Power Rankings: Valspar Championship
4 Min Read
Written by Rob Bolton @RobBoltonGolf
Editor's note: Keegan Bradley withdrew from the Valspar Championship on Wednesday, March 15th, and was replaced in the field by Jonathan Byrd.
Once again, the Florida Swing has delivered another series of phenomenal stories. The construct of the fields, the last two of which for designated events, and the variety of the courses played contributes to the texture. And it’s not over yet.
The Valspar Championship serves as the anchor for the four-week journey through the Sunshine State. Contested as usual on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida, the champion will have stepped forward from a field of 144.
Details on a couple of timely connection points, how Copperhead sets up and more can be found below.
The Golfbet Insider will include reviews of 2022 Valspar Championship runner-up Davis Riley, Webb Simpson, Akshay Bhatia, Pierceson Coody and other notables.
After winning THE PLAYERS Championship on Sunday, Scottie Scheffler referenced last year’s Charles Schwab Challenge as one that got away amid his current flurry of six victories in 13 months. After coming from way behind, Sam Burns defeated Scheffler at Colonial in a playoff that week.
Burns will be defending that title in late May, but he’s also defending a title this week … for the second consecutive time. Also in a playoff last year at the Valspar Championship, he upended then-rookie Davis Riley for what was Burns’ second of three wins during the 2021-22 season and second straight at Copperhead. Burns is the second of, count ‘em, five two-time defending champions this season.
The 2021 edition of the Valspar ended on the first weekend of May because of the impact of the pandemic and unprecedented super season on the PGA TOUR. However, Burns prevailed at 17-under 267 in both, thus checking up one stroke from matching Vijay Singh’s tournament record that was established in late October of 2004 when this tournament held down a spot in the old Fall Series. So, while it’s mildly surprising (but wholly impressive) that Burns exceled at Copperhead about a month-and-a-half apart on the calendar, the wrinkle is that Copperhead averaged under par in both. That’s after seven straight editions well enough over par to stand out as a potential inflection point in time.
The par 71 has five par 3s and the full complement of four par 5s. With only nine par 4s, it’s an engaging walk northwest of Tampa. A traditional parkland feel and uncommon elevation changes for a Florida track add to the differences compared to the first three hosts on the Florida Swing. As enjoyable as it is, a scoring average of just 70.231 last year was not expected, and it shouldn’t be again this week. Nor should The Snake Pit play basically to par as it did last year. The par-4-3-4 close collectively averaged just 0.146 strokes over par.
After a perfect day for the opening round – which should be the most favorable day for red numbers – Mother Nature is forecast to be dropping a hammer, primarily in the form of a wind machine dialed to high. Southerly breezes will be sustained at 15-25 mph on Friday and Saturday. They will reverse direction and howl in from the north at the same clip for Sunday’s finale when the daytime high might not touch 70 degrees. Rain is all but a certainty on the weekend, if not dangerous conditions that might halt the proceedings.
With that in mind, Copperhead will favor ball-strikers more than it already does. With greens averaging just 5,800 square feet, keeping the ball in play is the priority. Guys who don’t rely on putting to score can reconnect with confidence by leaning on their tee-to-green strength. Lower ball flights and some experience in understanding where to miss should define the contenders.
TifEagle bermuda greens are ready to run to 12½ feet on the Stimpmeter, but that’s when the elements are ideal. The thickest rough on the 7,340-yard track is at least 3½ inches.
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
WEDNESDAY: Golfbet Insider
SUNDAY: Payouts and Points, Medical Extensions, Qualifiers, Reshuffle
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesday.