Matt Fitzpatrick can get off the mark for the season at the Valspar Championship according to Ben Coley, who has five selections.
3pts e.w. Matthew Fitzpatrick at 18/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
2pts e.w. Davis Riley at 35/1 (William Hill, BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. David Lingmerth at 100/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Kramer Hickok at 150/1 (BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Dylan Wu at 200/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
The Valspar Championship marks the final stop on the Florida swing and while this year's field can't quite match that of 2022, when five of the world's top 10 took part, there's plenty of star quality at the head of the betting.
Justin Thomas will feel he should've won this title last year and rates a worthy favourite, whether or not you believe his putting woes at Sawgrass are worth dwelling upon. Close behind is Jordan Spieth, a former Valspar champion with obvious claims, and if these two are ever to duel it out for a PGA Tour title then it could well be this week.
There's no doubt that both will have the Masters as their focus now, with this event and the Match Play there to get them sharp, but that shouldn't necessarily be held against them. Both appear close to putting everything together and while it goes without saying that they're high on the radar for next month's major, there's no better way to prepare than by winning.
Like Augusta, the Copperhead Course winds its way through trees and could be called old-fashioned. In part that explains why historically it's been a good place for the straight hitter or indeed what you'd call the old-school ball-striker, such as John Senden or Kevin Streelman. If there's a current version of those two you could argue it's Matthew NeSmith, who very much fit the profile when leading last year's event.
There's no denying though that in Paul Casey and Sam Burns, who've won twice each, the last four renewals have gone to long, strong drivers, both relying on a power fade from the tee. Jason Kokrak is similar and once loved it here, while Keegan Bradley chased home Burns in 2021 and is another fabulous driver who loves definition off the tee.
Perhaps that tells us more about the trajectory of the sport, but I do think those who hit their ball high would tend to find this place more suitable than some of the more exposed Florida courses. Then again we must remind ourselves that Copperhead has been compared to Harbour Town, and that another short course, River Highlands, offers up a lot of good form clues alongside Riviera.
Ultimately this is a difficult place to profile and given the timing of the event, following a fortnight of playing for $20m a time, and some potential vulnerabilities not just with Thomas and Spieth but with hat-trick seeking Burns, it looks wide-open. My only real tendency is towards good drivers, be that through length, accuracy, or both.
The latter applies to MATT FITZPATRICK and Copperhead is a good course for him, as evidenced by last year's top-five finish.
Back then, Fitzpatrick arrived following a missed cut at Sawgrass but it wasn't really a concern, and nor should it be now. Form from The PLAYERS can be as volatile as Sunday's leaderboard, Scheffler aside, and Fitzpatrick has admitted that it really does not suit his game.
By contrast, he said last year that he likes Copperhead and promised to return, despite being left frustrated by slightly easier conditions than he'd expected, plus a cool putter. "If I had anything like a decent putting week, then without sounding too cocky I probably would have won by a few, to be honest," he said, which was quite something for a player yet to win a title on the PGA Tour.
Returning now as a major champion, his game has turned a corner lately after three good rounds in four at Bay Hill, where he was the best ball-striker in the field over the first 36 holes. Last week's stats don't look pretty but at least the putter showed up for the first time since the first event of the year, and he played well on Friday.
Fitzpatrick hasn't missed back-to-back cuts since 2021 and was a winner soon after doing that, anyway. His subsequent results following a weekend off read 5-2-10-13-29-14 and it's long established that with him, the course is vital. That's why he's won twice at Crans, twice in Dubai and, as both an amateur and as a professional, twice at Brookline.
With a non-Sawgrass Florida record of 2-9-11-10-9-5-14 since the beginning of 2019 he looks a rock-solid proposition at a course where his creativity can flourish. The length he's added can only help, as might not having to show his brother the ropes as he did last year, so I'll be disappointed if he's not bang there come the weekend.
Keegan Bradley, Justin Rose and Adam Hadwin all have form that's right there in front of you but I prefer the potential just below them in the betting, with DAVIS RILEY rated the best bet option for this week.
Justin Suh is operating at a very high level now but I worry he could empty, whereas Wyndham Clark, selected at 300/1 for this event last year, looks short enough given that he's yet to put four rounds together at Copperhead. Clark was my player to follow in 2023 and is justifying that without threatening to win, a trend which I expect to continue.
Riley's best form is superior, his ceiling is higher and, unlike the other two mentioned, he's proven here following last year's runner-up finish.
Yes, that came courtesy of a lights-out putting display but he also drove the ball well, something of a Burns-like formula for success, and he returns having produced various other performances which underline his fondness for a classical course like this one.
Hailing from Mississippi and educated at Alabama that should be absolutely no surprise, and it was in a field stronger than this one at Colonial where he hit the front with a few holes left last May. In the end the outcome was the same – victory for Burns, frustration for Riley – but it was another clue that when his first win comes, there's a good chance conditions were familiar.
Like Fitzpatrick, he comes here after a weekend off from The PLAYERS, where he was coasting along before playing his final six holes in four-over. Despite that there were good signs off the tee, a department which deserted him for a while late last year, and if anything I think that late collapse is a positive as far as his prospects here are concerned.
Four players had this tournament between them last year, Riley included. He'd not qualified for Sawgrass, NeSmith had missed the cut, Burns had faded into mid-pack obscurity, and Thomas's title defence never got going from the wrong side of the draw.
In 2021, Matt Jones won the Honda a week after finishing 55th in The PLAYERS, beating Brandon Hagy, who hadn't featured in it. Denny McCarthy (55th), Russell Henley (MC) and CT Pan (MC) had, but none of them had been seriously involved. Those who were generally struggled to back it up.
In 2019, Casey won this following a missed cut at The PLAYERS. Kokrak and Louis Oosthuizen had both been poor. And a year earlier, Aaron Wise (DNP Sawgrass) and Marc Leishman (63rd) had the Byron Nelson between them. Each case has to be judged on its own merits, but it would be unwise to consider a poor week at Sawgrass an automatic red flag.
Riley then had previously shown a big, unsurprisingly jolt of improvement for the most from west to east, following 29th place in the Honda with eighth at Bay Hill, and virtually all of his best golf last year came under conditions somewhat similar to these.
A player who remains with world-class potential, he could do as Burns did and break through at an event where he'd threatened previously. At 28/1 and bigger, he's well worth a good each-way bet.
Gary Woodland's putting is too big an issue to overlook and I'd again prefer potential in the form of Brandon Wu and Will Gordon among the next wave of the market, but my remaining selections are all at three-figure prices in an event which can certainly throw up something unexpected.
I'm not sure the first of them should be, however, with DAVID LINGMERTH having firmly reestablished himself as a PGA Tour player following sixth place at Sawgrass.
Just as bad form there shouldn't unduly worry us, good performances do need contextualising, but Lingmerth's was no flash in the pan. In fact it was his second top-10 in three starts since the PGA Tour returned to his adopted home state and both came in the same way: quality approaches and good putting.
That makes it four top-10s for the season plus 11th place in Bermuda and all of his best putting performances have come on greens similar to these, so I'm really keen to be with him here at a course with some similarities to those he's thrived upon in the past.
River Highlands is an excellent guide and he contended there in 2017, while Muirfield Village is classical, tree-lined and challenging, and that's where he secured his sole PGA Tour win to date. His Korn Ferry Tour win in August came at a tricky, all around test where his accuracy off the tee (at his best) was a real advantage and that also applies to his breakthrough at that level 10 years earlier.
Here at Copperhead he's pulled up no trees but he has made all four cuts and in 2014 hit the ball well enough to win, ranking second in strokes-gained tee-to-green but last in putting. On all three of his other visits he's been just fine on these greens so that too isn't something to worry about.
Perhaps the fact that this is his fourth start running should be, given that he's not had a weekend off throughout this spell, but Lingmerth's Memorial win came after a similar sequence and he's been sleeping in his own bed for the most part. It shouldn't be an excuse and three-figure prices look generous.
Eric Cole almost landed us a 175/1 winner at the Honda, a course he knows better than this one, but nevertheless made some appeal having backed that up at Sawgrass to an extent. It's been an emotionally draining run no doubt, but if he does pop up in the mix, watch for him standing tall as he did until the very last hole at the Honda.
Trey Mullinax meanwhile is a player I like and he has a top-10 here, but there's a limit to how much from last week I'll overlook and his second-round 85 stretches it. Still, before that he played well at Bay Hill, we know Sawgrass doesn't suit, and he's generally played well since an out-of-the-blue win in Kentucky last summer.
However at a slightly bigger price I'll opt for KRAMER HICKOK, a different type of player but one who has proven himself capable of scoring here.
Hickok has three Valspar starts to his name and has made all three cuts, sitting inside the top 10 at some stage in each of them. That ties in with a generally strong record in Florida, where he's missed just two cuts in 13 starts, so it makes sense that he stepped up on some Riviera encouragement to finish 14th at the Honda and 44th at Sawgrass.
That effort at Riviera (29th) is a nice pointer to this and so is his marathon play-off defeat at River Highlands, another short, old-fashioned course. Streelman has done the double as has Spieth and there are a number of others who have played well in both events, NeSmith included.
Hickok's form coming into his fourth Valspar appearance is stronger than it was for the previous two and he's been driving the ball particularly well. Should he continue to do so then a similar putting display to last week's (sixth) would set him up nicely and he could just upstage former roommate Spieth.
Austin Smotherman played well here on debut and could do so again after a confidence-boosting week at Sawgrass, while Akshay Bhatia provides a fun storyline as he returns with Special Temporary Membership secured. This was the scene of his very first PGA Tour start and the in-form youngster has bags of ability.
So does DYLAN WU and I can't resist giving him another chance having been on board in Puerto Rico a fortnight ago.
Wu was a bit disappointing there after a solid start but this traditional course might be more to his liking, despite also having missed the cut here last year. At the time he simply wasn't playing very well and throughout 2022 he failed to better 20th place at the Sony Open in his first start of the campaign.
Twelve months on from a couple of decent Copperhead rounds and his game is in far better shape. Wu has made five cuts in seven, averages less than 70, has comfortably advanced to the weekend in each of his last four appearances, and was hanging around close to the places throughout The PLAYERS.
His putting has seemingly improved and shows an uptick on bermuda, and as a solid, accurate driver of the ball who hits plenty of greens (10th for the season in GIR), I have a strong feeling that this course should really appeal to him.
I did toy with throwing half a point at Wes Bryan, seventh here once and inside the top-10 in Puerto Rico, but that's likely to be a red herring despite his general positivity there. Jim Herman also makes some appeal at big prices, with Sam Stevens and NeSmith completing the shortlist.
Posted at 1755 GMT on 13/03/23
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