Valspar Championship Preview

03-07-17

It’s back to the mainland and sunny Florida but the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook is hardly all sunshine and day dreams.

It’s mainly trees, rough, elevation and tough scoring. This fella defends.

 

Valspar Championship

 

Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club

Copperhead Course

Palm Harbor, Florida

 

Copperhead

 

Yards: 7,340 per the official scorecard

Par: 71 (36-35)

Greens: TifEagle Bermudagrass

Rough: Bermudagrasss, ryegrass at 2.5″

Course Architect(s): Larry Packard (1972); Wadsworth Golf Construction Company (2015)

Purse: $6.3 million; $1.134 million (winner); 500 FedExCup Points

Defending Champion:  Charl Schwartzel defeated Bill Haas in a playoff

 

Notes:

  • 144 players; stroke play;
  • Top 70 and ties make the cut.
  • Major course renovations from 2015 will eliminate some historical advantages.

 

 

2016-17 Winners

 

Frys.com: Brendan Steele

CIMB: Justin Thomas

WGC-HSBC: Hideki Matsuyama

Sanderson Farms: Cody Gribble**

Shriners: Rod Pampling

OHL Mayakoba: Pat Perez

RSM Classic: Mackenzie Hughes**

SBS TOC: Justin Thomas

Sony Open: Justin Thomas

CB Challenge: Hudson Swafford*

Farmers: Jon Rahm*

WMPO: Hideki Matsuyama

AT&T Pebble Beach: Jordan Spieth

Genesis Open: Dustin Johnson

Honda: Rickie Fowler

WGC-MC: Dustin Johnson

 

*First-time winner

**First-time winner AND rookie winner

 

 

The Particulars:

 

 

Course Ratings (since shifting to spring in 2007)

 

2016: 6th-most difficult; +1.618 above par.

2015: 10th; +0.843

2014: 6th; +1.433

2013: 7th; +1.222

2012: 30th of 49; -.268

2011: 27th of 51; -.183

2010: 13th; +.722

2009: 9th +1.157

2008: 8th; +1.970

2007: 15th; +1.005

 

 

Previous Champions (calendar year since 2007)

 

2016: Charl Schwartzel, -7*

2015: Jordan Spieth, -9*#

2014: John Senden, -7

2013: Kevin Streelman,-10

2012: Luke Donald, -13

2011: Gary Woodland, -15

2010: Jim Furyk, -13

2009: Retief Goosen, -8

2008: Sean O’Hair, -4

2007: Mark Calcavecchia, -10#

*playoff

# not playing this week

 

Facts and Figures:

  • Event began fall of 2000 but was moved to the spring in 2007.
  • Carl Pettersson (2006), Woodland and Streelman broke their maiden here.
  • Woodland is the only rookie to claim the title.
  • Woodland and Goosen won on their first try playing the course.
  • J. Choi and Retief Goosen have both won twice but neither has won twice since the move to spring.
  • Woodland has the spring tournament record at 15-under.
  • Padraig Harrington shot 61 in 2012 to set the course record.
  • There were nine bogey-free rounds in 2014, 12 in 2015 and 10 last year.
  • Only two players posted all four rounds at par or better last year.
  • Only five players posted two rounds in the 60’s.
  • Low round last year: 66; George McNeill, Graham DeLaet and Lee McCoy.

 

The summer of 2015 brought a major renovation to the Copperhead course and those changes were prevalent during the 2016 event.

The new TifEagle greens played mind games with the players as they had trouble adjusting to the speed. The new expanded greens had brand new hole locations which made old mapping books irrelevant. Uphill putts were not getting to the hole.

If that wasn’t enough, the wind blew 10-20 mph daily and also swirled around the trees and elevation.

Elevation in Florida? Exactly.

The Copperhead course winds through the tree-lined fairways while changing elevation throughout the almost 7,400 yards. Obviously the stretch of holes known as “The Snake Pit” will create bother at the end of the round but the rest of the course has teeth as well.

As shown above, the course has provided difficult scoring conditions because of the design, changes and weather and that’s why the pros love it. Every club in the bag will get a run out at some point and there are multiple ways to attack. Brains will also get a work out this week as indecision and club selection will torment pros and their bagmen. When the wind is mild, which it will be this week, those multiple ways to attack the holes will be front and center.

There’s no way to fake it around this joint from tee-to-green and the greens, in their still infancy, won’t be as true as the best putters would enjoy. I would expect scores to be slightly better this year because the wind won’t be as harsh, the greens have had a year to grow in and those new hole locations won’t be as new. Remember, I said SLIGHTLY!

This week I’m leaning heavily on ball-strikers again. Those who keep it in play and find GIR will have more chances at avoiding bogeys than those playing from the greenside rough and tree-lined fairways.  If the weather cooperates, which looks to be the case, this will open up options of attack which will also favor those who can control their tee balls and irons. Only two players from the top 15 last year were outside T-21 GIR. With four five pars and five three pars it won’t hurt to be able to give it a proper knock.

 

 

The Field

 

Favorites

in order of preference for this week and this tournament

 

Henrik Stenson: I’m pretending last week didn’t happen because, well, it didn’t! A quick trip over from Lake Nona after essentially a long weekend of rest should have him ready to improve on T-4 (missed playoff by one shot) and T-11 finishes the last two years. He’s posted seven of eight rounds at par or better and his only “bad” round is just 72.

 

Justin Thomas: He did everything but win last week at the WGC-MC. The 54-hole leader found a way to stick it out and finish T-5 after a difficult front nine. With three wins on the season I don’t have to worry about his confidence. With finishes of T-10 and T-18 here the last two seasons I don’t have to worry about him adjusting to a new track.

 

Gary Woodland: He picked up his first oversized Tour check for winning here as a rookie in 2011. He also painted the top 10 with T-8 in 2014 but his current form is more enticing. He navigated a difficult Honda track and finished T-2 after his previous start was T-5 at Pebble Beach. He has plenty of power to shorten this place up. He sits 18th SGTTG and 15th SGATG.

 

Bill Haas: The 54-hole leader here last year was eight-under through three rounds so there’s no doubt he’s figured out how to get it around Innisbrook. It has been suggested that Riviera and Innisbrook are coastal cousins and Haas’s play at both places doesn’t dampen that accusation. I have no problem hitching my wagon to steady play and Haas qualifies. In 28 rounds this season, he exactly ONE bad one, 75 last Saturday on a course he’s never played before. His streak of cuts made is currently nine in a row. Get in.

 

Patrick Reed: I have to keep reminding myself that form is temporary and class is permanent with Reed as he struggles to turn it up this winter. He’s second on Tour with 18 consecutive cuts made and that shouldn’t change this week as he arrives at a track where he lost in a playoff in 2015 and was T-7 last year. His short game is going to solve more problems than it creates and a decent week striking it will go a long way!

 

Matt Kuchar: He stuck three rounds at par or better here last year for T-11, his fourth T-14 or better in six tries. Kuchar enjoys working the ball off the tee and has never MC in six tries here. He hasn’t been able to put four rounds together yet in 2017 but all three weekends have resulted in top 25’s minus his MC at Pebble Beach. He’s another low-risk player that has the game and experience to stay out of trouble this week.

 

Charles Howell, III: Gamers shouldn’t be discouraged by his closing round 74 at Honda and T-52 finish because that has been the exception, not the rule. He’s rattled off nine cuts in a row and seven of those are T-15 or better. After a two-year hiatus he returned to Innisbrook in 2014 with T-14. He’s backed that up with T-10 in 2015 and T-5 last year. Automatic in every format this week for me.

 

Graham DeLaet: Here’s another who fits the current form-meets-course history! In his last 12 rounds the Canadian has posted one round over par as he’s rattled off paydays T-9, T-17 and 10th. He played in the final group here last year with Bill Haas and fired 75 for T-5 but I was more impressed by his 66-68 middle two rounds. His ball-striking is usually the key and he’s put it to good use here with T-17 in 2013 and T-8 in 2014. Nice fit this week!

 

Billy Horschel: I made the argument after his T-4 at Honda that his “love” for Florida courses doesn’t really extend out of Palm Beach Gardens (click here for more details). His form and the fact that he leads the Tour in GIR push him into the conversation this week. I also like the fact he hasn’t played here since 2013 so he should be focused on the positives from his T-4 the last time out.

 

Jason Dufner: With top 25 finishes in his last three starts I can lean on his tee-to-green game this week. He’s played the last eight years in a row and never finished worse than T-28 and never MC either.

 

Martin Laird: His game across the board has been very solid this year (8th, SGT) and the results have followed. He’s not missed in eight tries with five top 25’s resulting in four top 10’s. He’s 10th in total driving, 21st SGTTG and 20th SGP. His last time out he closed with 66 at Riviera. Giddy.

 

Kevin Na: He’s a proper grinder on tight, difficult courses evidenced by past results at Riviera, TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town just to name a few. I need to add Innisbrook to the list as he hasn’t missed in his last seven tries and three of those are top 10’s including finishing second in 2014, T-10 in 2015 and T-22 last year.

 

Sean O’Hair:  The 2008 champ has the distinction for the highest winning total so there’s no doubting his ability to grind it out.  After a terrible run of form here after his win he lost in a playoff with Patrick Reed to Jordan Spieth in 2015. He’s rattled off 13 cuts in a row, fifth best on Tour, and I don’t see that slowing down this week.

 

Wesley Bryan: After a dire run exploded with T-4 at Riviera and followed that up with T-4 at Honda. Hot golf is hot golf and he deserves a look this week based alone on that form.  His short game is the insurance policy but his ball-striking has been the key in this run.

 

Daniel Berger: His win at TPC Southwind didn’t come on an easy track and another big finish this week won’t either. He has plenty of power, if he can harness it, to give him chances to get his putter warmed up. He made 19 birdies last week on a course that didn’t play all that easily. He gets the benefit as he opened 70-68 here last year before winding up T-11 with no form to speak of.

 

 

Next Tier

No particular order

 

Ryan Moore: Solo fifth and solo third the last two years will inspire most of us to find a spot for him. His accuracy off the tee should present more chances than most to find GIR. Last year he was T-2 fairways AND greens but only made 12 birdies.

 

Lucas Glover: He’s rattled off 10 weekends from his last 11 starts including seven in a row. If I’m leaning on ball-strikers, he’s easily in here and he’s even better finding GIR (3rd).

 

Luke Donald: This is another Florida track that the former world No. 1 has raked in the cash over the years. The 2012 champ has never missed in eight tries and six of those finishes have resulted in T-22 or better highlighted by four top 10’s. It doesn’t hurt that he’s navigated Pebble (T-23), Riviera (T-17) and PGA National (T-27) in his last three outings on Tour.

 

Charley Hoffman: I’m leaning on the Riviera angle this week as Hoffman also finished T-4 in his last start. He posted rounds of 67 and 69 last year en route to T-11, his sixth weekend from his last seven starts.

 

Adam Hadwin: I like that he’s solid through the bag (34th, SGT) and the results have been eight weekend in a row collecting a check. He checks in No. 10 on par three scoring average is an excellent putter/short gamer.

 

Nick Watney: Only astute gamers will notice his T-14, T-28 and T-14 over his last three starts. He’s a proven winner on a tough track in Florida (WGC-MC at Doral) and has never MC in NOYNE tries at Innisbrook.

 

Stewart Cink: He’s played eight of his last nine weekends. This is a recording.

 

Scott Brown: Riviera angle checks out and he hasn’t MC in 2017 seven tries. Throw in his T-7 last year and we gotta party on our hands!

 

Patrick Rodgers: I wonder who’s going to win first when I omit them from the preview column, him or Woodland. If he keeps plugging GIR he’ll be in here more often than not.

 

J.J. Spaun: I can’t stick him in the big time just yet but I also cannot ignore a run of T-9, T-4, MC and T-21 (Honda).

 

Ollie Schniederjans: Whatever he found at the RSM to close out the 2016 portion of the schedule to finish T-6 has stuck. Hitting it a mile never hurts and he’s racked up six more weekends in a row for a total of seven on the bounce. The longer the course plays this week the better as he was T-9 at Torrey Pines and T-8 at Riviera.

 

Seung-yul Noh: He’s collected in four consecutive events and put three of his four rounds at par here last year. Incredibly streaky.

 

 

Off the Beaten Path

Course horses, long shots, cheeky picks, DFS last call, red herrings

 

Scott Piercy: He shot 62 here in the final round in 2012 to finish T-5 but his MC in 2013 was the last time he visited. I noticed he closed with 66 to sneak out of Mexico last week.

 

Robert Garrigus: He might be playing out of the trees all week but that won’t stop him from finding some GIR. He was T-2 in 2012 and T-4 in 2014.

 

Harris English: He stuck seven of 14 rounds in the 60’s before 73-74 MC last year. T-7 in 2013 and T-10 in 2015.

 

Keegan Bradley: MC in his home game at Honda 2 weeks ago has given him a nice mini-break. The less putting factors, the more he goes up in my estimation.

 

Ian Poulter: If you’re in an OWGR game there are worse options than the No. 203 player on six made cuts in a row.

 

Lee McCoy: He won’t be a secret this time around! He also isn’t playing at the level as he was at UGA when he finished T-4 here as an amateur last year. He hasn’t played anywhere since Shriners last fall as a broken wrist killed any Q-school options. He grew up on this course and has said he’s played it over 1,000 times.

 

Jim Furyk: Everywhere he goes from now until Paris in 2018 he will answer questions about being Ryder Cup Captain. Every even he plays between now and then will test his ability to keep an eye on potential picks while playing his game. He has too many good ones here to omit but his T-39 or worse in three events in 2017 might suggest he’s busy.

 

Scott Stallings: He’s never played the weekend here in the last four years but his current form suggests something is brewing (T-8, MC, T-14 and T-21). Huge risk-reward angle this week.

 

Danny Lee: Nine Innisbrook rounds have resulted in six at par or better. Now about that recent form…

 

Jason Kokrak: Back-to-back top 25 finishes on Tour plus a T-7 and T-14 here in the last four years should entice a few.

 

Steve Stricker: See Furyk above and replace “Ryder” with “Presidents” but note that Stricker has a top 25 in his two starts and was T-7 here last year.

 

Kevin Streelman: 2013 champ strikes it well enough to contend and putts it bad enough to MC.

 

Cameron Tringale: Crapped out T-46, third, T-25 and T-17 last year with MC. His T-8 at Riviera might be the tiebreaker.

 

 

Fades

injured, rusty or not the track this week

 

Russell Knox: The usually reliable ball-striker has struggled with just as many rounds in the 60’s (one) as 80’s in his last eight. His best finish in three trips here is only T-25 so I’ll wait until he starts to show signs of life.

 

Bubba Watson: With no altitude or weather around, this should be a track he gets healthy on but his recent form suggests otherwise. I’d hate to remember that he’s WD from Florida events in March before due to allergy problems. His new golf ball isn’t behaving so I’ll let someone else break him out.

 

Charl Schwartzel: Last year Schwartzel was an avalanche when he arrived here with two wins and a pair of top 10’s in his previous six events. This year he’s kicked off 2017 MC, MC and T-38. He probably shouldn’t be in here but when I’m not sure, I bail.

 

 

Next:

 

Wednesday I’ll present my gaming angles for the week so keep your eyes peeled @MikeGlasscott and mikeglasscott.com for more information.

 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out through Twitter or email me mikeglasscott@gmail.com.

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