Get out your snake boots. The 2016 Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort and Spa’s Copperhead Course is next up on the schedule. Jordan Spieth returns to defend a PGA TOUR title for the second time in his career. He outlasted Sean O’Hair and Patrick Reed in a playoff. Chew on that for a minute. One short year ago, Spieth had just one PGA TOUR win.
Let’s dive in and take a look at what awaits the field on the third stop of the Florida Swing in Palm Harbor!
The Copperhead Course plays to a quirky par of 71, stretching out to 7,340 yards and featuring five par 3s, four par 5s and nine par 4s. That breakdown alone is telling, in that par 3 scoring immediately takes on some real value.
Like the other Florida stops, Bermuda grass is the order of the week. Also similar to most Florida courses on TOUR, par has some real value.
Similar to the Bear Trap at The Honda Classic, this week’s tough stretch is referred to as the Snake Pit. It includes the par-4 16th, par-3 17th and par-4 18th holes.
The Stats Say
As with every tournament, it’s a good idea to identify some particular statistical categories that could be relevant. The three that stood out this week were strokes gained: tee-to-green, scrambling and par 3 scoring average.
It’s a little tough to quantify good long-iron players in stats. Different distance breakdowns do exist, but it’s hard to zero in on just one. It’s worth taking a look at distances in the 200+ range.
Break it Down
The shortest par 3 is 195 yards. Knowing that, it makes sense that some solid long-iron players have spent time in contention and on top of this tournament. Strong long-iron play takes on more important than overall driving distance this week.
Probably more than any of the other Florida Swing courses, this one is more of a true ball-strikers course. It also requires some scrambling ability. Putting matters to a degree, but you can’t win this one with the flat stick alone.
Let’s take a look at the contenders!
1. Jordan Spieth – Defending champ is not riding a wave of momentum to the degree he did for most of 2015, but he’s not exactly in a funk either. This marks his fourth stop at this event, with all going for top 20s and two of the three cracking top 10s.
2. Webb Simpson – Sneaks into this event on a roll of three consecutive top 20s. He also has four top 20s in six trips to the Copperhead Course, including a runner-up in 2011. Currently ranks inside the top 25 in strokes gained: tee-to-green, scrambling and par 3 scoring average.
3. Henrik Stenson – Hard to ignore a fourth-place finish in his first trip to the Valspar Championship last year. His T28 at Doral wasn’t anything to write home about, but he can blast the irons and has the class to compete anywhere.
4. K.J. Choi – It’s been quite the renaissance season for the veteran. For starters, he’s a two-time winner and past runner-up on this layout. His last four PGA TOUR starts leading up to this week went 2-T17-MC-T5. Simply put, he’s playing really well on courses where he has traditionally been strong. Oh, and he’s second in scrambling and third in par 3 scoring average.
5. Harris English – Strong ball-striker enters off a 10th at Doral, which is exactly where he finished on the Copperhead Course last year. In fact, he has two top 10s in four trips to Palm Harbor.
6. Jason Dufner – This would seem to be the perfect track for Dufner’s iron prowess, and the results play that out. He has five top 25s and one top 10 in eight tries. He also tied for 11th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship last week.
7. Danny Willett – Englishman has tied for third in each of his 2015-16 PGA TOUR events. It just so happens that both were WGCs. He hasn’t teed it up at the Copperhead Course before. Who cares? He’s on the verge of becoming elite.
8. Kevin Na – The Rodney Dangerfield of the PGA TOUR finished 2-T10 in his last two trips to the Valspar Championship. Current form isn’t great, but sits eighth in par 3 scoring average, which could go a long way towards explaining his recent success on this layout.
9. Matt Kuchar – Kind of drifting along, both in this tournament and this season. Had made seven of his eight cuts, with two top 10s and five top 25s highlighting his work in Palm Harbour. Similarly, made all six of his cuts in 2015-16 with three top 25s and one top 10.
10. Ryan Moore – Feast-or-famine on the Copperhead Course. He’s made just five of nine cuts, but three of those have gone for top 15s including a solo fifth last year. Last three PGA TOUR starts leading into this week went T11-MC-T10. While he isn’t a safe bet, he’s trending towards a good week.
11. Graeme McDowell – No history here, but is solid with the blades and has played well in spurts of late. Finished fifth at The Honda Classic and is seventh in scrambling. The harder this course plays, the better.
12. Justin Thomas – Popped a top 10 on the Copperhead Course last year, so something was working. One doesn’t have to look far to find a nice PGA TOUR finish, as he tied for third at The Honda Classic.
13. Patrick Reed – Playoff loser here in 2015, Reed has been a bit all over the place in 2016. There isn’t much he would do that could surprise this week.
14. Branden Grace – Becoming a world-class player, but Florida has not been kind. His T23 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship last week was a highlight, but he missed the cut at The Honda Classic last year and missed the cut in the Valspar Championship in his only other try. At some point, class will prevail.
15. Luke Donald – Made all seven of his cuts here, with the last four going Win-T4-T4-T53. The last 12 months have been rough for Donald, so perhaps it’s wise to pay the closest attention to the T53 in 2015. At his best, he is a great iron player and excellent scrambler.
In no particular order, here are a few others that are worthy of a look.
Shawn Stefani – Strong course history in two previous trips, but current form is bad.
Charles Howell III – Began his typical decline following a strong West Coast Swing, but has a good history in this event.
Kevin Streelman – Past champion here really fits the mold of what is expected of a champion. Premium ball-striker gets hot with the putter.
Sean O’Hair – Current form doesn’t allow for him to make the top 15, but he won here in 2008 and lost in a playoff last year.
Steve Stricker – Might be time to buy a little stock. He tied for 11th at Riviera and went T14-T4-T8 (2008, 2009, 2010) in his last three treks to the Copperhead Course.
Check back tomorrow for a look at the Rotoworld staff picks in Playing the Tips!
Best of luck to all!