With a final-round 4-under par 34-33=67, South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel erased a five-shot final-round deficit to win the 16th edition of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead) in a playoff over 54-hole leader Bill Haas.
Playing out of the fourth-to-last twosome, Schwartzel was first to post 7-under 277 after progressively better rounds of 71-70-69 and a six-birdie two-bogey 67, the low lap of the day. He later won – in his first playoff on the PGA TOUR – with a cast-iron two-putt par on the first hole of sudden death (par-4 18th), while Haas missed the fairway, missed the green, and failed to get up-and-down from a green side bunker.
The Copperhead Course opened in 1972 and has hosted every edition since the tournament debuted in 2000. However, this was the first playing since undergoing a near-total restoration after the 2015 playing.
If you hadn’t known, but watched (any) of the telecast(s), you heard enough about the long awaited -- and much-needed -- rejuvenation, but two areas factored the most: (1): The updated bunkering with soft, new sand, and (1a): The softening of the green contours (leading to several new hole locations), and the new TifEagle Bermuda grass.
The 7,340 par-71 layout played to a four-day average of 72.603 with R3 the easiest (71.789) and R1 the most difficult (73.189). Schwartzel posted a cumulative 12.816 in strokes gained: total, including a 9.271 in strokes gained: tee-to-green (4th-ranked), and 3.545 in strokes gained: putting (12th).
The weather was basically the same for all four days with temperatures between 78-84 degrees and winds (generally out of the south) at 10-20 mph with occasional higher gusts. The threat of storms/rain for Sunday never materialized.
Early (Thu)/Late (Fri) was the overall better draw with 40 making the weekend vs. 31. Both playoff combatants were early/late as well, while solo third Ryan Moore and solo fourth Lee McCoy were late/early.
Golf Channel (Perfect Picks):
Group 2: Charl Schwartzel (P1)
Group 4: Steve Stricker (T7)
Yahoo! Low Rounds:
R3: Lee McCoy (a) (66)
R4: Charl Schwartzel (67)
Charl Schwartzel: Before this week, Schwartzel had not won any money at the Valspar, missing the cut on only appearance in 2012 by eight shots (76-73).
The 31-year-old circled birdies on Nos. 1 and 3 to turn bogey-free 2-under. His first blemish came at the par-4 10th, and despite it, had made up two shots on Haas, now trailing by three. Haas however, would reduce Schwartzel’s margin to two with bogey on the ninth.
The South African exchanged birdie at the par-5 11th with his second (and last) bogey on the par-4 12th, before playing his final six holes in blemish-free 3-under. He kicked-off the run with a 64’3” prayer for birdie-2 at 13, and culminated with a 23’4” birdie at the par-3 17th.
His run to the finish was reminiscent of his maiden title at the 2011 Masters, where he became the first champion to birdie their final four holes en route to victory. Schwartzel won that green jacket by two over Jason Day and Adam Scott with a final-round 6-under 66.
He adds his second PGA TOUR title in his 129th career start, and comes nearly five years after Augusta. His five-shot final-round comeback is the largest in Valspar history.
Schwartzel jumps from 107th in the FedExCup standings to No. 14, and bumps from 32nd in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) to No. 21 (his career high in OWGR is 6th in 2012).
Elsewhere around the globe, Schwartzel won his 10th European Tour title at the season-opening Alfred Dunhill Championship in November, and his 11th (in 283rd career start) at the Tshwane Open four weeks ago, both on home soil, becoming the first multiple-winner on the European Tour this season.
In the build-up to 2016, the South African spent the majority of the offseason in the motherland working with his father, his only swing coach.
"I started trusting it (again) and started believing it," Schwartzel said after. "Then winning in South Africa helped because there you're hitting good shots under pressure to win. That gets your confidence up."
What We Learned:
Schwartzel gave the internationals three straight wins on the PGA TOUR (Adam Scott won the last two events), and overall, was the seventh int’l to win on TOUR this season in 17 tournaments.
The last four winners on TOUR, Schwartzel, Scott (x2) and Bubba Watson, are all former Masters champions.
The pre-tourney odds-favorites have won just one time in the first 17 events of the 2015-16 season – Jordan Spieth at the 32-man Hyundai TOC. That’s it. Spieth was the book-maker favorite this week (5/1) and finished T18.
Initially, 14 of the top 50 in the OWGR teed it up but Danny Lee (No. 34) WD with a wrist injury after 10 holes of his final round, reducing the total to 13.
Of the 13, five finished inside the top 10, including Schwartzel and runner-up Bill Haas (No. 43).
The restoration muted course history to some degree. Ten former Valspar winners were in the field, including defender Spieth, while 216th-ranked Retief Goosen, the 2009 and 2003 victor, and um, another South African, took the top honors among this group with a T11 (70-69-72-72).
Of the 10 players who finished in the top 10, five had previous top-10 finishes at the Copperhead, including Moore, Howell III, DeLaet, Stricker and Patrick Reed. Several players struggled with the pace of the new green surfaces and the new sand in the bunkers definitely penalized, often with plugged lies.
Bill Haas: In his eighth Copperhead visit, first since a personal-best T14 in 2014, Haas was the 54-hole leader by one after opening in 71 and twin 67s. Playing in the final twosome with DeLaet, he patched together a 1-over-par 38-34=72 in the finale.
Haas was looking for his seventh TOUR title in his 295th career pro start, and first since the 2015 Humana, but settled for his fifth career runner-up instead. He fell to 2-3 in playoffs and 3-for-7 when the 54-hole leader/co-leader.
The 33-year-old hit enough fairways, eight (of 13), but mustered just eight greens in regulation. Thru three rounds, he’d led the field in scrambling, and went 6-for-10 on Sunday, which is not horrible, but it added undo pressure. Haas also three-putted the par-5 first, for par, which set the tone early.
He birdied the par-4 second but bogeys at 3, 4 and 9 had him 2-over at the break, but still one clear, which is where he began.
Back-to-back circles on 11 and 12 pushed his lead to three and he looked in control after dropping a par putt from 8’11” to complete a sand save at the par-3 15th.
On the next hole however, Haas missed the green from the fairway at the par-4 16th, short-siding himself in a green side bunker, 13 yards from the hole.
He failed to get up-and-down, missing his par putt from 10’7”, and said afterward that a 12-handicapper could have hit a better bunker shot.
Despite the late bogey, Haas still had two chances to win in regulation, first from 17’9” at the par-3 17th, and again from 24’7” at the 18th (from the fringe), but the key shot of the round for him was the unforced error on approach to the 16th.
The Big Story:
Lee McCoy: The biggest story not named Schwartzel spun a final-round 3-under-par 36-33=69 for a total of 4-under 280, good for solo fourth.
Playing on a sponsor exemption, he took top honors of 26 first-timers at the Copperhead, although by his own admission, had played the course “at least a 1,000 times” while growing-up in an Innisbrook sub-division.
The 22-year-old senior at the University of Georgia posted rounds of 74-71-66-69. He was paired on the weekend with 2011 champ Gary Woodland and 2015 champ Spieth, and beat Woodland by five and Spieth by four.
In the finale, he opened birdie-birdie (to Spieth’s par-bogey) before bogeys on holes 6 and 9 to turn even. McCoy came home in bogey-free 2-under 33, circling birdies on 12 and 14. He hit just eight greens in regulation, but posted a dazzling 2.104 in SGP.
The first-team All-American entered the week as the eighth-ranked amateur in the world and had previously played three PGA TOUR events posting three missed cuts and a previous-best T69 at the 2015 John Deere. He catapults to No. 420 in OWGR from No. 1731.
Ryan Moore: This was Moore's first time inside the top 5 after three days since he was the 54-hole leader here last year where he eventually finished a then-best solo fifth.
He began this year’s finale in a two-way T3, three adrift. Playing out of the penultimate twosome, the 33-year-old sleepwalked to an even-par 36-35=71 in the final round for a 72-hole total of 5-under 279, two swings back of the playoff.
Moore, looking for his fifth TOUR title in his 260th pro start, first since the 2014-15 CIMB, exchanged birdies at Nos. 1 and 6 with bogeys at 3 and 5 before playing his final 12 holes in all pars. He missed scoring chances from 13'9", 12'2" and 8'9", although did coax-in par putts of 9'7" and 8'9".
For the week, Moore was second in SGTTG, but 36th in SGP, including negative numbers in R3 and R4. His solo third is a season best on seven starts and fourth overall.
Charles Howell III: Signed for a 1-over-par 36-36=72 after today's final round to post 3-under 281, good for a two-way T5 (67-72-70-72).
CH3 was T1 with two others after a first-round bogey-free 67, T6 after day two, and entered the finale T5, four adrift. Looking for his third TOUR title in his 459th pro start, and first since forever (2007, Nissan Open), Howell III opened with 13 consecutive pars.
Pars were a good score on another windy day, but he didn't record his lone par breaker until the par-5 14th -- from 30 inches -- and immediately gave it back, and some, with back-to-back failed scrambles on 15 and 16.
The 36-year-old finished the week T3 in total bogeys with just seven, but was T44 in birdies with 10 (one each in rounds two and four). He ranked seventh in SGTTG, but 40th in SGP and 56th in putts per GIR. His T5 is a season best on 12 starts, third top 10, and incredibly, ninth top 25.
Graham DeLaet: Collapsed to a 4-over-par 39-36=75 in the final round to post 3-under 281, four strokes back of the playoff.
He began Sunday in solo second, one shy of 54-hole leader and playing partner Haas, and ended in a two-way T5 after a birdie-less four-bogey 75.
The 34-year-old, chasing his first TOUR title in his 137th career start, ended the week T5 in driving accuracy at 67.31 percent, including nine (of 13) in R4, No. 1 in GIR at 69.44 percent (12 in R4), and No. 1 in SGTTG with a cumulative 15.089.
However, he was 70th (last) in SGP, including a horrific -5.222 in the finale. DeLaet's consolation is a personal best at the Valspar (fourth start), and season best and second top 10 on 10 events in 2015-16.
Jordan Spieth: The defending champ back-pedaled to 2-over-par 38-35=73 on day four for a 72-hole aggregate of even-par 284, down nine spots on the round to T18.
In his first (of five) title defenses in 2016, Spieth improved drastically from T117th after a first-round 5-over 76, but his final tally was 10 worse than his winning total last year.
Playing with amateur McCoy, he began the finale on 2-under (T9) six back. The World No. 1 was shaky from the outset with errant tee shots at the par-5 first and the par-4 second leading to a par-bogey start.
He missed his third straight fairway at the third but would save par before finally getting on the board from 6'4" at the par-5 fifth.
Spieth doubled the par-3 eighth, bogeyed the par-5 11th and the par-3 17th, overshadowing a 17-inch birdie-4 at 14 and a closing 31-footer for a 3 at the par-4 18th that saved some face. He finished the week with 11 birdies, 11 bogeys, one eagle and a double.
Steve Stricker: At 49 years young, Stricker ran out of steam with a final-round 2-over-par 36-37=73 and a four-day total of 2-under 282, down two places on the leaderboard and into a four-way T7.
A 36-hole co-leader after 71-66, he wrapped in 72-73 for his first top 10 of the season in his sixth start, and first since T7 at the 2014 PGA Championship. He also posted his third straight top 10 in the event, joining a T8 in 2010 -- his last appearance -- and T4 in 2009.
For the week, Stricker ranked third in SGP, including a 2.166 in R4, and a respectable 34th in SGTTG.
Brett Stegmaier: The 32-year-old finished T18 in his tourney debut, good for tops among eight rookies. Only McCoy was better among all first-timers. The former Florida Gator, a 54-hole leader earlier this season at the Shriners before finishing T2, posted rounds of 71-72-73 and vaulted 29 places in the finale with a closing-68.
Greg Yates: The 24-year-old finished T22 in his PGA TOUR debut on 1-over 285 (69-73-72-71) and collected $52,959.
He made nine starts in 2015 on the Web.com Tour as a non-member, opening his career with a T2 at the Greater Dallas Open, which he open-qualified for. The Texas A&M alum would eventually finish 85th in regular-season money ($54,307) and later was T123 in the WCT Qualifying Tournament.
The TOUR stays in the Sunshine State and heads to Bay Hill Club & Lodge for the fourth and final leg of the Florida Swing. Matt Every is the two-time and back-to-back champion, winning last year’s edition by one over Henrik Stenson. Stay tuned to this space for all the latest player news and opinions as the TOUR readies for its 18th tournament of the season.