Valspar Championship: Course-specialist Choi can go well again, says The Punter

K.J Choi – one of The Punter’s picks at the Valspar Championship
K.J Choi – one of The Punter’s picks at the Valspar Championship

The PGA Tour moves on to Copperhead this week for the Valspar Championship. Read Steve's in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's first round here...

“This is a tricky event to weigh up before the off, with nothing standing out statistically, and the best guide could well be previous course form. In its relatively short history, we’ve seen two men win the event twice and a number of winners have also finished runner-up.”

Tournament History

The Valspar Championship was first staged in the autumn of 2000, as an opposite field event. It switched to it's now usual March slot in 2007 and it's grown in stature ever since. Ideally positioned in the calendar between the WGC - Cadillac Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, it now attracts a decent field and if last year's renewal is anything to go by, we're in for a treat.

World number one, Jordan Spieth, edged out Patrick Reed and former winner, Sean O'Hair, in a playoff 12 months ago and all three are in the field again this time around.


Venue

Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbour, Florida


Course Details

Par 71, 7,340 yards, stroke average in 2015 - 71.86

Designed by Larry Packard, Copperhead was opened in 1974. Prior to the establishment of this event the course was restored in 1999 and it underwent a $4.5 million restoration after last year's renewal.

The changes have been subtle with greens and tee boxes expanded, creating more pin positions and bringing the re-shaped bunkers closer to the putting surfaces. All the fairways have been re-grassed with Celebration Bermuda and the greens with re-grassed with Tif Bermuda.

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 usual run at around 11.5 on the stimpmeter. Three of the four par five holes - one, 11 and 14 - are the easiest holes on the course and the last three holes are really tough and known as the Snake Pit.

With water right and trees left, there's no bailout off the tee whatsoever at the par 4 16th. It's the toughest hole on the course year after year and it very often has a say in the outcome of the tournament. 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.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday


Last Five Winners

2015 - Jordan Spieth -10 (playoff)
2014 - John Senden -7
2013 - Kevin Streelman -10
2012 - Luke Donald -13 (playoff)
2011 - Gary Woodland -15


What Will it Take to Win The Valspar Championship?

The wind is nearly always a factor and the forecast suggests it will be again this week so good wind exponents will be worth careful consideration but nailing down the player type you want using the stats isn't easy.

Last year's winner, Jordan Spieth, ranked just 51st for Driving Accuracy and 31st for Greens In Regulation but accuracy over power is usually the way to go here. Prior to Spieth's win, DA had been of more importance than Driving Distance and ten of the 14 winners here to date have ranked inside the top-11 for GIR.

Beaten playoff protagonist, Sean O'Hair, ranked first for Putting Average last year and the winner ranked second and that's pretty typical. Retief Goosen (when winning for the second time here in 2009) is the only winner to date that didn't rank inside the top-20 for putting.

Lee Westwood was the only man to play the long holes better than Spieth and Reed 12 months ago and since the event moved to March, eight of the nine winners have ranked inside the top-seven for Par Five Scoring.


Is There an Angle In?

Nothing stands out really strongly but form at three events could be worthy of consideration.

John Huston, K.J Choi, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk have all won both this event and the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club and multiple Sony winner, Ernie Els, traded at odds-on here in 2012. And the man that benefited from Els' late collapse four years ago, Luke Donald, really should have won the Sony back in 2007.

Four men have also won this event and the John Deere Classic - the last two winners of this one, Spieth and John Senden, Sean O'Hair and Vijay Singh, so that's an event to look at too.

And finally, look out for Quail Hollow form. Three of the last ten Wells Fargo winners (staged at Quail Hollow) - O'Hair, Singh, and Jim Furyk - have also won the Valspar Championship and two others Wells winners - Derek Ernst and Lucas Glover - were right in the thick of it here last year.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

This is a tricky event to weigh up before the off, with nothing standing out statistically, and the best guide could well be previous course form. In its relatively short history, we've seen two men win the event twice and a number of winners have also finished runner-up.

K.J Choi and Goosen are the two that have claimed the prize on multiple occasions and Choi is one of five winners to have also finished second. He finished runner-up behind Jim Furyk in 2010 and Furyk himself subsequently finished second in 2012. O'Hair, Senden (twice) and Singh have all also won the event and finished second.


In-Play Tactics

It was all about being up with the pace at Doral last week with five of the front six being inside the top-eight after round one but it's a completely different kettle of fish here.

Jordan Spieth was matched at a high of 30.029/1 after a slow start last year and Reed hit a high of 150.0149/1 after he struggled at the beginning of the week. Spieth sat tied for 38th and five off the lead after round one and Reed trailed by seven in a tie for 80th but as many others have done before them, they were able to make up the lost ground.

Having hit a high of 290.0289/1, Senden was still tied for 35th and fully eight shots back at halfway two years ago. 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 three years ago.

Luke Donald won a four-man playoff here in 2012 and he and his playoff protagonists had all started slowly. They were five, six, six and eight strokes back after round one and still three, three, four and seven 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.

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 nine years and six of the last eight winners have come from behind. Last year's third round leader, Ryan Moore, still led by three with just six to play but having been matched at just 1.422/5 he played the last half a dozen holes in three-over-par and he missed out on the playoff by two strokes. This is clearly not an easy place to get across the line from the front.


Market Leaders

At first glance, world number one and defending champion, Jordan Spieth's tied 17th at Doral last week was the latest lacklustre effort in a run of disappointing results but that was his best effort there to date.

His goal going into round four was to break par for the week and he managed to achieve the feat with a second successive 73. It was a decent enough grind around a track that doesn't play to his strengths and we can expect a much higher placing here.

Given he's won the John Deere Classic twice and that he's played well at the same venues before, a successful defence is a distinct possibility but given his current form as a whole, I'm happy to leave him out at around 6.611/2.

Henrik Stenson missed out on last year's playoff by a solitary stroke on his event debut so he has to be feared but he's not won in the States for two and half years and last week's 28th place finish at Doral was nothing to write home about.

Danny Willett just keeps on improving and had he made the nine-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole yesterday, he may well have claimed his first win on the PGA Tour. It's impossible not to be impressed by the direction in which his career is going but I couldn't back him at just 24.023/1 on his course debut.


Selections

This looks a great event to get stuck into in-running so I've kept stakes to a minimum before the off but I've managed to find four I wanted to side with before the off.

K.J Choi has won this event twice and he's been in-contention twice on the PGA Tour already this year so I thought he was well worth chancing at 65.064/1 and I've also thrown a few pounds at out-of-form course specialist, Luke Donald, at a handsome price.

Danny Lee's form here is much better than his figures suggest. He missed the cut here on debut two years ago but he was leading after round one and last year's seventh was a great effort given he opened up with a round of 72 to sit in a tie for 80th. A nice steady start this time around would give him something to build on a course that clearly fits his eye.

And finally, I've had a small bet on local resident, George McNeill, who knows the course intimately. He opened up with a 67 at the Honda Classic two weeks ago so he has shown a glimpse of form and he has previous event form to boot. He finished runner-up here in 2008 and he was seventh two years ago.


Selections:
K.J Choi @ 65.064/1
Luke Donald @ 80.079/1
Danny Lee @ 80.079/1
George McNeil @ 330.0329/1


I'll be back tomorrow with my True Thailand Classic preview.



*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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