The First Tee – Valspar Championship

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly March 18, 2019 22:37

The First Tee – Valspar Championship

This Week

The field is a little more watered-down Monday afternoon than it was on Monday morning, with Ancer, Fleetwood, Berger, Cam Smith, Noren, Burgoon and Laird all bowing out and only two golfers of any interest jumping in to replace them. This is a regular week on tour in terms of field size and cut.

THE COURSE

Still in Florida, the Valspar takes place at the Copperhead course of Innisbrook Resort, and should be a tough course scoring-wise: over the past few years, the birdie average has averaged fourth-lowest on Tour, never cresting 3.00. In the past decade, the best winning score was -15 while the winner scored -10 or worse six times, and the cut line has fallen between E and +4 in all of those years.

Copperhead is a par-71 with four par-5s and five par-3s, so it’s a little different than most weeks; the course is a long one, listed at 7,340 yards with five of the nine par-4s coming in at 445+ yards and four of the five par-3s above 200 yards. The par-5s are also fairly long – the shortest is the opening hole at 560 yards but the others play at 575, 590 and 605 – and realistically only three of the four are “good” scoring opportunities, 605-yard 5th playing at 4.993 to par last year. One note for this year: although nothing has been officially announced, the official tournament set-up sheet is listing the yardage at only 7,209 so expect the tees to be pushed up a bit more than normal.

The fairways here are extremely tight, averaging only 22 yards across on the back-9 and just a touch wider on the front-9, and they’re lined with trees and a ton of water hazards (around half the holes). The rough is incredibly thick and around 3”, so missing the fairway in any way, shape or form will be very punitive, there’s a big emphasis on accuracy off the tee this week – haven’t run the numbers in a while, but from last year’s article “missing the fairway resulted in a bogey 34% of the time” in 2016 and there’s no reason to think that’s changed.

Golfers will typically have longer irons in thanks to both the long-ish holes and most golfers hitting less-than-driver off the tee (the average all-drive distance off the tee here is in the 268-275 range, the fourth-shortest on Tour), so expect approaches in the 175+ yard range. There aren’t many fairway bunkers here which is about the only “easy” thing for second shots, but the other bonus is that the fairways are fairly flat so lies should be good.

Golfers will be hitting into average-sized Bermuda greens that tend to be firm and fast, listed at 12’ on the stimpmeter. Although the greens are average size, these are some of the hardest greens to hit in regulation thanks to tough angles into the hole and typically-hard pin placements. One of the few positives here is that three-putts are avoided at a great rate and although there aren’t a ton of birdies made, people aren’t making bogey due to poor putting – it’s usually the ball-striking that causes the big numbers here.

 

STATS

The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Approach
  • Off the Tee
  • Putting
  • Around the Green

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Approach Shots: 175+ Yards
  • Distance from Center of the Fairway
  • Par-5 Birdie or Better %
  • Bogey Avoidance
  • Par-3 Scoring

Top-Tier Golfers

Louis Oosthuizen ($9,300): He’s consistently one of the top golfers in terms of accuracy off the tee – ranking T2 last year in distance from the center of the fairway and is T3 this year – which will go a long way towards finding success at Copperhead (as shown by his T16, T7 and T20 finishes here although he also missed three cuts as well). On the season his stats aren’t shining by any means (79th tee to green) but that’s only on 12 measured rounds; looking at his 2018 season offers a better idea of the talent Louis has, when he was 46th from tee-to-green.

He’s strong with long irons and great in tight – he struggles in the 75-175 range – and is consistently one of the best at saving par, ranking 3rd in scrambling last year and 1st in proximity from the sand. His poor putting is neutralized a touch here, and his strong par-3 play should be a highlight given that there are five of them this week.

Dustin Johnson ($11,500): There’s only so many ways to explain how good DJ is, which is why I went a little longer on Louis. When he’s on he’s the best or second-best golfer in the world, he’s consistently a tee-to-green stud, and he’ll have the length to take advantage of the longer holes here.

The main concerns are: his price point and expected ownership, his course history (two missed cuts) and his poor par-3 performance so far this season. Those shouldn’t be cause for concern – especially the history since his two misses were in 2008 and 2010 – so just load him up.

Gary Woodland ($9,900): Although he won here back in 2011, his history isn’t sparkling as he’s missed three cuts in eight tries and he only has two top-25 finishes including the win, but his game is so well suited to this track that he should be in strong consideration for a core.

His accuracy is much improved this season thanks to playing mostly tight tracks where he leaves driver in the bag, but Woodland can still smack the ball a mile, averaging 299.8 off the tee (all drives) which is good for 10th. He’s managed to hit a whopping 74.55% of greens in regulation (3rd) and has been dynamite outside 200 yards, which has helped him to the third-best par-5 scoring and p5 birdie or better %. A big-time scorer on a course that doesn’t have many birdie opportunities is a strong DFS play, even as he may not finish in the top-10.

 

Value Golfer (below $8,000)

Chez Reavie ($7,300): He’s one of the most accurate golfers off the tee although not as long as most of the field, and his approach game this season has been on point: 12th in SG: Approach while hitting 71.4% of greens in regulation, although he is better with shorter irons than longer which isn’t ideal here. Reavie’s big strength is shorter par-4s and any par-3s which will set up well on about half the holes, but his error-free game will keep him away from the big numbers other golfers will make which should see him finish well. Reavie’s got good history here, with four finishes of 27 or better in nine attempts and three missed cuts to six makes.

Kyoung-Hoon Lee ($6,700): In his 22 measured rounds this season, KH Lee has shown a very strong approach game – 0.340 strokes gained/round, good for 52nd – and accurate play off the tee, hitting the fairway 66.19% of the time. He’s not much of a par-5 player because he lacks distance off the tee, but Lee has put up a birdie or better 16.15% of the time on par-3s which will fit well. He’s coming off a T7 at the Honda Classic, T35 in Puerto Rico and T25 at Riviera, which is a big improvement over his four straight missed cuts in the rest of 2019. He’s obviously not without risk, but his approach game specifically the past three events has been much better than his overall year would suggest.

Hank Lebioda ($6,100): Like Lee, he has no history here and not many stats to go off, but Lebioda has made four cuts out of his six events played in 2019, and has fired seven rounds of 68 or better out of 21 – averaging 4.34 birdies per round. Statistically he’s full of warts, as he’s short off the tee and has been an atrocious putter, but he’s very accurate off the tee and has the 38th-best birdie or better % on tour with 24.33%; considering he ranks 193rd in SG: Putting, scoring that much speaks to the rest of his game. He offers tremendous DFS upside at a dirt cheap price.

You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey and good luck this week!

 

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly March 18, 2019 22:37

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