at The Valero.
Following on from that performance Keith teamed up with Brandt Snedeker at the Zurich last week and while of course he can’t take all the credit he did his fair share making nine birdies and two eagles across his two solo rounds in the fourballs.
So with a bunch of Fedex Cup points from New Orleans under his belt to push him up the standings to 130th Mitchell now arrives in Tampa at an event that in addition to his general affinity to Florida he should have really fond memories of.
To explain further the reason for this is that Keith made his PGA Tour debut here after Monday qualifying for the event in 2017.
On that occasion Mitchell holed a 25 foot putt in a five man Monday Q play off to gain his place in the field before going on to finish 11th in the event. Furthermore he lead the field for the week in both driving distance and SGP. Basically a dream week.
This week marks Keith’s first outing in the event since that week and he returns here of course a far more experienced and better player than he was four years ago, as well as a PGA Tour winner.
No doubt he will have positive vibes upon his return here and when you couple that with his recent up tick in form he makes a lot of appeal at three figure odds.
UPDATED 27th APRIL
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - RYAN MOORE - DK VALUE $6900 - FINISHED 39th - DK POINTS 60.5
It's been a tough season for Ryan Moore so far as he has struggled to gain any real momentum since being sidelined with a back injury last fall.
As a result the Las Vegas resident needs to start picking up some decent results soon otherwise his place as an ever present in the Fedex Cup play offs and indeed on the tour as a whole could be in jeopardy.
Over recent weeks Moore has started to show some signs of upturn making four of his last five cuts and with his ever reliable accuracy off the tee still showing if he can smarten up his approach play the results could start to come.
This weeks venue is one that has rewarded Ryan's accuracy over the years with three top 20s including two top fives in his last five starts and I expect him to build on his recent improvement and be with us for all four days here again.
PICK 2 - CHASE SEIFFERT - DK VALUE $6600 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 22.5
Florida native Chase Seiffert did us a huge favour at the Honda Classic recently when bagging a full each way place with a third place finish after we sided with him at big three figure odds.
Since that performance Seiffert has held his form well and prior to missing the cut in the pairs event at the weekend he had added three further solid cut making performances to his big finish at the Honda.
Part of the logic of siding with Seiffert at PGA National was that his accurate tee to green game would be a good fit for PGA National and the same applies this week as he prepares to make his debut at the Copperhead Course.
On that basis when coupled with his strong recent form Chase makes plenty of appeal at $6600 and he looks a good play to me this week.