Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Valspar Championship - Fantasy Picks

Jordan Spieth has two starts -- and two top-20 finishes -- at the difficult Copperhead Course. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
When any touring professional is arguably best known as a world-class ball-striker, it usually means he's a below-average putter. After all, retaining proficiency across the board is a little like keeping water out of a boat with a hole in it.

The defending champion of the Valspar Championship, John Senden, used to be the poster boy for this phenomenon. That changed in 2013-14 when he recorded 15 positive measurements in stroke gained: putting in 23 starts that were lasered. When the season concluded, he ranked 13th in the stat. He finished T32 in ball-striking.

The suddenly elevated skill set helped propel him to victory on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Florida. Senden placed T50 in fairways hit but T3 in greens in regulation and 16th in strokes gained: putting (0.974). He also landed third in average distance of putts made, which is really saying something given the challenge of the par 36-35=71 designed by Larry Packard.

All of the ranges inside 25 feet ranked inside the seven hardest in terms of conversion percentage last year. Copperhead yielded the fifth-lowest average distance of putts (just over 68 feet).

As a result, scoring isn't easy. The field average of +1.433 strokes to par is the second-highest since the tournament shifted to a March date to coincide with the FedExCup era in 2007. The 7,340-yard track ranked second only to Pinehurst No. 2 (U.S. Open) in par breakers.

Senden's 7-under 277 ranks second-highest in tournament history to Sean O'Hair in 2008 (4-under 280). The Aussie finished the week tied for third in both par-3 and par-5 scoring, critical since Copperhead boasts five par 3s and the full slate of four par 5s.

Gusty winds helped inflate scoring in the first and final rounds last year. It could kick up again on Friday this week, so it may behoove the field of 144 to get off to a good start. Gradually decreasing high temperatures will bottom out in the upper 70s by Sunday. A threat of rain exists throughout.
  1. Luke Donald - The 2012 champ has no worse than T6 in last four appearances. Tied for seventh two weeks ago at PGA National where he has similar record.
  2. Brandt Snedeker - Placed T17 at Doral where he ranked eighth in both proximity to the hole and strokes gained: putting. Two top 10s at Valspar.
  3. Jim Furyk - Top 20s in last five editions, including 2010 title and P2 in 2012. Fourth in all-time earnings here. Top 15s in first three starts of 2015.
  4. Jordan Spieth - En route to T17 at Doral, led field in fewest putts (106) and ranked second in strokes gained: putting. T7 here in 2013; T20 last year.
  5. Adam Scott - Ranked 12th in strokes gained: putting with a traditional stick at Doral where he tied for fourth. Four consecutive top fives worldwide.
  6. Boo Weekley - Sub-70s on the weekend in Puerto Rico fueled a T6. Six top 15s worldwide in last nine starts. Solo second at 2013 Valspar Championship.
  7. Henrik Stenson - First appearance. Tied for fourth at Doral on Sunday where he was strong throughout his bag. Top 15s in last three starts worldwide.
  8. Will MacKenzie - Eliminated doubt over sore left hand with a T6 in Puerto Rico. Third top 10 in five starts in 2014-15. Shared fourth here last year.
  9. Kevin Na - Tied for ninth at Doral. Ranked 13th in strokes gained: putting and T3 in scrambling for the week. Runner-up at Copperhead a year ago.
  10. Lee Westwood - Tournament debut. Currently 15th in Strokes Gained-Tee-to-Green and 43rd in Strokes Gained-Putting. Top 25s in last six starts worldwide.
  11. Matt Kuchar - Top 15s at Copperhead in three consecutive trips (2009, 2012, 2013). Ranks fifth in the all-around. Six top 25s in seven starts this season.
  12. Sangmoon Bae - Lost in a playoff here in 2012 and added a T14 last year. Two wins worldwide and another three top 10s since October.
  13. Ryan Moore - Settled for a T9 at the WGC-Cadillac after a Sunday 76. Third straight top 25 following WD due to strained right forearm at Humana.
  14. Gary Woodland - Recorded breakthrough victory here in 2011. Tied for eighth last year. Coming off a T23 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
  15. Patrick Reed - Over par in last two finales, but tied for seventh at PGA National and shared 23rd place at Doral. Currently sixth in scrambling.

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This article was written by Rob Bolton, originally posted on PGATOUR.com. (Connect with Rob on Twitter @RobBoltonGolf)