The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook has been the host of this event since its inception onto the PGA Tour in 2000. Designed by renowned golf architect Larry Packard, the course is 7,200 yards of pure beauty with tree lined fairways and stunning lakes which are home to an abundance of magnificent Floridian wildlife. Although it may not be the longest course on the tour, the undulating fairways have the effect of making the course play significantly longer providing a challenge for even the longest hitters on tour. The hardest hole on the course is the monster 607 yard, par 5 5th which has bunkers in play off the tee and if found make it almost impossible to reach the green in two. Finding the fairway does not guarantee an easy second shot as it is blind up the hill and to the left meaning sensible play is to play towards the trees and have a wedge in from there.
Now named the Valspar Championship, this event began in 2000 and since then has chopped and changed its sponsors and dates on more than one occasion. Originally scheduled as an alternate tournament to the President’s Cup and the WGC Championship, the event eventually got its own slot on the tour in 2003 following a cancellation in 2001 due to the September attacks. From 2003 to 2006, the then called Chrysler Championship was the last official event before the Tour Championship. In 2007, the tournament was moved to March and without a title sponsor, it was almost brought to a close. However, PODS Water came in and sponsored it for 2 years before withdrawing, the Transitions sponsored it for a year, followed by Everbank before finally signing its current deal with Valspar in 2013. The one thing that hasn’t changed about this tournament is the course it is played on and since it began The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort has been the host. Each year the world’s best continue to turn out for this fantastic tournament with Masters champions Jordan Spieth and Charl Schwartzel winning 2015 and 2016 respectively. Another South African to have great success in this tournament is Retief Goosen who has won the tournament 2 times, a record he shares with South Korean K.J. Choi.
Nicholas Goldie – Gary Woodland
Currently ranked in the Top 10 on the FedEx Cup standings and in the Top 20 on Tour for Driving Distance & Shots Gained from Tee-Green this year, I can see Gary Woodland being a real force this week. He’s had 4 Top 10’s already this season including a T2nd at the Honda Classic two weeks ago so he’s coming into the Valspar off the back of some quality golf. The amount of trees at Innisbrook does worry me with Woodland’s 59% driving accuracy but Woodland’s approach game this season is up there with the best so a more accurate driving game this week and I’m sure we’ll be seeing him at the top of the leaderboard.
Oliver Gunning – Henrik The Ice Man Stenson
The Ice Man has shown some great form already this year with a tie for 8th in Abu Dhabi and runners-up in Dubai. Whilst he was forced to withdraw from The WGC Mexico, it won’t be a huge surprise to see the 2016 Open Champion compete this week. He is a fan of The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook having already picked up a tie for 11th in 2016 and 4th place in 2015.
Rory Anderson – Justin Thomas
It seems a little obvious but I’m going to have to go for the form horse this week in Justin Thomas. 3 wins already this season have been backed up with an additional pair of T5 finishes as well as a finish T8 at the start of the season. Admittedly JT missed a pair of cuts recently but he hardly played terribly on those weeks with a scoring average of 71 hardly a cause for concern! A final round 72 put paid to his chances in Mexico last week but with the really big guns – DJ, Rory, Jason Day and Jordan – all missing from the field this week, Justin will surely fancy his chances at Innisbrook where he finished in the Top 20 last year and inside the Top 10 on his event debut in 2015.
Nicholas Martin – Matt Kuchar
Going into the Valspar Championship, midway through the Florida swing, Henrik The Iceman Stenson seems the clear favourite, having already had a fantastic start to the 2016/2017 season, but I have decided to go for someone who has had a steady start to the season but is always in the picture when big tournaments and majors come about, the one and only Matt Kuchar. Matt is known for is big smile and positive attitude, so it’s got to be sooner rather than later that all the hard work pays off and you see his name at the top of the leaderboard in major come Sunday afternoon. He has a solid record at Innisbrook with four top 15’s since 2009 and he also finished T-20th at the recent WGC Mexico Championship. Let’s hope Matt can keep up the good form and pull off his first win of the season.
Paul Gartland – Justin Thomas
Coming off a top 5 last week, Justin Thomas has climbed up to 7th in the world rankings and seems to be in the mix every week. 3 wins and 3 other top 10’s in 9 starts this season, with that kind of form it is hard to ignore him. Also very interesting to see Billy Horschel back at a course that really should suit his game.
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