We now return to our regularly scheduled Florida Swing, after rudely being interrupted by the Mexico Championship. Actually, the inaugural WGC-Mexico was awesome and the course was awesome. I completely mis-handicapped the course, but it was still awesome to watch.
I thought the tree-lined nature of Chapultepec would force a lot more pitch-outs, putting an emphasis on accuracy. Instead, a missed fairway only turned out to be worth ~0.27 strokes (pretty standard) as golfers were able to hit under and over the trees quite frequently.
Phil Mickelson got a lot of attention for his free drops and ability to save pars from insane locations but he really ran out of luck or maybe we should say he pushed his luck. Lefty missed 28 fairways on the week and was 5-over-par on those holes. He gained 13.1 strokes over the field on the 28 holes he did manage to find the fairway (easily the most strokes gained when hitting the fairway despite the small number of fairways hit). A great example of the risk-reward that was offered at Chapultepec.
Onto the Valspar this week, where we don’t have to guess how it will play. We already know the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort is one of the toughest non-major stops each year. The yardage is almost identical to last week (7,340-yard par 71) but this time we are 55-feet above sea level instead of 8 million.
While it is a par 71, it’s not a traditional P71 since it has four par 5s instead of the usual (3). That is a big reasons why the bombers are still able to feast here, despite four of the par 4s being distinct less-than-driver holes and a few others also being less-than-driver, depending on the wind. Speaking of wind, the forecast is definitely something to keep an eye on this week because wind is known to wreck havoc on the event every now and then. As of right now the forecast calls for weak winds on Thursday and Friday so no tee-time advantage, but keep an eye out as the week goes on.
It’s also worth mentioning the length of the par 4s. Despite the course forcing you to club down on many occasions, there is only one par 4 under 410 yards. That leads into a quote from Daniel Berger last year, “You got to hit your long irons well because you’re going to have a few of them coming into in par 4s and par 5s.”
Because of the long approaches and smaller greens, I’m looking at GIR machines, stat-wise. As a secondary stat, I would love to have great scramblers since 10 of the 18 holes here have averaged less than 60% GIR since 2003.
As for correlated events, the five that popped the most are: Doral, Valero Texas Open, The Masters, U.S. Open, and the RBC Heritage. As you might be able to tell from the list, this course is no cake walk.
Players to Watch
Matt Kuchar… Six top 20s in nine starts here at Innisbrook. You’re paying for consistency here but I don’t think he takes home the trophy. Since 2003, only five golfers have gained more strokes with the putter here at Copperhead’s bermuda putting surfaces (Goosen, Ogilvy, CH3, Ames, and Mahan).
Henrik Stenson… Withdrew last week with Montezuma’s Revenge to crush the dreams of many fantasy gamers. Prior to that, he’d posted six straight top 10s internationally. I think he should bounce back nicely this week at a course where he’s posted a fourth place and T11 in two starts.
Justin Thomas… Has been leading or in second place after 14 of his last 31 rounds. You can’t argue with that kind of form. Should be able to feast on these par 5s, as well.
Daniel Berger… Anytime we’re in Florida, the Berger has to be on your menu. He’s played all these courses growing up and knows how to deal with typical Florida conditions (wind & water hazards).
Poor Form Studs… There are four really good golfers that the raw numbers are telling me to fade due to poor form. These golfers are Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Charl Schwartzel, and Russell Knox. Charl is the defending champ but he’s missed the cut in both of his 2017 events with a cut and finished T38 at last week’s no-cut WGC. Furyk has some of the most success at Copperhead Course but he’s posted finishes of T66, T39, and T58 to open 2017. Early in the week, these guys are on my FADE LIST, but that may change when salaries come out. Might dabble in Bubba and/or Furyk if the price is right but I think Charl and Knox are fades for me. TUESDAY UPDATE: Was expecting a much higher salary for Furyk. I think at $7,200 on DraftKings, it’s easy to take a risk of relative poor form.
Luke Donald… A past champ here at Innisbrook. He loves golfing in Florida and he arrives with three straight top 30s. He’s gained 44.7 strokes over the field here at Innisbrook since 2003, but 60.5% of those strokes have been gained in the short-game department (around-the-green or putting). I hate relying on the short game, but that area is pretty repeatable for someone like Donald. I’d expect a top 30 this week.
Harris English… The recently married English has a pair of top 10s here in five tries. He also won the 2010 Southern Amateur at this week’s venue. The top finishers haven’t exactly torn up the course at the Valspar, but English has fared well. Could be a tie-breaker this week if you need it, or it could just be a reason to give Richy Werenski a shot.
Byeong Hun An… The Euro Tour stud is inching closer and closer to the PGA TOUR winner’s circle. This week, he should feel rather comfy playing in Palm Harbor, Florida. An spent years at the IMG Academy with David Leadbetter as his coach, just over an hour away from this week’s venue. Should be a nice change for BHA, playing in a familiar area for once.
Lee McCoy… Speaking of comfort, nobody in the field will be more comfortable than McCoy who grew up with Copperhead as his home course. When asked how many times he’s played it last year he had this to say, “Probably a thousand. I get on it as much as I can. They stay pretty busy out here. The golf course is phenomenal and lot of resort guests want to play it so it stayed pretty busy but I would always get out here around 4, 5:00 in the afternoon, grab a cart and get out and play a few holes.” The only downside is his lack of form since injuring his wrist in a car accident. He was forced to WD from the 2nd stage of Web.com Q-School because of that injury and then tried to earn status on the PGA TOUR Latinoamerica but WD’d after two rounds of the Qualifying event, opening with rounds of 74 and 76. High risk, high reward play.
Graham DeLaet… Could this finally be the week we’ve all been waiting for? He arrives with finishes of T9, T17, and 10th in his last three starts and is no stranger to success here at the Copperhead Course (T17-T8-T5 after a MC in his debut). For a golfer that has struggled mentally with short-game issues, it’s good to hear him talk so positively about Innisbrook, “I feel this is a golf course I can do it on. You can’t fake it around this place. You have to be hitting it solid. It’s all about rolling in a few putts.” and “I feel like this is a good golf course for me to get my first win.” If DeLaet believes, then I believe.
Webb Simpson… Has missed his last two cuts here but rattled off four top 20s before that, including a runner-up in 2011. Says this layout reminds him of courses back home in the Carolinas. If he feels comfy, I’m on board. He actually leads the field in terms of Birdie or Better % at the Copperhead Course (21%). That is the kind of birdie-making potential I want on my GPP teams this week.
Gary Woodland… Got some flak for not having Gary in my top 25 last week. He makes his way back into my rankings this week (#9) as I prefer him on bermuda and he’s already proven he can win the battle with the Copperhead Course (win in 2011, T8 in 2014). Just needs to survive the five-pack of par 3s this week because he should be up near the top in par-5 scoring this week. I’m going to excuse last week’s disappointing T38 since he posted back-to-back top 5s prior to that.
My Top 25 for the 2017 Valspar Championship
1. Henrik Stenson
2. Justin Thomas
3. Matt Kuchar
4. Daniel Berger
5. Graham DeLaet
6. Patrick Reed
7. Webb Simpson
8. Charles Howell III
9. Gary Woodland
10. Ryan Moore
11. Byeong Hun An
12. Steve Stricker
13. Harris English
14. Luke Donald
15. Kevin Na
16. Jason Dufner
17. Robert Garrigus
18. Shawn Stefani
19. Keegan Bradley
20. Jamie Lovemark
21. Brian Harman
22. Sean O’Hair
23. Scott Brown
24. Ian Poulter
25. Jim Furyk