The Florida Swing has come and gone but there is one last stop in the Sunshine State.
It's the Valspar Championship which takes place this week at Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course.
The event has taken a late slot on the schedule this year, typically played in mid-March in previous years. It was not played during the 2020 calendar year, due to COVID-19.
There will be 156 golfers lining up to start the week and the top 65 plus ties will advance through the 36-hole cut line.
The course this week is the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort. It has hosted this event since the inaugural 2000 edition when it was just an alternate-field event.
The scorecard reads 7,340 yards while playing as a par-71 layout. It's not a traditional par 71, though, as there are four par 5s and five par 3s.
The par 5s don't offer many eagle opportunities but they are the best place to pick up birdies, which are rare at this course. The field only averages about 11 par breakers per 72 holes played. One of the tougher scoring environments they face all year. Boring golf is the recipe for success here, as Bubba Watson pointed out in his last visit.
Looking at club selection off the tee, the course is tight and tree-lined, golfers will lay back on quite a few holes here so it's definitely considered more of a less-than-driver, or positional, course. That is very apparent when you read through the past quotes from the course.
Since golfers are taking less club off the tee, that leaves them some longer approach shots. Combine that with all five of the par 3s playing over 195 years, it ups the importance of mid-iron and long-iron performance.
As for the discussion on grass, the move to late April has given time for the bermudagrass to grow in. In previous editions, the overseeded rye and poa triv were dominant during tournament week but that won't be the case this week as the bermuda should be the star of the show.
The greens are smaller than TOUR average, quite slopey, and run between 11.5 and 12 feet on the stimp most years. All the slopes on the greens make them play quite a bit faster than that ho-hum stimp listing. It puts an emphasis on iron play because you can get yourself into a lot of impossible up-and-down situations here if you are missing your mark on approach.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Henrik Stenson: "It’s a course where you position yourself off the tee quite a lot, you have to lay back unless you really want to try and thread a few of the tee shots out there. So, quite a few 2-irons and 4-woods, 3-woods off the tee and little bit longer irons into the greens which are pretty small and kind of sits at an angle towards you quite a lot so you want to try to keep it underneath the hole because I can only imagine the kind of quick putts you can get if you end up in the wrong place or chipping from the wrong place."
Paul Casey: "The difference between hitting the green and landing just short, the dispersion of where the shots finish is high. There's a premium on ball striking. Scoring's never that low around here."
Jordan Spieth: "The course plays longer than the yardage, no doubt about it. But I enjoy the challenge. You really have to be in the fairway out here and so whatever it takes to put it there, whether it’s driver or you got to go back to a hybrid or 2 iron."
Daniel Berger: "You got to hit your long irons well because you’re going to have a few of them coming into in par-4s and par-5s. I’m used to South Florida, born and raised. It gets windy out there."
Bubba Watson: "Started messing around with stats and looking at it and this week Teddy texted me, to play good around here you're going to have to play boring golf. So you have to pick and choose your battles and around here it wasn't so much of putting as it was hitting the greens in regulation. So trying to hit fairways or hit wherever you can to get on the green. It's about greens in regulation here we figured out and so you had to just kind of plot along and that's kind of what I did. "
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Quail Hollow Club
TPC River Highlands
The themes here are long-iron play and strategic off-the-tee choices.
Thursday: Partly sunny with a high of 86 degrees. Winds at 6 to 10 MPH.
Friday: Sunny with a high of 79 degrees. A 50 percent chance of light rain, likely early afternoon. Winds at 6 to 12 MPH.
There is some afternoon rain possible most days this week but overall it looks like a solid weather week as long as they can avoid the heavy stuff.
Golfers to Watch
Thomas landed top 20s in each of his first two Valspar appearances but missed the cut in his most recent visit (2017). He was dealing with stomach issues that week so we should probably give him a pass for the MC. The number of long irons required here should really suit him well.
A regression was to be expected after his red-hot run last summer into the fall. that happened recently when he finished 54-48-MC at the WGC-Workday, PLAYERS, and Masters. He rebounded with a 13th-place finish at Harbour Town. A good sign that his game is back on track? Potentially, but with him not firing on all cylinders in the lead-up it makes sense by Thomas takes the top spot on the odds board.
Speaking of odds, the Canadian checks in at fourth on the odds sheet this week and sits right between proven winner Patrick Reed and back-to-back Valspar champ, Paul Casey. Conners may not have the same pedigree as them but he led after rounds one, two, and three during the 2018 Valspar and arrives this year playing the best golf of his career.
How can you talk about the Valspar without mentioning the Englishman. He is the back-to-back champ at this event but had nothing better than a T37 in his first four visits. Funny how that works out sometimes. It appears he's figured out a good game plan for the course.
The Clemson product has top 20s in two of his last three appearances at Innisbrook Resort. He also arrives with top 20s in two of his last three starts in the lead-up. One of those "converging trends" picks that looks pretty good when you stick to the basics of recent form and recent course history.
Nearly picked off a win last week alongside fellow South African, Louis Oosthuizen. Now Schwartzel returns to the site of his 2016 victory as he tries to build on that Zurich momentum. He's not going to look great in most models because of his decline in baseline performance over the last few years but it appears this might be the early stages of a return to form and he's playing a course that has treated him well over the years.
Ranking the Field
1. Justin Thomas
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Patrick Reed
4. Paul Casey
5. Corey Conners
6. Viktor Hovland
7. Tyrrell Hatton
8. Joaquin Niemann
9. Abraham Ancer
10. Jason Kokrak
11. Scottie Scheffler
12. Louis Oosthuizen
13. Russell Henley
14. Ryan Palmer
15. Sungjae Im
16. Justin Rose
17. Chris Kirk
18. Sam Burns
19. Max Homa
20. Emiliano Grillo