Power Rankings: Valspar Championship
April 26, 2021
By Rob Bolton , PGATOUR.COM
- Corey Conners enters the Valspar Championship 9th in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Editor's Note: Tyrrell Hatton has withdrawn after a positive COVID-19 test.
Early within the lineup of tentpole stops from March through July is a subset of something for everyone. It starts pre-Florida Swing with a World Golf Championship/additional event doubleheader, continues with another a month later – except the WGC is a Match Play – and lingers all the way to last week’s team event in New Orleans. It’s a harrowing stretch of competition, er, opportunity.
The Valspar Championship represents the other side of it, but it’s not for the weary.
Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club’s Copperhead Course perennially ranks among the most challenging courses every season. Scroll past the projected contenders for more on the brief history of the tournament, what’s new this year – other than its position on the schedule – and mre.
POWER RANKINGS: VALSPAR CHAMPIONSHIP
Sungjae Im, Joaquin Niemann, Abraham Ancer and Henrik Stenson will be among the notables reviewed in Tuesday’s Fantasy Insider.
As a nascent event from 2000-2006, the Valspar Championship was contested later in the calendar year. It then transitioned into a fixture of the Florida Swing when the FedExCup was introduced in 2007. Like many other tournaments, it was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and repositioned this season by more than a month later than when it was accustomed.
Thanks to extended daylight hours at this time of year, the 2021 edition will host 156 golfers for just the third time in its history (2002, 2013). It’s the first of a dozen tournaments extending through the Wyndham Championship in which reservations are made for the maximum. The only individual event staged on one course with as many golfers earlier in the season was the Safeway Open in early September of 2020.
As it concerns the test itself, Copperhead is unchanged. It’s a par 36-35—71 that tips at 7,340 yards. It has the full complement of four par 5s, and they’re challenging, but it has five par 3s, which are just as daunting. However, what’s primarily different this year is that there’s no overseed on the Celebration bermudagrass fairways. Overseed still exists elsewhere, including on the TifEagle bermuda greens. Where it’s transitional won’t be an issue.
Because the greens average just over 5,800 square feet, golfers who are stronger tee to green than they are wielding the flat stick have the inside lane. Two-time defending champion Paul Casey proved this in 2019. He led the field in total driving and Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, but he finished a pedestrian 43rd in Strokes Gained: Putting. Sharpen the focus and you’ll find a winner who performed like any in a shootout, which this tournament most definitely is not. Casey ranked T5 in greens hit and second in converting those chances into par breakers. He also paced the field in par-5 scoring. All of that compensated for finishing T55 in par-4 scoring en route to his one-stroke title at 8-under 276.
Leave it to the grizzled Englishman with the million-dollar smile to make it look easy. Copperhead averaged 71.981 in 2019, highest among all par 71s in non-majors that season. It was the third time in four season that it claimed that distinction.
Moderate winds will contribute to the high scores again this week. They’ll start from a southerly direction early in the tournament before pushing in from the north on the weekend. A threat of inclement weather mid-tournament could cool the air, but daytime highs will reach the low- to mid-80s.
The primary rough exceeds three inches and the putting surfaces can race to 12-and-a-half feet on the Stimpmeter.
If you’re new to the tournament, you’ll be learning how unrelenting The Snake Pit can be. It consists of the closing par 4-3-4. In 2019, Nos. 16, 17 and 18 ranked a respective first, eighth and third in terms of difficulty on the course. Collectively, they averaged 0.611 strokes over par for the week. Casey scored 1-over on the trio during both victories. His only birdie on the stretch in 2019 occurred on the par-4 16th in the opening round.
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: Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Sleepers; Fantasy Insider
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesday.