Holding onto the Florida Swing for one more week, the PGA TOUR heads to the Tampa Bay area for this week's Valspar Championship.
It's gone back and forth about whether the new schedule would positively or negatively impact the Valspar but overall it's pretty neutral. We don't see Tiger, Rory, or Rose returning this year but big names like Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, and Jason Day are stepping into the void.
Overall, there will be 144 golfers pegging it at Innisbrook Resort this week with the normal rule of top 70 and ties being used for the cut line after 36 holes. The perfect field size to allow for roughly half the field to play all four rounds.
The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort has played the role of host since the inaugural 2000 edition when it debuted as an alternate-field event. The tragic events of 9/11 forced the cancellation of the 2001 edition but it's returned as the host course in every year since then.
On the scorecard it's a par 71 that can play up to 7,340 yards. There is more to the story, though. Unlike most par 71s, the Copperhead Course features four par 5s and five par 3s.
Water comes into play on a handful of holes but the major trouble comes on a pair of holes, the par-3 13th and the par-4 16th. On average, about 1 in every 20 golfers to play each hole will swallow a double bogey or worse. Stay focused.
That par-4 16th is also the first leg of the infamous Snake Pit. It gets hyped for being one of the toughest closing stretches but most of the venom get released on that 16th hole.
As for the rest of the course, it features narrow fairways and small greens. Most of the course doesn't let you overpower it as it forces you to club down often off the tee and hit into the same landing areas. From there, it puts a premium on approach play and short game. A true second-shot course.
When you look into the distances of the holes you realize that all five par 3s play at 195 yards or longer. Five of the par 4s play at 445 yards or longer without letting you fully unleash the driver. It quickly becomes apparent that mid- and long-iron play is crucial this week. It's a course that will test a majority of your bag. Even the longer hitters will have to pull out some mid-irons this week.
While the course is a proper test, it's also a boring test in terms of scoring. Looking at all events since 2014, it yields the second-fewest amount of eagles per 72 holes and also the second-fewest amount of birdies per 72 holes (behind only Colonial for eagles and the U.S. Open for birdies). There certainly won't be as many big numbers as a U.S. Open but bogey avoidance does become pivotal this week and par is definitely your friend at Innisbrook.
For grasses, we are basically looking at the same that we saw last week at TPC Sawgrass. We have bermudagrass overseeded with ryegrass from tee-to-green and then bermuda that has been overseeded with poa trivialias on the putting surfaces.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Jordan Spieth: "The course plays longer than the yardage, no doubt about it. But I enjoy the challenge. You really have to be in the fairway out here and so whatever it takes to put it there, whether it’s driver or you got to go back to a hybrid or 2 iron."
Henrik Stenson: "It’s a course where you position yourself off the tee quite a lot, you have to lay back unless you really want to try and thread a few of the tee shots out there. So, quite a few 2-irons and 4-woods, 3-woods off the tee and little bit longer irons into the greens which are pretty small and kind of sits at an angle towards you quite a lot so you want to try to keep it underneath the hole because I can only imagine the kind of quick putts you can get if you end up in the wrong place or chipping from the wrong place."
Matt Kuchar: "I think Innisbrook is one of my favorite courses we play throughout the year. It requires kind of all facets of the game to be working. It’s such a unique course for Florida. They have got some great undulations and some nice elevation changes."
Adam Hadwin: "I think the big key around this place, which I think I do very well, I don’t make a lot of big numbers and just kind of calm, steady golf is what I like to do and I think that fits very well here for the Copperhead Course."
Dylan Meyer: "you have to be pretty strategic out here. It doesn’t offer a lot of drivers for me. It’s a lot of 3-woods, 2 hybrids off the tees and gives me a long iron into the green. The Snake Pit, I have a hybrid into 17, long iron into 18. Fits right into my game because I hit my long irons and everything so well."
Overview: A lot of talk about laying back off the tee and dialing in your long irons. Don't short side yourself on these slopey greens, even if they aren't the fastest. Some golfers say this looks more like a course you'd see in the Carolinas, not as much of a true "Florida Course."
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Almost identical to last week. That makes sense because TPC Sawgrass grades out as the #1 correlation on this list. Most of these courses require some shot shaping but don't completely restrict distance like some other less-than-driver courses do.
Over recent years, we've also seen some of the overseeded link pop up with Desert Classic overlap.
Thursday: Mostly Sunny with a high of 70 degrees. Winds at 8-to-12 MPH.
Friday: Sunny with a high of 71 degrees. Winds at 8-to-12 MPH.
Weekend: Temps rise to the upper-70s. A slight chance of storms on Sunday (30%).
The pre-cut draw looks very even. No wave advantage from the early forecast. We will look again tomorrow in the DFS Dish to see if anything shifts on us.
Golfers to Watch
Without going through his entire schedule, my first thought was, "this must be his new event to fulfill the TOUR rules." I'm not sure if that's entirely true but DJ hasn't been here since 2010 and he missed the cut in his first two tries here. I won't hold that against him and I'm not going to try to guess his motivation level. That makes him the man to beat in my eyes.
A tough course with hard-to-hit greens should yield plenty of short-game chances for everyone in the field. That is where Day shines. Like DJ, the Aussie is also a rare visitor to this event as he is 4-for-6 in his career with nothing better than a T20 and his last start came in 2013 (T43).
Rounding out the top tier is the Spaniard who faltered down the stretch last week at TPC Sawgrass. There won't be as many big numbers lurking at Innisbrook which should suit him. He generally avoids the Florida courses as much as possible but these overseeded conditions help him feel a bit more comfortable. He's one of the strongest in the field at Par 3 Performance from outside 200 yards and also inside the top 25 in long-term proximity performance from outside 200 yards. Should have no problems getting himself back in contention this week, despite the lack of any course experience.
Doesn't rely on his off-the-tee game so this course suits him well that he's hitting into a lot of the same spots as the big hitters. From there, his short game should in theory allow him to shine. That's been the recipe for his success here in the past as he's posted top 15s in five of his last six starts here. Of course, his current form suggests that would be a bit of a reach right now. Maybe we should chalk him up for a top 30, instead.
May not have the high number of course results as some in the field but it's hard to argue with his track record at Copperhead over the last four years. He's posted finishes of T2-T7-T38-T2 while gaining 2+ strokes over the field in 9 of his last 15 Valspar rounds.
Popped back onto the radar with a top 20 at THE PLAYERS last week. He gained strokes in all four sub-categories of strokes gained so it was a very balanced attack. Over the last 3 months he ranks top 15 in this field in terms of bogey avoidance. The problem is the big number but there aren't that many big numbers lurking at Copperhead (outside of the two holes mentioned in the Course section). Might be a good course to build on last week's momentum and pick up some steam. His track record here suggests otherwise as he's just 1-for-3 with a T49. His best Valspar round is just +1.287 strokes over the field which came in R2 last year. Let's wait a little longer before jumping right back into the deep end with Ollie.
What to do, what do you, with the slumping Swede? After a birdie-free opening lap at Arnie's Invite, he had a long range session with his coach and has now gained strokes on approach in five straight rounds. The problem? He lost 3.5 strokes with his short game in R1 of THE PLAYERS last week. He was drawing dead from that point. The strong approach play outweighs the short game woes in my eyes. He missed the cut here last year but was T11 or better in his first three starts at the Valspar. I'm not giving up hope just yet.
Ranking the Field
1. Dustin Johnson
2. Jason Day
3. Jon Rahm
4. Webb Simpson
5. Paul Casey
6. Patrick Reed
7. Sergio Garcia
8. Henrik Stenson
9. Louis Oosthuizen
10. Ryan Moore
11. Bubba Watson
12. Adam Hadwin
13. Rafa Cabrera Bello
14. Charl Schwartzel
15. Kevin Na
16. Gary Woodland
17. Zach Johnson
18. Tyrrell Hatton
19. Jim Furyk
20. Graeme McDowell
21. Branden Grace
22. Keegan Bradley
23. Joaquin Niemann
24. Lucas Glover
25. Steve Stricker
Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our DFS Dish and Wednesday morning for the Expert Picks.