Josh Culp

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Valspar Championship Preview

Monday, March 5, 2018

Phil Mickelson has finally found his way back to the winner's circle and now we return Stateside as the Florida Swing resumes this week in Palm Harbor, Florida.

The big news last Friday was Tiger Woods adding his name to this week's Valspar Championship field. That will set up the second back-to-back for him already this year, making four starts in a five-week stretch. Very good news for the status of his health, as long as he's not overdoing things.

After a no-cut, limited-field event last week, we are back to a 36-hole cut this week with a field of 144 golfers. 

The Course

This week's host venue is the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort. It's a par 71 that plays around 7,340 yards on most days. It's worth noting this isn't a conventional par 71, there are actually four par 5s and five par 3s.

Unlike the recent Honda Classic, there isn't water lurking on every hole but there is up to five holes where water is in play. Most notable are the par-3 13th and the par-4 16th. The latter is the start of the infamous Snake Pit (16-17-18) which make up one of the toughest closing stretches for a PGA TOUR event.

The course overall is tight and tree-lined and often forces golfers to club down off the tee. Unlike some of the other less-than-driver courses on TOUR, this venue doesn't have many "short" holes which means golfers need to be locked in with their mid-to-long irons all week. The alternate route to have a career week around the greens and scramble your way to the top. The first route is recommended, especially if you are looking for golfers to target this week.

For all the grass-type fans out there, this week we have Celebration Bermuda overseeded with ryegrass (tee-to-green) and then once we reach the greens golfers will face TifEagle Bermuda that has been overseeded with poa trivialias (not to be confused with poa annua). Because of the overseeded, some of the West Coast and international golfers are more in play, since they don't have to deal with healthy bermuda which is often tough to read if you're not familiar with it.

Speaking of internationals, only 7-of-17 champions at Innisbrook have been Americans.

With four par 5s on the layout, you might think birdies and eagles are abundant here but that is far from the truth. Since 2014, this event ranks dead last in birdie rate (for non-majors) and second-to-last in eagle rate. Par is not the enemy this week. We have a very low scoring environment this week, which is important to note for any formats that rely on birdies and eagles, such as DFS.

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the courses to see how they will play...
Ken Duke: "I like it because I hit it straight and you have to hit it straight here. I flight the ball and I have to flight it here because of the wind."
Daniel Berger: "You got to hit your long irons well because you’re going to have a few of them coming into in par-4s and par-5s. I’m used to South Florida, born and raised. It gets windy out there."
Henrik Stenson: "It’s a course where you position yourself off the tee quite a lot, you have to lay back unless you really want to try and thread a few of the tee shots out there. So, quite a few 2-irons and 4-woods, 3-woods off the tee and little bit longer irons into the greens which are pretty small and kind of sits at an angle towards you quite a lot so you want to try to keep it underneath the hole because I can only imagine the kind of quick putts you can get if you end up in the wrong place or chipping from the wrong place."
Sean O'Hair: "I love it. You got to hit a lot of different types of tee shots and you can hit a variety of shots in the greens and, like I said yesterday, it’s just really demanding. It expects everything out of your game. "

Jordan Spieth: "I just think the layout is great. It’s a ball striker-type golf course. I think that you need to work the ball both ways off the tees and be smart. Trees overhang some of the sides of the fairways and so you really need to be able to work the ball around and hit them high and low."

Brendan Steele: "It's a little bit more of a West Coast‑style course, which is strange in Florida, a little bit more elevation change. The overseed makes it a little bit more comfortable, less grain. So I think you'll see maybe a few more West Coast guys play well here, than you will at, say, like a Honda or a Bay Hill or at least the guys that are younger can pick it up a little faster than THE PLAYERS or something like that where there's a lot of grain and a lot of knowledge and guys have to spend a lot of time trying to figure it out, especially if you're not from Florida. "
Overview: The golfers all seem to mention how tough this track is, from tee-to-green. Similar to The Honda Classic a few weeks ago, shot shaping and iron play will be crucial. The approach zones will be a little further out this week, which puts an emphasis on mid and long-iron performance. Because there are more long irons than usual, that means around-the-green play will also be key. It's not easy to hit these smaller greens, considering the distances you are approaching from. Also, as Steele mentioned, we shouldn't get too caught up in bermuda performance since the overseed makes it easier to handle, compared to the other Florida venues. 

Correlated Courses

Looking at past performance, golfer quotes, and course setup, these five events show up as potential pointers: 

CareerBuilder Challenge
Houston Open
TPC Boston
Memorial Tournament
Wyndham Championship

If you want to take the overseed angle, CBC and Houston both fit that bill. As for Boston and Muirfield Village, they both require stout tee-to-green play, especially with the longer irons. Wyndham is another event that forces golfers to club down and attack with mid-irons. Stenson notably won the Wyndham last year without a driver in the bag.  

The Weather

The early forecast calls for cooler temperatures before the cut. Over the last four years the average temp at this event has been 79 degrees but Thursday and Friday both look to be mid-60s this week. The weekend looks more normal with highs of 75 and 79 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

It's way too early to lock this in but we have a potential wind advantage before the cut is made this week. Right now, Thursday calls for 10-to-15 MPH with gusts up to 21 MPH while Friday is just 6-to-9 MPH.

I will dive into the specifics on Wednesday's DFS Dish, but for now you should consider monitoring the Thursday/Friday wind splits.


Players to Watch

Henrik Stenson
He's not afraid to skip an event if the course or format doesn't suit him. Even with a guaranteed paycheck, he skipped last week's WGC-Mexico but he's back in action this week to take on a course that he claims suits his game very well. It's no secret that Stenson likes to keep his driver in the bag and opt for the trusty 3-wood, instead. This course allows him to do that and then his iron game is able to shine from there. Gamers haven't seen him Stateside since last September so he may fly a bit under the radar, but this is definitely a course where he shouldn't be ignored. 
Jordan Spieth
A somewhat late addition to the field this week (and last week). Spieth is still trying to build toward Augusta National but he's yet to piece it all together in the same week. After seeing a lot of poa annua greens, he should be a lot more comfortable on these overseeded bermuda surfaces. Spieth has gained 7.2 strokes putting in three visits to Copperhead, resulting in three top 20s with one of them being a win.  
Rory McIlroy
Swallowed a 59th-place finish at the Honda but his putter made improvements if we are looking at the glass half full. Taking his first look at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course, it will be interesting to see how McIlroy handles the tough task. If he stays patient then he should be able to use length to his advantage on the par 5s and on the long approaches. A bit of a wildcard this week, but still a very strong bet for a top 10. 

Aaron Wise
One of everyone's favorite breakout candidates, this week's course provides a good chance for him to roar into contention. The Oregon standout has Proximity numbers better than the field in every bucket that the PGA TOUR tracks but he's elite from 200+ yards. Wise is also very strong in the 150-to-200 yards range. Basically, the longer the approach, the bigger the advantage Wise gains. That's a good stat to have in your favor this week since the nature of the Copperhead Course forces you to lay back off the tee and then come in from longer distances. 
Beau Hossler
In the intro I talked about dialing in your irons this week but scrambling the course to death is also an option. Someone like Hossler fits the mold for route number two. The Texas Longhorn has gained strokes with his short game in 6-of-10 events this season (ShotLink lasered only). Early in his career he's proven he can take it real low on any given round, but we are still waiting for his consistency to arrive. 
Sergio Garcia
Found himself in the mix last week and now he's playing his last event but shutting it down for DAD MODE. His wife, Angela, is due with their first child on the 25th. Looking at the birth probability charts, that means the baby has an 8% chance of being born on or before this Sunday. The Spaniard deserves a look this week, but gamers should also be aware of the possibility that a Hunter Mahan Canadian Open situation takes place. 

Charl Schwartzel
Something is lacking from the South African's game currently. In five events this season, he has racked up fewer birdies per round compared to the field, in ALL FIVE. With a WIN and SOLO 6th in his last two trips here, this is definitely a venue that could get him back on track, but I'm not too optimistic, personally. 
Brandon Harkins
The first golfer cut from my top 25, but I like the potential. Harkins dominated the fall and early-2018 schedule, racking up SEVEN top 25s already. Coming in off a few weeks rest I will be interested to see if the momentum is still there or if he hits a wall. Harkins is a late bloomer which prevents me from getting too excited, but the early-season results can't be ignored. 

Tiger Woods
Showed a lot of promise in his Honda Classic performance. That is enough for me to sneak him into my top 25 but I'm not going to get carried away with my Woods investments just yet. After pounding drivers at Torrey Pines and Riviera, PGA National allowed him to club down a bit more. That helped him keep it between the pipes which allowed his approach game to shine (+4.5 SG Approach). It he takes a similar approach this week, I don't see any reason why he can't pick up another top 25. 

Ranking the Field
Playing European Tour Fantasy Golf? Give Dave Tindall's Hero Indian Open Preview a look, as it focuses on the European Tour talent in the field. Check back on Tuesday for our Expert Picks and then on Wednesday, I will return for some last-minute DFS tips in the DFS Dish. 

Josh Culp joined Rotoworld in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.
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