Monday, April 23, 2018

Valspar Championship: Golfers to watch, holes to watch

F ive players to keep an eye on at the Valspar Championship, which begins today at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor:

Justin Rose

Rose is coming off a tie for 34th at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship last weekend at Doral. He has played only three times this season, but the reigning U.S. Open champion said he is finally starting to feel healthy after an injured shoulder slowed him at the end of last season. Rose makes his eighth start at the Innisbrook PGA Tour event. His best finish is a tie for fifth in 2011. He has made the cut in each of his previous seven appearances.

Harris English

English had three straight top-10 finishes before last week's WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, where he tied for 16th. He has two career wins and contended at Innisbrook last year (tied for seventh). He won the 2011 Southern Amateur on Innisbrook's Copperhead Course.

Kevin Streelman

No player has repeated as champ in the 14-year history of the full-field PGA Innisbrook event. Streelman has played well, though sparingly, this season. In five events, his best finish is a tie for third at the Tournament of Champions in January.

Jim Furyk

Furyk won the 2010 tournament at Innisbrook, and he almost won again in 2012, losing in a four-way playoff to Luke Donald. He tied for seventh last year. "I love the golf course. It's one of my favorites of the year," Furyk said.

Luke Donald

Donald is always a threat at Innisbrook. In three events since it became a spring tournament, Donald has 12 consecutive rounds of par or better. His highest score is 72, in the second round last year. He won the tournament in 2012, tied for fifth last year and tied for sixth in 2010. This is his fifth start this season. Two weeks ago he tied for eighth at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens. Donald has four career wins, and three have come in Florida.

Holes to watch

The Copperhead Course is set up well for spectators. Just about every hole has places for watching. Here's a look at some of the best spots.

The Snake Pit: Look for a large statue of a copperhead snake just off the 16th tee. Spectators can see approach shots from the par-3 15th hole and tee shots from the par-4 16th. Extra pavilions are around the 15th green this year, so unless you have a special ticket, it's more difficult to get a glimpse of the green.

First tee/10th tee: The tee boxes are not far apart, so it's easy to bounce from one tee to the other as players start their rounds or make the turn. If there is a lull in the action, the 19th hole pub and a wine bar are nearby.

Fifth hole: The par 5 is a beautiful uphill/downhill hole that measures 605 yards. Players blast a driver over water to start the hole. Then comes a blind second shot to a green guarded by bunkers.

Ninth green: Not only can spectators watch approach shots and putts on the ninth hole, but the practice putting green and driving range are right behind.

17th hole: The area around the green is called the Hooter's Owl's Nest. Players usually get the biggest ovations on that hole, especially on the weekend.

Weathering the wind

Wind was expected to reach 20 mph for today's opening round, with a high temperature in the low 60s. "I view (today) as a day we try to hold on and make up some ground on the weekend," defending champion Kevin Streelman said.

Watch out for this rookie

Chesson Hadley is the only player in the field who won last week. Hadley got his first PGA Tour win at the Puerto Rico Open in his 13th start. The win assured him of a spot in the Valspar Championship. He also earned entrance into the PGA Championship. "I was surprised by how quickly it happened," he said. "Typically I've always had to pay my dues, eat a little dirt, before I have success."

Hadley, 26, was a two-time winner on the Tour last season. The Georgia Tech graduate is getting his first look at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course this week. He said it is going to be different from the birdiefest in Puerto Rico.

"This is more of a grind," he said. "This week will be a lot different than last week. Last week it was about making a lot of birdies. I need to stay patient. Par is a phenomenal score on every hole out here."

Groups to watch

The 8:10 a.m. group today has three past Innisbrook winners, Kevin Streelman, Luke Donald and Gary Woodland. The 1:10 p.m. group has 2013 PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner, 2013 U.S. Open champ Justin Rose and 2012 FedEx Cup champ Brandt Snedeker.

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Updated one month ago