Valspar Championship: Prolific Na value to go in again

Golfer Kevin Na
Sony Open winner, Kevin Na, fancied by the The Punter to win again

The PGA Tour returns to Florida this week for the Valspar Championship and Steve Rawlings is back with his comprehensive preview here...

“The prolific Na missed the cut last time out at the RBC Heritage but he was far from the only one to suffer a bit of an Augusta hangover and he’s a fair price to bounce back at a venue that clearly suits.”

Tournament History


Having first been staged in the autumn of 2000, as an opposite field event, the Valspar Championship switched to March 14 years ago to become part of the Florida Swing but having not been staged last year because of the pandemic, it's been shuffled back a couple of months this time around.

The tournament has grown in stature over time and with the world's first and second ranked players, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, in attendance, this year's renewal is a strong one.

Venue

Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbour, Florida

Course Details

Par 71, 7,340 yards, stroke average in 2019 - 71.98

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 $4.5m restoration after the 2015 renewal.

The changes were 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 were re-grassed with Celebration Bermuda and the greens re-grassed with Tif Bermuda.

It's a tough undulating, tree-lined track with many dog-legged fairways. The Primary rough will exceed three inches, water is in play on a number of holes and the greens are set to be run at a speedy 12.5 on the stimpmeter.

The four par fives (holes one, five, 11 and 14) were the easiest holes on the course in 2019 (as they are most years) and the last three holes are tough and known as the Snake Pit...

With water right and trees left, there's no bailout off the tee whatsoever at the par four 16th. It ranked as the hardest hole on the course again in 2019 (averaging 4.31), as it had in 2018, and it very often has a say in the outcome of the tournament.

COPPERHEAD 1 2021.jpg

The 2017 winner, Adam Hadwin, double-bogeyed the hole to go from long odds-on to odds-against but he was still able to prevail when his nearest challenger, Patrick Cantlay, bogeyed the last.

The par three 17th is no cakewalk (averaged 3.1 in 2019) and you need to get your drive away nicely on the tricky 18th, which was the third hardest hole on the course two years ago. The three holes combined averaged 0.61 over-par for the week in 2019.

Copperhead averaged 71.981 in 2019, which was the highest among all the par 71s in non-majors that season. It was the third time in four season that it claimed that distinction and prior to the pandemic, it was the first or second hardest par 71 encountered on the PGA Tour in each of the previous six years.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at midday on Thursday

Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2020 - Event Cancelled
2019 - Paul Casey -8 34.033/1
2018 - Paul Casey -10 28.027/1
2017 - Adam Hadwin -14 90.089/1
2016 - Charl Schwartzel 48.047/1 (playoff)
2015 - Jordan Spieth 16.015/1 (playoff)

What Will it Take to Win the Valspar Championship?

Paul Casey, who's won the last two editions, is a fairly big hitter and he ranked 11th for Driving Distance in 2019 and 17th in 2018 but the six winners before him only averaged 39.2 for DD so bombing it off the tee is not essential and Driving Accuracy is far from a vital stat either.

Casey found far more fairways in 2019 than he did in 2018 given he ranked ninth for Driving Accuracy two years ago but only 68th in 2018 and the 2017 champ, Adam Hadwin, ranked a slightly straighter 27th but the two winners before Hadwin, Charl Schwartzel and Jordan Spieth, won despite ranking just 66th and 51st for fairways found.

Casey wins Valspar again.jpg

Finding the smaller than average greens is usually key to victory though. Casey only ranked 30th for Greens In Regulation in 2018 but the next three on the leaderboard ranked tied eighth, tied eighth and tied second for GIR and he ranked a much improved fifth in 2019.

At the 2017 edition, four of the first five home ranked inside the top five for Greens In Regulation and 13 of the 19 course winners to date have ranked 11th or better for that stat.

Casey's Putting Average rankings were fifth (2019) and seventh (2018) and the three winners before him had a Putting Average ranking of second. And 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 that stat.

An ability to handle windy conditions is usually an essential prerequisite anywhere in Florida and it looks like that will be the case here this week too with the wind only really dying down on Sunday.

Is There an Angle In?

This isn't your typical Florida test so looking at results at other events in the state won't necessarily help but there are a couple of courses that appear to correlate nicely...

John Huston, K.J Choi, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk have all won both this event and the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club. Lots of players have been placed at both events and some have been placed in one and won the other. This year's Sony winner, Kevin Na, was second here in 2014 and multiple Sony winner, Ernie Els, traded at odds-on to win this one in 2012.

Four men have also won this event and the John Deere Classic - two of the last five winners of this one, Jordan Spieth and John Senden, Sean O'Hair and Vijay Singh, and it should really be five. The 2016 John Deere Classic winner, Ryan Moore, threw this one away six years ago. The 2017 John Deere winner, Bryson DeChambeau, only finished 27th here on debut here three years ago and he withdrew in 2019 but even he has form at both courses given he won the 2014 All-American athlete conference championship at Copperhead, and I see that Brett Quigley, who never got to win on the PGA Tour, finished second in both events, so that's definitely an event to consider.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

The prices on players fluctuate from week-to-week, from month-to-month and from year-to-year quite drastically and Paul Casey highlights that well. He was in fair form coming in to the 2018 renewal but he hadn't won on the PGA Tour in nine years and his course form figures read 42-37-MC-MC, yet he only went off at around 28/1. A year later, he defended the title at bigger odds but he was still quite well fancied - as most of the winners here have been.

Hadwin was something of a surprise winner in 2017 and he was matched at a high of 120.0119/1 early on before shortening up before the off. Like Casey before his first win, Hadwin's course form wasn't anything to write home about and this was his first win on the PGA Tour but most winners are experienced top-class players.

The two winners before Hadwin, Jordan Spieth and Charl Schwartzel, were both major champions and so too were four other previous Valspar victors - Vijay Singh, Mark Calcavecchia, Retief Goosen, and Jim Furyk. Casey has the game to win a major, former world number one, Luke Donald has won here and K.J Choi contended plenty of majors too. This is a true test, where patience and guile count for plenty, so it's no surprise to see so many high-class winners.

Course form stands up well here and in its relatively short history, we've seen three men win the event twice and a number of winners have also finished runner-up.

In addition to Casey, Choi and Goosen 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 and Patrick Reed, who was second to Casey in 2018, has finished runner-up twice.

Overseas players have a strong record and an American has won only seven of the first 19 editions.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2020 - Event Cancelled
2019 - Paul Casey - led by a stroke 3.55/2
2018 - Paul Casey T11th - trailing by five 120.0119/1
2017 - Adam Hadwin - led by four strokes 1.51/2
2016 - Charl Schwartzel - solo eighth - trailing by five 32.031/1
2015 - Jordan Spieth - solo second - trailing by a stroke 3.185/40

In-Play Tactics

Having trailed by six strokes after round one three years ago, Hadwin hit the front at halfway and he extended his lead to four with a round to go, and Casey was in front before round four in 2019, but straightforward front-running winners are a rarity here.

Jim Furyk was three clear through 54 holes before winning in 2010 but he's the only other winner to hold a clear lead going in to the final round in the last 14 years and nine of the last 13 winners have come from behind.

Having sat second at halfway, trailing by two behind Corey Conners, Casey began the final day trading at 120.0119/1 in 2018, after a poor back-nine on Saturday had seen him drop outside the top-ten. He missed the last six greens coming in on Sunday but managed to scramble his way in and post a score that nobody else could match. Casey recorded the win having made just 21 putts in round four but he was far from the first winner to come from off the pace...

The 2016 winner, Schwartzel, who was matched in-running at a high of 90.089/1, trailed by four after rounds one and two and he was a 32.031/1 chance on Sunday morning, as he trailed by five. The 2015 winner, Spieth, was matched at a high of 30.029/1 after a slow start in 2015 and the runner-up, Patrick 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 seven 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 eight 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 and where we can expect late drama...

The third round leader in 2016, Bill Haas, was matched at 1.261/4 before getting beat in extra time and the 54-hole leader in 2015, 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 to miss out on the playoff by two strokes so this is clearly not an easy place to get across the line from the front.

Market Leaders

The market appears to have corrected itself today. World number two, Justin Thomas, who has regressive course form figures reading 10-18-MC, was the original favourite but the world number one, Dustin Johnson, looks like usurping him and I can see why.

Following his Players Championship win, Thomas has been a bit disappointing, failing to get out of the group at the WGC - Match Play before losing his way badly at Augusta to finish outside the top-20 and I much prefer the chances of DJ.

Johnson hasn't been in sparkling form himself and his form figures since winning the Saudi International for a second time back in February read 8-54-48-28-MC-13, with his weekend off coming at Augusta when defending the US Masters, but this test looks more up his street than it does Thomas'.

Looking back at his last eight victories, he's won with a winning score of at least 19-under-par, but he's won events with a single-digit under-par score half-a-dozen times (including a US Open) and he's more than capable of grinding for four days if that's what's require.

Patrick Reed commands respect given he's finished runner-up twice but his short game prowess hasn't been up to its usual high standards of last and unusually for Patrick, he looks a bit skinny here. And so too does Corey Conners...

Corey Conners Augusta.jpg

The Canadian, who fell from first to 16th on his only previous appearance in 2018 is in tip-top form following an eighth at Augusta and fourth at the RBC Heritage and he has a great chance at a venue that clearly suits but he's just too short for my liking.

The only other player trading at less than 30.029/1 is the world number 15, Viktor Hovland, but he's playing here for the first time and is perhaps best watched on debut.

Paul Casey is a generous price as he bids for the three-peat but he appears to have gone cold after a fine run of form over the first couple of months in 2021.

Selection

I've got a couple of fancies at odds in excess of 100/1 so they'll feature in the Find me a 100 Winner column tomorrow but for now my only selection is the Sony Open winner, Kevin Na.

The prolific Na missed the cut last time out at the RBC Heritage but he was far from the only one to suffer a bit of an Augusta hangover and he's a fair price to bounce back at a venue that clearly suits.

Na's been a bit in-and-out since he won the Sony but his top-12 finish in the US Masters was an eye-catching effort after a slow start (shot 75 in round one) and his course form is very respectable, reading 13-57-MC-MC-W-8-MC-44-38-2-10-22-MC.

Selection:
Kevin Na @ 75.074/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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