The Valspar Championship
After the Sunday frustrations at Bay Hill last week courtesy of Tyrrell Hatton and Viktor Hovland we went full circle at this weeks Players Championship as having stuck with the same duo they both produced strong Sunday finishes at Sawgrass to bag us full each way pay outs and a profit on the week.
Hatton in particular produced a barn storming back nine equalling the low back nine record of 29 as he finished with five straight birdies, all rounded off with a scintillating approach to 10ft from the pine straw on 18.
At that point with conditions toughening it looked like his 12- under total might be enough to seriously threaten for the win or a play off at least, however 54 hole leader Scottie Scheffler had other ideas and he produced a master class of course management to in the end close out a comfortable win.
With the win Scheffler returns to the world number one spot and there appears to be no letting up on the incredible heater he has been on for just over 12 months, during which time he has bagged six titles including the Masters and the Players.
So with a profitable week in the books we head across state as the PGA Tour moves on to the final leg of what has been a scintillating four week stint in Florida as we go 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, had a regular slot over the past decade as part of the March Florida Swing, however in 2021 it moved to a May slot as part of a rejigged schedule. Last year however it returned to its traditional slot in march.
The market is headed up by Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth with this duo then followed by Sam Burns who goes for the ‘threepeat’ and Matt Fitzpatrick.
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 greens are tiff eagle Bermuda.
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;
2022 S Burns
2021 S Burns
2019 P Casey
2018 P Casey
2017 A Hadwin
2016 C Schwartzel
2015 J Spieth
2014 J Senden
2013 K Streelman
2012 L Donald
As we can see there have been wins for major champions Spieth, Schwartzel and Jim Furyk, while Gary Woodland won here in 2011 and[Retief Goosen won here in 2009, there have wins for renowned ball strikers like double champion Paul Casey , John Senden & Kevin Streelman, 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.
Finally Sam Burns, another player known for his tee to green strengths bagged his maiden tour title here in 2021 before matching Paul Casey’s feat by defending last year.
Furthermore a look those who chased Burns home last year shows us Davis Riley, Matthew Nesmith and Justin Thomas, again all players known for their strength from tee to green.
All in all then 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.
Sam Burns was also undoubtedly solid from tee to green ranking fifth in this department in 2021 when he triumphed and 14th in approach play however he was also strong on the greens ranking third with the putter. Basically it was a great all round performance from the young star.
I would though treat the 2021 edition with slight caution though as the move to may made the course play slightly easier than normal, something reflected in Burns’ winning score of 17- under.
That said of course Burns backed this up last year and again it was his approach play that shone as he ranked third in this area for the week.
Looking more at the role of honour over the recent years in relation to course form will also leave one slightly confused as well as the following list of the last ten winners shows here and their previous course form shows.
S Burns 1 30 12
S Burns 30 12
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
As you can see prior to Casey defending the trophy in 2019 and Burns doing the same last year 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 nine 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. Finally to bring us up to date Burns had finished fourth in the Zurich pairs event the week before triumphing here in 2021 while last year he had produced two solid efforts in Florida finishing ninth and 26th at the API and Players respectively.
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 in March 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 his two wins. The last two years however Sam Burns has produced far lower winning totals of 17- under on both occasions.
Temperatures look set to sit around the mid to high 70s for most of the week however things appear to cool off a little on Sunday.
While the first two days look dry the current forecast does unfortunately show the potential for some storms across the weekend.
Wind also looks like it could be a bit of an issue with gusts of 20mph + a possibility particularly from Friday and over the weekend.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JUSTIN SUH – 35/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 45th
I’m going to start things off this week with a pretty obvious selection in Justin Suh.
Former world amateur number one Suh has taken longer to find his way to the PGA Tour than some expected however having won his full card at the end of last season after a quiet start in the Fall he is really beginning to make some noise with two top six finishes in his last three starts in Florida culminating with a sixth place TPC Sawgrass last week.
Known predominantly for his tee to green play and particularly his iron play Justin ranked 17th from tee to green last week at The Players while he also gained strokes on the greens, normally his weak link. Meanwhile at the Honda he ranked second from tee to green tenth in approach and lead the field in Driving Accuracy. One has to think then his accurate long game will be ideally suited to the demands of the Copperhead Course.
One slight concern is that after three great weeks in a row and with this being his fifth week on the spin teeing it up, Justin could run out of steam, however to counter this it is worth noting that at the end of last season he capped off a run of four straight weeks which had seen him post three top ten’s by winning on week five at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, so it may just be that he is a player who likes to build a head of steam before posting a victory.
Ultimately then as a player with huge potential I am happy to take a shorter price on Suh on a track, which I feel should really play to his strengths.
WYNDHAM CLARK – 40/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 5rh
Next up in an event that as noted earlier has by and large been won by players over the years who have shown good solid form in their previous outings in the Florida swing I am keen to chance Wyndham Clark.
Clark as longer term readers will know is a player who has done as few favours over the recent years when popping up and placing at big odds on courses that I felt would suit him.
One thing Clark had historically lacked though was consistency, however through the back end of last season and in to this that has changed hugely. To rubber stamp this one look at Wyndham’s results over the past nine months or so tells us that he has failed to play on the weekend only twice in 20 starts.
Really consistent stuff then however the area that appeared to be holding Wyndham back from really getting right in the mix was his approach play as last season he ranked 173rd on tour in this department. Again though in keeping with his all round strong form this campaign he has vastly improved in this area ranking 49th.
Clark’s resume at Copperhead isn’t anything to get overly excited about with a best of 37th in three visits however as outlined earlier past course form here has never given much of a clue in finding the winner with the exception of course of the two players, Casey and Burns, who defended here. Instead then with the wind expected to play its part this week I prefer to focus on the fact that Clark has proven himself on wind effected tracks like PGA National, another Florida event of course, as well as by the RSM and in Bermuda.
As we know the difference between finishing 25th and being right in the mix to win is fractions on the PGA Tour and I’ll take Wyndham this week to find that small improvement needed to be right in the hunt come Sunday.
TAYLOR MOORE – 50/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 1st!!!
In an event that has given up its fair share of maiden winners I’ll continue with our team of maidens by siding with Taylor Moore.
Now in his sophomore season Moore has shown no signs of failing to match his debut campaign effort of 67th in the Fedex Cup standings and he currently sits 58th in the rankings.
The key to Taylor’s success so far this season has been, like with our previous selection Clark, consistency rather than one or two big weeks and although is yet to post a top ten he has logged four top 15s in the books.
Last season Moore failed to shine in Florida at all and when he pitched up in this event he had missed the cut in two of his previous three starts in the Sunshine State while finishing 42nd in the other. Not surprisingly then on the back of shooting 80 on day two at Sawgrass he got another weekend off here.
This season though it has been a different story for Moore as over on the east coast he has posted two solid top 40 finishes including a 35th at last weeks Players where he ranked an encouraging 19th in approach play. It’s also worth noting that his tee to green stats as a whole were markedly improved over the weekend from the first two days so he clearly found something on this front in rounds three and four, which he can hopefully bring on to this week.
Born in Texas and a resident of Dallas Taylor should be more than adept in windy conditions and in event and he is another I can see going up a level from his recent consistent play this week.
WILL GORDON – 80/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 36th
One event that clearly links well here is the Travelers and with Sahith Theegala the latest to shine both here and at TPC River Highlands, following in the footsteps of Kevin Streelman and Jordan Spieth who have triumphed at both tracks, I am keen to explore that angle with our final two picks starting with Will Gordon.
While he already had a top ten to his name at the RSM and indeed a top 20 in Puerto Rico, both of, which bode well for windy conditions this week, Gordon first really hit our consciousness in the Travelers in 2020 where posted a second round 62 on his way to a third place finish.
Earning his full card for the 20/21 as a result of those strong efforts the previous season then Will failed to push on and he duly found himself back in the Korn Ferry Tour last season after a poor campaign.
Rather than wallow in self pity though Will produced a really strong season capped with a win at the Albertsons Boise Open in August to get straight back to the big league.
This season Will started strongly posting a third place at the Mayakoba however he struggled early this year failing to make the weekend in any California events.
Clearly a player more at home on the east coast though North Carolina native Gordon has posted three made cuts in the three Florida events to date. Just the sort of solid form we are looking for coming in to this week.
At the Players last week despite finishing down the field in 54th Will was an eye catching 20th in approach play on the week.
Gordon is clearly an explosive player with plenty of power prone to bursts of low scoring and of course some poor stuff can be thrown in there as well. There is no doubt though he has a huge upside to him when the mood takes him and allowing for the Travelers link I am happy to chance him at juicy odds this week.
KRAMER HICKOK – 80/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 45th
Finally this week I will roll the dice on Kramer Hickok.
After his eye catching uptick in form in Florida Hickok was a player very much on my radar for this week, however I was unfortunately late to the party today with most of the fancy prices now gone.
This left me with somewhat of a dilemma as every player obviously has their ceiling price, however with the Texan being one of the first names on my team sheet this week I just felt I couldn’t leave him out, particularly with the carrot of ten e/w places on offer.
Anyway, let’s get on to the important stuff, which is of course the case for Kramer. Well first and foremost of course we have the Travelers link, an event Hickok memorably lost out in a marathon play off to Harris English back in 2021.
In addition a look at the 30yr old’s efforts here show that he has made the cut on all three visits here with last years 33rd where he opened up with a 66 coming on the back of some pretty poor weeks.
This season though Jordan Spieth’s college buddy arrives having suddenly found his game after a long spell in the doldrums, which had seen him miss eight cuts on the spin since a season opening 25th at the Fortinet before finishing 29th at Riviera. He has then backed this up with a 14th at the Honda and 44th at the Players.
Frustrating as it is then to have missed the fancy prices from earlier in the day a lot of roads lead to Kramer this week and I am happy to wrap things up by including him.