The PGA Tour heads back to Florida for the Valspar Championship. The last time this event was played was in 2019 where Paul Casey was able to successfully defend his 2018 title. The event is hosted at Innisbrook Golf Resort at the Copperhead Course. Copperhead is one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour. Golfers will face a unique Par 71 test that features an extra Par 3. There will be five Par 3s, nine Par 4s, and four Par 5s. It will be a full field this week with 156 golfers.
Innisbrook Golf Resort (Copperhead) is a brutal, 7,340-yard challenge for golfers. The course will challenge golfers to execute every single shot. The narrow fairways are lined with trees, there are at least four holes that have water hazards, and the greens are hard to hit. The greens will feature firm and fast TifEagle Bermudagrass. Being so close to the Gulf of Mexico means that wind will be a factor. Any golfer who approaches double-digits under Par should expect to win. Four of the last five winners have won with a score of -10 or worse. Ball-striking will be paramount this week with an added emphasis on Approach and long iron play. Whenever the PGA Tour visits a challenging course, strong Around-the-Green play becomes a valuable skillset to look for. Golfers who have the ability to turn bogeys into Pars are extremely valuable in a week like this where you can expect plenty of Over-Par rounds from the best golfers in the world.
My handicapping process for the week began by reviewing the scorecards of former winners to search for key stats to value for this course. Recent winners of this event are: Paul Casey, Paul Casey (again), Adam Hadwin, Charl Schwartzel, and Jordan Spieth. While the average winning score from the last five winners has only been -9.8, these golfers averaged over 18 birdies. There are birdies to be made, but there are also plenty of bogeys that will make their way onto scorecards. The last five winners have an average score of -9 relative to Par on the sixteen Par 5s that they faced in the week that they won. The path to success will be scoring on the Par 5s and surviving the Par 4s. The extra Par 3 is another reason to really consider strong iron players this week. Tee-to-Green has shown itself to be a common stat that the former winners have excelled in, along with Putts Per GIR and Approach. Putting is extremely volatile and it’s impossible to pinpoint which golfers will have an above average Putting week, but I tend to look at stats such as Putting Average and 3-Putt Avoidance to find golfers who have shown consistency with the flatstick.
Correlated courses I looked at this week were Muirfield Village (Memorial), Sherwood (2020 ZoZo), TPC River Highlands (Travelers), and TPC Southwind (WGC FedEx St Jude). These courses require elite iron play, especially on longer approach shots (over 175 yards). Most of these courses have also seen windy conditions affect the overall scoring, and courses like Muirfield, Sherwood, and TPC Southwind are some of the harder courses on Tour in terms of scoring average. Overall, I will be looking for a dominant Par 5 scorer, a strong iron player who can handle challenging Par 4s, and a golfer who has shown an ability to avoid bogeys.
Key Stats: Approach, GIR, Tee-to-Green, Proximity from 175-200 yards, Putting Average, and Around-the-Green.
Scoring Upside: Par 5 BoB, Par 4 Scoring Average, Par 3 BoB, Bogey Avoidance, Birdie to Bogey Ratio, and Par 4 Efficiency (400-450 yards).
Valspar Betting Tips
Corey Conners 26-1 (Fanduel)
Conners was one the first golfers I bet on when odds were released because Fanduel opened up a number that was not in line with the rest of the market. Conners is now 21-1 on Fanduel and under 20-1 at most places. Conners being priced ahead of golfers like Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hatton, and Viktor Hovland speaks to how good Conners has been recently. In his last five stroke-play events, Conners has finishes of third, seventh, fourteenth, eighth, and fourth. Four Top 10 finishes in his last five events is crazy. The 29-year-old Canadian has always been a great ball-striker, so it’s no surprise that he’s ranked second in GIRs Gained, second in Tee-to-Green, and fifth in Approach for the 2021 PGA Tour season among golfers in this field.
Over his last 36 rounds, in this field Conners ranks: first in Tee-to-Green, first in GIRs Gained, third in Strokes Gained Par 5s, third in Bogey Avoidance, and fourth in Approach. Conners is an elite ball-striker and has seen drastic improvement in his putting this season. Last year, Conners was ranked 181st in Putting and this year he is ranked 68th. Conners is so good with his irons that if he can remain neutral with his flatstick he will be in contention.
Joaquin Niemann 35-1 (Fanduel)
Joaquin Niemann got off to a red-hot start in 2021 with back-to-back runners-up in Hawaii. However, since then he has been playing well but not great. The last time Niemann missed a cut was last August at the Northern Trust, which was sixteen starts ago. However, he hasn’t recorded a Top 10 finish since his runner-up at the Sony Open back in January. Niemann’s consistency is extremely attractive this week because he doesn’t need to collect a plethora of birdies in order to win. In 2021, among this field Niemann ranks fifth in Tee-to-Green, and seventh in GIRs Gained. Niemann’s ability to consistently make Pars is a good trait to have this week based on the expected winning score.
In 2021, among this field Niemann ranks: fourth in Birdie-to-Bogey ratio, ninth in Par 4 Efficiency (400-450 yards), ninth in Par 4 Scoring Average, tenth in Par 5 BoB, 15th in Par 3 BoB, and 21st in Bogey Avoidance. This season, Niemann has been able to score on both Par 5s and Par 3s while keep his scorecard in tact Par 4s. This is a great skillset for this week where the Par 4s will completely take some golfers out of the tournament.
Jason Kokrak 40-1 (DraftKings)
Along with Corey Conners, Kokrak was one of the first bets I punched in this week. He has been a popular golfer over the last couple of weeks because his underlying stats have been so good. Additionally, Kokrak has started to show himself as a golfer who thrives in tough scoring conditions. Back in early March, Kokrak played three events in the state of Florida. In those three events he reeled off three straight Top 10 finishes. Valspar has been kind to Kokrak in his recent appearances, where he has back-to-back Top 10 finishes including a runner-up in 2019.
Over the last 24 rounds, in this field Kokrak ranks: first in Bogey Avoidance, third in Strokes Gained on Par 5s, 15th in GIRs Gained, and 18th in Tee-to-Green. Kokrak is also eighth this season in Par 5 BoB among this field. A lot of the golfers I will be playing this week are very similar types of golfers. I love Kokrak’s ability to score on Par 5s and avoid mistakes. That is the recipe for success at this course. I was shocked to see his number open up at 40, and immediately took that number. Kokrak is also very likely to end up as my One-and-Done this week because I like his floor and his ceiling for this week.
Chris Kirk 55-1 (DraftKings)
Kirk is starting to become a regular in this article. This will be my third time betting on Kirk outright in the last six weeks. I just can’t lay off of the way he is trending. Kirk has been consistent all year, and on tough courses I think consistency is imperative. I mentioned earlier that the key to success at Valspar has been Approach, Tee-to-Green, and avoiding mistakes. Kirk has excelled in al three of these categories this season. In 2021, among this field Kirk ranks: seventh Around-the-Green, ninth in Tee-to-Green, and 15th in Approach. Kirk has been laying the blueprint for a win, and one of these weeks he will cash in these top finishes for a victory.
The key stats are one thing for Kirk, but the thing that I like the most is his consistency on Par 4s. Golfers will not win this event on the Par 4s, but they certainly will lose it on them. The last five winners have averaged one stroke over Par on the Par 4s. In 2021, among this field Kirk ranks: first in Par 4 Efficiency (400-450 yards), and fifth in Par 4 Scoring Average, and sixth in Birdie to Bogey ratio. Kirk profiles very well for this type of event because he can “survive” the Par 4s.
Keegan Bradley 80-1 (DraftKings)
Bradley is the Captain of #TeamNoPutt, but he has one thing going in his favor this week. This course has the second most missed putts from inside five feet. If more golfers in the field are missing short putts, it should bring Bradley into the picture because this is what Bradley normally does. With Bradley’s biggest weakness being somewhat neutralized, I can focus on his strengths. For all of the 2021 PGA Tour season, in this field Bradley ranks: first in Tee-to-Green, second in Approach, fourth in Strokes Gained Par 5s, 15th in GIRs Gained, and 20th Around the Green. Bradley fits the mold for the type of golfer who will win this week. Bradley also ranks sixth in this field in Proximity from 175-200 yards. At Copperhead almost 24% of all approach shots will come from this range, which is 6% higher than the average Tour event. With Bradley’s ability to be a Tee-to-Green machine, I think he will be able to limit the mistakes and contend this week.