Only nine events have been played so far in 2018. Just one tournament as a part of The Florida Swing and just one World Golf Championship, yet we have seen six of these nine early season contests be decided by playoff. Last week in Mexico, Justin Thomas made eagle on the final hole and ended up going to overtime with Phil Mickelson. It was the 47-year old veteran left-hander who ended up finding the winner’s circle for the first time in five years. It is also six of the first nine tournaments in 2018 that have seen victory go to a player ranked in the Top 26 in the world. The excitement continues this week as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy make their way back into the field for The Valspar Championship where The Florida Swing will resume. It seems to be getting better and better every week as we build toward the season’s first Major Championship. And yes, The Masters is just 30-days away.
Week ten on the 2018 PGA Tour schedule finds us at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, Florida for The Valspar Championship. The Copperhead Course has been the tournament site since year 2000 and it is a stern test that it provides. Last year it ranked as the 17th most difficult course on Tour and that was down significantly from 2016 because of a lack of wind. The weather will provide a bit of everything this week as Thursday is supposed to blow, Friday and Saturday should be calm, and Sunday will be windy again with possible thunderstorms.
But the weather is not all that the players will have to deal with this week. The course features narrow, tree-lined fairways, elevation change, and Bermuda Grass greens with subtle undulation. Positioning off of the tee, setting up proper angles into the greens, accurate iron play, and a deft putting touch are what will be needed to emerge victorious this week. It is not a course that can be overpowered. And finally, like PGA National at The Honda Classic two weeks ago gave us “The Bear Trap,” so too does The Copperhead Course have a brutally difficult closing stretch of holes known as “The Snake Pit.” Who will be bitten and who will have what it takes to charm the final three holes? Hang on for what ought to set up yet another dramatic finish on The PGA Tour.
Jordan Spieth (+9.48 Pinnacle) Spieth skipped The Valspar last season but has never finished worse than 20th in four career visits, including a win in 2015. His putting continues to trouble him although a 14th last week in Mexico was his fifth Top 20 finish of 2018.
Rory McIlroy (+16.33 Bookmaker) This is McIlroy’s first ever trip to The Copperhead Course as he continues to try to find his game before heading to Augusta. Rory has played three events in the U.S. in 2018 and has gone CUT-20-59.
Sergio Garcia (+16.80 Pinnacle) The defending Masters Champion made his U.S. debut two weeks ago at The Honda Classic where he finished 33rd. He was in the mix all week last week in Mexico and ended up taking 7th. He has not played here in five years but was 7th in his last visit in 2013.
Henrik Stenson (+22.14 Pinnacle) Stenson makes his 2018 U.S. debut after a couple of Top 10 finishes on The European Tour back in January. His accuracy off of the tee and supreme ball striking skills go a long way here at Innisbrook where in three visits over the last three years, he’s gone 7-11-4.
Paul Casey (+2500 5Dimes) Speaking of ball striking, Casey is another one of the best there is. He hasn’t been here in three years and his last two trips resulted in a missed cut. However, he is coming off of a 12th place finish last week in Mexico and took 8th at Pebble Beach last month.
Tiger Woods (+28.96 Bookmaker) Like Rory, Tiger is making his Valspar Championship debut but he showed signs two weeks ago at The Honda that he can ball strike his way around this track and be a factor. He ranked 10th in the field for Greens in Regulation, 1st in Hole Proximity, and 11th in Scrambling.
The Long Shots
Matt Kuchar (+53.78 Pinnacle) Kuchar has been a bit off since finishing 5th in Phoenix – but that is another course with Bermuda Grass greens as we have here.. and here is a place he flourishes with seven straight cuts made and seven Top 25 finishes.
Kevin Streelman (+70.46 Bookmaker) The Duke Blue Devil is number one on Tour in Greens in Regulation and also ranks number one in Scrambling. He has three Top 20 finishes here including a win in 2013.
Charles Howell III (+81.76 Bookmaker) I’m not sure if there has been a more regular participant at The Valspar than Charles Howell. This will be his 15th year playing the tournament. He’s only missed the cut three times and he’s recorded four Top 10 finishes.
Ryan Moore (+44.88 Bookmaker) The UNLV Rebel missed the cut here two straight seasons in 2012 and 2013 but has since been back the last three straight years and gone 18-3-5. He finished 9th three weeks ago in Los Angeles and back in November he took 6th in Cancun at Mayakoba, which does have some similarities to this week’s venue. He’s always been an accurate ball striker and this year the short game is in check as well, ranking 33rd on Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting and 23rd in Scrambling. The price looks attractive considering his stats, current and course form.
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