The Punter

Valspar Championship: Burns bids for the threepeat at Copperhead

Golfer Sam Burns
Sam Burns after win number two 12 months ago

The PGA Tour takes in the final leg of the Florida Swing - the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook - and Steve Rawlings is back with his comprehensive preview here...

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Tournament History

Having first been staged in the autumn of 2000, as an opposite field event, the Valspar Championship switched to March 16 years ago to become part of the Florida Swing.

The 2020 edition was lost to the pandemic and the 2021 edition was staged in May after the PGA Tour's resumption, but this is the second year running that the event is back in it's now traditional March slot.

Venue

Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbour, Florida.

Course Details

Par 71, 7,340 yards, stroke average in 2022 - 70.23

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.

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 and an unusual layout, with four par fives and five par threes.

The primary rough has exceeded three inches in each of the last couple of renewals and water is in play on a number of holes. The greens are usually set to run at around 12.5 on the Stimpmeter.

The four par fives (holes one, five, 11 and 14) are consistently the three easiest holes on the course 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 and it's been the hardest hole on the course in three of the last for renewals.

It very often has a say in the outcome of the tournament and it certainly did 12 months ago when Sam Burns made a rare birdie three there in extra time.

The par three 17th is no cakewalk and you need to get your drive away nicely on the tricky 18th, which was the fourth hardest hole on the course 12 months ago.

Prior to the pandemic, Copperhead was the first or second hardest par 71 encountered on the PGA Tour in each of the previous six years but it's averaged below par for the last two years and Burns has reached 14-under-par to win on each occasion.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 11:30 on Thursday.

Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2022 - Sam Burns -17 27.026/1 (playoff)
2021 - Sam Burns -17 80.079/1
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?

The last six winners here have averaged 37.8 for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, with four of the six having a negative strokes gained figure, and that tells you all you need to know. We've seen big and short hitters win here and we've seen straight and wayward winners too.

The driving stats can be largely ignored, and this is a second shot course. Finding the smaller than average greens is usually the key to victory and the last six winners have ranked an average of 6.0 for Strokes Gained on Approach and 4.17 Tee to Green.

Having only ranked 35th for Greens In Regulation when he won the title for a first time in 2021, Sam Burns ranked 13th last year when making his successful and Paul Casey, when winning the title for a first time, in 2018, only ranked 30th for GIR but it's usually a key stat.

Casey wins Valspar again.jpg

At the 2017 edition, four of the first five home ranked inside the top five for GIR and so far, 13 of the 21 course winners to date have ranked 11th or better for that stat.

Burns has putted brilliantly here in each of the last two years. He ranked first for Putting Average and eighth for SG Putting last year, and second for PA and third for SGP in 2021.

Casey's Putting Average rankings were fifth (2019) and seventh (2018) when he won 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 so you need to roll your rock well here.

An ability to handle windy conditions is usually an essential prerequisite anywhere in Florida.

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. The 2021 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.

As many as four men have also won this event and the John Deere Classic - Jordan Spieth, 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 eight years ago.

The 2021 John Deere Classic winner, Lucas Glover, was fourth here in 2007 and he sat third at halfway here two years ago. The aforementioned Na and Moore were tied for second.

The 2017 John Deere winner, Bryson DeChambeau, only finished 27th here on debut here five years ago and he withdrew in 2019 on his only other appearance in this event 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 a tournament to consider.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

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

Burns, Casey, KJ Choi and Retief Goosen have all 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 nine of the first 21 editions.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2022 - Sam Burns Tied third - trailing by three 4.94/1
2021 - Sam Burns - tied for the lead 3.814/5
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 four years ago, Hadwin hit the front at halfway and he extended his lead to four with a round to go, Casey was in front before round four in 2019, and Burns was tied with Keegan Bradley with a round to go in 2021 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 and ten of the last 15 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, Charl 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 nine 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 ten 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.

Market Leaders

If there's any value at the front of this market, I can't see it.

With course form figures reading 10-18-MC-13-3, the world number 10, Justin Thomas, commands respect but he's not for me at around 12/1.

He was fairly disappointing at Sawgrass last week, where he eventually finished 60th, and the hard fact is that his off-the-pace victory at the US PGA Championship in May last year is now his only victory in the last two years.

Thomas was matched at a low of just 2.0421/20 last year but a pair of bogeys around the turn just halted his progress and two late birdies weren't enough to see him make the playoff.

Jordan Spieth has course form figures reading 7-20-1-18-MC, but we can probably ignore his weekend off in 2018 as it came just before his form took a huge nosedive.

Spieth failed to win anywhere for almost four years after his Open victory in July 2017, and his big slump began in the summer of 2018.

To his credit, he's found a way to win again, with victories in the Texas Open in April 2021 and at the RBC Heritage almost a year ago, and he's been playing very nicely of late, but he's a frustrating character to watch nowadays.

He put himself in contention at Bay Hill two weeks ago and he was matched at a low of 2.226/5 when he hit the front with a birdie at the 13th on Sunday but bogeys at 14, 15 and 17 followed and he eventually finished tied for fourth.

Spieth needed an outrageous break to make the weekend at Sawgrass last week but he made the most of his luck, shooting 66 on Saturday to move up the field before a level par 72 on Sunday saw him finish inside the top-20.

Given his current form, and the fine record of previous winners, Spieth would be my idea of the most likely winner of the tournament, but he too is too short before the off.

The reigning US Open champ, Matt Fitzpatrick, who finished fifth last year, having missed the cut on his only previous visit in 2018, has the game for Copperhead but having suffered with a neck injury, he hasn't really got going this year and he's missed three of his last five cuts.

The defending Champ, Sam Burns, is another that isn't in the best of form. He finished sixth at the Phoenix Open a month ago but his form figures since, reading MC-MC-35 aren't too inspiring and he's bidding to achieve a feat that hasn't been accomplished for 12 years.

Steve Sticker, who won the John Deere Classic between 2009 and 2011, is the last player to win three straight editions of the same tournament.

It's perfectly possible that a return to the venue may spark a big improvement in form but he's no value to find something at around 20/1.

Selections

I got a very small bet matched on Dave Tindall's each-way fancy, Adam Hadwin, at 32.031/1, and I've also had a very modest bet on the reigning John Deere Classic winner, J.T Poston, but I've got three more picks at a triple-figure price and I'll be back later with details on those in the Find me a 100 Winner column.

Selections:
Adam Hadwin @ 32.031/1
J.T Poston @ 80.079/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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