The win is the thing, and this column was delighted to finally record a magnificent ‘W’ after a number of near misses so far this season with Adam Scott triumphing in the WGC Cadillac Championship at 14/1 for us. Congratulations if you were on.
Incidentally, it could have been a double whammy with Dustin Johnson, our other headline pick, entering the final round in second place. He blew it good and proper with a final 18 of +7, but even that couldn’t take the shine of Scott’s victory.
Onwards we go, and this week we remain in Florida as the action reverts to the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club – specifically the Copperhead Course – for the Valspar Championship. With the Masters around a month away, it’s no surprise to see reigning champion here Jordan Spieth defend his crown, nor a host of other big names contesting.
How Does the Course Play?
First things first, what kind of player should we be seeking out this week? Well, it would appear – if course stats and previous winners are anything to go by – that we should be looking for neat and tidy players; rather than the bludgeoners who were tipped (and ultimately did) do so well at Doral National last week.
There are thin fairways and compact greens to deal with, so accuracy from tee to putter must be sought. Ten of thirteen prior winners on this stretch ranked top ten for greens in regulation and strokes gained: putting, with driving accuracy and scrambling becoming a factor last year also.
Just look at some of those previous winners: the roll call includes Luke Donald, Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen and Vijay Singh. One of the things they all have in common is a certain tidiness in their work, and none is of the upper echelon when it comes to striking distances. Indeed, Goosen and another methodical stylist, KJ Choi, are multiple-time winners here, with John Senden – not a prolific winner by any means – a former champion and a two-time runner-up here. That suggests that previous course form is a priority.
Who’s Playing This Week?
Naturally Jordan Spieth comes here as the 11/2 favourite given his outstanding ability, but that price looks a wee bit short to us given that he hasn’t breached the top 10 in any of his last three starts.
The Englishman Danny Willett makes his second start on American soil this term after a fine showing at Doral last week, while the South African trio of Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace always seem to be in the mix for honours. But this quartet all lacks one key ingredient for success here: course pedigree. Instead, our three picks have got bags of it.
Who Are You Backing?
Henrik Stenson (14/1)
It’s been a rather harsh two-and-a-bit years for Stenson; that’s how long it’s been since he last won on the PGA Tour. A cavalcade of top ten (11) and top five (5) finishes have followed, but that leap into the winner’s enclosure remains elusive. Perhaps this could be the week.
The likes of Scott, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson aren’t here, and with Spieth’s form wobbling there is a golden opportunity for somebody to grasp the nettle. Having finished fourth here last year, Stenson has the all-important course form we crave.
He’s 47-11-28 this year but three rounds of par or less at the unforgiving WGC Cadillac Championship last week show he’s striking the ball well. And statistically he is pushing a lot of the right buttons too: he’s 53rd on tour for driving accuracy, 19th for GIR, 51st for strokes gained: putting and 34th for Par 5 scoring.
Russell Knox (60/1)
The Scot features in the top 20 on tour for three of our key performance indicators this week: GIR (1st), scrambling (9th) and driving accuracy (18th) and so theoretically at least should go well.
He’s won twice on tour already this season – a happy knack – and has finished in the top 30 of his last two outings after a bit of a crisis of confidence in February. A return of 25-33 in his last two attempts here suggests Knox’s affinity with the Copperhead Course is growing.
Sean O’Hair (70/1)
Rather unfancied and rather underpriced, in our opinion, O’Hair won here in 2008 and finished runner-up in 2015 – losing in that hard-fought play-off to Spieth.
He’s a solid player – shots gained: putting (9th), Par 5 scoring (12th) and scrambling (30th) – hence his decent record here, and while his current form can be filed under ‘solid if unspectacular’ (28-cut-35-14), this is a course that seems to ignite something special in the 33-year-old.