The First Look: Valspar Championship
March 13, 2019
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
- March 13, 2019
Inside the PGA TOUR
Valspar Championship preview
Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm prepare to take on the “Snake Pit” of Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead course for the first time, while Jason Day returns for the first time since 2013 as the reconfigured Florida Swing comes to a strong conclusion.
Paul Casey is back to defend the title he captured last year by outlasting Tiger Woods on the final day. In all the field features 11 of the top 30 in the FedExCup standings.
FIELD NOTES: Steve Stricker makes his fourth straight visit, following a share of 12th last year. He owns five top-15 finishes in all at Innisbrook. … Brian Gay is set for his 18th start in 19 editions, missing only the 2015 event with injury. … Two-time Valspar champ K.J. Choi will tee it up for the 17th time, having sat out last year with injury. … Akshay Bhatia, the nation’s top-ranked junior, makes his debut in a PGA TOUR event. The 17-year-old North Carolinian ran off with a six-shot win earlier this month at the Dustin Johnson World Junior. … Canada’s Austin Connelly, who made waves with a share of 14th at The Open Championship two years ago, also is in on a sponsor invite.
FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 500 points.
STORYLINES: Johnson tees it up in the only Florida stop he had yet to play, seeking to add to victories already this year at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship and in Saudi Arabia. His win in Mexico was the 20th of his PGA TOUR career. … Rahm comes to Tampa with five top-10 finishes since the calendar turned to 2019, but remains in quest of his first TOUR win in 14 months. … Just four of 17 defending Valspar champions have achieved a top-10 finish a year later, though Adam Hadwin came close with a share of 12th last year. The tournament has yet to crown a back-to-back winner. … The Copperhead’s “Snake Pit” ranked No. 4 once again among last year’s toughest three-hole closing stretches, averaging .607 strokes over par. Quail Hollow’s “Green Mile” remained atop the list as it went back to hosting the Wells Fargo Championship.
COURSE: Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead), 7,340 yards, par 71. An atypical Florida course built along a spine of rolling terrain north of Tampa, Larry Packard’s tree-lined creation offers a vastly different visual and is a favorite among several PGA TOUR pros. Double doglegs await on two of Copperhead’s par-5s, putting a premium on positioning in order to reach the green in two. It all leads to the “Snake Pit,” with two bruising par-4s sandwiched around the 215-yard 17th as a finishing exam. Opened in 1972, Innisbrook served 10 years as site of the JC Penney team event pairing PGA TOUR and LPGA pros, then converted to a regular stop in 2000.
For those visiting Tampa-St. Petersburg, must-play courses include Innisbrook Resort (Palm Harbor, Fla.), TPC Tampa Bay (Lutz, Fla.) and Streamsong Resort (Bowling Green, Fla.). Book your reservations via TeeOff.com.
72-HOLE RECORD: 266, Vijay Singh (2004).
18-HOLE RECORD: 61, Padraig Harrington (1st round, 2012).
LAST YEAR: Casey ended a nine-year quest for his second PGA TOUR win, charging with a closing 6-under-par 65 that wound up denying an equally hungry Tiger Woods. Casey birdied seven of his first 13 holes at the Copperhead, capped by a 21-footer at No. 13 that pushed him to the front of the pack. Five pars to finish left him at 10-under-par 274, with a wait of nearly two hours before the final groups came through. Among them was Woods, with a chance to force a playoff with a birdie at No. 18 but came up two feet short with a long birdie attempt. Patrick Reed was left no less disappointed, needing only par at No. 18 for a playoff but seeing his birdie attempt fail to climb a ridge and roll back to his feet. Casey’s triumph was his first on TOUR since the 2009 Houston Open, and he hadn’t won anywhere since the 2014 KLM Open.
HOW TO FOLLOW
TELEVISION: Thursday-Friday, 2-6 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 1-3 p.m. (GC), 3-6 p.m. (NBC).
PGA TOUR LIVE: Thursday-Friday, 7:45 a.m.-6 p.m. ET (featured groups). Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (featured groups), 3-6 p.m. (featured holes). International subscribers (via GOLFTV): Thursday-Friday, 11:45 to 22:00 GMT. Saturday-Sunday, 13:00 to 22:00.