The PGA Tour concludes the Florida Swing this week when the Valspar Championship returns to its March slot after a year fitted into the calendar in May last term to accommodate the change in schedule due to the pandemic.
Sam Burns didn’t seem to care when the tournament was held last year as he broke records in winning the tournament. He’ll be looking for a similar return this time around but it has to be said the field opposing him is top class.
2021 – Sam Burns
2019 – Paul Casey
2018 – Paul Casey
2017 – Adam Hadwin
2016 – Charl Schwartzel
2015 – Jordan Spieth
2014 – John Senden
2013 – Kevin Streelman
2012 – Luke Donald
2011 – Gary Woodland
The Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort in Tampa Bay is the host venue once again this week. This is one of the toughest par 71s on the PGA Tour, made so difficult by the ‘Snake Pit’, the closing three holes which are among the hardest stretch of holes of the entire season. These holes can ruin many a good round but rarely is there much joy to be had in them. It is as hard a finish as you’ll find so it follows on nicely from the pressure cooker of last week.
The course is a par 71 measuring 7,340 yards and with the narrow fairways there is going to be quite a premium on accuracy. If you look through the roll of honour it is a list of great putters so there is a clue in that but tee-to-green strength is another feature of what is needed around here. There is not a single bomber on the recent winners list and that tells a tale heading into the tournament. The fairways are tight and the greens are small and very well protected. Look for tee to green machines rather than lights out putters this week.
When you consider that we have just had the biggest regular event on the PGA Tour last week and we have the opening WGC tournament of it next week, the field here is surprisingly very good, albeit it is only up the road from where The Players Championship was played. We don’t have the world number one Jon Rahm but in Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa we have three headliners to take on the defending champion Sam Burns.
Dustin Johnson isn’t in the spotlight as much these days but he is teeing it up here as is the Olympic champion Xander Schauffele. The British charge is led this week by Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick while Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Day are a couple of the international players who will be looking to follow in the footsteps of their International teammate at the Presidents Cup in Cameron Smith who won last week. Shane Lowry, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland are just some of the major winners on show.
Justin Thomas will tee off as a 10/1 favourite to win the tournament this week. I’m still not convinced he is putting as well as I would expect someone with his talent to do. I’m also keen not to be on anyone who was deep in the mix last week as I think that is a bit of a negative here. Not only was the tournament effectively three rounds squeezed into the last couple of days give or take a few holes but the course became a real slog given how soft it was. He’s plenty short enough for me even though he has been consistent here without ever threatening to win.
Viktor Hovland is the 11/1 second favourite. Anyone backing him will hope he minds his own business after his set to with Daniel Berger at TPC Sawgrass on Monday. His surge through the field there was a positive last week but I’m not sure it will count in his favour here. The Norwegian comes in here with three straight top 10 finishes and was third here last year but he’ll be tasting the course in March for the first time which I’m not sure is ideal. He’s another who is pretty tight on the prices.
Collin Morikawa missed the cut at TPC Sawgrass last week but that might not be a negative given the carnage of that week so he might be of interest at 12/1. Two negatives would be his form in recent times and that he is in this event for the first time. He did win the Workday Championship in Florida last year but I think in the main he isn’t really a fan of the Florida Swing which would put me off too. His short game hasn’t been great recently either.
Dustin Johnson eagled the last for a never better T9 finish last week and he has four spins around here which have yielded just the one top 10 but when he’s on it he’s still one of the best in the game if not the best. One issue I have this week is he might get asked about the Saudi tour now its schedule has come out which might detract some of his focus. If it doesn’t and his closing 65 last week was a sign of things to come he might interest some at 16/1.
Xander Schauffele missed the cut last week and while that would have been a disappointment to him he could soon make up for that with a decent run here. It just has to be a benefit over those who went the distance at Sawgrass last week. Schauffele could get up the road here in good time and avoid the mental stress that the final 36 holes provided at The Players Championship. Prior to that missed cut Schauffele went 3-13 in Phoenix and at the Genesis so he was lightly raced before Sawgrass anyway. He comes in here fresher than most and we know he is a classy operator from tee to green. I think he’s got a great chance this week now.
Gary Woodland is a former winner around this track and I think he can also make up for the disappointment of missing the cut last week. Prior to that, Woodland had opened the Florida Swing with two top five finishes at The Honda and Arnold Palmer Invitational and although the way he bombed out when taking the lead with two holes to go at Bay Hill isn’t a good memory, you don’t get into those positions on those leaderboards if you are not hitting the ball well. Given that Woodland has won here before I’m going to trust that familiarity holds his game together down the stretch if he is in contention here and I’ll take the former US Open champion this week.
After a 200/1 place last week I’ll take a couple of monster prices for outsiders this week with the first of those being Vaughn Taylor who skipped the carnage at The Players Championship last week completely and that might not be a bad thing. Not only was he not tied up for five days but it means he comes in here with a top 10 finish in his last start at the Puerto Rico Open a couple of weeks ago. Prior to that he finished in midfield at The Honda Classic but he shot rounds of 68 and 69 that week which doesn’t sound a lot but when you consider Sepp Straka won on -10 that week he wouldn’t have been far away with two more solid rounds. Taylor’s long game has looked in decent order on his recent starts and although it was in May he finished in the top 10 here last year. There is enough to suggest he can outrun a huge price this week.
The form of Joseph Bramlett overall isn’t a huge amount to write home about, but on a course where there is a real premium to be good off the tee with the rough allowed to grow this week and likely to be very lush with the weather that has passed through Florida in recent days, it is noticeable that Bramlett led the field in strokes gained off the tee at both The American Express and Farmers Insurance Open. You don’t lead the field that Torrey Pines had off the tee if you are not hitting it well. He’ll miss fairways but he’ll be so far down that when he does miss he’ll be shooting shorter irons in. At the Sony Open, Bramlett was second in the field in GIR and sixth in that discipline in Phoenix so if he can bring that iron game to the tee shot of the other two events he could have a huge week.
Back X.Schauffele to win Valspar Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 23.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back G.Woodland to win Valspar Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 46.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back them here:
Back V.Taylor to win Valspar Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 201.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back J.Bramlett to win Valspar Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 251.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back them here: