Ollie Noonan has Three Big Priced selections for the Valspar Championship.
With the change in schedule for 2019, the Valspar Championship is thrust into the closer role for the PGA Tour’s Florida Swing, with the challenging Cooperhead Course at Innisbrook taking centre stage this week. Perennially one of the most difficult par 71s faced by players each season, the Tampa track tests all facets of a players game, with narrow, undulating fairways requiring a strategic approach and an accurate long game, and small greens requiring a sharp short game. This is not a course that can be over-powered as the average winning score of -9 over the past six editions alludes.
Cooperhead A Tough One To Crack
The 7340 yard course features a unusual set up for a par 71 with five par 3s and four 5s, though scoring across all of those holes is difficult, with none of the par 3s coming in under 190 yards and the par 5 scoring average coming in at just 4.78 across the quartet, the 6th most difficult set of long holes faced all season per Rob Bolton of PGATour.com. As such, bogey avoidance becomes a key stat here as birdie opportunities are harder to come by. Indeed, Paul Casey leads the field in that stat on route to his win here last year.
For the grass fans out there, we’re looking at the same set up as at Sawgrass – overseeded Bermudagrass greens and fairways – so those amongst the field who played well last week should feel pretty comfortable in their surroundings this week.
No Surprise To See DJ At The Top Of The Market
Heading the market is a man who did play very well in finishing 5th last week, Dustin Johnson. The world number 1 was the only man in the field to shot four rounds in the 60s at Sawgrass, somewhat of surprising given his relatively poor record their previously, and he gained an impressive 10.98 strokes tee-to-green across the week. He’s obviously a threat to win wherever he tees it up but given this is his first appearance at Cooperhead since a missed cut in 2010, I’m comfortable enough looking elsewhere, even in what looks a reasonably weak renewal.
Next in line are Jason Day and Jon Rahm, both of whom disappointed in contention on Sunday. Day battled for an even par closing 72 at Sawgrass, which Rahm ejected with a closing 76, having been favourite on the Sunday morning after an electric third round 64. Day tees it up here for the first time since 2013 and he has never finished better than 20th in five tries, whilst Rahm is making his debut at the course. I’m not mad keen to be with either at the prices all things considered.
Steady Hand Webb
My preference instead is to be with ever steady Webb Simpson. The North Carolinian played well last week in defence of his Players Championship crown, ultimately finishing tied for 16th having followed three consecutive 70s with a closing 68. The 2012 US Open champion ended the week 4th in bogey avoidance, mirroring his season-long ranking for that stat, and fifth in scrambling so the move to overseeded greens clearly did not prove a hindrance. Indeed, he’s a former playoff loser at TPC Scottsdale which features the same green set up so if anything, he’s proven to be comfortable on overseeded greens.
His record as Innisbrook is also good, with five previous top 20 finishes, including an 8th place last season and a runner up spot back in 2011. In a relatively shallow field, the five time Tour winner represents a spot of value at 23.0 and I expect him to outperform those odds.
No Love But Lots Of Value On ‘Sneds’
My next best is another regular Tour winner who tends to come to the fore in slightly weaker fields, Brandt Snedeker. I am a big Snedeker fan and believe he’s somewhat underrated given his CV shows nine Tour victories, a PGA Tour Rookie of the Year award and a FedEx Cup title. That he’s priced at 51.0 coming off a top 5 finish in a world-class field, arriving at an event with a much weaker field at a course where he’s not missed a cut in his past six tries and has two previous top 10s, seems like he’s being overlooked.
At Sawgrass he closed 65-69, a weekend best aggregate score of -10, and he lead the field in greens in regulation, whilst also ranking top 10 in strokes gained: approach, around the green and tee-to-green. With all facets of his game in good order, he seems poised to go well here and I believe he’ll have a good run.
Back To Lay On A Huge Long Shot
My final selection is slightly left field but at a price, I think he represents a good trading opportunity, Steve Stricker. The over the past few weeks on Tour we have seen a win for 48 year old Phil Mickelson, 56 year old Vijay Singh in contention at PGA National, 49 year old Jim Furyk in the mix at Sawgrass and a top 10 for 48 year old Brian Gay at Pebble Beach.
Although the young guns are taking over, the more experienced heads are still populating leaderboards and at certain tracks, there is no reason why they can’t compete. Cooperhead is very much one of those tracks and, given strategic thinking and iron play are two of the key facets here, it most definitely plays to Stricker’s strengths.
The 12 time Tour winner has a really solid record at the course, including in recent times as he’s twice finished in the top 12 in the past three seasons, and prior to that, he had a further three top 14 finishes amongst his five outings. On the Champions Tour last season, Stricker played seven times, winning three events and finishing in the top 3 on three other occasions so clearly his game has held together well and I would expect him to play well enough to shorten up over the course of the event to give us a trading win.
- Webb Simpson, 3 points win @ 23.0 (lay 5 points @ 8.0)
- Brandt Snedeker, 2 points win @ 51.0 (lay 5 points @ 10.0)
- Steve Stricker 1 point win @ 301.00 (lay 6 points @ 41.0)