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The Cadillac Championship at Doral always feels like the start of The Masters build-up to me. Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, J.B. Holmes, Adam Scott (who needs a belly putter?) Henrik Stenson and Louis Oosthuizen have all gone down in the Augusta notebook to be dusted off a few weeks from now. 5 of the World's Top 10 plus a whole number of players for whom Augusta is still an empty space in the diary gather this week at Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbor, Florida, to play the uncompromising Copperhead course. With the first Major Championship of 2015 now only 4 weeks away, many use the technical Copperhead course as a Major-style warm-up for the big event itself.
To whet your appetite, from here we travel to Bay Hill, TPC San Antonio and finally the Golf Club of Houston prior to Augusta which tees off on the 9th April. For the 3rd year we are running a cracking Majors Competition in association with bet365 with an increased £225 free bet prize fund. You can enter via our Facebook Group, twitter or via email - full details are here.
2015 Punters League
Congratulations to Declan Prendergast who impressively selected winners Alex Cejka and Dustin Johnson plus Adam Scott in the places at Doral as well. We also have a new league leader with Dave Hulks now hitting the front after 9 weeks. New entrants are always welcome so enter your 6 players across the Valspar Championship and Tshwane Open via our facebook group now.
Pretoria Country Club plays host to the final European Tour event on South African soil this week in the guise of the Tshwane Open. Paul Williams' preview who grabbed his second consecutive winner last week covers everything you need to know. Tampa Bay sees the PGA Tour make its annual stop for the Valspar Championship. This week's preview walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
Course Guide: The tournament is played on the tough Copperhead course in Palm Harbor, Florida. As a 7,340 yard Par 71, the course is tight off the tee but, unlike other typical Florida courses, the Larry Packard design has tree-lined fairways, plenty of elevation changes and dog-leg holes. Copperhead achieves this fairly unique layout as it is contains 4 Par 5s and 5 Par 3s which is highly unusual for a Par 71 course. The course also features 'The Snake Pit' - namely holes 16 to 18 - which, as the name suggests, adds real bite to the closing stretch, especially on Sunday.
Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbor, Florida: Designer: Larry Packard, 1971; Course Type: Florida, Technical; Par: 71; Length: 7,340 yards; Fairways: Bermuda; Rough: Bermuda 2.5"; Greens: 7,500 sq.ft average TifEagle Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 11.5 - 12ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 70.73 (-0.27), Difficulty Rank 30 of 49 courses. 2013: 72.22 (+1.22), Difficulty Rank 7 of 43 courses. 2014: 72.43 (+1.43), Rank 6 of 48 courses.
Course Overview: Copperhead played as the 6th hardest course on the PGA Tour 12 months ago. It was the 3rd hardest non-Major course behind Congressional (hosted 2011 U.S. Open) and Torrey Pines South Course (hosted 2008 U.S. Open). It's worth noting that 2014 featured strong winds across Thursday and Sunday which inflated the scoring. Scoring will undoubtedly be lower this week with substantial wind only forecast across Friday's play, but it would be wise to still expect technical level scoring on a course that is sure to be fiery after an incredibly dry opening to 2015. The Copperhead course features tight fairways, a number of long holes and tricky Tifeagle Bermudagrass greens that are overseeded with Poa Trivialis. Green complexes are some of the largest on the whole PGA Tour and with their composition they tend to turn faster and more difficult to read as the day's play progresses. Copperhead is definitely a technical test where a fantastic all-round game is required and its 36-35 setup makes the 16 attempts at the Par 5s, alongside bogey avoidance, the critical factors.
Previous Copperhead winners: 2014: John Senden (-7); 2013: Kevin Streelman (-10); 2012: Luke Donald (-13); 2011: Gary Woodland (-15); 2010: Jim Furyk (-12); 2009: Retief Goosen (-8); 2008: Sean O'Hair (-4); 2007: Mark Calcavecchia (-10); 2006: K.J. Choi (-13); 2005: Carl Pettersson (-9); 2004: Vijay Singh (-18); 2003: Retief Goosen (-12); 2002: K.J. Choi (-17).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published Valspar Championship predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players included in the upper reaches of the Predictor include Jim Furyk (Rank 1), Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Kevin Na and Justin Rose. Just outside the Top 5, Charles Howell III is playing well from tee-to-green right now at 100/1 and a case can be made for Tour rookies Blayne Barber and Justin Thomas at 200/1 and 80/1 respectively.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the Nedbank / Hero Challenges and includes PGA Tour, European Tour and the Hero World Challenge. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: The Valspar Championship (formerly the Tampa Bay Championship & Transitions Championship) is one of those domestic PGA Tour tournaments that often defies the formbook. The course stretches the very best players as it requires a Major-like mix of accuracy, top ball-striking and a razor-sharp short game. With such a prerequisite you'd probably be surprised to hear that the 5 most recent winners have gone off at 125/1, 200/1, 11/1, 100/1 and 30/1 respectively. Naturally one of the favourites could win but plenty of long prices will be in the mix based on recent history.
Winners & Prices: 2014: Senden 125/1; 2013: Streelman 200/1; 2012: Donald 11/1; 2011: Woodland 100/1; 2010: Furyk 30/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Copperhead is here. This looks like another case where the draw could actually shape the leaderboard. Early starters on Thursday would seem to have a definite advantage with a fresh course and light winds. Friday's conditions look windier across the day making an AM/PM draw look advantageous.
Nappy Factor: Here's a list of players in this week's field who have become recent fathers. This is an interesting angle that his historically delivered numerous winners. If you know of further players don't hesitate to email us or add new names to the thread on our facebook group: Adam Scott 15.2.15, D.A. Points 20.1.15, Henrik Stenson 27.10.14, Scott Langley 6.10.14.
Augusta OWGR Bubble: Here's a list of players by current OWGR who aren't yet qualified for The Masters. Remember a win this week guarantees a spot at Augusta National. Current OWGR in brackets: Harris English (60), Graham Delaet (64), Frankie Molinari (65), Daniel Berger (72), Nick Watney (74), Russell Knox (76), Brendon de Jonge (86), Justin Thomas (88), Matt Every (93), Scott Stallings (94).
My view on the Valspar Championship is that with Augusta less than a month away, some of the elite players use Copperhead as a game-sharpening exercise so the key this week is (as always) to select those who are both playing well enough and who will be determined to challenge. It's also worth remembering that Copperhead follows on from a punishing 2 week stretch that has included the incredibly tough Honda Classic and a World Golf Championship.
In the past 5 years elite players Jim Furyk (2010) and Luke Donald (2012) have both won here at Copperhead at short odds. Furyk had won the Chevron Challenge at Sherwood CC in the preceding December and was absolutely focussed on winning his first PGA Tour title since 2007. Luke Donald, on the other hand, fresh from winning the 2011 Race to Dubai and PGA Tour Money List was in a battle with Rory McIlroy over the World Number 1 spot. Copperhead was the perfect course at the perfect time.
Take those names out of the equation and the likes of Bubba Watson, K.J. Choi, Gary Woodland, Webb Simpson, Scott Stallings, Robert Garrigus, Scott Piercy, Kevin Streelman, Boo Weekley, Cameron Tringale, John Senden, Kevin Na and Scott Langley adorn the tops of leaderboards. Undoubtedly a collection of the great and not so good, but all linked in the fact that at the time they arrived in Tampa all of them were non-qualifiers for The Masters.
The Valspar Championship, like plenty of 'grinds', is also synonymous with tight leaderboards which undoubtedly effect each-way returns. Since 2011 10, 8, 6 and 6 players have finished in the place spots. So I'm looking for value this week with a split each-way and Top 10 approach.
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As yet Augusta non-qualifier Martin Laird has been playing some excellent golf in 2015 and I really like the look of the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Glaswegian this week. Laird has always been one of those sorts who, once confident, can string top-level results together and a win at Bay Hill in 2011, allied to his last win at TPC San Antonio in 2013 (remember he wasn't qualified for Augusta when he won that warm-up event), link in really well to the last 2 Champions here. 5th here in 2011 also ticks the Copperhead Top 10 box. Yes, you could (as I did initially) perceive his lack of competitive action since Torrey Pines as a negative this week, but a confident Laird can perform equally strongly after prolonged periods of inactivity as his 4th (2010) and 2nd (2012) at Kapalua, plus his 3rd at Silverado (last September) clearly highlight. 3rd in Bogey Avoidance and 7th in Scoring Average this season to date. RESULT: T33
Daniel Berger might be the most popular Tour rookie at this precise moment after his 2nd place finish at PGA National a fortnight ago, but I'm raiding old ground with Justin Thomas this week after he gave us a seriously strong, but ultimately unprofitable, performance at PGA West back in January. In 2011 Gary Woodland proved that course debutants can win this tournament and Florida-based Thomas has the all-round game type that I feel will go well around Copperhead. 2015 Tour stats such as 1st in Par 5 Birdie or Better Conversion, 20th in Scoring Average and 58th in Bogey Avoidance haven't been too badly hit by missed cuts across Torrey Pines and PGA National, plus Thomas has plenty of experience of Copperhead from his AJGA Junior Championship playing days where he finished 10th (2008) and 8th (2009). Will love to be back on familiar Bermuda Poa Trivialis greens similar to PGA West. RESULT: T10
Stefani may have let us down last time out on his course debut at PGA National, but one bad result is not a reason to exclude - especially with less wind on a course where the Texan finished 7th on course debut 2 years ago. As regular readers will know, I really like the World Number 101 on tough tests and 6th at Waialae (2015), 7th at Copperhead (2013), 7th at TPC St Jude (2013), 2nd at Congressional (2014) and 2nd at El Camaleon (2014) work perfectly for Copperhead. Putting well at the moment which has been his weakness of late and has a strong Scoring Average (20th) and Par 5 Birdie (21st) 2015 Tour stat combination. RESULT: T17
It's difficult to back both Brendon de Jonge and Jeff Overton with any real conviction when it comes to a win bet, but I wouldn't put anybody off going that route as John Senden and Kevin Streelman were hardly prolific before arriving here at Innisbrook. On top of that, an each-way bet at a tournament that has historically delivered lots of reductions doesn't set my pulse racing with either of these perennial 'heart breakers.' Instead I'm tapping into the Top 10 market with Sportingbet who pay out fully on ties. Saving a point on the win element and placing 2 points Top 10 on both players really makes sense especially as both De Jonge and Overton are playing some really tidy golf right now.
De Jonge finished 5th here in 2010 and his record across Trump International, Harbour Town, Quail Hollow, TPC Boston and Sea Island ties in nicely with recent winners here. 25th at PGA National and 10th last week in Rio Grande highlight a player that is finding his form with approach play and he finished tied 5th and 8th in Par 5 Scoring in his last 2 outings. RESULT: T33
Jeff Overton ticks many of the same boxes and, after a traditionally slow start on the west coast, there has been his standard up-shift in results as we have moved the southern states. Top 10 for Bogey Avoidance in windy conditions across both PGA National and Trump International is not to be sniffed at this week, plus Overton topped Par 5 scoring at the Honda. Tied for 5th here in 2012 with 4 other players. RESULT: T63
Our predictions for the 2016 Valspar Championship will be published here on the Tuesday before the event.