Justin Rose among FRL targets at challenging Copperhead
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Written by Brady Kannon @lasvegasgolfer
The Valspar Championship is the last event of the 2023 Florida Swing, but here we are concerned about firsts. Specifically, who will lead the tournament after the opening round.
One thing we got correct in this column last week was that Tom Hoge had the ability to go low in at least a round or two. On Saturday at THE PLAYERS Championship, Hoge fired a course-record 62. Let's see if this week we can land on someone who does that on Thursday.
In my overall tournament handicap this week for the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort, I looked at the following metrics: Scoring on Par 3's of 200-225 yards, Strokes Gained on Par 5's, SG: Approach, SG: Putting (Bermuda grass), SG: Around the Green, Scrambling, Good Drives Gained, and Proximity to the Hole from 175-200 yards. Not all of this will necessarily translate into a first-round leader, but I do want a player who spikes in these areas.
I find this similar to handicapping a football game. We have our ideas of what metrics are useful in trying to predict an overall outcome, but in this case we are trying to find what is important in predicting the results of just the first quarter. So the macro picture plays a role, but I believe there are other specific areas that can be looked at more closely when trying to isolate just one portion of the contest. When trying to decipher the First Round Leader market, I have noted that I like to look at First Round Scoring Average, Birdie Percentage, and Bogey Avoidance. I've added Rounds in the 60's this week to my breakdown, not weighing it heavily, but adding it to the recipe – because after all, that is certainly a part of what we want to unfold with at least one of our selections.
Given those parameters, here’s a look at the players I’ve circled for fast starts outside Tampa:
First Round Leader at the Valspar Championship (Odds via BetMGM)
Justin Rose (+3300)
The Copperhead Course is one of the more challenging courses these players will see all season. Rather than a bomber’s paradise, the 7,340 yard, par-71 layout seems to produce more of a U.S. Open-type product. Plodders, grinders and ball-strikers, working their way around this track, looking to avoid bogeys, accept pars and take advantage of the Par 5's. Rose is, of course, a former U.S. Open champion and has had great success here at the Valspar. He's finished in the top 10 three times, the top 15 twice more, and in the top 25 on two other occasions. He's played here 12 times and has put together 14 rounds in the 60's, including shooting 66 three times and 65 three times.
A course I used as a corollary this week was Muirfield Village, where they hold The Memorial Tournament - another course that has often been related to U.S. Open results. Rose has finished inside the top 10 at The Memorial seven times, including a win. He's shot in the 60's there 14 times, including a 63 and a 65. Rose ranks 38th on TOUR for First Round Scoring Average, 22nd for Birdie Average, and 41st in Bogey Avoidance. Over the last 36 rounds, Rose is 20th in this field for SG: Approach, 8th for SG: Putting, and 6th in Birdies or Better Gained. In his career, Rose seems to have an affinity for opening as the First Round Leader at The Masters. Augusta is not that far off on the TOUR calendar. Let's bank on Rosey being on that wavelength already.
Denny McCarthy (+4000)
McCarthy is a short-game wizard. If he has a blistering first day with the flatstick, he could very well get us home. He has finished as high as ninth here at the Valspar in the past and has also recorded a fifth-place finish at The Memorial. He opened with a round of 68 in each of those cases. I also used Sea Island, home to the RSM Classic, as a comp course this week and McCarthy has notched two top-10 finishes there. At Sea Island, McCarthy has posted rounds of 66 twice, 65 twice, and once fired a 62. He is 13th on TOUR in First Round Scoring Average, 23rd in Bogey Avoidance, and 17th for Rounds in the 60's. Over the last 36 rounds, he ranks 13th in this field for SG: Putting, 13th for Birdies or Better Gained, and 17th in Scrambling.
Wyndham Clark (+4500)
Clark is a bomber and we mentioned how this is not a bomber's track – but he also owns a tremendous short game. So this is a muscle car that also provides the very rare, smooth ride. Illustrating such, Clark ranks first in this field over the last 36 rounds for SG: Par 5's and at the same time, 19th in Scrambling and 11th in SG: Around the Green. He is 23rd on TOUR in First Round Scoring Average and 24th for Rounds in the 60's. Clark has opened twice this season by shooting 66, at both the CJ CUP and the Cadence Bank Houston Open. At the RSM back in November, he opened with 71 but followed it up by going 65-66-66. Last week at TPC Sawgrass, Clark opened with a very respectable 69. Back to how he ranks versus this field over the last 36 rounds, Clark is ninth for SG: Approach, third in Birdies or Better Gained, and sixth in Bogey Avoidance.
Ben Griffin (+5000)
Griffin has played in 14 events so far in the 2022-2023 season. He's opened with a round in the 60's 10 times, including shooting a first-round 65 three times, a 66 once, and a 67 last week at THE PLAYERS Championship. All of that gets him to sixth on TOUR in First Round Scoring Average. He's 20th in Birdie Average, 31st in Bogey Avoidance, and second for number of Rounds in the 60's. Over the last 36 rounds, Griffin is 24th in this field for SG: Approach, third in Scrambling and ninth in SG: Around the Green.
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