Golf Rankings for Valspar Championship
The Copperhead Course is one of the hardest tracks the players face each year, headlined by the Snake Pit. Very similarly to PGA National's Bear Trap, the Snake Pit consists of a three hole stretch that often determines the tournament on Sunday afternoon. The course is a par-71, checking in just over 7,300 yards. What's important to note is the course still has four par-5s, so bombers tend to do well. There is an extra par-3 this week, which again emphasizes how important ball-striking and proximity will be this week. Certain bombers who can club down off the tee (Tony Finau, Gary Woodland, and Jason Kokrak) are definite targets for me this week.
As usual, we need to look towards Florida and bermuda green specialists during the Florida swing. While the courses are all a little different, accuracy, ball-striking, putting on bermuda surfaces, and handing the wind are all characteristics we need to target. The wind has played a major factor here in the past, so make sure to check the weather reports on Wednesday to see if one wave has an edge over the other.
Correlating courses that I'll take a small look at this week are Colonial, TPC Sawgrass, and Harbour Town, with an added emphasis on bermuda, Pete Dye, and hard course specialists.
This week's field is headlined by Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed, and… Tiger Woods. If I had to pick one of these guys to win this week, it would be Jordan Spieth.
Strokes Gained Approach (SG:APP): Ball-striking, especially with irons, is going to be a major key for players this week. Copperhead is a ball-striker's paradise, where iron play will be key. The greens are small targets, and scrambling will be a challenge. The players are going to need to back a bundle of birdies this week to offset the bogeys and double bogeys that are lurking. In terms of recent play, the players to target in strokes gained approach are Charles Howell III, Sam Burns, Adam Scott, Ollie Schniederjans, Byeong-Hun An, Adam Hadwin, and Chesson Hadley.
Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee (SG:OTT): Every week, off-the-tee play is a main target. Guys who can hit it long and straight have a huge advantage over the rest of the field. It makes courses shorter, and allows them to hit approach shots from shorter distances, setting up birdies. Copperhead is more of an accuracy course, but that's still reflected in some of the names near the top of SG:OTT.
The best off-the-tee players are Ryan Palmer, Lucas Glover, Brandon Harkins, Justin Rose, Gary Woodland, and Paul Casey.
Birdie or Better % (BoB%): There are really not many weeks where we aren't going to target birdie or better percentage, because that's what fantasy golf scoring is all about. This event should lend itself to higher scores, so players who can steal the most points for birdies will be ahead of the pack. The best players in this field in recent birdie or better percentage are Justin Rose, Martin Laird, Adam Hadwin, Paul Casey, Ollie Schniederjans, Ted Potter, Austin Cook, and Jason Kokrak.
Par-3 Scoring (P3): Copperhead is a unique course in that it features five par-3s. That definitely means there's an added emphasis on those holes, and on iron play in general. Par-3 scoring is notoriously difficult, so this is where the winner will separate himself from the field. Some of the best par-3 scorers in this field are Bill Haas, Scott Stallings, Byeong-Hun An, Paul Casey, Kevin Na, Sangmoon Bae, and Derek Fathauer.
Jordan Spieth - World Ranking: #6
Despite his struggles on the greens, Spieth continues to post top-20 finishes with the occasional top-10. Bermuda grass is one of his better surfaces, and it'll be a nice break from the poa surfaces he saw in California and Mexico. Spieth comes back to Copperhead where he's posted 7th, 20th, 1st, and 18th place finishes in his career. This time of year is key for Spieth, as he gears up for yet another run at The Masters. And there has to be added motivation for him, now that Justin Thomas has passed him in the world rankings.
Paul Casey - World Ranking: #16
Casey tops all of my models this week, which is a little scary. Because he struggles to get the job done on Sundays, I have him behind Spieth, but he's got a great chance this week. Copperhead suits his game to a tee: you have to hit fairways and place approach shots accurately. He has two mediocre finishes and two missed cuts here, but he's playing some of the best golf of his career these days. He'd be the safest place to start any cash game teams.
Sergio Garcia - World Ranking: #5
Like Paul Casey, Garcia fits this course perfectly. He can shape his tee shots around doglegs, and he's still one of the premier iron players in the game. I'm still worried about his scrambling, which is key this week, though. He also displayed a poor attitude on Sunday in Mexico, and I saw some flaws that had me worried. In any event, he's playing well, and he's gearing up for his title defense at The Masters.
Justin Rose - World Ranking: #13
Rose went on a tear in the Fall, posting three wins and a string of top-10 finishes. He comes off a middling performance in Mexico, but that was just him shaking off the rust. Rose has played well at Copperhead in the past, posting a handful of top-25 finishes with two top-10s. He's one of the most consistent players on Tour, and tends to play his best this time of year. He nearly won the Masters last year, and he's chomping at the bit for another chance.
Henrik Stenson - World Ranking: #7
Course history truthers will be on Stenson, who has finished 4th, 11th, and 7th here the past three seasons, but I still think he'll be under-owned in GPPs. We haven't seen him on the PGA Tour yet this season, and he's taken about 5 weeks off the European Tour as well. That sort of layoff always worries me, as Stenson is really gearing up for Bay Hill, the WGC Match Play, and Augusta. Stenson is deadly accurate with his trusty 3-wood off the tee, and is still one of the best iron players in the world. Anyways, he played well here a year ago after WD in Mexico, so he's probably a lock and load this week.
Adam Hadwin - World Ranking: #53
We might see a rare title defense this week. Adam Hadwin got his first career win here last season, and comes into the event this year in stellar form. He's finished inside the top-10 in three of his past five events, including CareerBuilder (a comp course) and last weekend at the WGC-Mexico. Hadwin has dramatically improved his ball-striking this season, and is always one of the best putters on Tour.
Tony Finau - World Ranking: #67
Finau is another bomber who can succeed here by hitting irons off the tee. After missing his first two cuts at Copperhead, he seemingly figured the track out last season en route to a top-5 finish. Finau is always a viable fantasy option due to his birdie-making ability. It'll be interesting to see how he does on a very difficult track.
Rory McIlroy - World Ranking: #3
It's been tough sledding for Rory since he's come stateside, with a MC and two mediocre finishes. He's never played this event, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him struggle again. Rory tends to play best when the greens are slower and he can bomb drivers, but that's the polar opposite of what he'll face this week at Copperhead.
Byeong Hun An - World Ranking: #58
An is always a tough guy to back, because he can't putt, but his ball-striking continues to impress. He's pretty accurate off-the-tee, and has always been deadly with his irons. He's coming off two top-10 finishes in his past three starts, including a 5th at the Honda Classic. He made the cut here last year, so I like that he's had experience around these grounds. An is a guy who should get a win this season, as long as he sees some putts fall.
Matthew Fitzpatrick - World Ranking: #35
Although Fitzy didn't have his best stuff last week in Mexico, a solid 68 on Sunday got him into a tie for 30th place. That course didn't suit his style well, and he doesn't have much experience on poa/kikuyu surfaces. This week is the real litmus test. Copperhead is right up his alley: a tight, tree-lined course with slick greens. Fitz has played well at Augusta in the past, and this course has some of the same elements. He's a great ball-striker (although he's struggled a bit this year), and he currently leads the European Tour in strokes gained putting.
It was a very impressive performance for Tiger at the Honda Classic, especially after a MC at Riviera. His game looks sharp, especially his short game, but I've also been encouraged by his iron play. Tiger gained the majority of his strokes this year with approach shots, which means he just needs to straighten out his driver. I think he'll make the cut here, and I think he'll make a lot of noise at Bay Hill next week.
Webb Simpson - World Ranking: #62
Webb has done everything over the past two years except win an event, and this could very well be the week. All elements of his game fit here (elite proximity with irons, par-4 scoring, par-3 scoring), and he's dramatically improved his putting. He's gone from a bad putter to a good putter in about 9 months, which is really impressive. At this event, Webb has four top-20 finishes and two top-10 finishes.
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