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To Spieth or not to Spieth at Valspar?

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To Spieth or not to Spieth at Valspar?

    Perhaps nothing is more emotion-inducing than being a fan of Jordan Spieth. It’s a true rollercoaster of incredible highs, gut-wrenching lows, and countless loops, twists and turns.

    As a bettor, trying to gauge which Spieth is going to show up on a given day, let alone a given tournament week, must be akin to dissecting a complex math theorem without a calculator. As in-play betting continues to gain traction, getting in on Spieth hole-by-hole scores could bring a ride like no other.

    This week we come to the Valspar Championship where Spieth won in 2015 but has not visited since 2018. A week after taking on one of the strongest fields in golf, he will tee it up against an elite field, but one with considerably less gravitas than at TPC Sawgrass. Spieth is +1200 to win with BetMGM Sportsbook, behind only Justin Thomas (+1000) on the betting boards. He has moved from +1400 at opening and holds the most tickets, handle and is their biggest liability. But will he live up to this billing at Innisbrook Resort?

    Jordan, I know you have your moments – but I’m going to say no. Not this time.

    We all know his talent is out of this world. With 13 PGA TOUR wins, a FedExCup and three majors already on his resume at 29, the Texan cannot be fully discounted as a winning chance each and every time he tees it up. In his early years, like his dominant 2015 season, you saw the good Spieth way more often than any other version.

    But of late he can struggle with consistency in results. In his six tournaments in 2023 that featured a cut, Spieth has made the weekend four times but only contended in two of those. At the Sony Open in Hawaii, he showed us the two extremes by taking the first-round lead with a 64 before a second-round 75 sent him home early.

    Even last week at THE PLAYERS, his participation in the final two rounds was secured via a lucky bounce off a fan. On his final hole in the second round Spieth was heading for water only to get an unexpected rebound into the fairway, from which he would manufacture a hole-out eagle to make the cut and ultimately finish T19.

    “Very fortunate. Can't say I deserved it, but I tried to hold my attitude together and just keep on focusing trying one foot in front of the other. I don't know if that means I got rewarded for that or what, but overall, I got very, very fortunate,” he admitted at the time.

    “I enjoy nothing about being at the cut line. I seem to have a really hard time refocusing on the lead and pushing forward.”

    If we go back to 2022 and focus on events with a cut, we see Spieth made 12 of 17 cuts (he also was sent home after the group stage of the World Golf Championships – Dell Technologies Match Play). In that span he won the RBC Heritage and finished runner up at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the AT&T Byron Nelson. His best run without an early exit of six starts came with his win and runner-up, plus a top 10 at the Charles Schwab Challenge. But the other three starts were void of him in the headlines once play began.

    While Spieth is relatively happy with his recent form that included a T6 in Phoenix and T4 at Bay Hill, he’s coming up on the third of what will be four straight weeks. He will sit out the Valero Texas Open prior to the Masters as he looks to time his peak efforts. (As an aside, Spieth will be a heavy contender for the Green Jacket this year).

    “Physically it's not too bad because they're actually flatter courses, firmer ground. But mentally it's tough… took yesterday off for the first off day in probably a month. That felt nice. Just kind of not overworking these couple days and just try and carry on from last week,” he said Tuesday.

    Imperative to success at the Copperhead Course this week is a player’s tee-to-green game, with Spieth coming in ranked 28th on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. He’s 91st in SG: Off-the-Tee.

    “(Last week) I just made a couple bad decisions, lost a few strokes with my driver, mainly on just shot shape versus actual misses. So just trying to get my body right so I feel like I'm turning the right way and kind of back to driving it the way I have been this year. That's really important around this place,” he said from Innisbrook.

    But what about his putting? It still leaves a lot to be desired, ranked 113th. He has to beat “Bermuda (Sam) Burns” among others to get to a trophy this week, but Spieth claims it is improving after fixing his setup and stroke position to get closer to when he was the deadliest putter on the planet.

    “I feel like I have momentum, I feel like things are trending…it's more a left arm elbow feel for me than anything. I'm just trying to lock in this left side… my ceiling putting has been best in the world… that's really the goal. There's no reason to try and do anything different than at that time period,” he adds.

    “I've always been a little handsy putting in a good way. A lot of great putters are handsy. Rickie Fowler and Tiger use their hands… Ben Crenshaw. So, I think I'll always still have that, but I was relying on it.”

    Lastly, I’m going to rely on some inside golf stats for the week. Approach shots from 175-200 yards are well above TOUR average at Innisbrook and Spieth ranks 90th in birdie or better percentage from that distance and his proximity from the fairway from this distance ranks 156th and 136th from the rough. He may be able to overcome some of the deficit with his work from outside 250 yards, which is also historically well above TOUR average this week, but the reality is the above-mentioned putting will be under pressure to perform.

    So, while the majority of public bettors are hoping to ride a Spieth “up”, I’m expecting some motion sickness. Time will tell which ride we’re on this week.

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