Valspar Championship: Previous course form to count for plenty at Copperhead, says The Punter

A happy John Senden after last year’s Valspar Championship
A happy John Senden after last year’s Valspar Championship

Steve runs the rule over this week's PGA Tour action in Florida where he fancies previous course form to stand up well. Read his comprehensive preview here...

“Course form stands up really well here – both Goosen and Choi have won the event twice, a number of winners have also been placed, and last year’s victor, Senden, had recorded back-to-back seconds in 2007 and 2008.”

Tournament History

First staged in 2000, the Valspar Championship was originally an opposite field event staged in the autumn but it's grown in stature since the early years and since switching to it's now usual March slot in 2007 the event has gone from strength to strength.

Venue

Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbour, Florida

Course Details

Par 71, 7,340 yards, stroke average in 2014 - 72.43

Designed by Larry Packard, Copperhead was opened in 1974 and prior to the establishment of this event the course was restored in 1999. It's a tough undulating, tree-lined track with many dog-legged fairways. Water is in play on a number of holes and the greens are of average size, Bermuda, overseeded with Poa trivialis, and usual run at around 11.5 on the stimpmeter.

The last three holes here are really tough and known as the Snake Pit. The par 4 16th is the toughest on the course year in and year out. With water right and trees left, there's no bailout off the tee whatsoever and the hole often has a say in the outcome. The par 3 17th is no cakewalk either and you need to get your drive away safely on the 18th.
Copperhead has been the host course for the Valspar Championship since its inception.


Useful Sites
Event Site
Course Site
Course Details
Tee Times
Twitter Link
Weather Forecast


TV Coverage
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting Thursday


Last Five Winners
2014 - John Senden -7
2013 - Kevin Streelman -10
2012 - Luke Donald -13 (playoff)
2011 - Gary Woodland -15
2010 - Jim Furyk -13


What Will it Take to Win The Valspar Championship?

Since conditions in October are very different to those encountered in March, I've concentrated hardest on the eight results since the event moved from Autumn to Spring and the first thing I noticed when examining the stats is that, for a change, driving accuracy has been more important than length off the tee. This is an event that suits the straight hitters and a very different test to the one encountered last week at Doral.

Last year's winner, John Senden, ranked third for greens hit and 12th for putting and that's pretty typical. Of the 13 winners here to date - ten have ranked inside the top-11 for greens in regulation and Retief Goosen, when winning for the second time in 2009, is the only winner not to rank inside the top-20 for putting.

Although it's more a test of accuracy than power, playing the par 5s well has been important, with seven of the eight springtime winners ranking inside the top-seven on the long holes.

As is always the case in Florida, good wind players often come to the fore.


Is There an Angle In?

The course that appears to correlate best with this one is Waialae Country Club in Hawaii, home of the Sony Open with four men - John Huston, K.J Choi, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk all winning both events. Multiple Sony winner, Ernie Els, traded at odds-on here in 2012 and the man that benefitted from Els' late collapse three years ago, Luke Donald, who went on to win a four-man playoff, really should have won the Sony back in 2007.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

Course form stands up really well here - both Goosen and Choi have won the event twice, a number of winners have also been placed, and last year's victor, Senden, had recorded back-to-back seconds in 2007 and 2008.

In-Play Tactics

It's perfectly possible to overcome a very slow start here. Senden was still tied for 35th and fully eight shots back at halfway last year and he was far from the first winner to start tardily. Mark Calcavecchia, the 2007 winner, was ten back after round one and still six back at halfway and although he was tied for the lead after round three, Streelman was eight behind after day one and still seven behind at halfway two years ago. Luke Donald won a four-man playoff in 2012 and he and his playoff protagonists had all started slowly. They were 5, 6, 6 and 8 back after round one and still 3, 3, 4 and 7 back at halfway, so don't give up hope if your picks don't really spark on Thursday or Friday. This is definitely a course where lost ground can be made up over the weekend.

Having sat second after day one, inaugural winner, Huston, dropped away before rallying and he was still four back with a round to go before winning nicely by three strokes but the next six winners were all in front with a round to go but the advantage the stats have all changed since the event moved to its springtime slot. Jim Furyk was three clear through 54 holes before winning in 2010 but he's the only winner to hold a clear lead in the last eight years and five of the last seven winners have come from behind.

As already demonstrated, it's a venue where you can win after a slow start and conversely, it's also somewhere that fast starters can disappoint badly. In the last two editions lots of players have got to the lead, or very close to it, before falling away again. In 2013, Adam Scott traded at less than 4.03/1 at halfway but could only finish tied 30th! And Matt Kuchar, KJ Choi, Sergio Garcia and Jason Dufner also all traded at single figures before halfway yet Sergio, who finished tied 7th, was the only one of them to finish in the top-12!

Last year, Robert Garrigus traded at odds-on after just five holes of round three before eventually finishing fourth, Justin Rose, Jim Furyk and Jordan Spieth, to name just three of many, all went backwards after decent starts and joint round one leader, Danny Lee, even managed to miss the cut!

Laying the leaders after every round may prove profitable - it certainly would have done in the last two years - and looking for closers from deep on day four has been a great way to play the event in the past too with a number of players coming from way off the pace to all but win.

As already highlighted, the last three holes, known as the Snake Pit, are notoriously hard but they're not the only tough ones coming in. The par 5 14th offers up some respite, and was last year ranked the second easiest on the course, yielding three eagles, 135 birdies and ranking as the second easiest hole on the course but five of the last six holes all ranked over par and anyone that posts a score early could well be over-priced.

Two years ago, eventual runner-up, Boo Weekley, who started day four six back, went from over 8.07/1 when he found the fairway on 18 right down to just a shade over 2.01/1 once he'd pared the last when the market finally realised how good his chance was. And he's far from the only player to have put in a terrific run on day four of late.

Robert Garrigus, one of three playoff losers in 2012, came from five back and was matched at triple-figure odds, as was Scott Piercy, who missed out on the playoff by a stroke, having been eight back through 54 holes. Like Boo two years ago, both proved to be cracking trading vehicles and whilst we didn't get a closer from deep last year, we may do again this time around and it's definitely something to look out for.


Market Leaders

Adam Scott heads the market in the early exchanges but he certainly wouldn't be for me after a bruising week at Doral. The new short putter began to malfunction slightly over the weekend and the fact that he's never bettered tied 28th in five starts here doesn't bode particularly well.

Current second favourite, Jordan Spieth, would be my idea of the man to beat but there are enough negatives to swerve him too. He clearly has an aptitude for the venue, having finished 7th on debut in 2013 and 20th last year but he perhaps should have fared better 12 months ago when he failed to break 70 on any of the four days. His tied 17th last week at a venue too long for him was encouraging enough but I don't want to have any real doubts when backing someone at less than 20.019/1.

The 2013 FedEx Cup winner, Henrik Stenson, will be happy enough with his tied fourth at Doral and he's already a winner in Florida having taken the Players Championship in 2009 but the fact that this is his first look at the venue is off-putting enough for me to look elsewhere.


Selections

This isn't an event to go mad on before the off so although picks are plentiful, stakes have been kept low and I'll be looking to get more involved over the weekend but I've still managed to back seven before the off and I may add one or two more yet! If I do back any more, I'll add them to the preview and re-tweet before the off but for now, he's the seven I've already backed...

It was no surprise at all to see Luke Donald so far over par and so far out the back at Doral as it's far too long for him after the changes and his tied 7th at the Honda Classic on a course still plenty long enough, two weeks ago, is perhaps a better gauge of his well-being. Donald repeatedly plays well here and he could easily do so again. I didn't think his price is spectacular but I wanted him onside before the off all the same.

Kevin Na is a very logical selection. He perhaps should have won the event 12 months ago and his top-ten finish last week, after an opening 74, was hugely encouraging. If he can carry that form forward to this, a venue far more his cup of tea, he's sure to contend.

I was more than happy with the 130.0129/1 that I've taken about the aforementioned Boo Weekley, who only missed out on the playoff in Puerto Rico by a stroke on Sunday and who has already shown a likely for Copperhead.

George McNeill is a multiple PGA Tour winner with two high finishes around here already chalked up. He finished runner-up to Sean O'Hair in 2008 and was seventh last year. At almost 200.0199/1, I thought he was worth a small wager and I've taken the same price about two-time champ, Retief Goosen, who may well trade an awful lot shorter.

Matt Every was tied for the lead after day one here last year before going on to finish eighth. That was the first time he'd made the cut at Copperhead in four starts but given he'd also made the early running before at the Sony Open, it's no surprise to see him finally show an aptitude for this venue. He went on to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational the following week and my final pick, Chesson Hadley, finished 14th on debut here, one week after winning in Puerto Rico, so I'm hoping both men will have positive vibes about this time of the year.

Hadley put up a decent defence last week, rallying well with a final five-under par round of 67 to finish tied 16th so he might just be coming into form.


Selections:
Luke Donald @ 36.035/1
Kevin Na @ 60.059/1
Boo Weekley @ 130.0129/1
George McNeill @ 190.0189/1
Retief Goosen @ 200.0199/1
Matt Every @ 240.0239/1
Chesson Hadley @ 270.0269/1


I'll be back sometime tomorrow with my Tshwane Open preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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