The early narrative at the Valspar Championship has been rooted in the quality of the 144-man field. In other words, it's the best conglomeration of talent ever gathered in Palm Harbor, Florida. Whether that's true, anecdotally or even empirically, those committed are guaranteed to be challenged in every facet of the game. And that's the point.
Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club's Copperhead Course presents a marvelously un-Florida-like test northwest of Tampa Bay. Replete with tree-lined fairways and elevation change, this is the third edition post-renovation, so how it stacks up against this field at this time should be logged as a benchmark in course and tournament history.
Tuesday's Fantasy Insider will include Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Bill Haas and other notables.
In the two editions since the tight fairways were transitioned to Celebration bermudagrass and the 6,100-square-foot greens to TifEagle bermuda, landing areas at Copperhead have been harder to find. After years of yielding splits north of 60 percent, both driving accuracy (13th on TOUR in 2016 and 20th in 2017) and greens in regulation (third and eighth, respectively) have fallen below that threshold. If there's a tradeoff, it's that average distance of all drives is up marginally, but last year's clip of 273.6 yards was still the fourth-shortest of 38 measured courses all season.
Still, entrants won't find fairer targets anywhere else, but even when last year's field recorded a par breaker in 26.45 percent of chances created. That still ranked 11th-lowest of the season.
The par 36-35=71 can stretch to 7,340 yards and it still boasts four par 5s — there are five par 3s — so capitalizing on the quartet is key, but Copperhead also is significantly about managing misses. Because converting on limited scoring opportunities carries lower expectations, salvaging par to sustain solid rounds is the connective tissue to contend.
En route to his breakthrough victory last year, Adam Hadwin didn't crack the top 25 in either distance off the tee or fairways hit, but he ranked T5 in greens in regulation, fifth in proximity to the hole and led the field in birdies-or-better percentage while putting. Despite that high level of consistency, the difference baked into his one-stroke margin was ranking seventh in scrambling and T3 in bogey avoidance. In fact, it's no coincidence that six of the top 10 on the leaderboard finished inside the top 10 in bogey avoidance for the tournament. Of the same sample size, half landed inside the top 10 in scrambling. With rough as long as three inches and greens threatening 12 feet on the Stimpmeter, feel is paramount.
Hanging on is the objective late what with Nos. 16, 17 and 18 comprising The Snake Pit. The par 4-3-4 is more slog than sprint home. Each of the three holes has averaged over par in every edition in tournament history. Last year, they combined for an average of +0.472 strokes. Hadwin navigated the stretch in even-par last year.
Weather is going to play a role that will likely recur this week. The tournament will open with winds gusting more than 20 mph. Friday's elements are forecasted to be the best, and easily at that. Saturday could be a mixed bag as winds will freshen and the threat of rain is introduced. The final round includes all of these factors and with an increase in the chance for storms with what might be the windiest day of the event.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton will be filing his usual staples leading up to this week’s event. Look for the following columns this week.
MONDAY: Rookie Ranking, Qualifiers, Reshuffle, Medical Extensions, Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider, Facebook Live
WEDNESDAY: One & Done
THURSDAY: Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Champions One & Done
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf presented by SERVPRO, which also publishes on Tuesdays.