Out of the Rough: The Valspar Championship
The weather was a major factor at this year’s Players at TPC Sawgrass just as predicted in our preview article a week ago. The golfers who had the early tee times on Friday faced some treacherous weather before the tournament as a whole was suspended until Sunday. Golfers were then forced to finish and/or play two rounds of golf on Sunday before the tournament finished on Monday. Our first lineup was a mess. Our top choice in Collin Morikawa missed the cut after a horrible round two. Scottie Scheffler (T55th) and Daniel Berger (T13th) were the only ones to make the cut. Our second lineup did rather well. It’s easy to succeed when you have the winner in your lineup with Cameron Smith. Adam Hadwin was one of our under $6,900 picks and he finished in the top ten. That’s a big win on our end. Only Talor Gooch missed the cut from that lineup and he was in the $7,000 price range. We’re onto the Valspar this week!
The Player Results
Collin Morikawa (+4) - MC
Scottie Scheffler (+2) - T55th
Daniel Berger (-6) - T13th
Chris Kirk (+3) - MC
Martin Laird (+6) - MC
Justin Thomas (-3) - T33rd
Cameron Smith (-13) - 1st
Joaquin Niemann (-5) - T22nd
Talor Gooch (+4) - MC
Adam Hadwin (-7) - T9th
The Valspar Championship begins the run between The Players and The Masters. In my opinion, it is one of the most underrated tournaments of the year.
The field continues to impress with names such as Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson taking part in this year’s tournament. Past winners of the event playing this week include Paul Casey, Gary Woodland and Sam Burns.
Held annually at Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Florida, the Valspar has returned to its regular March date after being played a year ago in May.
This tournament ends a month-long run in Florida before the tour heads to the Dominican and the top 64 golfers in the world take on the Dell Technologies Match Play, part of the World Golf Championship.
Copperhead has hosted this tournament since its inception in 2000. The course underwent a massive renovation of its greens, fairways and bunkers back in 2015. Data prior to 2015 isn’t all that useful.
This course plays as one of the hardest on tour and is expected to play even tougher with this current cold spell still plaguing Florida. We should expect the winning score to be in the mid-to-high negative single digits.
Copperhead plays longer than the yardage tells the story of. Due to doglegs and thick rough, the course seems longer than it measures.
There are five par-3’s and four par 5’s. Long iron approaches will be plentiful this week with the way the course plays. Greens in regulation percentage (GIR%) will trend below the tour average and there will be a bunch of missed greens this week. Water is in play in 11 holes.
Being in Florida, the course features Bermuda greens that have played firm over the last few seasons.
Like most courses on tour, Copperhead has its own signature stretch. The “Snakepit” are the final three holes of the course that feature back-to-back long and windy par 4’s followed by a hard-to-hit par 3.
The course could be saturated a bit with rain and thunderstorms expected in the area the two days leading up to the event. We can hope as fans that we don’t see a repeat of last week at TPC Sawgrass. We should see temperatures in the mid-to-high 70’s. Wind should not be much of a factor if the forecast holds true.
Statistics of note to monitor this week include Strokes Gained: Putting (SG:PUTT,) Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (SG:TTG) and long iron proximity statistics such as approaches from 175-200 yards and approaches from 200-225 yards.
Trends to keep an eye on include each of the past eight winners having recorded a top-ten on the tour in the same season and three of the last four winners having played in the final pairing of a tournament in the same season.
With just five guys over $10,000 this week, I’m leaning towards Viktor Hovland ($10,800.) Hovland has been a wizard with his irons thus far this season. He’s T13th in approaches from 175-200 yards and fourth in approaches from 200-225 yards. He’s also not the worst in the other important statistical categories I listed above as he’s 29th in SG: TTG and 67th in SG: PUTT. He’s also one of the hottest golfers in the world right now. He’s fresh off a T9th at The Players and previously went T4th and T2nd at The Genesis Invitational and Arnold Palmer Invitational respectively. He already has two victories on the season as well with wins at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba and the Hero World Challenge. Also consider Collin Morikawa ($10,700.) I know I suggest Morikawa often and that’s for good reason. He had a very rough weather-hindered second round at The Players last week that derailed his tournament. He’s still an elite ball striker and is very good with his irons. Ball placement is key here at The Valspar and he does that as well as anyone. He’s eighth on the tour in SG: PUTT, ninth in SG: TTG, T30th in approaches from 175-20 yards and T38th in approaches from 200-225 yards. Also, prior to his MC at The Players, Morikawa did not finish outside the top seven in five tournaments this season.
With putting being such an important statistic at this course (arguably the most important) I have to go with the tour’s best in that category this week in Tyrrell Hatton ($9,900.) He’s right at the top of this price range and that’s for good reason. He’s currently gaining over a stroke-and-a-half on average per round on the greens. This pick could very well come back to bite me as putting is really the only thing he does extremely well. He’s 100th in SG: TTG and 151st and 165th in approaches from 175-200 yards and approaches from 200-225 yards respectively. However, Hatton is on a bit of a hot streak himself, as he most recently carded a T13th at The Players as well as T2nd at the Arnold Palmer earlier this month. As I went with the top of this price range already, I’ll now go to the bottom. Matt Fitzpatrick ($9,000) seems to be a bit of a bargain this week. He’s currently tenth on the tour in both SG: TTG and approaches from 175-200 yards. He’s 26th in SG: PUTT. He’s an all around guy who has a strong game that suits this course well in my opinion. Fitzpatrick does have three top tens dating back to February with a sixth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, T10th at the WM Phoenix Open and a T9th at the Arnold Palmer. Fitzpatrick is of great value this week.
A name I have yet to talk about since the return of this series is Keegan Bradley ($8,400.) Bradley isn’t the best putter on tour by any means, which can be a hindrance to his game this week, but he is 11th in SG: TTG, T24th in approaches from 175-200 yards and T13th in approaches from 200-225 yards. He’s fresh off a very impressive fifth place finish at The Players at minus-nine. He had a T11th right before The Players at the Arnold Palmer Invitational as well. Bradley is a very consistent ball striker that plays with class. I’d like to see him flirt with a victory this week. Also consider Kevin Kisner ($8,200.) Kisner is annually one of the best putters on tour and currently ranks 10th this season. Like Bradley, Kisner had an impressive outing at The Players, bettering him by one position with a fourth place finish. On top of that, he had a run in late December into early January where he went T5th, T8th and T3rd at the QBE Shootout, the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open In Hawaii respectively. He’s also 35th on tour in approaches from 175-200 yards and is top 100 in approaches from 200-225 yards.
I struggled with this price range to find someone to settle on. Eventually I decided to take a chance on a guy who statistically fits this course well, but has not been on a great run of form as of late. Mito Pereira ($7,200) is 23rd on tour in SG: TTG, T51st and T47th in approaches from 175-200 yards and 200-225 yards respectively. He’s also top 100 on tour in SG: PUTT. Like I already said, his form as of late has been far from impressive. He’s made three of six cuts this calendar year, highlighted by a T15th at The Genesis Invitational. He does have a top ten this season however, dating back to September where he placed third at the Fortinet Championship. Also consider Mackenzie Hughes ($7,800) in this price range. Hughes is 16th on tour in SG: PUTT which highlights his game. The Canadian is also in the top 85 in SG: TTG and top 70 in approaches from 175-200 yards. If this calendar year tells us anything, it’s that Hughes makes the cut after missing the cut in back-to-back weeks. He made the cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am where he finished 16th and The Honda Classic. He does have a top ten finish on the season with a second place finish at the RSM Classic.
Last week we struck a gold mine in Adam Hadwin. We have to find our Hadwin of the week here. I’m going with Austin Smotherman ($6,400) here. Smotherman won’t be turning any heads or dropping any strokes on the greens, but getting there, he is actually pretty good. He’s currently 41st on tour in SG: TTG, 23rd in approaches from 175-200 yards and T24th in approaches from 200-225 yards. His game is striking the ball cleanly and putting it where he wants to put it, which,. As I already previously stated, that leads to success at Copperhead. We can hope that a few of his putts fall in his favor this week and hopefully ride Smotherman into the weekend. He also isn’t in the worst of form as he’s made three of his last four cuts, highlighted by a T11th at the Farmers Insurance Open. Also consider Nate Lashley ($6,400.) Lashley is a quality putter who has gained a total of 6.5 strokes this far this season. He’s also quality with his long irons, ranking 26th on tour in approaches from 200-225 yards. Last week at the Puerto Rico Open, Lashley finished T7th.
Strokes Gained: Proximity to Course
Strokes gained: proximity to course (SG: PTC) is the patented statistic developed by Lenny of the Out of the Rough Podcast. Each week, we will pick a golfer local to the course to be his SG: PTC choice. Last week was Billy Horschel who withdrew from the event.
This week, Lenny is going with Sam Ryder. Ryder was born in Winter Park, Florida which is just two hours from Copperhead Course. He also went to Stetson University, which is just two-and-a-half hours from the course.
SG: PTC Past Results
The Honda Classic - Chase Seiffert (+1) - T25th
The Arnold Palmer Invitational - John Pak (+8) - T52nd
The Players - Billy Horschel (WD)