For the fourth and final stop of the reshuffled Florida Swing, the players head to Palm Harbor, Florida for the 2019 Valspar Championship.
This event has gone from strength-to-strength as the years have gone on, after initially getting lost opposite a WGC and the President’s Cup. Now more and more players are using this as a tune up for Augusta which starts in less than a month’s time.
Dustin Johnson returns to this event for the first time since missing the cut in 2010, the same fate he suffered two years earlier on debut. A completely different prospect these days, Johnson will look to take advantage of some fine iron play of late, and contend here, as he prepares for another assault on Augusta.
Another player returning from a lengthy hiatus from this event is Jason Day, who last played here in 2013. A top-20 finish was his best effort in six efforts here, and he will look to build on some impressive form, that he hopes will culminate in victory as he looks to tune up for another run at a Green Jacket.
Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Gary Woodland and defending champion, Paul Casey help bolster the strength of field also.
The Course and what it will take to win
Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort, 7,340 Yards, Par 71
The “Snake Pit” is probably the first term people will associate with this course, which is the nickname for the closing three-hole stretch on this tough layout.
The 460 yard Par-4 16th is considered one of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour, with driver best left in the bag off the tee, leaving a long shot in the elevated green. The 17th is a well-guarded Par 3 that features the largest green on the course if you can get to it. At 215 yards it’s not for the faint hearted. The 18th also tests players off the tee, with bunkers lining either side of the fairway, and the second shot becoming more difficult due to the green sloping from back to front.
With five par 3’s and four par 5’s this is a unique test and one that will demand some of your best ball-striking of the season, as well as a steady putter. Players have now had three events on Bermuda grass, albeit over seeded at TPC Sawgrass last week, so those that have putted well in recent weeks should hold an advantage.
The Par 4’s always play over par here so scoring will have to be done on the Par 5’s, and even then don’t expect too many eagles throughout the week.
SG: Approach and Tee-to-Green are good metrics to establish a player’s ball striking form and will be important this week, as will Greens in Regulation and Putting Average.
Patrick Reed 25/1 (Unibet and SportingBet) 1.5pts e/w:
In five starts in this event, Patrick Reed has two 2nd place finishes, and a 7th after missing the cut on his first attempt.
Clearly Reed enjoys this test, where pars are valuable and that is definitely the case here. What he now needs to do to really contend this week is keep the one damaging round off his scorecard which has cropped up in his two most recent starts.
Opening rounds of 70-70 were solid enough for Reed, but a Saturday 76 left him far too much to do on Sunday and a 73 on the final day compounded him to a T50 finish. It was a similar case at TPC Sawgrass last week, as Reed shot three-straight 69’s, but a Sunday 78 saw him go only one way on the leaderboard.
Reed’s short game is in perfect order, ranking 18th in SG: Around-the-Green and T29 SG: Putting, but his long game needs a fair bit of work. With the test here so different, with irons and hybrids often taken off-the-tee, Reed may enjoy the change.
He should have won here last year, or at least forced a play-off with a par at the last all that was required to tie Paul Casey in the clubhouse, but he made a mess and instead settled for his second runner-up effort here.
On course form alone Reed makes a case here, and at 25/1 I think he is the value of those at the head of the betting, even if there is work to be done.
Brandt Snedeker 45/1 (UniBet) 1pt e/w:
It’s difficult to gauge where Snedeker is with his game right now, every time he puts in a good performance, it is seemingly followed up with a couple of bad ones, but I am willing to chance that he builds upon last week’s effort at the players.
Nobody hit more greens (59/72) than Snedeker last week and he ranked 9th in the field in SG: Approach. A competent putter if ever there was one, it’s fair to say that when he is on form with is irons, he is going to contend. Snedeker also played the Par 5’s very well last week, shooting -10 on the long holes, good enough for 4th best in the field.
Last year Snedeker was right in the mix here but a final round 78 saw him tumble down the leaderboard (31st). If he keeps hitting his irons the way he did last week, he should be able to piece all four rounds together here, just in time to contend at Augusta, a course that he loves.
A 4th place finish here in 2011 is further evidence that he can play this course when he’s in good shape and if his T5 finish at Sawgrass is anything to go by, he certainly is capable of contending.
Snedeker has made 10/11 cuts this season on the PGA Tour, with the one missed weekend coming at one of his favourite courses, Pebble Beach. Two top-5’s, which includes a play-off loss at the Safeway Open already this season, Snedeker looks likely to add another victory to an already impressive CV this season.
It appears some of the changes Snedeker has been making after going back to former coach Todd Anderson may well be paying off, and he will look to piece together two really good weeks in a row for the first time this season.
45/1 about a proven winner, who’s played this course well in the past and excelled in a much stronger field last week catches the eye, even if bigger prices have been around earlier this week.
Jason Kokrak 40/1 (SkyBet 8 places) 1pt e/w:
Jason Kokrak clearly has a big red flag against his name – he still hasn’t won. He has finished 2nd twice though, including at Riviera where he held the 36-hole lead in 2016, only for Bubba Watson to spoil the party.
A big-hitter but also well known for his accurate iron play and all-round ball-striking prowess, it’s no wonder that Kokrak plays so well around this course. It hasn’t always been the case for the Canadian, who missed his first three cuts here from 2011-2013, but since finishing 14th in 2014, he seems to have found the formula.
7-MC-58-8 since 2014 Kokrak has clearly found a way to get to the top of the leaderboard and that 8th place finish 12 months ago was further vindication of that.
Even when 58th in 2017, he shot 68-71 over the first two days, it was just a poor weekend (74-75) that saw him fall away quite drastically.
His form this season has been typically solid, not missing a cut and starting 2019 with three straight top-20 finishes at; the Desert Classic (T18), Farmers Insurance Open (T20) and the Phoenix Open (T20). T37 at Riviera was far from his usual standard at that golf course but he bounced back nicely with back-to-back top-10 finishes at the Honda Classic and Bay Hill.
His two best finishes this season then have come in Florida, on Bermuda greens where there’s an emphasis on ball-striking… sound familiar? That’s a perfect profile for this week’s test, and whilst on paper a T47 at Sawgrass doesn’t sound much, it’s a sign of his form as this is usually a course that gets the better of him and forces him to miss the weekend (five MC’s and a WD in six starts.) He ranked 19th in the field in SG: Approach during the Players as well, which is impressive given it’s a course he’s had no prior success at, and it is a continuation from ranking 2nd at Bay Hill.
Kokrak ranks 4th in SG: Approach-the-Green, 9th in SG: Tee-to-Green and 5th in Approaches from 175-200 Yards to suggest his mid-to-long irons are dialled in. 22nd in Greens in Regulation and 49th in Proximity to the Hole are also pluses.
With every selection it’s important to highlight a counter argument and one can surely be made against Kokrak’s short game. 151st in SG: Putting and 133 in SG: Around-the-Green, there’s clearly a lot of pressure on Kokrak to hit the ball close, otherwise he’s going to struggle. He also needs to play score well on the Par 5’s this week to have any chance of contending, something he’s currently not doing this season (159th on Par 5 Scoring Average). He’s playing the Par 4’s (21st) and Par 3’s (55th) well enough though, and you would expect his Par 5 performance to return to closer to the mean sooner rather than later.
All in all, Kokrak is a fine ball-striker who likes this test and is surely destined to breakthrough at some point.
I’m always wary of players that have never won, but Kokrak won twice on the Web.com (then the Nationwide Tour) in 2011 and won four times across minor tours before that, so he knows how to get it done, he just needs to do it at this level now. 40/1 with 8 places on offer was enough for me, although you can have 50s if you are content with two less places.
Sungjae Im 66/1 (SkyBet 8 places) 1pt e/w:
Rookie Sungjae Im looks likely to end up in the PGA Tour winners’ circle, and it would be no surprise to see him do it before the year is out.
4th on debut at the Safeway where he was just one shot out of the three-man play-off and T3 two weeks ago at Bay Hill suggests he’s already gone close enough and four more top-16’s, including a T7 in Phoenix are further evidence that he’s playing at a high level.
A player who relies on his accuracy as opposed to distance off the tee, this course strikes me as one where he could prosper, especially when you look at a few key areas.
Im ranks inside the top-39 in all Strokes Gained categories other than putting, where he sits a lowly 115th and this is after playing 51 measured rounds, more than anyone else. He’s simply teeing it up as much as possible in the hope of breaking through as soon as possible, a tactic that has worked well so far.
The South Korean also ranks T34 in Bogey Avoidance and T39 in Par 5 Scoring Average, both of which become better when accounting for the amount of rounds he’s played in comparison to all those above him. Im also ranks T58 or better in Approaches from 150-175, 175-200 and 200+ so clearly he is striking his long irons well enough to deal with the test here.
He already has a top-3 finish in Florida (Bay Hill) this season, where he ranked 5th in SG: Approach and whilst he missed the cut last week at the Players, despite his hole-in-one, that is a hard track to conquer on your first appearance.
Copperhead is difficult in its own right, but so was Bay Hill and he excelled there, and at 80/1 I am willing to chance he does something similar here also. You can also take 66/1 about him if you want to extra places.
Roberto Castro 200/1 (SkyBet 8 places) 0.5pt e/w:
Much like Kokrak, Roberto Castro is a superb ball-striker, who has yet to get over the line on the PGA Tour. What’s worse though is that he didn’t win on the Web.com either, which means he has no real winning experience since turning pro.
That’s the negative out the way, and I think the positives are worth shouting about, especially at 200/1 and bigger.
Castro ranks 8th in SG: Approach-the-Green, 14th in Proximity to the hole, T37 in SG: Tee-to-Green and 39th in Greens in Regulation. Castro also ranks 20th in Bogey Avoidance which will be key around this course.
A T21 finish on debut in 2013 gives reason for optimism, even if the three missed cuts since dampen the mood. His last two outings also show improvement, as he finished T25 in Puerto Rico and T20 at the Honda Classic. His final rounds in both events (74 and 73 respectively) have cost him top-10 finishes, but if he can keep it together for four rounds this week, after a week of practice whilst others contested the Players Championship, he could give us a run on Sunday.
A value play based on his suability for the demands of this test, Castro will look to replicate the performances he put in back in 2016, where he had top-3 finishes at the BMW and Wells Fargo Championships, which remain his two best efforts from an OWGR standpoint.
With 8 places on offer, at 200/1 Castro looked a worthy play to me.
Total points staled this week: 10
Profit/Loss for 2019: -71.3