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Power Rankings: Valspar Championship

4 Min Read

Power Rankings



    Written by Rob Bolton @RobBoltonGolf

    Risk and reward shots from No. 11 at Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead)



    Editor's note: Paul Casey withdrew from the Valspar Championship on Tuesday


    Each of the first three stops of the Florida Swing delivered an outcome preceded by drama and a climax entirely unlike the others. Slotted along the way was Ryan Brehm’s chip-and-a-chair, breakthrough victory in Puerto Rico and a World Golf Hall of Fame ceremony that forever will be best known among your friends as the one in which Tiger Woods was inducted. No matter your level of interest as a golf fan, you’ve had it all – and more – in the span of just three weeks.

    It’s a show of shows impossible to follow, but the anchor leg of the four-week stretch is ready and built for it. Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club’s Copperhead Course is poised to host the Valspar Championship northwest of Tampa in Palm Harbor.

    A field of 144 is assembled for its return to March. How the course sets up, including a recurring twist on the Florida Swing, and details of Sam Burns’ breakthrough victory here a year ago and are explained beneath the ranking of projected contenders.



    POWER RANKINGS: VALSPAR CHAMPIONSHIP

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    Brooks Koepka, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Webb Simpson will be among the notables reviewed in Tuesday’s Draws and Fades.

    The 2021 edition of the Valspar Championship was shifted to conclude on the first weekend of May, and it hosted the maximum field of 156 (thanks to extended daylight as compared to mid-March). With more favorable scoring conditions than what players typically face on the Florida Swing, last year’s gathering at Copperhead set an eight-edition low with a scoring average of 70.964 on the par 71. Sam Burns prevailed at 17-under 267 to establish the tournament record in the FedExCup era.

    With the tournament back in its customary slot, scoring should rise to its familiar range of 0.5-1.0 strokes over par. That will be influenced in part to taller primary rough. Like PGA National and TPC Sawgrass recently, it’s been allowed to grow a little longer at Copperhead as well. Typically trimmed to three inches, it’s up another half-an-inch this week.

    There is a standard set of four par 5s at Copperhead, but there are five par 3s, three of which on the inward nine. Despite that quirk and no matter when it’s contested, capitalizing on the par 5s matters just as much here as anywhere. Burns proved it en route to his first-ever PGA TOUR title by leading the field in par-5 scoring at 4.06.

    Of course, much more is necessary to take any title. Burns’ splendid tee-to-green game also was on full display all week. He finished 16th in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, 10th in proximity to the hole and fifth in SG: Tee-to-Green, and he paid if off with sensational putting. He missed only twice inside 10 feet to lead the field in conversion percentage inside that range and ranked third in SG: Putting.

    While the list of champions at Copperhead lights up the spectrum of talent and profile, Copperhead primarily challenges splitting fairways and hitting greens in regulation on property that has onlookers wondering how a track with so much elevation change can be located in Florida. Quite simply, it rewards ball-striking.

    Overseeded TifEagle bermuda greens average an area rug’s worth over 5,800 square feet, so so-so and worse putters can hide. Consider that last year’s field average of 67 feet, five inches in distance of putts holed per round slotted as the lowest of the 39 courses measured during the super season of 2020-21. In fact, true to its billing, it was the second time in five years (64’9”, 2016) that it was the stingiest.

    If you’re not already, get used to hearing and learning about The Snake Pit. It consists of the final three holes of Copperhead. The par-4-3-4 conclusion averaged 0.380 strokes over par last year, and Burns scored 3-over in the tournament with only one birdie against four bogeys flanking seven pars. So, it’s a stretch where golfers finishing the second round to make the cut and chasing victory in the finale will hope to hang on, or benefit from others who can’t.

    Of the 71 golfers who made the cut at THE PLAYERS Championship, and as of Monday night, 43 have made the short trip to the Valspar Championship, and they’re bringing a fraction of the inclement weather with them to the opposite coast. There’s a fair chance of rain and boomers mid-tournament, but by no means is what’s forecast even a whiff of a repeat of what happened last week. Sunny, dry conditions are expected for the open and close, and daytime highs will reach the upper 70s consistently. Wind could increase as a threat by the weekend.


    ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE

    PGATOUR.com’s Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous perspectives. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.

    MONDAY: Power Rankings
    TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Draws and Fades
    WEDNESDAY: Pick ’Em Preview
    SUNDAY: Medical Extensions, Qualifiers, Reshuffle, Rookie Ranking

    * - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesday.