PALM HARBOR — As the defending champion and the top ranked golfer in the world, Jordan Spieth is sure to get most of the attention this week at the Valspar Championship. But the next highest-ranked player in the field, No. 7 Henrik Stenson, should not be overlooked.
Stenson finished in fourth place at last year's tournament, one shot out of the three-way playoff between Spieth, Patrick Reed and Sean O'Hair. He also sandwiched a fourth-place finish at Doral and second place at the Arnold Palmer Invitational between Valspar.
It was his first time playing the Copperhead Course. He liked last year's tournament so much that he sat out the WGC Match Play tournament in two weeks in order to return here.
"I can't say I'm coming in with the same great finish I had at Doral that I had last year," said Stenson, who finished tied for 28th at Doral last week. "I might have to work a little bit more on my game this week. I think it's a good golf course for me. I played it for the first time last year and got to hit some good iron shots into the green. We'll see if we can have a similar experience this year."
Stenson is playing in only his fourth tournament this season. He had surgery on his right knee in early December and didn't play until Jan. 19 at the Dubai Desert Classic.
First-timer: Like Stenson last year, Danny Willett is a top-ranked player who put Innisbrook on this year's schedule for the first time when he received a sponsor's exemption. Willett, 28, is 11th in the world golf rankings. He finished tied for third last week at Doral. He also tied for third earlier in the year at the WGC HSBC Championship.
Willett, who is from Sheffield, England, is currently a member of the European Tour. He is close to earning enough FedEx Cup points to become a full time PGA Tour member — and it's only March. A decent showing this week would solidify his Tour card. But even a bad showing wouldn't hurt his chances.
"This is really an added bonus for me," Willett said. "We're just going to try to get some more FedEx points to secure a PGA Tour card. After what we did last week we're almost there. So I look at this as kind of a free week. It doesn't affect us either way, whether it's a great week or a rubbish week. It's all about enjoying ourselves this week."
Chip-ins: The two highest-ranked players in the field are paired together for the first two rounds. Spieth (No. 1) and Stenson (No. 7), along with Bill Haas, tee off at 8:07 a.m. on the 10th tee Thursday. … Vijay Singh, who won the 2004 championship, is the oldest player in the field at 53. He is showing no signs of slowing down. Singh has made four of six cuts this season and was tied for sixth at the first Florida stop (Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens) two weeks ago.
Today: There will be a morning and afternoon pro-am. Morning rounds begin at 7 a.m. The afternoon rounds begin at 11:50 a.m. Some notable players include former champions Gary Woodland (7:20 a.m.), Sean O'Hair (7:30 a.m.) and Luke Donald (7:50 a.m.), defending champion Spieth (11:50 a.m.) and Ernie Els (1:50 p.m.).