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For the first time since 2019, the PGA Tour returns to the Copperhead Course for the Valspar Championship. With the Tour’s return, comes the resumption of stroke-play events which we typically see week in and week out. After going unbeaten in our head-to-head matchups at the Zurich Classic, we shall look to ride the wave of momentum into the Tampa area.
The Valspar has long favored ball-strikers who have the ability to get up-and-down when needed. When looking back at some players who have experienced success here, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, and Paul Casey are the first few that come to mind. All three have been able to get around Copperhead relying heavily on their long-irons, even from the tee box as the need for positioning outweighs the need for distance off the tee.
Those three players essentially build the profile that we will be looking to target in head-to-head matchups. Elite ball-strikers who are capable scramblers and can knock in a timely putt or two. In a field of 156 players, it may be difficult to dissect, but by following the profile, I am confident we can find an edge in head-to-head matchups.
Head-to-Head Matchups (Odds via PointsBet Sportsbook):
Arguably the hottest golfer on the PGA Tour, Conners has done everything but win over the past couple of months. He's on a tear, there's no denying it, and now he comes to a course where he held the 54-hole lead in 2019.
Conners is a more complete player when compared to his 2019 self. He has flipped the script when it comes to his putting as he has gained strokes on the greens in five consecutive starts. Conners has always had the ability to be competitive thanks to his steady ball-striking. Now that you bring a reliable putter into the picture, Conners could not only win this matchup, but also the tournament.
Something appears to be going on with Hovland. He was kind enough to play well for us in Round 1 last week, but outside of that, his whole bag looked out of whack. The typical strong off-the-tee, precise iron play, and timely putting formula that has worked well for him in the past seems to be in disarray. At a course where avoiding bogeys will be key, I'm not in love with player who doesn't look all there and has shown the propensity to make the occasional triple-bogey.
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When looking at this matchup, I tried to simplify things. It's either the two-time defending champion or a young player making his tournament debut. When it is put that way, I am hard press choosing against the man who won here in 2018 and 2019. While some may be deterred by Casey's performance in Hilton Head, I am not.
Casey told the media on Wednesday that for whatever reason, Harbour Town is just one of those courses that he can't seem to consistently play well at. Well, lucky for us, Copperhead is a course that he does consistently play well at. We have grown accustomed to the strong ball-striking that Casey has displayed throughout his career, but it now appears that he has turned the corner with his putter. That only makes him more dangerous heading into a tournament that he typically dominates.
Scheffler will be making his tournament debut after a solid outing with Bubba Watson at the Zurich Classic. Scheffler is a strong ball-striker as well, but I'm not quite sold on his long-irons. Most of the approach shots this week will be coming from the 175 to 200 yards range, or even beyond, where Scheffler has shown to be average. Combine that with a putter that he is currently not on good terms with and this makes for an easy selection.
It's not often that you get the world No. 1 as an underdog in a head-to-head matchup. Granted it's against the world No. 2, but I still believe that Johnson is undervalued in this one. This will be Johnson's second appearance at the Valspar, where in 2019 he came in a tie for 6th after a disappointing final round.
I fully expect him to be in the mix again come Sunday. Despite not having his irons cooperate in Hilton Head, Johnson was still able to manage a top-15 finish. He should be able to position himself nicely around the Copperhead Course, similar to how he did at Harbour Town where he gained 5.1 strokes off-the-tee.
Thomas on the other hand tends to get a bit squirrely from off the tee. While he seemed to turn it into a strength at the Players Championship, Thomas is known to have the untimely duck hook in his bag. I can't imagine Thomas missing the cut or anything like that, but in a matchup between the world's best, a few missed fairways may be enough to be the difference.
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