Damien Kayat takes a detailed look at this week's Valspar Championship.
Mark Leishman and Cameron Smith held their nerve brilliantly last week to overcome the spirited South-African pair of Oosthuizen and Schwartzel. Individual stroke-play returns to the PGA Tour this week as the players move to Florida for the Valspar Championship. This event was cancelled last year due to Covid and Paul Casey will be looking to make history this week by winning this event for the third consecutive year. This event actually began life as an opposite field event in the autumn of 2000. It was switched to March 14 years ago and became reintegrated as part of the Florida Swing. This year it has also been shuffled back in the schedule to accommodate the Pandemic. As ever, the event will be staged at the formidable Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort.
The brainchild of Larry Packard and opened in 1974, Copperhead is one of the more challenging courses on the entire PGA Tour. This is a tough, undulating tree-lined track with an array of dog-legged fairways. Copperhead averaged 71.981 in 2019 (making it the highest non-Major par 71 on tour). Errant drives will be heavily punished, with the primary rough expected to exceed three inches this year. Players will also have water to contend with on many of the holes. It’s little surprise that a solid ball-striker such as Casey has enjoyed success here (he also happens to hit the ball relatively straight). But perhaps more crucial this week is finding these smaller than average Bermuda greens. The ability to withstand windy conditions is also a huge plus this week. The dreaded ‘Snake Pit’ will likely play a crucial roll in proceedings. The closing three holes require precision from the tee and there are some big swings to be had there, making for exceptional TV. Those long par-4’s could strangle any player in the field.
World Number One Dustin Johnson has been in indifferent form over the past few weeks and he slightly trails Justin Thomas in the pre-event betting markets. Patrick Reed should enjoy this layout while Corey Conners seems to fit the mould of a would-be winner here. The likes of Viktor Hovland and Tyrell Hatton add some razzmatazz further down the betting market. Louis Oosthuizen has some course form and he looked impressive last week in New Orleans. Paul Casey will not only be looking to make it a 3rd consecutive Valspar title, but he will also be looking to become the first man to win this event on three occasions (he currently owns two titles alongside Retief Goosen and K.J. Choi).
2020: no event
2019: Paul Casey (-8)
2018: Paul Casey (-10)
2017: Adam Hadwin (-14)
2016: Charl Schwartzel (-7) *playoff
2015: Jordan Spieth (-10) *playoff
To Win Outright:
Justin Thomas 9/1
Dustin Johnson 10/1
Patrick Reed 20/1
Corey Conners 20/1
Viktor Hovland 20/1
Louis Oosthuizen: To Win 30/1 | To Place 13/2
I’ve opted to swerve both Johnson and Thomas at those odds. I’m instead opting for a man yet to taste victory on American soil (unbelievable). He came close last week- though it was a two-man team format in New Orleans. Seriously though, he seemed to carry Charl Schwartzel through most of the week. Oosthuizen has just the right tools to succeed here. He finds fairways and is terrific with the long irons. The 38-year-old also seems to love this course: he has a 7th, 16th and 2nd in his last three visits to Copperhead.
Gary Woodland: To Win 80/1 | To Place 17/1
Woodland has played 28 rounds at Copperhead and he currently enjoys an average of 0.83 strokes gained per round. He won here in 2011 and finished in a tie for 8th in 2014. He has, however, missed his last two cuts at Copperhead. But that’s really Gary Woodland for you- he is one of the more enigmatic players on the tour. The former US Open Champion has been dealing with injury issues over the past year and has seemed in better form of late. He tied for 6th at a quality Valero Texas Open field.
The Man to Beat: Corey Conners: To Win 20/1 | To Place 44/10
As noted earlier, I’m steering clear of the obvious choices such as Johnson and Thomas. Conners is currently in a purple patch of form and his game should perfectly suit the demands of Copperhead. Conners has only played this event once previously (he finished 16th back in 2018). He currently ranks 8th for SG: Tee-to-green and 8th for SG: Total. He has remarkably finished inside the top 15 in five of his last six events. He finished in a tie for 4th last time out at the RBC Heritage. He is one of the best ball-strikers on tour at present and he is also one of the more accurate drivers.