The Valspar Championship field isn't as strong as either of the past two weeks, but Innisbrook should be a compelling venue for the final leg of the Florida Swing. 

By Daniel Rapaport
March 20, 2019

The final leg of the four-tournament Florida Swing gets underway on Thursday, with the Valspar Championship just outside Tampa. 

The Valspar field isn't as strong as either of the two tournaments preceding it—the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship—as its place in the reworked PGA Tour schedule isn't the most favorable. It comes after two draining weeks and directly before a World Golf Championship, so many of the world's best players are taking this week off to avoid a four-in-four stretch. Only two of the world's top-10 players—Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm—are in action this week.

A notable absence this week: Tiger Woods. It was at this tournament last year, where he finished just a shot behind champion Paul Casey in a tie for second, that Woods showed he could win again on the PGA Tour. That storyline led to last year's Valspar drawing the highest non-major television ratings of any tournament in five years. Think about that! More people watched the Valspar Championship than any of the five previous Players Championships, Genesis Opens, Memorials, World Golf Championships. If that's not evidence of the Tiger effect, then, well...

Without further ado, here's everything you need to know about the Valspar Championship. 

The course

The host venue this week is officially called the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort (there are four courses at Innisbrook), and it's located in Palm Harbor, about 24 miles from downtown Tampa. All four courses at Innisbrook were designed by Larry Packard. The Copperhead opened in 1972 but underwent a major, $4.5 million restoration prior to the 2016 tournament. Like the other courses in the Florida Swing, both its fairways and greens are composed of bermuda grass, but Copperhead is a bit more hilly than PGA National, Bay Hill or TPC Sawgrass. Undulating fairways combined with small, lumpy greens make for a difficult test—the average winning score over the last five Valspars is just 9.6 under par. 

And, like PGA National, Copperhead has a difficult three-hole stretch that's been given a corny name: the Snake Pit. It's comprised of the par-4 16th, the par-3 17th and the par-4 18th and is, by all accounts, one of the toughest finishing stretches on the PGA Tour. 

The field

It lacks top-end star power, with Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm the only top-10 players teeing it up, but there is some good depth—seven of the top 20 players are there. Jason Day is back in action a week after faltering down the stretch of the Players. Paul Casey is back to defend his title. Patrick Reed returns after finishing in that tie for second with Tiger last year. Jim Furyk will play after his Cinderella run to a second-place finish at the Players. Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Gary Woodland, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia are also in the field. 

Many eyes will be fixated upon 17-year-old Akshay Bhatia this week, the world's top ranked junior and No. 8 amateur who is making his PGA Tour debut. Bhatia is remarkably sure of himself, as he said in his pre-tournament press conference that he is there not to make the cut, but to win. Not lacking for confidence, that one. 

Tee times

Here are some featured groupings for the first couple days. Here is a full list of tee times. All times EDT.

Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Webb Simpson — 8:13 a.m.* Thursday/1:03 p.m. Friday
Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed — 8:24 a.m.*/1:14 p.m.
Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey, Gary Woodland — 1:03 p.m./8:13 a.m.*
Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker — 1:14 pm./8:24 a.m.*

* denotes 10th-tee start. 

TV Coverage

All times EDT.

Thursday, Friday — 2-6 p.m. on Golf Channel
Saturday, Sunday — 1-3 p.m. on Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m. on NBC

Streaming available all week on NBC Sports's online platformPGA Tour Live will have coverage of featured groups during non-TV hours. 

Past Champions

2018 — Paul Casey (-10)
2017 — Adam Hadwin (-14)
2016 — Charl Schwartzel (-7)
2015 — Jordan Spieth (-10)
2014 — John Senden (-7)
2013 — Kevin Streelman (-10)
2012 — Luke Donald (-13)
2011 — Gary Woodland (-15)
2010 — Jim Furyk (-13)

The Odds

Via oddsshark.com:

Dustin Johnson +550
Jon Rahm +1000
Jason Day +1200
Sergio Garcia +1600
Patrick Reed +2000
Webb Simpson +2000
Gary Woodland +2200
Paul Casey +2200
Henrik Stenson +3300
Jim Furyk +3300
Brandt Snedeker +4000
Jason Kokrak +4000
Keegan Bradley +4000
Kevin Kisner +4000
Louis Oosthuizen +4000
Lucas Glover +4000
Bubba Watson +4500
Rafael Cabrera Bello +4500
Ryan Moore +5000
Sung-Jae Im +5000
Tyrrell Hatton +5000
Adam Hadwin +5500
Russell Knox +5500
Charl Schwartzel +6600

The pick

Apart from Gary Woodland, recent past champions at the Valspar haven't been particularly long hitters. It's a course that makes you think and often takes driver out of your hands, so some aspect of the length advantage is nullified this week. With that in mind, I like Webb Simpson a lot at 20-1. Simpson has been remarkably consistent dating back to last season, as he has finished in the top 40 in his last nine events. He also finished T16 last week despite a late penalty on Sunday for accidentally causing his ball to move. Simpson thrives on courses where accurate ball striking is required, and Innisbrook fits that bill. Other players worth a wager: Keegan Bradley (+4000) and Sungjae Im (+5000).

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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)