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The First Tee at The Valspar Championship

Adam Scott pulled off the one more impressive feats that a modern day PGA Tour player can accomplish. Winning back to back tournaments is nothing to sniff at, especially in the current climate where parity is more prevalent than ever. It is even more impressive when you consider that Scott had experienced a slump that had many people wondering whether he would ever regain form as one of the top players in the world. Those questions are all but over, and Scott now looks to be one of the favorites when the Tour heads to Augusta in a few weeks. As a former Masters champion, Scott now has confidence in his putter and the momentum to pull off another major championship victory. Aside from Scott, Bubba Watson turned in another solid showing finishing 2nd for the second time in the last two years. As another Masters champion, there are quite a few guys playing solid golf who will look to challenge Jordan Spieth for the coveted Green Jacket this year, including Rory McIlroy who finished 4th after going into the final round with the lead. Using a new “left-hand-low" putting grip, McIlroy had his ups and downs on the greens, but displayed his typical world class ball-striking. He will also be among the favorites heading into Augusta. Then you have young Danny Willett, who continued his excellent play that has made him one of the top players on the European Tour, and the outside favorite to win the Race to Dubai. Willett played solid golf on his way to a 3rd place finish, and will also stay on this side of the pond and compete in the Valspar Championship.

The Field

While the Valspar will not have the star studded field that graced us last week, there are still two of the top five players in the world in Jordan Spieth and Henrick Stenson. Golf fans will remember Spieth's playoff victory at last year's Valspar Championship as his springboard to one of the best seasons we've seen in recent memory. Thinking back, Spieth showed off his incredible putting skills in the playoff, canning a twenty foot putt on the first playoff hole to save par and keep himself in the mix. Stenson is also one not to underestimate at the Valspar, finishing 4th last year in his first year playing the event.

In addition, the field boasts some Tier B talent such as Patrick Reed, Harris English, Graham McDowell, Jason Dufner and Kevin Na. All of these players fit the bill as ball-strikers who should give themselves a ton of birdie opportunities, which is one of the keys to conquering Innisbrook.

As I mentioned above, Danny Willett will also be in the field. It will be interesting to see how he fares on a course that is much more target golf than he is used to seeing on the European Tour. He has proved himself to be a very resilient player, and this week will be a great test of golf for the young Englishman.

The Course

Innisbrook resort is a much different course than many of the Florida tracks that host Tour events. There are birdies to be had, but it is target golf at its finest. The course received a face lift last year and had the greens and fairways reseeded with different types of hybrid Bermuda grass that should make the course more consistent and resilient to burn out areas that has plagued the course in the past. As a resort course, it sees more rounds than that of its championship course counterparts, but that is part of the fun.

Innisbrook is a Larry Packard design, and will be played as a par 71, and will tip out at 7,340 yards this week. In years past, the course has played as one of the tougher par 71's on tour, with that trend continuing last year as the field averaged just under 1 stroke over par for the week.

There are certain characteristics that have emerged in recent years among the winners at Innisbrook. Length is not much of an advantage, but driving accuracy is a must. Ball-striking is a key this week, as is greens in regulation. Make no mistake, The Valspar is, and has been, a test of putting. Those who excel with their mid-irons stand a good chance of playing well, as the more greens you hit in regulation the better chance you have of converting birdie opportunities. Despite the course playing over par, the winner last year, Jordan Spieth, converted 19 birdies en-route to his win. I will be looking at birdie or better conversion, greens in regulation, strokes gained:tee to green, strokes gained:putting, driving accuracy and scrambling as my main metrics to determine success.

Rankings

  • 1.)Jordan Spieth: It would be hard to overlook Spieth this week, as Innisbrook is a perfect layout for him to show off his most impressive skillset, his short game. He is as steady as they come and should be able to convert a high percentage of birdie opportunities. As he's shown at the John Deere Classic, when Spieth feels comfortable on a course, he is a force to be reckoned with.
  • 2.)Henrick Stenson: I'm not going out a limb much here, but there are certain weeks where you need to ride the chalk, and this is one of those weeks. Stenson is known for his consistent iron play, rock solid short game, as well as his unflappable demeanor. Aside from Spieth, I can't think of another player whose skillset matches Innisbrook as well as Stenson's. He finished fourth here last year, and just missed qualifying for the playoff. I expect him to finish in the top five and has a great chance to win if Spieth does not run away with it.
  • 3.)Kevin Na: Na has been a very consistent player over the last several years, and this is a week where I will have heavy exposure to him. Due to its length, Na will be not overpowered by the longer hitters this week, and will have an advantage with his sharp iron play. He finished as runner up in 2014, tied for 10th in 2015, and should finish somewhere in between this week.
  • 4.)Jason Dufner: Already a winner in 2016, Dufner has had a career resurgence this year. Dufner is widely known for his ball-striking, always a huge advantage at Innisbrook. He is 7 for 7 in cuts made since 2009, which includes five top 25's. Dufner is riding a hot putter, after converting a ridiculous 130+ feet of putts in his first round at Doral. If he can convert birdie putts at even a half of that clip, he will be tough to beat this week.
  • 5.)Harris English: English is a super talented player, with consistency and ball striking being two of his elite traits. He impressed in the finale at Innisbrook last year, shooting a field low 65—which included a front nine 30—which paved the way to a T10. English has been playing well this season, and turned in a solid performance last week at Doral, where he finished at par or better for each of his four rounds.


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