The Valspar Championship returns to Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club’s Copperhead Course with Charl Schwartzel as the defending champion. Here is a preview and power ranking to help size up the contenders.
The Copperhead Course plays to a par of 71 and stretches out to a formidable 7,340 yards. It’s odd in that it has four par 5s, five par 3s and nine par 4s. It tends to play as a pretty difficult course, requiring a combination of length and accuracy off the tee, strong mid-iron play into the par 3s and many of the par 4s and skill on Bermuda putting surfaces. All of that said, ball-striking takes the front seat to putting this week. With tree-lined fairways and water fronting several approaches, big numbers lurk when the game isn’t tidy.
Length matters at this course, but not in the traditional dominate-the-par-5s way. Length will allow for shorter irons into some difficult par 3s and par 4s, as well as the option to take less than driver off a couple of tees.
While this tournament doesn’t historically have one of the stronger fields of the year top to bottom, the cream finds a way to rise to the top with remarkably consistency. That speaks to the quality of the course. Knowing that, what has already been a chalky 2017 stands to see that trend continue this week.
Course history certainly matters, as this is the only venue to ever host this event. For those that may not have a consistent course history, it’s fair to show favor to those who are also strong on other Florida stops like Bay Hill and Honda.
With this tournament, I tend to ask myself three questions:
- Does the player have a strong course history?
- Is the player known to be a solid ball-striker? (SG: TTG, SG: Approach and SG: Off-the-Tee all are relevant stats this week.)
- Can the player survive on Bermuda putting surfaces? (Think other Florida courses.)
If the answer to all three of these, or two of the three of these is yes, you have a contender. Throw in a classy player, and you have the formula for a big week.
With that as the backdrop, here we go!
1. Justin Thomas – Checks all the boxes and is red hot in 2017. Has played this event twice, going T10-T18. A solid week in Mexico only adds to the list of reasons this makes sense.
2. Henrik Stenson – Has a 4th and a T11 in two trips to the Copperhead Course. While it’s normally a red flag to back someone who WD the previous week, his was due to a stomach bug and not an injury. He’ll be slinging that majestic 3-wood right down the middle all week.
3. Gary Woodland – Picked up his first PGA TOUR win in this event back in 2011, which is a huge plus. He’s been all over the leaderboards in 2016-17, so expect him to enjoy the challenges the Copperhead Course presents this week.
4. Bill Haas – He’s made a respectable 5/8 cuts, with a trio of top 20s led by a runner-up finish and a 54-hole lead last year. Steady as he goes in 2017, so he’s a safe option by many definitions.
5. Ryan Moore – With top fives in his last two visits to the Valspar Championship, he’s worthy of a very hard look.
6. Matt Kuchar – He’s what you would expect here, having missed just one cut in nine attempts. He’s secured six top 25s and two top 10s. Kuchar has Florida ties and plenty of class, which matches nicely with the ability to maneuver tree-lined course.
7. Charles Howell III – His script of strong play early in the year has been followed quite closely in 2017. That gives us confidence that his T14-T10-T5 run in the Valspar Championship the last three years will be quite relevant to the 2017 edition.
8. Kevin Na – Made his last seven cuts at Copperhead including three top 10s and a T22 last year.
9. Charl Schwartzel – Off to a very slow start in 2017, so conventional wisdom would lead one to believe that his win in 2016 will be hard to repeat. Since his only other start here yielded a missed cut, there is a feast-or-famine fear.
10. Byeong-Hun An – Great ball-striker who has spent his share of time in Florida, An’s only knock is a lack of course history.
11. Jim Furyk – He’s a past champion and a previous runner-up here. While his 2017 isn’t off to a roaring start, he’s a trusted veteran by every metric.
12. Patrick Reed – A MC-T2-T7 history in this event speaks to the earlier comment regarding the cream rising to the top here. He’s played a very heavy schedule the last 14 months, and it appears there is a bit of a diminishing return going on. While he may could use a break, the hope is that there is enough gas in the tank for a decent showing.
13. Luke Donald – He’s made all eight cuts, including a win and three top-four finishes. At his best, he is extremely accurate off the tee and deadly with middle and long irons. Even though he’s not bringing his A-game the last few years, he’s still dangerous.
14. Steve Stricker – The Presidents Cup captain has three top 10s in six trips to the Copperhead Course, including a T7 last year.
15. Daniel Berger – The Florida kid squeaks out the last spot, though his form is a bit splotchy. He improved from a MC here in 2015 to a T11 in 2016. His game likes Bermuda.
Check out all of the Rotoworld Staff Picks in Playing the Tips. Best of luck to all!