This Week’s Event: 2018 Valspar ChampionshipPat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg debate their 2018 Valspar Championship picks and the week in betting at this week’s PGA Tour stop at Copperhead. Plus, a cameo from Tim Anderson to gloat about Phil’s win in Mexico, and to spew a few horrible golf opinions.
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2018 Valspar Championship Picks: Show Index1:33 — WGC Mexico Recap
18:39 — Cust Bad Golf TV Takes
25:04 — Course/Key Stats
29:45 — Top Odds
40:57 — Rest of Field
1:04:25 — Quick Picks
1:06:09 — One and Done
1:06:20 — Masters Futures
2018 Valspar Championship FieldDefending champ: Adam Hadwin
144 players | Top 70 and ties make the cut | First tee time: March 8 at 6:50 a.m. ET
My favorite event (non-major category) finally gets a field to match its awesomeness in 2018. With the schedule featuring Honda, two WGCs, Arnold’s event at Bay Hill and then capping off with The Masters, the world’s elite generally use Valspar as a bye week to give themselves a rest. Not this time. With Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Paul Casey and world No. 13 Henrik Stenson (finally making his U.S. debut) making the voyage to Tampa, Copperhead will host its strongest field ever.
It’s not just the top end, either. Tony Finau, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Ross Fisher, Charley Hoffman, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Cameron Smith, Kevin Na, Zach Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, J.B. Holmes, Jason Dufner, Gary Woodland, Ben An, Brenden Grace, Steve Stricker, Jimmy Walker, Bill Haas, Jim Furyk, Chez Reavie, Ian Poulter, Shane Lowry and defending champion Adam Hadwin strengthen the player pool on the second level.
Surprisingly, last year’s runner-up, Patrick Cantlay, won’t return to the scene of his first real breakout. Instead, we’ll get some guy named Tiger Woods. I’d wager you’ll see a few of his shots on TV this week.
2018 Valspar Championship Key StatsStrokes Gained: Approach
Strokes Gained: Short Game
Par 3s Gained
Par 5s Gained
2018 Valspar Championship CourseInnisbrook Resort (Copperhead) | 7,340 yards | Par 71
Greens: Bermuda | Ranked 17th of 50 in 2017 difficulty (+0.512)
How difficult is Copperhead? Well, it played “easy” last season and still managed to be the 17th-toughest track on the PGA Tour, with the field finishing a half stroke over par.
2017: 17/50 (+0.512)
2016: 6/50 (+1.618)
2015: 10/52 (+0.863)
2014: 6/48 (+1.433)
2013: 7/43 (+1.222)
Theoretically, tree-lined fairways, difficult-to-hit greens and brutal doglegs should have Driving Accuracy popping off the top of the key stat rankings, but there’s an issue when judging accuracy this week. Like the Honda Classic, a lot of the field — especially the long, generally less accurate hitters — will take less-than-driver off the tee, thus increasing their accuracy. In fact, players find fairways marginally more at Copperhead than in a random event — 61 percent to 60.8 percent. So, focusing on iron play and ability to avoid the blow-up hole (scrambling and short game) should prove to be a better indicator of success.
Also, despite the course being a Par 71, there’s an unusual split between the Par 3s and Par 5s. Five Par 3s are littered around the course, putting far more emphasis on the shorties than usual. And, “shorties” isn’t exactly accurate — none of the Par 3s measure less than 195 yards, and all five played over par in 2017. Normally, scouting Par 3s never hits my radar, but it’s worth an extra look this week to see if you can find players with sustained success on those holes.
The challenging Par 3s are balanced by four Par 5s, the four easiest holes on the course. However, the fifth hole still can cause damage. While the field managed 92 birdies against 58 bogeys (and four doubles), it historically has been one of the few Par 5s on tour to play over par. It’s no gimme.
Finally, the Bear Trap at PGA National steals most the headlines when it comes to tough three-hole stretches in Florida, but there’s real drama in the Snake Pit … HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!! And the fun part, it’s the three closing holes.
Hole 16: Par 4 | 475 Yards | +0.254 (Rank 3) | 46 Birdies vs 91 Bogeys & 22 Doubles or Worse
Hole 17: Par 3 | 215 Yards | +0.111 (Rank 7) | 34 Birdies vs 79 Bogeys & 1 Doubles or Worse
Hole 18: Par 4 | 445 Yards | +0.151 (Rank 4) | 40 Birdies vs 92 Bogeys & 6 Doubles or Worse
If you have the leader as he steps on to the 16th tee, the time to take to Twitter and brag about your genius should wait. The potential for multi-shot swings on this final stretch almost seems inevitable.
2018 Valspar Championship Picks — Targets From Each RangeJordan Spieth
The margin for error among the world’s elite essentially is nonexistent. Many have become disenfranchised with Spieth because of his “poor play” in 2018. But that’s all relative. When you expect a player to win every time he tees it up, five Top 20s and two Top 10s in six starts seem like a disaster for the world’s No. 4 player. It’s really not, though.
The majority of the blame can be placed squarely on Spieth’s putter. We all expect him to lap the field on the greens, (which isn’t something you should ever expect from any player in a given week), and when he doesn’t, he doesn’t get to hoist a novelty check. Putting aside, Spieth continues to be a monster tee-to-green (first in the field over the past 50 rounds) and enters with an excellent track record at Valspar. In four career starts, he has a win and no finish lower than T20.
Sergio needs to fix his short game. Since coming stateside for the Honda, the reigning Masters champ has been Top 5 in the field at PGA National and in Mexico in Strokes Gained: Approach. Very much in character, he’s striking the ball incredibly well. Two weeks ago, he couldn’t roll a putt in Florida. Last week, if he missed a green in regulation (GIR), it was almost an automatic bogey. That’s a poor combination for a difficult track like Copperhead.
However, immaculate ball striking always will win out, and if Sergio can win at Augusta, his short game is good enough to here. Ride the wave of hot irons, and hope the short game falls into place.
After an amazing run in Australia late last year, Smith came into 2018 with a ton of hype. People even were putting him in the conversation to win at both events in Hawaii. When it didn’t happen, everyone bailed. Then, he resurfaced at Genesis, and he has believers again.
That belief should never have gone away, though. Cam hasn’t missed a cut in five 2018 starts, and he has only one finish outside the Top 20. Much like Spieth, but to a lesser degree, we set an expectation in our head of what Smith should be doing, and when he didn’t meet them, it was deemed a failure, and we moved on to the next up-and-comer. These things take time.
Smith still is an excellent long iron player, has some of the best touch of the best in the world around greens, and is in the upper third in the field on Par 3s. On paper, that’s exactly what you need to do at Copperhead. It just needs to be put together for four rounds.
Crank up the dial on difficulty, and Grace starts popping up on leaderboards. While his career success at Heritage hasn’t translated to Valspar yet, the South African’s knack for smacking quality irons and saving himself around the greens should translate perfectly.
Grace lost strokes on his approaches in Mexico for the first time all season, yet he continued his season-long trend of saving pars from missed GIRs. If he can strike the ball as well as he was in California, Grace will contend in Tampa.
There’s always a concern Streelman simply will putt himself out of every tournament. A justifiable concern. Over the past year, he has lost an average of almost a full stroke on the greens at each event. Not great, Bob.
But I’ll keep hammering this home. When we’re talking about predictability, always look at tee-to-green over putting. Just because someone is terrible with a flat stick doesn’t mean they can’t be the best in the field over any four-round stretch. That same person isn’t going to magically lead in Driving Distance if they’re not a bomber. And what does Streelman do well? He’s incredibly efficient getting to the green. He hits fairways and GIR well above the average rate, and takes big numbers out of play. And, when the putter gets hot, he posts massive birdie streaks. Oh, he won this event in 2013, too. Don’t let that slip by.
Other notable names appearing near the top of stat models and the win simulator at FantasyNational.com: Adam Hadwin, Ryan Moore, Chris Kirk, Kevin Na, Paul Casey, Webb Simpson, Bill Haas, Chez Reavie, Justin Rose
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo’s (@ThePME) 14 Fantasy Sports Writing Association nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting) and genre (humor). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at ThePatMayoExperience@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is ThePME) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.