By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM fantasy columnist
A kinder, gentler Copperhead? You might have trouble convincing the field of 156 at this week's Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank of that. Yet, the trend is headed in that direction.
Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course, a par 71 with five par 3s and four par 5s, hosts for the 12th time this week. And if there's such a thing as a learning curve for a golf course, the touring professionals are ahead of it. Last year's scoring average of 70.732 was a record low for the event. It ranked fifth-easiest of 11 par 71s used all season. That's a far cry from its debut on the Florida Swing in 2007 when it played as the most difficult of 10 par 71s in non-majors at 72.005. It then exceeded that split in each of the following two editions.
Doglegs and tree-lined chutes off tees define Larry Packard's 1972 creation and rolling terrain also looks out of place in central Florida but the union of all of the design attributes contributes to Copperhead's popularity on the PGA TOUR. It can stretch to 7,340 yards but the course annually ranks among the shortest in average driving distance. Last year's clip of 281.5 yards placed 11th-lowest on TOUR, but it was the longest the track has averaged since its move to March to coincide with the FedExCup era.
Hitting fairways and greens in regulation is quite average as compared to all other tracks on the schedule, but getting up and down for par has become pedestrian in recent years. In 2012, Copperhead ranked fourth-easiest in scrambling at 62.88 percent. It marked the fourth consecutive year of an increase in scrambling since the course was seventh-most challenging on TOUR in 2008 at just 53.09 percent.
Even the Snake Pit -- holes 16, 17 and 18, a par 3 sandwiched by a pair of par 4s -- isn't as menacing as the name suggests. While it ranked fourth-hardest in aggregate scoring of the final three holes of any course in 2012, its average of 0.519 strokes over par was its second-lowest since 2007. The 16th hole has been the most difficult hole at Copperhead each year since 2010.
Outstanding weather is expected throughout the tournament, although it could be breezy during the opening round after which winds are forecast to abate. Sunny skies will accompany gradually rising temperatures that will top out in the mid-70s by Sunday.
|Power Rankings: Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank|