Valspar Championship: Stenson can strike

Sweden's Henrik Stenson
Henrik Stenson's iron play is a key to success here
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The PGA Tour returns to Florida for this week's Valspar Championship and Dave Tindall has three bets for the showdown at Innisbrook Resort...

"A Florida course which calls for strong iron play is right up Stenson's street."

Main Bet: Back Henrik Stenson e.w. @ 18/1

Each-way terms: 1/5 odds, 7 places

Main Bet: Back Henrik Stenson EW @ 18/1

This has been a good event for overseas players and it could be time for Henrik Stenson to become the second Swede to get his name on the trophy after Carl Pettersson in 2005.

A Florida course which calls for strong iron play is right up Stenson's street and three starts at Copperhead show 7-11-4. With seven each-way places to go at this week, that means he would have landed the cash twice in three attempts.

Stenson has actually made the top seven in seven of his last 16 starts in Florida and won the Players Championship in the Sunshine State in 2009 so it's always been a happy hunting ground for him.

Looking a little closer at his excellent play here, he's shot over par in just one of his 12 rounds and last year Stenson opened with a 64.

He was fourth for greens in regulation in 2016, eighth for GIR in 2015 while he ranked top of the Scrambling stats in 2015 and fifth last year. He's also finished in the top 10 for Driving Accuracy in the last two years.

One concern could be Stenson's lack of recent activity as he hasn't teed it up since the start of February.

However, in recent times he's gone well when fresh.

Following the BMW Championship in September, he didn't make a competitive start until the WGC-HSBC Champions in China six weeks later but came back out with a 68 and finished runner-up.

And after putting his clubs away for an extended Christmas break, the 2016 Open champ returned to action with a top eight in an elite field in Abu Dhabi and followed it with T6 in Dubai.

If Stenson re-starts the engine on a course he likes, history suggests he can hit the ground running.

In Abu Dhabi, the man from Gothenburg said: "It's probably the best that I've played since I won on the PGA Tour in August (Wyndham Championship) last year."

As for this track, he said last year: "It's a golf course I think suits my game pretty well as the two previous visits have shown.

"It's a second-shot golf course. A lot of times, you have to position yourself off the tee.

Pressed on why it suits him, Stenson responded: "It's because of the second shots, both on the par 3s and the par 4s, a lot of times it's those kind of mid-irons. It's the 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-irons into the greens, and when I'm hitting it well, then that's the strong part of my game. So it's going to set up a lot of birdie chances."

After watching another 40-something, Phil Mickelson, win in Mexico last week, Stenson could just have some extra inspiration to bag a win of his own here.

The 18/1 looks good each-way business.


Next Best: Back Ryan Moore EW @ 40/1

It's been said before that Copperhead also has plenty of nods towards courses in the Carolinas.

So it's perhaps no coincidence that, just like Stenson, Ryan Moore is a former winner of the Wyndham Championship and has some excellent form here.

Moore has been a regular visitor since coming on tour and as well as an early T8 in 2007 and a top 20 in 2009, he's been one of the best performers in this event over the last three years with finishes of 18-3-5.

It's a test Moore relishes and he said a couple of years ago: "I just think it is one of those golf courses that defends itself very well no matter what the conditions.

"It's just not a golf course you can force your will upon. You kind of have to let it dictate what you do a little bit, you know, off the tees

"This course always plays tough. No-one ever runs away and shoots 18 or 20-under on this golf course since I've been here, pretty much as far as I can remember. Shooting 2, 3-under on it is a really good golf score every single day."

He's gained success at the Copperhead with a balanced attack, finishing in the top two on the All-Around stats in both 2015 and 2016.

Hitting fairways and greens counts for more here than at other venues so it's hugely encouraging that Moore ranked 1st for both Driving Accuracy and GIR in the Honda Classic two weeks ago.

He was only T49 there after a poor display on the greens but he rolled it well when T9 at Riviera the week before and shouldn't lack confidence with the flat-stick.

Go back to a T6 at the OHL Classic last November and the American has two top 10s in his last four PGA Tour starts so the 40/1 this week on a course he loves is definitely playable.

Two other 40/1 shots caught my eye. This was the scene of Gary Woodland's first PGA Tour win and he added another title in Phoenix recently.

Byeong-Hun An was fifth at the Honda Classic and made the top six in Dubai two starts before so he's clearly striking it well. The Korean was T49 on debut here last year.


Final Bet: Back Sam Saunders EW @ 125/1

At the top of the market, Jordan Spieth is a former winner but his build towards Augusta is rather a slow one and form of 14-9-20 in his last three starts is more that of a fine player in good form rather than the elite performer we know him to be.

Valspar first-timer Rory McIlroy has been underwhelming since his fast start to the year in the Middle East and I've probably run out of patience with Paul Casey for the time being in the outright market.

Sergio Garcia could certainly throw in a big performance though and this track is a good fit for him. He's not played since 2013 but his last three finishes here are 7-16-15.

So, instead, I'll jump down to the three-figure prices and try a punt on Sam Saunders at 125/1.

Asked recently what his grandfather, the great Arnold Palmer, might say about his recent play, Saunders replied, "Something like, it's about time you won."

He'd made a similar point himself at the start of the year. "I care more about winning now and less about just making cuts or trying to establish myself. I feel like I've been out here long enough to show that I'm a decent player," Saunders told golf.com.

Since shooting a 59 at October's Web.com Championship (in Florida) and securing his PGA Tour card, the 30-year-old has started 2018 with a top 25 at the Sony Open and T8 at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He followed those with a pair of T26s at iconic venues Pebble Beach and Riviera.

A missed cut in the Honda Classic was a brief step back but he has a good chance to get competitive again at this course where he finished tied 24th on debut in 2015 and tied 22nd in 2016.

Also T14 in the 2016 Honda, he has some decent form in the region (he lives in Orlando) and having played college golf at Clemson (South Carolina) he's used to this style of course.

Saunders, who opened with a 63 at last year's Wyndham Championship, has been in the top 15 on the All-Around category in four of his last starts so that points to a maturing game that could be good enough to win soon.

It's a tough ask given the names he's up against but he's certainly capable of cracking the top seven and giving us an each-way return at 125/1.


Dave's 2017/18 PGA Tour P/L (based on £5 ew per selection outrights, £10 win top 5s/10s)

Staked: £490
Returned: £1060
P/L: +£570

(After WGC-Mexico Championship)

2016/2017:
P/L: +£1179.89

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