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Valspar Championship preview

History of the event 

After last week’s venture to Mexico, the PGA returns to America, specifically Palm Harbor, Florida for the Valspar Championship. This event has had several sponsors over the years, notably the Chrysler Championship from 2003-2006, the PODS Championship in 2007 & 2008 and the Transitions Championship from until 2013. In 2013 it was known simply as the Tampa Bay Championship, which was sponsored by EverBank before becoming the Valspar Championship the following year.

K.J. Choi and Retief Goosen are both multiple winners here, in an event that was first staged in 2000. The event lost a year, back in 2001 due to 9/11, so there have been 16 renewals of this event in total. In that time we have seen seven winners from the United States, two from South Africa and then one each from; Australia, England, Fiji, South Korea and Sweden. As a result this is clearly an event with an International feel, with players around the world equally adapt to the style of course.

Vijay Singh holds the 72-hole record with 266 (-18) in 2004, which was one better than K.J. Choi’s score two years previous. Of the last five renewals, Luke Donald’s -13 winning score was the closest to Singh’s. Since Donald’s win in 2012, the winning score has either been -7 or -10. Charl Schwartzel won here last year at -7, holding off Bill Haas in a play-off. This was the second consecutive year this event went to a play-off, as Jordan Spieth had to outlast both Patrick Reed and Sean O’Hair in 2015.

The play-off last year was just the third in the history of this event and with two of those coming in the last two years it shows this was a rare occurrence here at Innisbrook resort.

This is not to say this event has not gone right down to the wire in the past. 6/16 winners here have won by just 1 stroke, add to that the three winners who won via a play-off and you have 9/16 winners of this event winning by 1 stroke or less. Five of the first six renewals were won by 3 strokes or more, but since 2007 there have only been two winners who have won by more than 1 stroke – Sean O’Hair by 2 in 2008 and Kevin Streelman also by 2 in 2013.

The Course and what it will take to win

Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort, 7,340 yards, Par 71

This is a tight tree-lined course which demands accuracy both off the tee and into the greens, whilst also being exposed to testing winds. The last three holes of this course are notoriously difficult and are commonly known as the “Snake Pit”.

Four winners here have also won the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club. John Huston, K.J. Choi, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk are those to win both events. Another correlating course we can look to is TPC Deere Run, host of the John Deere Classic. Like the Sony Open there are four winners of the John Deere Classic that have also won here. Jordan Spieth, John Senden, Sean O’Hair and Vijay Singh are those that have done that particular double.

Given the similarities in length and the fact they are both Par 71’s it makes sense that players have enjoyed success both here and at TPC Deere Run, whilst Waialae Country Club posts a similar challenge due to windy conditions. Waialae is only a smidge over 7,000 yards and just a Par 70, but it still gives a similar feel to that of the host course this week.

These are already some clear indicators of the type of course this is and the type of player it suits despite still being a relatively young event. Of the last five winners, only Gary Woodland would be considered a particularly big-hitter, so the accuracy over distance bias is clear this week.

Whilst it would be naïve to rule a big-hitter out, I think the advantage they have week-to-week over those who do not hit it as far is minimal to non-existent this week.

The putting surface is made up of Bermudagrass once again, which may also help with decision making process this week.

With all this in mind, here are my picks for the 2017 Valspar Championship.

Ryan Moore 28/1 (Betfred & BetVictor) 1pt e/w

Moore performed brilliantly in the FedEx Cup play-offs last year, with top-8 finishes at both The Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship, before losing out to Rory McIlroy in a play-off at the season-ending, Tour Championship.

Since then, things haven’t been plain sailing. Even after finishing in a tie for the lead in Round 1 last week in Mexico, he still only managed to finish T28. To his credit, Moore hasn’t been completely out of form, as he finished T3 at the Tournament of Champions, many just would have expected more from him, after a career-year in 2016. Moore also finished in the top-25 in his first three starts of the season, so despite a dip in form of late, he does still have some decent finishes in recent memory.

After initially lacking consistency at this course, Moore certainly seems to have figured Copperhead out. He missed four of his first seven cuts at this event, however balanced those out, by posting an 8th and a 19th place finish during that time frame.

Fast forward to the last two years where Moore has finished 3rd and 5th on his last two starts at this course and it certainly looks to be a course that suits his eye.

In addition to his good play at this course, Moore has excelled at the correlating, TPC Deere Run. He won the John Deere Classic last year, and in seven starts before that he had never missed the cut and also posted two other top-10’s and a further two top-25’s.

At 28/1 I am happy to have him on side to finally get the win his good play at Copperhead in the past deserves. It is perhaps a risk, given his lack of current form but should he have been playing any better, he would surely have been nearer or even below the 20/1 mark.

Billy Horschel 50/1 (General) 1pt e/w:

Billy Horschel has been striking the ball excellently all season long, and it has been the short game that has let him down. Two weeks ago though he made improvements in that department, finishing T4 a the Honda Classic.

Even when finishing T4, he still only ranked T57 in Putting Average on the week, so it is clear any more significant improvement on the greens could lead to a long-awaited, 4th PGA Tour win.

Horschel rallied to win the last two events of the FedEx Cup play-offs (BMW Championship & Tour Championship) to win the $10m bonus. He has not won since, but came close at the 2016 RSM Classic, where he lost out in a play-off.

The Florida native ranks 1st in Greens in Regulation this season, hitting just shy of 76% (75.99) and T16 in Par 4 Scoring Average, two key statistics. What is concerning is the fact he ranks 196th in Putting Average and 203rd in Putts per Round.

If he can find some of the magic on the greens that he found in the 2014 FedEx Cup play-offs any time soon, another win will be right round the corner.

Although he has played just twice here and poorly (T56th in 2013 and MC in 2011), I do think this is a great spot for Horschel. It was still early on in his PGA Tour career in 2011 and by the 2013 renewal he was still win-less on the PGA Tour. This is the first time he has returned to Copperhead since that Zurich Classic win a month after his last visit here and I think that speaks volumes.

On a course where accuracy is key, Horschel should excel and given the difficulty of these greens it mat just balance out the field a bit. If everyone is struggling, Horschel will not be alone and his superior ball-striking may just lead him to the top of the leaderboard.

Horschel is averaging less than 70 in all rounds other than the fourth round and he actually ranks 15th on Tour in Round 3 scoring, so he is making a move on the right day so far this season. His 68 in the fourth round at the Honda Classic matches his best final-round of the season (other final-day 68 came at the RSM Classic) so hopefully he can start to produce better rounds on a more consistent basis on Sundays.

At 50/1, I like Horschel’s chances of backing up his T4 in Florida two week ago, with another strong performance in his home state this week.

Jason Kokrak 100/1 (General) 0.5pt e/w:

Jason Kokrak makes an intriguing option at three figures this week, given his two top-25 finishes in his last two starts.

In six starts at Copperhead, Kokrak has four missed cuts, but also has finishes of 7th and 14th.

When 7th here in 2015, Kokrak had missed two of his last three cuts and finished no better than 40th in the five starts leading into this event.

Given his improved current form and these two good finishes in his last three starts at Copperhead, I like his chances of playing well again this week at an attractive price.

Many expected Kokrak to have made his breakthrough on the PGA Tour by now, with runner-up finishes at both Riviera in 2016 and the Frys.com Open in 2012.

The two top-25’s in his last two starts take his top-25 tally to four on the season, following his T16 at the WGC-HSBC Champions and his T15 in Mayakoba earlier in the season. Whilst he has not been in contention so far this year, he put in some solid performances, and hopefully a return to a Copperhead will bring out more of the best in him.

Whilst Kokrak does rely on his distance (something I generally avoided this week) he is also hitting plenty of greens this season (70.93%, ranked 42nd), which should serve him well this week.

Total points staked this week: 5

Profit/Loss for 2017: – 18

Best of the rest

I couldn’t bring myself to back Graham DeLaet and Luke Donald at 45/1 and 55/1 respectively, but both have obvious chances.

DeLaet finished 5th here last year, 8th in 2014 and 17th in 2013. This all came after a missed cut in 2012, so he has improved year-on-year at a course that clearly suits. In addition to his course form, his current game is in good shape. In his last three events, DeLaet has finished 10th, 17th and 9th, so he looks to be playing at a high level once again. At 45/1 he just doesn’t appeal given his clear lack of ability to win so far in his career.

Donald is in the same boat. Although we know he can win (he has 16 professional wins, 5 of which came on the PGA Tour), he hasn’t done so, since his win here in 2012 and the BMW PGA Championship a couple of months later.

At this event, Donald has finished 22-53-4-4-1-6 in six starts and given his solid current form, he offers an intriguing option to get his first win since 2012. In his last three starts on Tour, Donald has finished 27th, 17th and 23rd and there’s a good chance his form will continue this week.

Both make a solid case, but they just don’t appeal enough to back them at such reduced odds, in comparison to what they have been in recent months.

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