Now that we've learned how THE PLAYERS Championship delivered in its return to March, it's time to see how those who competed in the PGA TOUR's flagship event turn over – or is it hang over? – for the Valspar Championship.
As of midday Monday, 87 of the 144 in the field at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club's Copperhead Course made the trip from TPC Sawgrass. While there will be a more casual feel in the anchor leg of the Florida Swing outside Tampa, no one can let his guard down on what's been the toughest or second-toughest par 71 among all non-majors in each of the last six seasons.
No changes have been made to Copperhead since last year's edition, but scroll past the ranking for analysis of what the field of 144 can expect, how Paul Casey extended a theme and more.
Gary Woodland, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson, Branden Grace and Steve Stricker will be among the notables covered in Tuesday's Fantasy Insider.
While Innisbrook Resort is only 165 air miles southwest of TPC Sawgrass, it might as well be on the other side of the planet. The 7,340-yard test is the unforgiving examination amid uncommon elevation change in the Sunshine State as compared to the risk-reward at essentially sea level of its predecessor on the schedule.
In its third spin post-renovation, the Copperhead Course held firm with a scoring average of 71.968 last year. There's just nowhere to hide or gain traction. Consider that among all courses in 2017-18, it ranked inside the top 15-most challenging in distance of all drives (fourth), fairways hit (15th), greens in regulation (third), proximity to the hole (T11) and putting: birdies-or-better (fifth).
Even though there are four par 5s, they surrendered a stingy 4.78 scoring average, sixth-highest of all courses. The par 4s also ranked sixth (at 4.13), while the quintet of par 3s were no bargain, either, at 3.13, good for a tie for the 11th-hardest set. All of these analytics align with its recent history.
If there's a soft spot on the property, it's around and on greens that are prepped to touch 12 feet on the Stimpmeter. Since the switch in 2016 to TifEeagle bermuda, which is overseeded for the tournament, Copperhead has been a pushover, at least relatively speaking, in terms of scrambling for pars and putting inside 10 feet. The trend enhances the value of hitting greens in regulation. It also rewards those with terrific short games.
Adam Hadwin is known for being one of the best putters on TOUR, so it made sense when he broke through for his first title here in 2017. He finished the week inside the top 10 in both scrambling and bogey avoidance.
Paul Casey defends this week after a similar performance. The Englishman ranked T68 in driving accuracy, T30 in piling up scoring opportunities and 15th in strokes gained: putting, but he made the putts count when necessary, finishing third in scrambling and co-leading the field in bogey avoidance.
Embedded in Copperhead's tip-to-tail toughness is The Snake Pit. It consists of the par-4 16th hole, the par-3 17th and the par-4 18th. Since the tournament debuted (in the fall) in 2000, none of the holes have averaged under par in any edition. Last year's aggregate scoring average for the trio was 11.607. Casey scored 1 over for the week en route to his one-stroke victory at just 10-under 274.
With overseeded rough extending three inches and higher, the moral of this matter is it would be poor to plan for a slingshot of a victory at the finish line. This is all about climbing the leaderboard early and course management coming home.
This week's experience should resemble what we already know. Aside from the occasional freshening but manageable breezes, Mother Nature is going to cooperate throughout. Gradually increasing daytime highs into the upper 70s are expected. A system that will bring rain is on the horizon, but it might not arrive until the tournament concludes.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
MONDAY: Rookie Ranking, Qualifiers, Reshuffle, Medical Extensions, Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: One & Done
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesdays.