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Valspar Championship Field
144 Players | Top 70 & Cuts Make the Cut After 36 Holes
For the seventh time in nine 2017 events, the chalk hoisted a novelty check. With Dustin Johnson’s triumph in Mexico, Hudson Swafford and Jon Rahm remain the only players ranked outside the Top 15 in the official world golf rankings to claim victory this year. And really, Rahm is an elite player, he just didn’t have the requisite number of tournaments to have accrued enough points to sit near the top of the list. That’s quickly changing, though, with Rahm up to 25th in the world. But hey, at least Sunday wasn’t a runaway at the WGC.
After seeing 49 of the top 50 golfers tee it off at Club de Golf Chapultepec, the Valspar Championship has shifted back the other way. With most of the world’s best set to play either next week at Bay Hill or in Austin at the Match Play, few were gung-ho to schedule a flight to Tampa. Fresh off a stomach virus which forced him to withdraw after 11 holes last week, Henrik Stenson (6) has apparently puked it all out of his system and joins Justin Thomas (7) as the only representatives from inside the Top 10. Patrick Reed (12), Bubba Watson (16), Matt Kuchar (20), and Russell Knox (21) make up the remainder of the Top 25, with defending champion Charl Schwartzel (28), Gary Woodland (34), Daniel Berger (36), Ryan Moore (37), Scott Piercy (41), Bill Haas (44), Kevin Na (47), Byeong Hun An (48), and Jim Furyk (50) providing the depth in the field.
There’s also extra incentive for those lingering just outside the top 64 in the world. Elevated finishes from Soren Kjeldsen (66), Charley Hoffman (68), Jason Dufner (70), Billy Horschel (72), James Hahn (74), Tony Finau (77), Wes Bryan (78), or Sean O’ Hair (79) will likely get them into the Match Play in two weeks, and provide enough ammunition to get the on The Masters exclusive invite list, if they haven’t already qualified.
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Keep an eye on some of the youth contingent as well. Lee McCoy grew up in an Innisbrook subdivision and frequently attended the Valspar Championship as a spectator as a kid. He parlayed that local knowledge into a T4 on this site last year, and HE’S BACK!!!!!! Ollie Schniederjans is searching for his third Top 10 of 2017, while solar powered, secret-robot Bryson Dechambeau is making the trek to Tampa praying there’s limited cloud coverage or no one cranks the disco and suggests they tear up the fucking dance floor.
Valspar Championship Key Stats
Valspar Championship Course
Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead) | 7,340 Yards | Par 71
Hard. That’s what Copperhead be. Just look at the difficulty rating from the past four years…
2016: 6/50 (+1.618)
2015: 10/52 (+0.863)
2014: 6/48 (+1.433)
2013: 7/43 (+1.222)
Wildly crooked numbers, they’ll be everywhere this week, even from the top players.
With the tree-lined fairways, series of doglegs, and difficult to hit greens, you’d think driving accuracy would be the essential skill to target this week. And, in theory, that assumption is correct; however with known difficulty lurking about, expect most of the field to go less-than-driver off the tee, thus raising the accuracy of the normally wayward bombers. So, in lieu of the pure accuracy players, I’ll be focusing supreme ball strikers with above average approach play who won’t be overwhelmed by the lengthy Par 3s. Unlike most layouts, Copperhead features five Par 3s, all measuring between 195 and 235 yards. It’s balanced by four Par 5s, three of which are the three easiest holes on the course, and the challenging No. 5 – one of the few Par 5s on TOUR that plays over par.
In the past, bombers were given no advantage whatsoever. Eagles were more of a fluke than anything else. That seems to have change following the 2016 renovations, though. Last year there were 27 eagles made at Copperhead; 23 between holes No. 1 and No. 14, both Par 5s. There were 25 eagles dropped in the previous three years combined. Now, 27 eagles aren’t an overwhelming amount, but in an event where the winning score will likely remain in the single digits below par, a few eagle looks, even if they merely foster easy birdies tries, will go a long way to claiming victory.
Of course, discussion of the Valspar Championship cannot be engaged without mention of the SNAKE PIT!!!!!! One the of toughest closing three-hole stretches golfers will see all season…
Hole 16: Par 4 | 475 Yards | +0.354 (Rank 2) | 25 Birdies vs 104 Bogeys & 32 Doubles or Worse
Hole 17: Par 3 | 215 Yards | +0.066 (Rank 12) | 38 Birdies vs 62 Bogeys & 2 Doubles or Worse
Hole 18: Par 4 | 445 Yards | +0.178 (Rank 6) | 31 Birdies vs 93 Bogeys & 6 Doubles or Worse
If you have a player in the lead stepping on to the 16th tee box Sunday afternoon, have the oxygen tank ready. Things can go poorly in a hurry. Especially if the wind up is. Which, it tends to be at Copperhead.
Valspar Championship Picks (Yahoo! Game)
Gary Woodland & Bill Haas – Despite the bomber tag, Woodland really excels at layouts where he’s forced to leave his driver in the bag. A former winner of this event (2011), Woodland comes in hot (Three T10s in his last six starts), and rates out well in SG APP (15th), SG: T2G (18th), GIR (27th), Scrambling (32nd), and Ball Striking (18th)… Haas is having his usual sneaky consistent season: He hasn’t failed to play the weekend in his five cut-events and finished inside the Top 20 of all of them. The playoff LOSAH last season, Haas is currently fourth in overall scoring average, 30th in SG: APP, and third in the field in Par 3 efficiency from 200-225 yards. Oh, he’s first in bogey avoidance too.
Justin Thomas, Adam Hadwin, Charley Hoffman & Charles Howell III – Already a three-time winner this season, Thomas has excelled on less-than-driver venues in 2017 (1st Sony Open; T5 WGC Mexico). He’s the second highest ranked player in the field, kills approaches shots, and will be able to pad his scorecard on the Par 5s… Historically, Hadwin hasn’t played this track very well – MC/71 – but I’m willing to gamble his jump to the next level this season should fuel him up the leaderboard. The Canadian hasn’t missed a cut in five starts and it’s through his putting that he’s been able to pad his bank account. Usually, with putting being so variant, trusting anyone’s work on the short grass can go very badly, very quickly. But flatstick prowess is something that has been consistent with Hadwin since he’s joined the TOUR. He finished Top 50 in 2015, Top 15 last year, and currently sits 9th in SG: Putt for the 2017 season. Most of his fine work has come on the west coast Poa surfaces, sure, and the Florida Bermudagrass greens may require some adjustment, but an elite putter, even having an average week, can outlast a field where scoring won’t be out of control… After some early struggles, Hoffman’s approach game magically returned at the Genesis Open, finishing second in the field behind Chad Campbell. Maybe this is a few weeks early, since Hoffman destroys the Texas tournaments, but if he’s truly turned the corner on his season, expect something close to a repeat T11 performance from last season… Just keep riding CH3 until he goes cold. It’s that simple. He’s complied four T15s in five starts, hasn’t missed a cut, and has posted three T15s at this event the past three years.
Graham DeLaet & Daniel Berger – Whatever yips that appeared to derail DeLaet’s career midway through last season seem to to have vanished. And now, the ball striking machine gets a solid opportunity to notch his first career win in a weaker field on a track he loves. DeLaet has consecutive T10s at Copperhead and has seen his game round exactly into the correct form for this event. He was 5th on ball striking at the Genesis and followed that up sitting 9th in the field at the Honda, and it’s led to three straight T20 finishes. If his putter doesn’t fail him, he’ll contend again… I really wanted to use DeLaet, but this second spot could have went in a bunch of different directions. Stenson, the top ranked player in the field, is always a quality alternative. Byeong-Hun An is quietly among the TOUR leaders in ball striking and SG: Approach over the past month. Dufner has made the cut in Tampa each of the past eight years, never falling out of the Top 30 in any appearance. Schniederjans is ascending. Laird kills Par 3s. But, I landed on Florida native Berger, who has been pretty difficult to figure out this season. When everyone is off of him, he lingers through Sunday. When he’s chalk, he misses the cut. It’s maddening. Still, he rates out well from the key Par 3 range (28th on TOUR) and makes a ton of birdies on Par 4s (14th). And I just think he’s too talented to pass on. So I’ll go down with the ship if need be.
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