After four straight weeks we enter the final event of the annual Florida swing with a stop at the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course.
Much like the Honda Classic, the Valspar Championship sits in the inevitable position on the schedule of being between back-to-back designated events and the World Golf Championships (WGC) Dell Match Play that features a Wednesday start.
Due to this, the event lost regulars such as Max Homa, Xander Schauffele and Sungjae Im. Beyond that, a few other names such as Paul Casey, Jason Kokrak and Joaquin Niemann are lost to the LIV Tour.
Although the event falls in an unfortunate position on the schedule, we’ll see a much improved field of that of the Honda Classic three weeks back.
It’s location may be the biggest benefactor of drawing a decent field as it’s a short trip from Ponte Vedra Beach and THE PLAYERS to its location in Palm Harbor, Florida.
The 144 golfer field will feature five within the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) top-20 and 10 players inside the OWGR top-50. From the standards we’ve seen with the new designated events, this field is pretty good for an average PGA Tour event.
World #10 Justin Thomas leads the field and will come out as the betting favorite. He’s gone as far as skipping the WGC Dell Match Play in order to play the Valspar Championship.
Other notable players in this year’s field include Matt Fitzpatrick, Sam Burns, Jordan Spieth, Keegan Bradley, Tommy Fleetwood, Brian Harman, Justin Rose, KH Lee and Kevin Kisner.
Burns is the defending champion of the event and actually went back-to-back in winning the Valspar Championship the last two years. He did so by dominating the greens.
Other past champions in this week’s field include Adam Hadwin, Jordan Spieth, Kevin Streelman, Luke Donald and Gary Woodland.
Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course is yet another demanding course from tee-to-green that will test the field. It requires patience and an all-around-game to compete here.
The course is often deemed a hidden gem on the Florida swing that is oftentimes overshadowed by Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass.
It plays as a par 71 at 7,340 yards.
It’ll require a total ball-striking and short game to compete this week and the greens are a pure Bermuda.
The course features a multitude of tight doglegs that will force players to lay-up off the tee. The fairways too are tree lined.
Players are forced to work the ball in both directions at Copperhead. It’s a shot-maker’s course with significant elevation changes. This allows for both bombers and short plotters off the tee to have success alike.
In all, it’s one of the most challenging courses on Tour to gain strokes off the tee. This is due to the narrow fairways that too are hard to hold. Those who choose to layup with less than a driver too will find it difficult to hit these fairways.
Annually, the course yields a below average ranking in both driving accuracy and driving distance.
Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course too features some of the most challenging par-threes on the entire Tour.
Long iron and Bermuda putting specialists thrive here.
To put into perspective how challenging this course can be, only twice since 2013 has the winning score pushed below under-ten.
We’ve seen back-to-back winners twice in the past five years at this event in Burns and Casey. This goes to show that course history is proven repeatable.
As for the weather this week, we can expect a little bit of everything. Thursday is set to be the best day of the four with a high in the mid-70's with limited winds. Wind will pick up into Friday as speeds are set to hit 16 miles-per-hour with highs in the low 80’s. There is a very strong chance of a thunderstorm on Saturday as of the time of writing this with a 80-percent chance of precipitation and winds again set at 16 miles-per-hour. Temperatures will drop into the high 60’s on Sunday with a 60-percent chance of precipitation and winds set at 13 miles-per-hour. Plan for a possible Monday finish this week.
Important statistics to consider this week include:
Strokes Gained: Approach (SG: APP)
Average Par 5 Scoring
Strokes Gained: Putting Bermuda (SG: PUTT Bermuda)
Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (SG: TTG)
Strokes Gained: Around the Green (SG: ATG)
Proximity to the Hole from 175-plus Yards
Average Par 3 Scoring
Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (SG: BS)
With an improved field for an event of this nature, the options we have in this price range are actually not all that bad. Leading off we have Jordan Spieth ($10,600.) He is currently 15th on Tour in SG: ATG, 18th in average par five scoring, 22nd in proximity to the hole from 175-plus yards, 28th in SG: TTG, 57th in SG: APP, 62nd in average par three scoring, 70th in scrambling, 71st in bogey avoidance and 98th in SG: BS. His score is a bit hindered by well below average placement in SG: PUTT Bermuda and driving accuracy. If he can find the fairway off the tee he can be in for a big week. With the way players will be forced to lay up this week, that will play in his favor. Spieth has been on a bit of a good run as of late dating back to the WM Phoenix Open. He did miss the cut at the Genesis Invitational but outside of that has gone T6th at the WM Phoenix Open, T4th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and T19 at THE PLAYERS Championship. The last time Spieth played the Valspar Championship was 2018 where he did miss the cut. However between 2013 and 2016 his worst finish at the event in four consecutive years was T20 (2014.) He won the event in 2015 and placed T7th in 2013. He has a proven record here and knows his way around the course. With the way he’s playing as of late, It wouldn’t surprise me if we went on to win this week. Also consider Justin Thomas ($10,900.) Thomas is the betting favorite this week to win at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course. He’s currently third on Tour in SG: ATG, fifth in average par five scoring, seventh in proximity to the hole from 175-plus yards, 11th in SG: TTG, 61st in SG: APP, 76th in SG: BS and 78th in scrambling. His score is brought down by a 136th ranking in driving accuracy, 142nd in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 144th in bogey avoidance and 157th in average par three scoring. Prior to THE PLAYERS where he struggled and placed T60th, he had a run of five straight events where he placed in the top 25. That run was highlighted by a fourth place finish at the WM Phoenix Open. Over the last two years at the Valspar Championship Thomas has gone T3rd in 2022 and T13 in 2021. He also went T18 in 2016 and T10 in 2015. Like Spieth, he has a proven record here and knows his way around the course. He must feel a certain type of way about this event if he is willing to forgo the WGC Dell Technology Match Play in favor of this event as well.
Per my model this week, my favorite is Justin Rose ($9,600.) He’s had a mixture of success on the calendar year. He quietly placed T6th at last week’s THE PLAYERS Championship after missing two consecutive cuts. He won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in early February and went T18th at the Farmers Insurance Open and T26th at The American Express. Rose has played in this event 11 times since 2004 with a bunch of success. In that time span he has seven top 25’s, four top 15’s, three top tens and two top fives. He has more experience on this course than the majority of the field. He’s currently 16th on Tour in both driving accuracy and average par three scoring, 34th in SG: APP, 38th in all three of scrambling, SG: TTG and SG: BS, 39th in both average par five scoring and SG: PUTT Bermuda, 41st in bogey avoidance, 54th in proximity to the hole from 175-plus yards and 69th in SG: ATG. He’s well above average in each of the statistical categories we’re taking into consideration this week. Also consider Adam Hadwin ($9,200.) Hadwin has missed just one cut on the season and that was two weeks ago at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He has five top 25’s and three top tens as well. Most recently he went T13th at last week’s THE PLAYERS Championship and earlier this year went T10th at the WM Phoenix Open. Hadwin is a past winner of this event, winning in 2017. He also placed T7th last year and T12th in 2018. He’s currently fifth on Tour in average par three scoring, 24th in driving accuracy, 27th in average par five scoring, 30th in bogey avoidance, 36th in SG: APP, 40th in SG: TTG, 41st in SG: BS, 49th in scrambling, 59th in proximity to the hole from 175-plus yards, 78th in SG: ATG and 101st in SG: PUTT Bermuda. Like Rose, he is above average in each of the statistical categories we’re taking into consideration this week. He’s played his best this season at elevated events with the best fields the Tour has to offer and is a former champion of this event. I don’t see why he can’t do it again.
Following Rose and Hadwin, the third player per my model is K.H. Lee ($8,000.) Lee has a very fair price that allows for lineup flexibility without having to sacrifice any statistical category we’re looking into this week. He’s played this event just once before, placing T29th in 2021. He withdrew from the event in 2019. Lee has had a mixture of success this season, making the cut at every other event dating back to the Sony Open in Hawaii in mid-January. If he follows that trend, he’ll make the cut this week. His season is highlighted by a T7th finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He’s currently ninth on Tour in SG: ATG, 20th in bogey avoidance, 22nd in average par three scoring, 23rd in SG: BS, 26th in proximity to the hole from 175+ yards, 42nd in SG: TTG, 47th in average par five scoring, 70th in both scrambling and driving accuracy, 75th in SG: APP and 105th in SG: PUTT Bermuda. He’s above average in all statistical categories we’re using this week except SG: PUTT Bermuda where he hit the average mark. Also consider Wyndham Clark ($8,800.) Clark has played in the Valspar championship each of the past three years. He made the cut in back-to-back events (2019 & 2021.) He placed T37th & T60th in those made cuts respectively. He missed the cut last year here. He's six-for-six in made cuts on the calendar year and has made ten consecutive cuts dating back to October of last year. He's currently 27th on Tour in average par five scoring, 31st in SG: TTG, 48th in proximity to the hole from 175-plus yards, 49th in SG: APP, 57th in bogey avoidance, 64th in SG: ATG, 65th in SG: BS, 69th in scrambling, 91st in SG: PUTT Bermuda and 98th in average par three scoring. His score is hindered by an 188th placement in driving accuracy. Hopefully Clark can hit and hold a few more fairways than normal this week. If he can do that, I'd expect to see him in the top ten this week.
Leading off this price range is Akshay Bhatia ($7,500.) He is currently ninth on Tour in both bogey avoidance and SG: BS, tenth in SG: APP, 16th in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 18th in average par five scoring, 57th in scrambling, 60th in driving accuracy and 62nd in SG: TTG. His score is brought down by a 127th placement in par three scoring, 128th in proximity to the hole from 175-plus yards and 193rd in SG: ATG. He’s played just two events on the calendar year where he went second at the Puerto Rico Open and T49th at the Honda Classic. Bhatia played this event back in 2019 as an amateur where he missed the cut. He’ll be making his debut as a professional this year. Also consider Stephan Jaeger ($7,800.) Jaeger is currently 12th on Tour in SG: ATG, 24th in bogey avoidance, 26th in proximity to the hole from 175-plus yards, 37th in average par three scoring, 39th in SG: TTG, 42nd in scrambling, 59th in SG: BS, 60th in average par five scoring, 68th in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 91st in SG: APP and 151st in driving accuracy. Jaeger has played in 14 events on the season and has made the cut in 12 of them. He’s missed just one cut on the calendar year in seven events. He placed T14th at the Honda Classic a few weeks back and placed T44th last week. He’s played the Valspar Championship twice before (2022 and 2018) where he missed the cut in both. He’s playing better golf this season however. I think he’s in line to make the cut this week.
Dylan Wu ($6,800) actually ranks rather high in our model this week. He’s made four consecutive cuts leading into this week, highlighted by a T10th at the Honda Classic. On the season he made the cut in eight of the eleven events he played. He played this event a year ago where he missed the cut. He’s currently 16th on Tour in SG: BS, 25th in bogey avoidance, 40th in driving accuracy, 51st in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 55th in SG: TTG, 63rd in SG: APP, 75th in average par five scoring, 76th in proximity to the hole from 175-plus yards, 95th in scrambling, 96th in SG: ATG and 98th in average par three scoring. In other words, he’s above average in each of the statistical categories we’re taking into consideration this week. You’re getting all of that in the lowest price range. He’ll go a long way in lineup flexibility this week. Also consider Ryan Moore ($6,600.) Moore has missed two cuts coming into this event but went T7th at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in early February. He hasn’t been playing well on the calendar year, making just one cut in five events but his game actually lines up decently this week. Moore has played this event 14 times dating back to 2005. He has had some big time performances here. He placed third in 2016, fifth in 2015 and T8th in 2007. He has five top 25s over that same span. Like Rose, Moore has more experience on this course than the majority of the field. He’s currently ninth on Tour in driving accuracy, 31st in SG: APP, 34th in scrambling, 39th in average par five scoring, 70th in bogey avoidance, 83rd in average par three scoring and 106th in SG: PUTT Bermuda. He knows his way around this course and lines up statistically. Finding him at just $6,600 will go a long way this week.