The Valspar Championship
Well…where to begin with last week!! The 2022 Players Championship is one that will live long in the memory as freak weather with storms and high winds threatened to derail the event completely. In the end great credit should be given to the PGA Tour and all the ground staff for navigating us through to what was ultimately a hugely enjoyable Monday finish and a fantastic win for Cam Smith.
The Aussie is undoubtedly one of the games elite now and a Major Championship victory for him would not surprise anyone.
From our point of view it was another week of Sunday, or in this case Monday frustration, as all of our three players Daniel Berger, Shane Lowry and Louis Oosthuizen who were in contention heading in to the final round failed to make the frame.
So with barely time to pack their bags and head across state 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 last year it moved to a May slot as part of a rejigged schedule. This year however it returns to its traditional slot in march.
The field is a strong one with the market headed up by Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa and Dustin Johnson and at the time of writing there has only been one major withdrawal from the top end of the market, Paul Casey, following the exertions of Sawgrass.
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;
2020 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
2011 G Woodland
As we can see there have been wins for major champions Woodland, 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 in Woodland, 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.
Last years winner Sam Burns was also undoubtedly solid from tee to green ranking fifth in this department 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 last years addition with slight caution as the move to may made the course play slightly easier than normal, something reflected in Burns’ winning score of 17- under.
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 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 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. Finally to bring us up to date last years winner Burns had finished fourth in the Zurich pairs event the week before.
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 the past two years.
I am pleased to say that while a storm across the week cannot be ruled out we look set for a far better week of weather than we had in Sawgrass!
Temperatures look set to sit around the 80 degree mark.
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;
DUSTIN JOHNSON – 16/1 – 2.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 39th
I’m going to start things off this week with Dustin Johnson.
DJ struggled for a large chunk of the week at TPC and looked to be heading for a finish right down the pack before Monday. On the final day though things clicked and he produced a scintillating round of 63, which was rounded off with an eagle hole out on the ninth to vault himself in to ninth place.
Although Johnson had not shown it over the first three days particularly there was plenty of talk from him and his camp through the week that he had turned a corner and was keen to move forward afresh after issuing a statement, which distanced himself from the Saudi league. In essence he felt a weight lifted from his mind.
Add that to his finish at Sawgrass and there is every reason to think he can push on this week at a venue, which was kind to him on debut in 2019 when he finished sixth after sitting second through 54 holes.
MATT FITZPATRICK – 22/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 5th
Once I saw Matt Fitzpatrick would be returning to Copperhead this week I had the event earmarked as one he could make an impact in.
Granted the Englishman missed the cut here on his only previous appearance however as a track that tests all aspects of the game and, which cant be overpowered it really should suit him.
Matt missed the cut last week at Sawgrass however prior to that he was on a great run of form, which had seen him bag three straight top tens on the PGA Tour and having been stuck on the wrong side of the draw last week I am not going to be too put off by that missed cut. In fact having got up the road to Tampa on Saturday evening may well prove a blessing in disguise.
Matt’s brother Alex will make his PGA tour debut this week and my hope is that this will inspire him to a bigger performance and it looks a perfect opportunity to me for him to land his PGA Tour maiden win.
ADAM SVENSSON – 150/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 39th
In an event that has thrown in its fare share of maiden PGA Tour winners over the years I am going to give another chance to Adam Svensson.
As readers probably wont need reminding it is only three weeks since we got our fingers burnt on Adam as he went from having a chance to lifting the trophy heading in to the back nine at the Honda Classic on Sunday to fading badly to fall out of the places completely.
The root of that collapse of Adam’s at PGA National was his performance on the greens and I can fully understand why anyone who saw him have a shocker with flat stick that week would be wary of jumping on board again. The fact remains though that the Canadian won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour last season with, while undoubtedly not his strongest facet, steady enough putting stats. I have to believe then that as a proven winner he will learn from that experience at the Honda and will be better for it next time he’s in the mix.
Finally it could well prove an advantage that Adam missed out completely on last weeks shenanigans at Sawgrass and will arrive here fresh and I am keen to have one or two on side who fall under that umbrella.
Svensson missed the cut here on his only previous visit however his ball striking strengths really should suit this test and I am happy to risk him on the final event in his adopted home state.
TROY MERRITT - 150/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 27th
Another player who has been on our radar of late is Troy Merritt and he rewarded us handsomely for our support a few weeks back when bagging a full place at triple digit odds at Pebble Beach.
Troy showed that week that he is a man to follow when he returns to a venue he likes and his game is in reasonable shape and having posted two top tens here in the past five trips this is clearly a venue he is comfortable at. Granted he has mixed those strong finishes in with three missed cuts but that is Merritt in a nutshell, a feast or famine type of player.
Since that strong week at Pebble Troy has slightly gone off the boil however he was very steady in posting a 46th place last week at Sawgrass showing his game remains in decent shape and with his long game ticking over nicely this season I am happy to side with him again here.
VAUGHN TAYLOR – 300/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
For my final selection this week I’m going to take a flyer on Vaughn Taylor.
The case for Taylor this week is a pretty simple one of course form meets a good recent performance.
Firstly Vaughn’s last two trips here have seen him finish 18 and then sixth last year so this is clearly a track that has grown on him.
If we then look at his recent form and we see that having played solidly for a while he then stepped up last time out to finish seventh in Puerto Rico. Granted the event had a very weak field but I am sure confidence was still gained.
Looking at Taylor’s stats this season and his tee to green game and scrambling have all been strong. His putter, however, historically his greatest strength has let him down badly.
The hope this week then is that like many of this years winners he can see an improvement with the flat stick, which if the long game stays strong will allow him to compete again on a track he should have great vibes on.
A three time tour winner it is now six years since his last triumph and another win at 46 is obviously a big ask, however we know from the likes of Brian Gay that it can be done! At the odds on offer though of course a place would be more than acceptable an I am happy to roll the dice.