Valspar Championship 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis
The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook in the greater Tampa Bay area of Florida is the site of this week’s Valspar Championship. A solid field, including 18 of the top 50 in the FedEx Cup standings, aims to solve the par-71, 7,209-yard course.
The layout continues the recent Bermuda grass trend on the schedule and this one is a fierce test. There are five par 3s and each one is difficult. It’s a hilly course by Florida standards.
Flushers like Henrik Stenson, Charl Schwartzel and Justin Rose excelled here in the past. Tiger Woods and Paul Casey also fit the list. Luke Donald’s combination of iron play and elite sand play was a cash making formula. Shorter hitters like Scott Brown, Steve Stricker and Ryan Armour have also played well here in recent years.
Finding the fairway is important. On a course with many elevated greens, all of which are firm, the best plan of attack involves the short grass. There are seven par 4s in the 400-450 yard range and nearly half the approach shots are from 175 yards or longer.
We paid attention to players who have performed well in Florida, on Bermuda and on firm greens. We looked at results from other difficult courses and par-5 scoring, since they present the best chances to move up the leaderboard.
Coming home on Copperhead the competitors must maneuver through the Snake Pit, a daunting three-hole stretch that begins with the 16th, a 460-yard par 4, followed by a 215-yard par 3 and the uphill 445-yard par-4 finishing hole. Pars are excellent scores on all three holes.
Pars are excellent scores on many of the holes at the Copperhead. The par 4s yielded birdies only 12 percent of the time in 2019. That was the lowest rate on Tour that season. Here are recent results.
2019: 8-under won and 4-under top 10 (final round March 24th)
2018: 10-under won and 5-under top 10 even earlier in March
2017: 14-under won and 7-under top 10
With the tournament being held a month or so later this year and the winds expected to be light and southerly, scoring could be slightly better. Still, since 2003, the cut was over par in every year except 2011 and 2012 when it fell on even par.
The greens are difficult to hit 60.3 percent (65.6 Tour average) and the fairways are also slightly more difficult to find than an average week on Tour.
Yes, I omitted Viktor Hovland. He’s always a threat to contend but the models didn’t love him and I’m a little concerned about his chipping. Or maybe that’s my chipping. Either way, I’ll bypass the most expensive players this week and aim to build a balanced roster from the lower tiers.
The Bargain Bin
– James Hahn, Tom Hoge, Adam Schenk, Chase Seiffert, Camilo Villegas
We ended up with a fair number of veterans in the power rankings this week. It wasn’t intentional, but it makes sense. Patience and sharp strategy will be assets. Grinding out pars is imperative. The green light opportunities to fire at a flag are presented, but scarce. As always, good luck.
Golfer power rankings
25. Justin Rose – I’m still buying the Rose resurgence and expect it to continue at the Valspar considering he’s finished top 10 in three of his last five starts here. He’s second in the field in par-5 scoring over the last 24 rounds on firm greens.
24. Peter Uihlein – He won on the Korn Ferry Tour two weeks ago. He teamed with Richy Werenski to finish third in the Zurich Classic last week. His confidence has to be peaking and his solid par-5 efficiency and Bermuda putting prowess makes him an excellent value at Innisbrook.
23. Ryan Palmer – Including last week’s team format, has made 12 consecutive cuts, and also advanced out of his pod in the WGC-Match Play. Has been worse than the field average in short game in five of the last six weeks though.
22. Bubba Watson – Tied for fourth in the 2019 Valspar and leads the field in SG: Tee-to-Green in firm conditions over the last 12 rounds. Last three starts were all promising: T-9 Match Play, T-26 Masters, T-8 Zurich.
21. Keegan Bradley – Wish his history here was better (three missed cuts in five starts) but his combination of elite iron play and strong short game over the last two months should be a good fit for the demands of Innisbrook.
20. Dustin Johnson – The No. 1 player in the world presents a dilemma this week. He’s had three poor outings in a row, due to uncharacteristic poor iron play and awful putting at Augusta. He’ll be the most expensive option in most fantasy formats. He also leads the field in SG: Total on firm greens over the last 12 rounds and is second in SG: Ballstriking. Choose wisely.
19. Gary Woodland – Won the Valspar in 2011 and added a T-8 in 2014 but has missed the cut in three of five trips to Innisbrook since, finishing no better than T-42. The encouraging number here is 9.5, the number of SG: Tee-to-Green for Woodland in a T-6 at the Valero Texas Open. It was his best effort tee-to-green in nearly two years.
18. Tyrrell Hatton – Making his sixth start in the U.S. in 2021 and still seeking his first top-10 result. He’s 12th on Tour in Sand Save percentage and has gained at least two shots on approach in seven of the last nine events. Missed the cut here in only previous appearance.
17. Kevin Na – Surprising missed cut at Hilton Head can be attributed to a Masters hangover perhaps. The Copperhead is a good place for him to regain momentum. He has three top 10s on the demanding layout, including a runner-up in 2014. Solid on the pivotal 400-450 yard par 4s.
16. Branden Grace – Finished top 10 at the Valspar in 2018 and his partner last week, Harold Varner III, Tweeted that Grace carried the team. Over the last five tournaments he’s been better than the field average in every significant area.
15. Denny McCarthy – One of the Tour’s best putters, he’s gained strokes on approach in his last four starts. Made the cut in all three previous Florida tournaments, finishing third in difficult scoring conditions at the Honda. Tied for ninth in the 2019 Valspar.
14. Russell Henley – Gained 8.8 strokes on approach at the Heritage to produce a second consecutive top-10 finish. Also had a top 10 at the Valspar in 2017 and ranks top 25 in the field in SG: Putting on Bermuda over the last 36 rounds.
13. Charley Hoffman – Starting at Pebble Beach, has five top 25s in his last seven tournaments. Mixed bag at the Valspar of late with three top 25s and three missed cuts in last six outings. Leads the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 12 rounds.
12. Corey Conners – One of the Tour’s hottest players (four top 10s and a T-14 in last five events) yet it’s worth noting he’s struggled putting and chipping on firm Bermuda greens over the last 24 rounds (134th Short Game, 136th Putting). We’ll trust his ballstriking for yet another week. T-9 at Valspar in 2019.
11. Justin Thomas – Looks to bounce back from a disappointing Masters (T-21). Excels around the greens on firm Bermuda. Making first Valspar appearance since 2017 when he missed the cut, but finished top 20 each of the two previous years. Has six top 10s in his last 13 stroke-play tournaments.
10. Abraham Ancer – Just needs a few putts to drop. Despite losing shots on the greens in four of the last five tournaments, has finished no worse than 26th. His precision will be rewarded at Innisbrook (T-16 in 2018).
9. Paul Casey – The two-time defending champion missed his first cut of the season at RBC Heritage but otherwise has played well anytime and anywhere he’s teed it up in recent months. Among the Tour’s best at avoiding bogeys and his short game is top 25 in this field.
8. Sungjae Im – Already has seven top 25s in 2021 and tied for fourth in his only Valspar appearance in 2019. Top 15 in greens in regulation gained over the last 36 rounds and second in SG: Putting on Bermuda. Short game has kept him from contending.
7. Talor Gooch – Leads the field in SG: Approach on firm greens over the last 12 rounds. Struggled in only other Valspar appearance, shooting 8 over and missing the cut in 2018, but he’s a different player now.
6. Louis Oosthuizen – Can he rebound from a watery tee shot on the first hole of sudden death last week and flourish again on a course where he’s finished in the top 10 in two of the last three starts? Of course. His numbers are strong through the bag recently and on firm greens.
5. Scottie Scheffler – Ranks high in the models, which don’t include his run to the finals of the WGC-Match Play. Contended earlier this year at The Concession GC and has averaged gaining 1.5 SG:Approach in the last five tournaments.
4. Lanto Griffin – He’s the only player in the field who is top five in proximity from 175-200 yards and 200 yards plus. Gained strokes on approach in 13 of his last 14 tournaments, excluding the Masters. Making his first trip to Innisbrook.
3. Joaquin Niemann – Last missed cut was the Northern Trust in August 2020, a string of 15 tournaments. Seeking first top-10 finish since those back-to-back runner-ups in Hawaii in January. The strong approach play is assumed; he’s also top 20 in the field in SG: Short Game on firm greens. Tied for 37th in Valspar debut in 2019.
2. Jason Kokrak – Finished in the top 10 in all three previous Florida starts this season and has many good memories at Copperhead, where he’s landed in the top 10 in three of his last five trips. In this field, he’s 25th in SG: Approach and 29th in SG: Putting over the last 24 rounds.
1. Patrick Reed – Tied for eighth at the Masters – his third top 10 in five starts – and ninth top 25 in his last 11 PGA Tour events. Better ballstriking has helped Reed be more consistent and his skills around the green are among the world’s best (second in field in SG: Putting and SG: Short Game). Valspar runner-up in 2015 and 2018.