The Valspar Championship preview with Skeeter McGillicuddy
Finally Rory did it for us! But lets not dwell. The Florida swing cracks on to the Valspar Championship at The Copperhead, Innisbrook a classic tree-lined course that regularly plays as one of the toughest on tour. Rory takes a well-earned break leaving Dustbin to head the field. He earned his stripes with his first ever top ten at The Players finishing 5th – to go with his two wins in his last five starts. However he does make his debut here and at 11/2 the price looks skinny. Rahm also comes here for the first time off the back of his final round collapse at The Players. I’ve alluded to Rahm’s lack of winning and his backing into wins and while he’s hardly the first to come unstuck in a final group there’s is no way we can have him at 11/1. Jase’s play has been great – when he turns up – but again the price,12/1, is a turn off. Patrick looks to be rescuing his game on the greens – no bad thing around Copperhead but the 22/1 on offer is way too short. Casey won here last year and his form, prior to his missed cut at The Players was excellent.
The field is hardly low on quality but it feels it post The Players. As an indication take Cabrera Bello going off at 50/1. A serial non-winner, lovely as he is, and to watch – no way.
The Copperhead course at 7,340 yards par 71, is tight off the tee with lots of elevations, 4 par fives and 5 par 3, and includes the now obligatory affectation known as the Snake Pit, 16 through 18, with 17 proving to be the hardest hole on the course. So the fairways are hard to hit, as are the greens – it’s just a tough course. The curious mix of four par fives, scoring heaven for pro’s, and five par three’s, where par dies, partly explain why Copperhead ranks consistently in the top ten hardest courses on tour. Plus its narrow off the tee and tree lined. Paul Casey won last year at 10 under and that is about the sort of average winning score here. The weather looks certain to play a part with winds of over 15 mph predicted on Thursday afternoon. Friday looks windy as well and the weekend is projected to be a mixed bag. If this transpires then mid to high single digits under par looks a winning score.
It will hardly come as surprise that we will not be pinning our hopes on the top end of the market. Two years ago we went for, Schniederjans, De Chambeau and Laird. Schniederjans found some form at the Players after a switch to Butch Harmon but while that has had a remarkable affect on his tee to green game it hasn’t filtered down to his putting. At three figures we’d have been on but 80/1 – no. The field is full of our old favourites and a few of them are heading out at some nice prices.
Ryan Moore 1pt win at 60 BF
Tyrell Hatton 1pt win at 75 BF
Sungjae Im 1pt win at 70 BF
Joaquin Niemann 1pt win at 150 BF
Ryan Moore has never struck a shot in anger on our behalf. He may never have struck any shot in anger come to think of it. What he does do is poke it round to great effect – much like last weeks surprise runner up, Jimmy the F..k. Like Jimmy he had his moment with a slam dunk one on 17. He eventually finished 20th coming off a 33rd and 28th – all a welcome return to form after some missed cuts. What really gets us going is his Copperhead form. Yes he missed the cut last year but he had problems. Go back to 2015 and 2016 when he was on song and you’ll see a 5th and 3rd and an 18th in 2017. Tight, technical courses like Sedgefield, where he’s won, suit his precision game and Copperhead is right up there. Ranked 82nd in the world he nearly stole the Tour Championship from Rory in 2016, has five tour wins and a career low of 61! Throw in a 2nd in the current season and his current progressive form and he looks primed to contend. At 59/1 outright in this field he makes a lot of sense.
Sung-Jae Im– (previously / previously….) is well entrenched in the stable and runs for us again. Maybe he didn’t like the cold at Pebble last week or the cheesy format – I suggested it might be a risk. So we will forgive him that and focus on his excellent form at Phoenix finishing 7th with all four rounds in the 60’s He has to buck the novice trend but at the price we will take that chance. Seems destined to win on Tour it’s just a case of when….and again….Sungjae Im gets another run for us purely on the basis we have pinned our colours to the mast with him. Like our third pick, Niemann, Im looks a winner in waiting. Seventh at the Waste Management he followed that with successive missed cuts at the AT&T and the Genesis. Despite those poor results Im boasts an across the board main stats positive figures including 25th in strokes gained total. Given the relative weakness of the field 129/1 for the Korean seems generous. Im lead at the 36 hole mark along with eventual winner Mitchell (who we left out) and eventually finished a fading 51st. He bounced back last week with an impressive charging 3rd at the Arnie P. Super talented with some great stats (18th strokes gained tee to green) and learning fast Im knows how to win. Im missed the cut at The Players but as we have seen he’s learning and he follows mc’s with strong results.
Tyrrell Hatton– (previously / previously….) is another stable star who we’ll pin our hopes on despite making his debut here. The 30th best player on the planet goes off a big price given his ability to score. Yes he’s crackers but who cares? Hatton’s stats are almost as bonkers as he is. 9th in strokes gained off the tee he then plummets to 209th for strokes gained approaching the green. It looks to me as if he comes up and out of it but whatever it is it will be a temporary affliction or else he won’t be ranked 30th for long. Then we get to his 1st place in the stokes gained around the green, 6th strokes gained tee to green and 8th strokes gained total. His form reads: MC, 38th and 15th – looks good to me. If anyone can buck the novice trend it’s Hatton. Hatton fared well enough and then was doing quite well at the Arnie P after a weight distribution comment from his coach (and father). Four strokes off the lead on Sunday he did then come unstuck and went on the boil, like he can, but holed his last putt from off the green to at least leave on a positive note. Quite well ranked in the tee to green category (42nd) where we pin our hopes on Hatton is the putter – he has proven he can get hot – and not just under the collar. Hatton has the benefit of two excursions around TPC and while they only yielded a 41st and a MC he’s a better player now. Hatton is mercurial to say the least and inconsistent to boot. If we believe in his inherent talent, and we do, then we believe he has the ability to break through. Putting will sort the wheat from the chaff at Copperhead and Hatton’s ability with the flat stick is well documented.
Joaquin Niemann(previously / previously….) is another stable star who we will keep riding while he’s at a price. With just 24 events under his belt he’s posted 5 top tens. His best results came last year but he does have a top 10 this season and his T44 at the Genesis isn’t so bad given the complexities of Riviera and how generally that course takes time to know – Bubba’s first win came at his eighth attempt. In reality Niemann’s game is suffering on the greens, languishing as he does in 218th place in strokes gained putting. While a case can be made that putting isn’t that important at PGA National that only runs true to an extent. He will have to improve but he’s young and super talented and he’s 169/1! Niemann hasn’t set the world on fire but neither has he gone backwards with some solid ball striking since a missed cut at the Waste Management. It’s all about the putting for him but that can turn on a sixpence and at triple figures, in this field, with the premium on ball striking, we won’t abandon him now.