Horses for Courses: 2021 Valspar Championship

The Paul Casey Invitational moves to late April/early May this year and away from mid-March.

A field of 156 is also new this time around.

Painting fairways and greens this week will be the key as the TOUR returns to Florida at Innisbrook Resort for the Valspar Championship. The Copperhead Course annually rates as one of the most popular on TOUR amongst the pros as Larry Packard’s 1971 design (Par-71, 7,340 yards) has stood the test of modern technology, fitness and power. With the 2020 event cancelled due to COVID-19, the 2021 spot on the calendar is brand-new at the end of April.  


RELATED: Power Rankings | Expert Picks


Set in the rolling hills just north of Tampa in Palm Harbor, the Copperhead Course also ranks annually in the top 10 of most difficult courses on TOUR. It has only ranked outside the top 10 once in the last seven years and it tests all fourteen clubs in the bag. Unlike most Florida tracks, pine trees frame the multiple doglegs and elevation changes are pronounced. Imagine Riviera in the panhandle state.

With a late April start, instead of early-mid March, the TifEagle greens (running up to 12 feet) and Celebration rough (three inches) will still be over-seeded but the fairways will not. Working the golf ball both ways off the tee will bring in 74 bunkers and there are water penalty areas on half of the holes. The biggest test will be the final three holes known as “The Snake Pit”. The closing three-hole stretch has been in the top three ON TOUR since 2003 in difficulty trailing only “The Green Mile” next week at Wells Fargo and the conclusion at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Village Golf Club. The winner has been even or 1-over on this stretch dating back to 2013.

There’s a reason why the tournament scoring record since the move to spring hasn’t exceeded 14-under: It’s fair and difficult. Players haven’t seen this kind of rough since Torrey Pines. The green complexes are complex and birdies aren’t easy to come by. Grinding GIR and making pars while taking advantage of the great shots is the formula here. Four Par-5 holes help but there are also five Par-3 holes to keep the concentration on point. The lowest rounds the last two editions are 65 and 66 so par is a very solid score this week.

Two-time defending champion Paul Casey looks to add his name to a VERY short list this week. Only Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in recent memory have won an event three consecutive times. The field of 156 will be chasing Padraig Harrington’s course record of 61 set in 2012 and the post-2015 renovation score of 14-under set by Adam Hadwin in 2017. A purse of $6.9 million will pay the winner $1.242 million plus 500 FedExCup points. Top 65 and ties will play the weekend. 

Recent Event Winners Stats

Year2020201920182017
WinnerNo EventPaul CaseyPaul CaseyAdam Hadwin
ScoreCovid- 198-under 10-under14-under
     
MOV 111
Cut 1-over3-overEven
Age 414029
     
Disantance – All Drives 162233
Driving Accuarcy 9T68T27
GIR T5T30T5
Ball-Striking 138T15
Proximity 65T225
Putting: Birdie or Better % 2141
SG: Off-the-Tee 65047
SG: Approach-the-Green 772
SG: Around-the-Green 9325
SG: Putting 43154
SG: Tee-to-Green 165
Scrambling 4737
Bogey Avoidance T31T1 T3
Par-3 Scoring T24T51
Par-4 Scoring T55T128
Par-5 Scoring 1T519

Recent Winners and Notables

2019: Paul Casey (-8, 276)

Closed with 1-over par 72 to win by a shot. … First winner to defend at this event. … First champion to post an over-par score in Round 4. … Led the field in Strokes-Gained: Tee-to-Green. … Top 10 in every Strokes-Gained category minus putting. … First winner in four outside the top seven in Par-3 scoring. … Played the Par-5 holes 15-under, five shots better than anyone. … Third multiple winner at Valspar. … Played in the final group (-9) with Dustin Johnson (-8). … Co-led 36 hole leader (-6). … Trailed by four after opening with 70. … Picks up his third TOUR win at 41 years. … Third straight international winner. … Piping-hot form (T3 WGC, 2nd Pebble Beach and T2 Singapore) entering minus MC at THE PLAYERS the week before.

Notables:

Jason Kokrak (T2) was one of just four players to post all four rounds at par or better for the week. … Louis Oosthuizen (T2) picks up his second top 10 in three visits with 66-69 weekend. … Rookie Sungjae Im (T4) sat one of the 36-hole lead. … Bubba Watson (T4) played for just the second time since 2011. … Ryan Armour (T6) T10 in fairways and T3 approach. … Dustin Johnson (T6) shot 74 from the final group with 15 pars and three bogeys. … Austin Cook (T9) shared the 36-hole lead but closed 72-72. … Luke Donald (T9) owns five top 10s here, tied for the most. … Scott Stallings (T9) hit the podium, T3, on his debut here in 2011. … Denny McCarthy (T9) posted three rounds in the 60s in his first visit. … Tyler Duncan (MC) shared the co-low round of the week with Casey, Kokrak and Oosthuizen with 66. … Only five bogey-free rounds on the week and none on the weekend. … Cut was 1-over and the 36 hole lead was just 6-under. … Ranked third-hardest NON-MAJOR. … Followed THE PLAYERS Championship in 2019.

2018: Paul Casey (-10, 274)

Closed with 65 Sunday to win by a shot. … Secures second win on TOUR at age 40. … Joins Luke Donald as the only other Englishman to win. … Second consecutive international winner. … Only player 2018 or 2019 to hit 10-under par at the conclusion of play. … Only needed a career best 21 putts in Round 4. … Sat five shots off the 54-hole lead. … Finished when the leaders were on No. 12. … Sat just two back after 36 holes. … Was three back after 18 holes. … Wins in his fifth start here. … Next best was T37. … T12 previous week at WGC-Mexico Championship, his third T12 or better in four starts.

Notables:

Tiger Woods (T2; not entered) was the only player to post all four rounds under par. … Patrick Reed (T2) bogeyed the 72nd hole to miss the playoff by a shot. … Justin Rose (T5) sat one back after 54 holes. … Rory Sabbatini (T5) backed it up with T18 in 2019. … Branden Grace (T8) was T68 in both Fairways and GIR but was T1 Putts per GIR. … Jason Kokrak (T8) signed for a 67 and 68. … Adam Hadwin (T12) posted all four rounds par or better. … Canadian Corey Conners (T16), trying to follow in the footsteps of countryman Hadwin, slept on his first 54-hole lead and shot 77. … Brandt Snedeker (T31) was one back after 54 and posted 78. … Scott Stallings (T31) matched Casey for the low round of the week with 65. … Cut was 3-over, tying the record. … Played as the sixth most difficult track on TOUR.

2017: Adam Hadwin (-14, 270)

Posted even-par 71 to win by one. … First PGATOUR victory at age 29. … Wins in his third start here. … Only winner in the last four to lead the field in Par-3 scoring. … Joined Casey and Charl Schwartzel as recent winners to hit the top three in Birdie or Better Conversion Percentage. … Middle of three straight international winners (Schwartzel 2016, Casey 2018). … Posted 64 in Round 2 to lead by a shot after 36 holes. … Tied the 54-hole record by posting 14-under (led by four). … Sat six back after Round 1. … Cashed 71st in his first visit, MC in his second. … Hot entering as he cashed in five straight including a one shot defeat at The American Express.

Notables:

Jim Herman (T3) missed tying the course record as he opened with 62 and trailed by just one after 36. … Charl Schwartzel (6th) picked up the best result in defending before Casey’s victory. … Wesley Bryan (T7) cashed T4 at Honda and Riviera prior. … Henrik Stenson (T7) opened with 64 and closed with 67. … Russell Henley (T9) opened with 64 and closed with 67. … John Huh (T9) worst round was 70. … Top five players were double digits under-par. … Cut was Even. … Event followed WGC-Mexico Championships. … Easiest scoring conditions since 2012.

Key stat leaders

Top golfers in each statistic on the 2020-2021 PGA TOUR are listed only if they are scheduled to compete this week. 
*Top 10 since 2015 or previous winner

Strokes-Gained: Tee-to-GreenGolfer
Rank 
  
4*Justin Thomas
6Dustin Johnson
8Viktor Hovland
9Corey Conners
10Keegan Bradley
11*Russell Henley
14Joaquin Niemann
14*Bubba Watson
16Charley Hoffman
18Doug Ghim
21*John Huh
23Tyrrell Hatton
24*Paul Casey
27*Louis Oosthuizen
29Ryan Palmer
29Matthew NeSmth
32Chris Kirk
34Emiliano Grillo
  
Bogey AvoidanceGolfer
Rank 
  
1*Russell Henley
3Emiliano Grillo
5Abraham Ancer
10Corey Conners
12*Charles Howell III
14*Justin Thomas
15Joaquin Niemann
16Andrew Putnam
18Chris Kirk
18*Sungjae im
20Chase Seiffert
22Roger Sloan
25Charley Hoffman
27James Hahn
29Cameron Tringale
31Patton Kizzire
34Russell Knox
36Zach Johnson
  
Par-3 ScoringGolfer
Rank 
  
1*Justin Rose
4Pat Perez
8Cameron Percy
8Charley Hoffman
8*Justin Thomas
14Tom Lewis
22Tyrrell Hatton
22Joaquin Niemann
22Chris Kirk
22Keegan Bradley
22*John Huh
22Scott Piercy
22Kelly Kraft
22*Sungjae Im
22Sam Ryder
22*Kevin Streelman
36Bronson Burgoon
36Wyndham Clark
36Kyle Stanley
36*Bubba Watson
36*Jason Kokrak
36Alex Noren
36Cameron Tringale
36KJ Choi
36Max Homa
36Doug Ghim

Horses for Courses

Player (Starts/Cuts Made)Top 10s Top 25sMost RecentRecent Others
     
Paul Casey (4/6)22Win (2019)18-under includes 4 rounds of 68 or better in last 8
Jason Kokrak (5/9)34T2 (2019)T8 2018, T7 2015; 4 of last 6 T14 or better
Louis Oosthuizen (4/7)24T2 (2019)T7 2016, T16 2018
Bubba Watson (4/7)23T4 (2019)MC 2017 only 2 visits since ’11; 3rd 2010
Sungjae Im (1/1)11T4 (2019)all four rounds 71 or better
Ryan Armour (4/5)12T6 (2019)Of his last 8 rounds, 4 are in the red
Dustin Johnson (1/3)11T6 (2019)First visit since 2010
Austin Cook (2/2)11T9 (2019)T40 2018
Scott Stallings (4/9)22T9 (2019)T31, T68 previous two
Luke Donald (8/9)56T9 (2019)WIN 2012; 5 top 10s are tied for the most
Denny McCarthy (1/1)11T9 (2019)Posted 3 of 4 rounds in the 60s
     
Patrick Reed (3/6)33T2 (2018)P2 2015, T7 2016
Justin Rose (6/7)35T5 (2018)Of 6 made cuts, 5 are T14 or better
Rory Sabbatini (8/10)13T5 (2018)T18 2019; last two best two
Branden Grace (2/4)11T8 (2018)MC 2019
     
Adam Hadwin (3/5)12Win (2017)T12 defense
Jim Herman (1/4)11T3 (2017)Other 3 visits hasn’t broke 72
Charl Schwartzel (3/5)226 (2017)WIN 2016; MC-T49 last two
Henrik Stenson (4/5)24T7 (2017)4th 2015; T11 2016
Wesley Bryan (1/1)11T7 (2017)Posted 3 rounds of 68
John Huh (3/7)12T9 (2017)T22 2016, MC 2018 in last visit
Russell Henley (2/3)11T9 (2017)T42 last visit ’19
     
Ryan Moore (7/12)353rd (2016)5th 2015, T18 2017; MC last 2
Charles Howell III (9/10)45T5 (2016)5 straight paydays last five visits; 5 top 10s
Steve Stricker (5/8)35T7 (2016)MC-T12-MC since
Scott Brown (3/8)11T7 (2016)Only 2 rounds in the 60s from 22
     
Sean O’Hair (7/14)34T2 (2015)WIN 2008; T12 last visit 2018
Danny Lee (4/6)12T7 (2015)13-over last two years
Troy Merritt (1/6)116 (2015)MC all others 
Kevin Na (7/10)34T10 (2015)2nd 2014
Justin Thomas (2/3)12T10 (2015)T18 2016
     
OthersTop 10sTop 25sMost RecentRecent Others 
     
Kevin Streelman (6/10)23Win (2013)T10 2012
Gary Woodland (5/9)22Win (2011)T8 2014
KJ Choi452 (2010)2002, 2006 WIN (fall editions for both)
Nick Watney (11/11)   11 straight MC on TOUR on his own ball
Lucas Glover (11/16)   T13, T74, T18 last 3
Jason Dufner (9/12)   T28 or better in 9 straight before MC last 2
Brandt Snedeker (9/10)22 Cashed last seven visits T30, T31 last two years

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