After a brief hiatus away from Florida, we are back in The Sunshine State this week, reengaging The Florida Swing. Two weeks ago we kicked off in Florida with The Honda Classic and the very difficult three hole stretch known as “The Bear Trap.” This week it is The Valspar Championship at The Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course and oddly enough, it does have many similarities to last week’s venue, Chapultepec in Mexico City. It really is pretty atypical of a Florida golf course is Copperhead as the fairways are tree-lined and there is some undulation and elevation change to the layout – different from most Florida courses that are laden with water and sand bunkers, not many trees to speak of, and are usually very flat. “The Snake Pit” is made up of the very challenging closing hole stretch at The Copperhead Course, holes 16-17-and-18. They are a Par 4, Par 3, and Par 4. In 2016, it was the fourth hardest closing hole trio on Tour. The site of The Valspar Championship for 17-years now, is located just outside of Tampa, Florida along the state’s west coast in Palm Harbor.
The Copperhead Course averaged scoring over the course par of 71 by a stroke and a half last year and ranked as the 6th hardest course on the Tour schedule. Like last week in Mexico, drives need to find narrow fairways and shots must be shaped around doglegs. Greens being hit in regulation is very important and how one putts on the TifEagle Bermuda greens will go a long way in determining success this week. It is not a bombers course but one that the players really enjoy for its stern, fair, test of ball striking and putting. If you look at who has had success at this event in the past, you will find ball strikers; Vijay Singh, Chad Campbell, Jesper Parnevik, John Senden, Boo Weekley Charles Howell, and putters; Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk, Luke Donald, Patrick Reed, Retief Goosen.
Let’s take a look at this year’s betting market.
Henrik Stenson (+11.530 Pinnacle) Stenson comes in off of a WD in Mexico City due to a stomach virus. The good news is he got and extra three days rest because of it. Just like last week, this golf course definitely suits his game. He’ll need to putt well but in his only two trips to The Valspar he has, finishing 4th and 11th.
Justin Thomas (+12.04 Bookmaker) Thomas was back on his game last week in Mexico, posting four rounds in the 60’s and taking 5th place. He returns to The Valspar for the third time with his two prior finishes being a 10th and an 18th.
Gary Woodland (+26.620 Pinnacle) In six visits to The Copperhead Course, Gary Woodland has won the event back in 2011 and also been cut twice. It is not a bombers course but Woodland has shown he knows how to play it – and he is currently having the best year ever of his career.
Matt Kuchar (+29.690 Pinnacle) Kuchar is up to his usual, steady Kuchar stuff so far this year with two Top-25’s and a Top-10 finish in four events played. I’d expect more of the same here this week. He’s played the event nine times; two Top-10’s, three Top-15’s, one Top-20, one missed cut.
Bill Haas (+31.74 Bookmaker) Haas lost in a playoff last year to Charl Schwartzel and finished 14th the year before – but he missed the cut three times in his six trips to the course before that. He’s been putting well this year and that seems to be the difference for Haas.
Patrick Reed (+36.86 Bookmaker) A funny start to 2017 for Patrick Reed indeed as he has no top Top-10 finishes in a full field event and he really hasn’t been very good for more than a round or two each week. On the other hand, he hasn’t missed a cut since The U.S. Open last June. In his last two trips to The Valspar he’s finished 2nd and 7th.
The Long Shots
Graham DeLaet (+41.970 Pinnacle) DeLaet is certainly of the ball striker mold and his putting has improved greatly. He’s gotten better here every year as he’s progressed from Cut in 2012 to 17th, 8th, and 5th last year.
Martin Laird (+70.00 5Dimes) Laird has been off and on at this tournament and that speaks to the difficulty of the golf course. He’s been cut twice but also has a 28th and a 5th. He has the game that suits the course and he has four Top-10 finishes already this season.
Scott Piercy (120.00 5Dimes) Despite missing the cut here three times, Piercy did finish 5th back in 2012. He comes off of a 32nd place finish in Mexico. If he can get hot with the putter, he can do some damage.
Russell Henley (67.090 Pinnacle) Henley was cut in his only appearance at this tournament which was last year but I believe the price tells you that he’s not as long of a shot as one might think. That’s because he has the game for this course. He is excellent from tee to green, hits greens in regulation, and putts lights out, leading The Tour in Total Putting. He also has a 13th and a 16th earlier this season on Bermuda Grass greens, at The Sony and in Phoenix. Against a weaker field, he should be able to shine this week. We’ve had five straight weeks of favorites winning on Tour. I think that changes here at The Valspar Championship.
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