This week the PGA Tour returns to America, following the venture to Mexico for last week’s WGC Event. The players will be teeing it up on the East Coast, in Florida as they did two weeks ago at the Honda Classic.
It is the Valspar Championship that plays host this week, on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook and a strong field has formed for this year’s renewal. Jordan Spieth leads the way, ahead of a strong European contingent of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson, whilst Tiger Woods plays here for the first time in his career.
Woods, who has finished 23-MC-12 in his three events in 2018 seems very focused on making his best possible return to fitness and form ahead of this year’s Masters and the signs were very positive at the Honda.
It speaks volumes that he is going to play a tournament he has never frequented before and will be making back-to-back starts again, as he will also tee it up at Bay Hill next week.
Being a Florida resident it is perhaps a surprise he has never played this event, but he should feel at home. With this being a course that allows you to leave driver in the bag on many holes, just like PGA National, there is a good chance he plays well again in his home state.
The Course and what it will take to win
Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort, 7,340 Yards, Par 71
The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook is one of those rare courses that balances out the playing field, by taking away any advantage for those that possess long distance off the tee. Instead this course demands accuracy, with a focus on good approaches into the greens, making it a paradise for those shorter, accurate hitters.
Of course, you do not want to rule out those that can get it away off the tee, as they can still be accurate with their irons, it just negates their obvious advantage at the start of the week.
Looking at the recent roll of honour, it is littered with players that can count accurate iron play and/or strong short games as their strengths as opposed to distance off the tee, so this course clearly suits a certain profile.
Of the recent winners, only Gary Woodland could really be considered a bomber off the tee, so clearly you cannot drive your way to victory here at Copperhead.
Hitting plenty of Greens in Regulation will be important, as it is every week and strong putting on Bermuda surfaces will also be required, so similar to the requirements at the Honda Classic two weeks ago, even if not particularly similar courses.
Last year Adam Hadwin ranked 2nd and the year before Charl Schwartzel ranked 3rd in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green so that is clearly a vital statistic. I would hazard a guess that the winners in previous years were similarly ranked, but this statistic has only been available over the last two seasons.
Here are the rankings of the last five winners in the three other key areas:
GIR/Proximity to the Hole/Putting Average
Adam Hadwin – T5/5/2
Charl Schwartzel – T10/12/2
Jordan Spieth – 32/10/2
John Senden – T3/6/12
Kevin Streelman – T11/39/4
As you can see above, only one player (Spieth) ranked outside the top-11 for Greens in Regulation, as well as just one (Streelman) ranking outside the top-12 in Proximity to the Hole, proving how essential it is to hit the ball close here at Copperhead. All of the last five winners ranked inside the top-12 for Putting Average with four of the five ranking inside the top-4, so clearly a strong putting week is required here also.
The following events are the ones to have featured Bermudagrass Greens this season and should be looked at, in order to find those who have performed well on this putting surface this season:
Tournament of Champions
The following players in the field this week have ranked inside the top-10 for Putting Average on more than one of these courses this season:
Chesson Hadley (x2) (T9 in Putting Average overall this season)
Ollie Schniederjans (x2) (T9 in Putting Average overall this season)
Sam Saunders (x2) (T11 in Putting Average overall this season)
Ben Martin (x2) (T19 in Putting Average overall this season)
Aaron Wise (x2) (T27 in Putting Average overall this season)
Chris Kirk (x2) (T109 in Putting Average overall this season)
Gary Woodland (x2) (T151 in Putting Average overall this season)
It is clear from the list above that both Kirk and Woodland raise their game in a big way when on Bermuda Greens, whilst others on the list tend to be putting well all season.
Of the seven players listed above, three rank inside the top-20 for Strokes-Gained: Approach-the-Green this season, which is another bonus. They are:
Chesson Hadley (5th in SG: Approach)
Ollie Schniederjans (12th in SG: Approach)
Chris Kirk (19th in SG: Approach)
Course experience is helpful here, although Woodland did win in debut in 2011, but course form is general is not a sticking point.
Another thing to bear in mind this week is the sheer amount of Par 3’s (five) as well as four Par 5’s.
All five of the Par 3’s measure over 195 yards and also all played over-par last year.
The Par 5’s however played as the four easiest holes on the course last year, and as such need to be taken advantage of this week.
Just looking at the last couple of winners alone, Hadwin finished 71-MC in his first two starts at Copperhead before his win and Schwartzel missed the cut on his debut in 2012, then won on his next start four years later, so you can win here without showing previous form. A look at the course would be beneficial though, given the tough nature of the course and event.
Jordan Spieth (9/1)
Rory McIlroy (14/1)
Sergio Garcia (18/1)
Justin Rose (20/1)
Henrik Stenson (22/1)
Tony Finau 33/1 (Coral 7 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Tony Finau has been playing to a very high standard this season, and cannot be far away from winning that elusive 2nd PGA Tour title.
Finau ranks highly in multiple areas this season, including top-25 in SG: Approach, Par-3 Scoring Average and Par-5 Scoring Average, all key areas this week.
The one thing that will hold Finau back this week, and has done so for the majority of the season is his putting. He currently ranks T64 in Putting Average, and like his career so far in general, putting has remained his Achilles heel in recent months.
In three starts at this course, Finau missed his first two cuts, before finishing 5th here last season, largely thanks to a final round 64.
Finau will be looking to join Woodland as a bomber to break the mould here at Copperhead and buck the trend of shorter winners getting their name on the trophy here.
His missed cut at the Phoenix Open was his first of the season and his only one so far, and he bounced back with a T2 finish at the Genesis Open on his next start. A T27 finish in Mexico last week followed, and he will be raring to go once again this week.
This wouldn’t be the first course you’d pick for Finau to win at, but given his current form and last season’s result I thought it was worth rolling the dice at the price.
Byeong-Hun An 50/1 (Betfred 6 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Byeong-Hun An has been in rock solid form in 2018, finishing T40-T6 in two starts in the Middle-East before heading to the States and finishing T23 in Phoenix and T5 at the Honda.
The 26-year-old still only has one top-level title to his name, the BMW PGA Championship, which he won by 6 strokes. To win any event by such a margin takes some doing, but to do so at the European Tour’s flagship event is particularly special, and whilst he has not won on the European or PGA Tour again, he has impressed since that win in 2015.
Splitting his time between the two Tours, An has accrued 17 top-10 finishes worldwide, including a play-off loss and two more top-5’s on the PGA Tour.
He was 49th here 12 months ago, never eclipsing his T24 position he held after shooting 69 (his lowest round) in Round One, but I see him improving on that this time around.
With the T5 finish at the Honda still fresh in his mind, An will look to play well in Florida again, riding his current run of good form.
He currently ranks 10th in Strokes Gained: Approach this season, after ranking 6th at the Honda, and also sits handsomely in other key areas. An sits 13th in Par-5 Scoring Average, 27th in Greens in Regulation and if he can continue to putt in the same way he did at the Honda (T15 Putting Average), he will have every chance of contending.
An only ranked 56th in Putting Average when finishing 23rd in Phoenix, so you can see how much of a difference a better week with the short stick makes to his game and hopefully that improvement continues this week. Like Finau it is his performances on the greens that have really held him back so far in his career, but he is looking to put that right.
Ollie Schniederjans 80/1 (Boylesports & Coral 7 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Ollie Schniederjans absolutely loves Bermudagrass greens, is hitting good approaches this season and is at an attractive price to land his first PGA Tour title.
Per futureoffantasy.com, Schniederjans ranks 14th overall on Bermudagrass Greens since 2014 and is the top specialist on this surface, gaining 2.292 Strokes v his expected Strokes Gained total of 1.34 Strokes, something that will aid him here.
As mentioned earlier, Ollie has already ranked in the top-10 for Putting Average twice on Bermudagrass Greens this season and T9 in Putting Average overall. Add to that, the fact he ranks 12th in SG: Approach this season and he has the perfect recipe for success at Copperhead.
With such a good profile for this event, it is perhaps a surprise that he has missed two cuts here. Last year, he only missed the cut by one stroke and on debut in 2015 also just missed out, that time by three strokes. A better player this time around, Schniederjans can make the cut here and contend like he has done multiple times already in his short career.
The 24-year-old already has two top-7 finishes this season, at both the Sony Open (T7) and Phoenix Open (T3) both of which came on courses with Bermuda greens and he can build on those efforts here.
It is now time for Schniderjans to make good on his potential, and to do so he needs to win soon. He will know this as much as anybody and whilst with this mind-set comes great pressure, great belief should also not be far away.
Four players have won both here and at the Sony Open, and we already know Ollie has previous at the latter (T27-T7), so that may well be an advantage here also.
I am willing to overlook his previous course form here, as I believe like others before him, he can put the past in his rear-view mirror on this course and get himself into contention for win number one.
Chesson Hadley 110/1 (Bet365 5 places 1/4 odds) & 100/1 (Skybet 8 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Chesson Hadley is the one player who really jumps out at me this week and I was pleased to see he was three-figures.
He had a very strong start to the season and has petered up and down in form since, with a missed cut last time out ensuring longer odds on him this week.
I am happy to forgive his missed cut at the Honda given how difficult it played and instead will focus on the positives surrounding him for this week.
Firstly, he is 3-3 here with form figures of 14-44-66. Now he obviously hasn’t replicated his finish of 14th he posted here on debut, but he can go better this week, such is his form.
As mentioned earlier, Hadley ranks T9 in Putting Average (finishing inside the top-10 twice on Bermuda greens) and also ranks 5th in Strokes Gained: Approach. It’s when you dig even further though that he becomes a more exciting prospect.
With the number of Par-3’s and Par-5’s it is important to score well on those and Hadley currently ranks 10th in Par-3 Scoring Average and 18th in Par-5 Scoring Average.
Of the five Par-3’s two are 195 and 200 yards, and Hadley currently ranks 29th in Par-3 efficiency 175-200 yards. Now when it comes to the longer holes (200-225) Hadley is not as impressive, ranking 60th and averaging a touch over-par, but most will here this week anyway so that doesn’t put me off too much.
Given his solid Approach and Putting figures this season, as well as ranking 16th in Proximity to the Hole, this looks a good setup for Hadley who has shown a liking for this course in the past.
At 110/1 or even 100/1 it is worth chancing that Hadley can return to the form he was showing, prior to his missed cut at the Honda, which had seen him post four top-5’s already this season, one of which was as recently as the Phoenix Open (three starts ago).
Bryson DeChambeau 110/1 (Bet365 5 places 1/4 odds, Betfred 6 places 1/5 odds) 0.5 pt e/w:
Somewhat an enigma, you are never quite sure what DeChambeau is going to turn up but I am hoping the best one turns up here at Copperhead.
Thru 36 holes here last year, DeChambeau was sitting in T8, following opening rounds of 67-70. Rounds of 72-73 halted any progress over the weekend however, dropping into a tie for 27th.
Coming into this season off the back of his first win at last season’s John Deere Classic, it was expected DeChambeau was going to kick on, and he has started ok so far.
A T5 finish at the Phoenix Open was his best finish of the season so far, and this was after a run of three straight top-17 finishes to start the season. A T7 at the Shriners earlier in the year was his best finish before his effort in Phoenix but he can build on both starts this week, and finish off what he started going into the weekend 12 months ago.
Like the correlation between this event and the Sony Open, there is also a proposed link between here and TPC Deere Run, with five players winning at both, including recent winners of this event, Spieth and John Senden. Given Deere Run was the site of hist PGA Tour win, this potential link can only be a positive.
Another positive for the flat-cap wearing scientist, DeChambeau is the fact he ranks T2 in Par-5 Scoring Average this season, something integral to success here.
Three figures about DeChaembeau, on a course he looked comfortable with last season certainly appeals, given the potential ability of a player who could be one of the game’s next big superstars.
Total Points Staked this week: 9
Profit/Loss for 2018: -30.4