Don’t look now, but the Valspar Championship is becoming a must-play event for some of golf’s biggest names.
This year’s event, played on Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead course, which is a tree-lined par-71 beauty, will see Dustin Johnson and John Rahm playing in the event for the first time. Jason Day is also back in the field after being absent since 2013.
Why are they teeing it up now? Here’s one great reason: the Masters is right around the corner and these guys want to stay in top form after having just teed it up at The Players Championship.
Paul Casey, who beat Patrick Reed and Tiger Woods by a stroke to win last year’s event, is back to defend his title. But before we go any further, let’s dismiss the six names we’ve already mentioned as winning this week. Woods isn’t playing so that’s a given. We will exclude the other five players as our pick to win because one other player fits the bill in a very odd way.
That honor will go to Sergio Garcia. Garcia, at 16-1, is as steady as they come at this tournament. He’s had top-20s in his last four visits here, including a solo fourth-place last year when he posted a final-round 6-under-par to vault up the leaderboard.
This will be just his fifth in 2019. A final-round 67 last week at The Players moved him up to a T-22 finish. He’s got two top-10s in his two previous tournaments to The Players. There’s a T6 at the WGC event in Mexico and a T9 at The Honda Classic, so he’s been seen on the leaderboard recently.
And that’s a good thing because since winning the 2017 Masters he had been struggling mightily with his game including missing six of seven cuts starting with the 2018 Masters. But a fourth-place finish at last year’s Valspar (including a 69-65 weekend run) is one highlight he can look back on giving him great vibes.
No matter who wins this week, a three-hole stretch — the “Snake Pit” with a pair of diabolical par-4s (16 and 18) along with a testy 215-yard par-3 (17) — makes up a finishing trio that will definitely make or break those looking to win.
Garcia, in those 12 holes over the four rounds, played them at +3 with bogeys on No. 18 the first three days. The final day of the tournament he played 4-under-par on the back nine, including pars on the final three holes.
With a finish like that, he could find himself back in the winner’s circle if he starts stronger as he was just even par through the first two rounds last year.
We do have one dark horse pick this week as well. If you’re looking for that Jim Furyk-like long shot of last week, take a gander at another old-timer — Steve Stricker at 125-1. He was 12th here last year (as well as a T7 in 2016 when he was tied for the 36-hole lead) and his ability to hit fairways and make putts can certainly put him right in the mix.
As Furyk proved last week, age is just a number. Oh, and by the way, Furyk comes in this week at 40-1 after finishing second at The Players. Just as a reminder.
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