The PGA Tour heads back to Florida this week for the Valspar Championship, the first staging of the event for two years after this was one of the events that couldn’t be held last year due to the pandemic.
Paul Casey has won the last two renewals of this tournament and he goes in search of the hat trick this week, but a much stronger field than the ones he beat will go up against him here which will make that achievement harder.
2019 – Paul Casey
2018 – Paul Casey
2017 – Adam Hadwin
2016 – Charl Schwartzel
2015 – Jordan Spieth
2014 – John Senden
2013 – Kevin Streelman
2012 – Luke Donald
2011 – Gary Woodland
2010 – Jim Furyk
After a two year absence, the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort in Tampa Bay is the host venue once again this week. This is one of the toughest par 71s on the PGA Tour, made so difficult by the ‘Snake Pit’, the closing three holes which are among the hardest stretch of holes of the entire season. These holes can ruin many a good round but rarely is there much joy to be had in them. It is as hard a finish as you’ll find.
The course is a par 71 measuring 7,340 yards and with the narrow fairways there is going to be quite a premium on accuracy. If you look through the roll of honour it is a list of great putters so there is a clue in that but tee-to-green strength is another feature of what is needed around here. There is not a single bomber on the recent winners list and that tells a tale heading into the tournament. The fairways are tight and the greens are small and very well protected. Look for tee to green machines rather than lights out putters this week.
Two men standout in the field this week in the form of the world number one Dustin Johnson and the man who landed The Players Championship in Florida earlier in the season in Justin Thomas. Along with the man who is after a hat trick of Valspar titles in Paul Casey, they are the three highlights teeing it up this week. They are certainly not the only ones who are recognisable or potential winners though.
Others include former Masters champion Patrick Reed, Ryder Cup star in waiting Viktor Hovland, Canadian leading light Corey Conners, Matchplay finalist Scottie Scheffler, former Honda Classic champion Sungjae Im and one half of the second placed team in the Zurich Classic last week in Louis Oosthuizen. Other players to look out for are Justin Rose, Joaquin Niemann, Ryan Palmer, Bubba Watson, Gary Woodland and Kevin Kisner.
It is Justin Thomas who is a 10/1 favourite to win the title this week. He hasn’t done a huge amount since he won at TPC Sawgrass and his record here is fair without being anything special so there is a feeling that the price here is a little on the short side, especially as he seems to have developed a trend for starting tournaments badly. You start badly here then get to the Snake Pit and it could be thanks for coming and we’ll see you next week. He could win but he isn’t a certainty to.
Dustin Johnson is the 11/1 second favourite and if you are backing him you’ll need to hope he has found his game again. There were glimpses of it at the RBC Heritage where he was really only there for the sponsors, but I wouldn’t say enough to justify this price. He was sixth here a couple of years ago which offers up a little more encouragement but others arrive in better form and with better records on this track so I’ll look elsewhere.
There is a trio of players at 20/1 this week. They are Patrick Reed, Corey Conners and Viktor Hovland. Conners just feels a little short to me. While you can highlight his wonderful record in Florida this year you also have to realise he didn’t win and at 20/1 I really want the winner. Reed seems to have lost his form completely but his record here isn’t too bad. You still have to be swinging the club well and he isn’t. Hovland would be my favoured pick of the three but even then he’s a little short.
Defending champion Paul Casey is the only other man shorter than 25/1. He can be backed at 22/1 for the hat trick of wins and clearly this is his favourite stop on the PGA Tour but he isn’t carrying a whole lot of form into it other than his win in Dubai a couple of months ago. That is starting to look more like the anomaly rather than the norm to his form. I’m no defending champion backer anyway so he was never going to be for me regardless of form. It is 25/1 bar.
I’ll take a couple of Americans who I think will go really well around here as my main bets this week. The first of those is a Russell Henley who I backed to win the last event in Florida at The Honda Classic where he ran into a place for me. His form since the sport came out of lockdown last year has been very good and he comes in here having been third at The Honda Classic and ninth at the RBC Heritage with a mixed Matchplay in between. What caught the eye at The Heritage was how he led the field in strokes gained on approach. When you think he sits second on the PGA Tour for proximity to the hole and is a decent putter, the return of that strong iron play should make him a leading contender at a track he holds a top 10 on two starts ago.
Jason Kokrak went about as well as anyone during the real Florida Swing a month or so ago and there is every reason to believe he will go well here as well. He went 9-8-9 for finishes in that stretch and now arrives here where his last two outings have seen finishes of 8-2 and a top 10 prior to that in 2015. Since those efforts he has finally won on the PGA Tour when he won the CJ Cup earlier this season. Kokrak has been a tee to green machine for some time. Now he knows he can get the job done when he is in contention he is a more dangerous proposition here. I think he’s the other leading bet this week.
I want players who are flushing the iron shots this week. I’m not massively worried about the tee shots or the putts because history tells us bad putters can win here while those who don’t pound it off the tee tend to go better too. There haven’t been many better iron players over the last couple of months than Talor Gooch and he could be overpriced here. The big thing is that in his last two strokeplay starts – at The Players Championship and The Honda Classic – he ranked 4 and 3 for strokes gained on approach at two of the toughest courses on the Tour. That bodes well here. He was the fifth best putter in the field in terms of putting average at TPC Sawgrass as well so if you can score there you can do it here. The top five at The Players wasn’t his only recent top five. He was fourth in the Houston Open a few months ago so he is worth outsider consideration.
Tom Hoge is another player who is swinging the scoring clubs well and that has yielded four top 25 finishes in his last seven starts. The last five weekends he has played his strokes gained on approach rankings read 37-24-19-7-16 and in a couple of those weeks he has gone very well with the putter as well. The concern is that Hoge has missed three straight cuts here but I doubt he has been hitting the ball going into those events than he is here. I suspect we’ll see a decent showing from Hoge and if the putter gets going it could be a big week.
I always like a shot in the dark in these events where few players are disadvantaged and this week that will be Roger Sloan. He has three top 25 finishes in his last four starts with one of those being The Honda Classic where he was in the top 10 for strokes gained on approach, picking up more than 5.5 shots on the field into the greens that week. A couple of the tournaments in this run were the second string events in Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic and he was 1-21 in GIR for that week (SG Approach is not measured there) so that suggests he was hitting the irons well there. Of course, he still has to putt well but we’ve seen bad putters go well here before. He should give himself a lot of chances so I’ll pay to see how we go.
Back R.Henley to win Valspar Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 31.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back J.Kokrak to win Valspar Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 31.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back them here:
Back T.Gooch to win Valspar Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 71.00 with Coral (1/5 1-8)
Back T.Hoge to win Valspar Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 126.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back him here:
Back R.Sloan to win Valspar Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 251.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-8)