Last week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans ended up looking like a practice round for the International Team in the Presidents Cup as the Australian team of Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman, at 12-1, triumphed in a playoff over the South African duo of Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. Smith earned his second win in the event (2017 with Jonas Blixt) and his third career PGA Tour win, while Leishman earned his sixth career tour victory. Oosthuizen technically has one PGA Tour win, the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews, but he’s still looking for his first victory on American soil (nine career PGA Tour runner-up finishes) despite all his career success.
While the Florida Swing has technically concluded, the Valspar Championship in the Tampa Bay area got pushed back and will take place this week. The top end of the field gets a major boost with the participation of World No. 1 Dustin Johnson (10-1) and World No. 2 Justin Thomas (8-1), who won the Players Championship the last time he teed it up in Florida seven weeks ago. Patrick Reed (18-1), a runner-up here in 2015 and 2018, is also ranked in the OWGR Top 10. Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners, who has four top-10 finishes in his last six events, are priced at 20-1. Paul Casey (20-1) won back-to-back here in 2018 and 2019 and is bidding to be the first player to win any single event three times in a row since Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic from 2009 to 2011. Oosthuizen was the runner-up at the Valspar two years ago and is slotted at 30-1 along with Sungjae Im and Abraham Ancer.
The Valspar Championship was founded as the Tampa Bay Classic in 2000. The tournament originally was a fall event but moved to the spring in 2007. Valspar Corporation took over as the title sponsor in 2014. Three players have been multiple winners of this event — K.J. Choi (2002, 2006), Retief Goosen (2003, 2009) and Paul Casey (2018, 2019). Other previous winners include former major champions Jordan Spieth, Schwartzel, Gary Woodland, Jim Furyk, Mark Calcavecchia and Vijay Singh.
The Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club plays host to the Valspar Championship. The track is in Palm Harbor, Fla., about 22 miles north of downtown St. Petersburg and west of Tampa. This course is considered one of the tougher ones on tour as it has rated the sixth-most difficult out of around 50 tour courses in four of the last six years. In fact, the cutline has been + 1 or higher each year since 2013 and has not been below par since 2003. The 1972 Larry Packard design is atypical of most Florida courses. The par-71 of 7,340 yards is tight off the tee and encompasses tree-lined fairways, many elevation changes and dogleg holes. Innisbrook's Copperhead Course has more of a Carolina feel to than a typical Florida layout. Water is in play on nine holes, and the course has 74 bunkers. There are five par-3s, which is unusual for a par-71 layout.
The "Snake Pit" is the signature stretch of closing holes at holes 16-18. Par is a good score all four days. On average, players have made birdie here only around 10% of the time and have made bogeys around 22% of the time. No Valspar winner has played the "Snake Pit" under par.
The fairways and rough (3 inches) are Bermudagrass overseeded with some Rye. The green complexes were changed to TifEagle Bermudagrass in 2016. Per Innisbrook Superintendent Ryan Stewart, the greens, which average 6,000 square feet, are around 90% Bermuda but still will have some Poa Trivialis overseed on the fast (12 stimpmeter) greens.
2019: Paul Casey (-8/276); 22-1
2018: Paul Casey (-10/274); 25-1
2017: Adam Hadwin (-14/270); 125-1
2016: Charl Schwartzel (-8/276); 33-1*
2015: Jordan Spieth (-10/274); 16-1**
2014: John Senden (-7/277); 125-1
2013: Kevin Streelman (-10/274); 200-1
2012: Luke Donald (-13/271); 11-1***
2011: Gary Woodland (-15/269); 100-1
2010: Jim Furyk (-13/271); 30-1
* playoff win over Bill Haas
** playoff win over Sean O' Hair and Patrick Reed
*** playoff win over SangMoon Bae, Jim Furyk and Robert Garrigus
STATS AND TRENDS
Since Strokes Gained data began being tabulated in 2016, the Valspar winners have ranked seventh (Casey, 2019), seventh (Casey, 2018), second (Hadwin, 2017) and third (Schwartzel, 2016) in the field for Strokes Gained: Approach.
Strokes Gained: Approach
1. Justin Thomas 26
2. Charley Hoffman 23.7
3. Corey Conners 21.3
4. Abraham Ancer 20.3
5. Tom Hoge 19
6. Matthew NeSmith 18.7
7. Russell Henley 18.6
8. Max Homa 18.1
9. Talor Gooch 16.7
10. Lanto Griffin 16.2
11. Doug Ghim 16
12. Paul Casey 15.9
Note: Last 24 rounds
As mentioned above, the fairways are tight (24 yards wide on average) and the rough is about 3 inches thick, so it is important to drive the ball well off the tee. The category Good Drives Gained measures drives where the player either hits the fairway off the tee or whether the player misses the fairway but still hits the fringe or green in regulation.
Good Drives Gained
1. Cameron Percy 32.8
2. Emiliano Grillo 27.2
3. Corey Conners 27
4. Chris Kirk 26.3
5. Sungjae Im 26
6. Matthew NeSmith 25.4
7. Sam Ryder 25.2
8. Brice Garnett 24.3
9. Abraham Ancer 24.3
10. Andrew Putnam 21.4
11. Doug Ghim 20.1
12. Keegan Bradley 19.1
Note: Last 24 rounds
The average winning score over the last 10 years has been 10.8 under par. The greens are on the faster side and Innisbrook features the lowest Birdie or Better figure on the PGA Tour. Strokes Gained: Short Game combines Strokes Gained: Putting with Strokes Gained: Around The Green.
Strokes Gained: Short Game
1. Louis Oosthuizen 32.6
2. Patrick Reed 25.4
3. Denny McCarthy 24.6
4. Andrew Putnam 24
5. J.T. Poston 23.9
6. Sungjae Im 22.2
7. Mackenzie Hughes 20.6
8. Adam Hadwin 17.7
9. Ian Poulter 17.5
10. Max Homa 17.2
11. Patrick Rodgers 16.3
12. Vaughn Taylor 15.8
Note: Last 24 rounds
In the 2019 Valspar, the field only mustered a 54.1% mark for Greens In Regulation which was the lowest mark of the PGA Tour season.
Greens In Regulation Gained
1. Corey Conners 38.7
2. Roger Sloan 34.5
3. Cameron Percy 31.8
4. Emiliano Grillo 31.6
5. Matthew NeSmith 31.5
6. Kyle Stanley 29
7. Paul Casey 25
8. Brice Garnett 23.1
9. Russell Henley 22.1
10. Joaquin Niemann 21.9
11. Sam Ryder 21.1
12. Tom Lewis 20
Note: Last 24 rounds
Four of the five par-3s measure 200 yards or longer.
Strokes Gained: Par-3s 200-225 Yards
1. Brice Garnett
2. Paul Casey
3. David Hearn
4. Cameron Percy
5. Kelly Kraft
6. Lanto Griffin
7. Adam Hadwin
8. Viktor Hovland
9. Bronson Burgoon
10. Danny Lee
11. Wyndham Clark
12. Luke Donald
Sungjae Im 33-1
Im finished fourth in his debut here in 2019. He has always taken a liking to Florida courses and even more so a liking for Bermudagrass.
The South Korean won the Honda Classic at PGA National last year and then finished third the next week at Bay Hill.
Jason Kokrak 37-1
Kokrak was the runner-up two years ago and has two other top-10 finishes in his last five appearances here.
He was in excellent form on the Florida Swing in March, finishing ninth at WGC Concession, eighth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and ninth at the Players Championship.
Kokrak also is tops in this field for Bogey Avoidance, which could prove to be crucial, especially in "The Snake Pit."
Joaquin Niemann 38-1
Niemann ranks top 10 in this week's field for SG: Tee-to-Green, SG: Ball Striking, and SG: Off-the-Tee.
While he has cooled a bit from his January form, this looks like a spot where he could return to the first page of the leaderboard.
Justin Rose 45-1
Rose was the 18-hole and 36-hole leader at the Masters before finishing seventh. Last week he and Henrik Stenson finished 11th in New Orleans.
While he has made sporadic appearances in this event, he has three top-10 finishes over the last 10 years. Rose has shown solid form for a bit now. Before having to withdraw with back spasms, he was on the first page of the leaderboard at Bay Hill. His reunion with longtime coach Sean Foley seems to be paying dividends.
Chris Kirk 55-1
Kirk has never really played all that well at the Valspar, but it is difficult to argue his recent form.
He is second in SG: Total, fourth in SG: Around the Green and sixth in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 24 rounds.
Doug Ghim 100-1
Ghim rates in the top 12 of this week's field for SG: Approach, SG: Ball Striking, and SG: Tee-to-Green.
He just missed out on the top 10 last week with an 11th in New Orleans playing with fellow young upstart Justin Suh.
Danny Willett 150-1
Willett finished tied for eighth last week with fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton in New Orleans.
While he did not drive the ball well at the RBC Heritage a couple of weeks ago, he did gain six strokes on the greens and could continue to ride that hot putter this week.
Garrick Higgo provided this column back-to-back European Tour winners last weekend with a three-shot victory over Max Kieffer, who finished as runner-up for the second straight week, at the Gran Canaria Lopesan Open at 40-1. The 21-year-old South African now has two European Tour victories (2020 Portugal Masters) in the last eight months and is priced as the co-second choice at 18-1 along with Austrian Matthias Schwab, off back-to-back top-10 finishes, for this week's Tenerife Open, which is the second of three straight events in the Canary Islands. Frenchman Antoine Rozner (16-1) won the Qatar Masters seven weeks ago and was slated to be the highest-ranked OWGR player in the field this week before Higgo's win in Gran Canaria. Joost Luiten, who finished eighth last week in Gran Canaria, is tagged at 25-1. Kieffer, the bridesmaid in back-to-back weeks, is hoping the third time's a charm; the German's odds are 30-1 this week.
Last week's Gran Canaria Lopesan Open was a one-off event to replace a canceled event, and this week's Tenerife Open could be the same. However, this event does have some history as it was held under other names from 1989 to 1995. Golf Costa Adeje had never hosted the event as it was not opened until 1998, but Golf del Sur hosted for four of the six years. José María Olazábal won in Tenerife 1989 and 1992 before he won two green jackets at the Masters in 1994 and 1999.
Golf Costa Adeje serves as this week's venue for the Tenerife Open. The track last hosted a European Tour event in 2003 for the Canarias Open de Espana, won at -22 by Kenneth Ferrie. The course was designed by José Gancedo and opened in 1998. Like last week's course in Gran Canaria, this is another shorter resort track that caters to Canary Islands tourists. It plays as a par-71 of 6,857 yards. Fairways are wide and laid to Paspalum grass that is firm and should have plenty of rollout. The greens are huge and have been upgraded from Bentgrass to TifEagle Bermuda since the 2003 event and will run at around 12 on the stimpmeter. The only defense for this track would be a hard-blowing wind, which is not expected this week, so more low scores should be in order as 255 (-25) was the winning score last week. Higgo’s 255 broke the all-time European Tour scoring record by two strokes and it could very well be topped this week.
Laurie Canter 35-1
Golf Costa Adeje looks to be a similar layout to last week's track in Gran Canaria, where you must make a multitude of birdies. Canter is the best in this week's field for doing just that.
The Englishman has been off for six weeks, so he should come in well-rested.
Johannes Veerman 50-1
The 28-year-old American is a birdie maker capable of going low. He missed the cut last week, so we get a decent drift on the price.
He is the best on tour for par-5 scoring and has plenty of opportunities on this track to attack.
Connor Syme 52-1
Syme finished fifth last week at Gran Canaria but was looking at a second-place finish before taking a quad at the 14th on Sunday.
Nevertheless, he shot 61 and 62 on Friday and Saturday, so he showed that he could go low on the Canary Islands.
Darius Van Driel 100-1
Dutchman Van Driel shot all four rounds in the 60s to finish T-8 last week in Gran Canaria. It was his second top-10 finish in his last three starts.
Nicolai Hojgaard 100-1
While twin brother Rasmus (97th OWGR) is in the United States attempting to improve his ranking to lock in a spot for the upcoming PGA Championship, Nicolai is in solid form with a T-15 last week in Gran Canaria and a T-7 the week prior in Austria.
Alejandro Canizares 125-1
Canizares had a disappointing start in Gran Canaria with an even-par 70 that put him behind the eight ball. However, he shot -12 over the final 54 holes.
The Spaniard has also been the first-round leader in two of his last three starts, so a quick start would not shock here.