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20 memorable PGA moments from 20 years at Innisbrook

From John Daly and Erik Estrada to Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, the Copperhead Course has seen its share of highlights.
Tiger Woods uses an iron to approach the first green after his drive drifted left of the fairway while playing the Copperhead Course on March 10, 2018, during the third round of the Valspar Championship at the Innisbrook Golf and Spa Resort in Palm Harbor.
Tiger Woods uses an iron to approach the first green after his drive drifted left of the fairway while playing the Copperhead Course on March 10, 2018, during the third round of the Valspar Championship at the Innisbrook Golf and Spa Resort in Palm Harbor. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Mar. 11, 2020
Updated Mar. 11, 2020

The Valspar Championship returns next week to Innisbrook and this is the 20th full-field PGA tournament played on the Copperhead Course. The first was held from Oct. 19-22, 2000, and the event was canceled in 2001 because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Prior to 2000 there was professional golf in Pinellas County. In December 1977, 13 years after the PGA’s St. Petersburg Open ended, a mixed team event with LPGA and PGA players was held at Bardmoor Country Club. The JCPenney Classic was played through 1999.

Though the current tournament has had many sponsors through the years, Valspar has signed on as the title sponsor through 2025. The event has been played in March since 2007, but will move to late April in 2021.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary, here are 20 memorable (or maybe not-so-memorable, depending on the golfer) moments from past tournaments:

20. Local John Huston wins inaugural event (2000)

With eight birdies for the round, including three of the last four holes,  John Huston sinks this birdie on 18 to win the inaugural Tampa Bay Classic at 13-under par, three shots clear of runnerup Carl Paulson.
With eight birdies for the round, including three of the last four holes, John Huston sinks this birdie on 18 to win the inaugural Tampa Bay Classic at 13-under par, three shots clear of runnerup Carl Paulson. [ Times ]

The former Dunedin High standout and Palm Harbor resident shot a final-round 65 to win the Tampa Bay Classic by three shots. It was a fall, opposite field event, which means it was played the same week as a World Golf Championship tournament. Granted, the field wasn’t loaded, but having a local win the first one was special. No other local professional has come close to doing it since.

19. 9/11 cancellation (2001)

Some of the players were already at Innisbrook when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 occurred. Others were on planes headed to Tampa. Some of those planes were grounded before they ever got here. The Tampa Bay Classic was set for Sept. 13-16, opposite the WGC American Express Championship. Those tournaments were not played. It was the first time a tournament was halted since the assassination of John F. Kennedy and that only caused a one day-delay. The Tour continued the next week in Pennsylvania.

18. Wet and windy (2008)

Sean O'Hair accepts his championship trophy in 2008 after winning the PODS Championship at the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, Copperhead Course, in Palm Harbor.
Sean O'Hair accepts his championship trophy in 2008 after winning the PODS Championship at the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, Copperhead Course, in Palm Harbor. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

For the most part, weather hasn’t been much of a factor the past 19 years. This particular week it was. Rain and heavy winds made it impossible to finish late rounds the first two days. Some players had to play 20 or more holes on Saturday to catch up. By the time it was over, Sean O’Hair came back to win the tournament with 4-under 280. It was the highest score to ever win the tournament.

Related: Sean O'Hair feeling back to old self at Valspar Championship

17. First for Gary Woodland (2011)

Only true golf fans knew anything about Woodland when he teed it up in this tournament. But after four rounds in the 60s, he walked away with his first PGA trophy. Woodland only needed 17 putts during his final-round 67. His 15-under total score was one shot better than Webb Simpson. Since then, he has won three other times, including last year’s U.S. Open.

16. Geoff Ogilvy’s very long day (2010)

Spectators who showed up early to watch Saturday’s third round likely had no idea what Ogilvy had been through the day before. After shooting even-par 71 on Friday, the Australian figured he missed the cut and headed to Tampa International Airport. He was on the plane about to go home to Arizona when he found out he narrowly advanced. He tried to get off the plane but was told he couldn’t take his clubs off with him. So Ogilvy flew to Arizona, got a new pair of golf shoes because his were shipped back home, chartered a plane back to Tampa and arrived at 5 a.m. He teed off at 8:50 a.m. and shot 65, his only round in the 60s. He tied for 28th and won $30,946, enough to pay for a charter plane.

15. Vijay Singh laps the field (2004)

Vijay Singh pumps his fist and holds up his putter after sinking the last putt to win the Chrysler Championship in 2004.
Vijay Singh pumps his fist and holds up his putter after sinking the last putt to win the Chrysler Championship in 2004. [ Times ]

October’s Chrysler Championship, as it was called then, was the final official Tour event of the year. Singh was the hottest golfer on the planet and shot a tournament-record 18-under 266. Jesper Parnevik and Tommy Armour III were five shots back in second. It was Singh’s ninth win that year and he surpassed $10 million in earnings. He was the first golfer to ever win that much money in one season.

14. Erik Estrada works the crowd (2010)

Actor Erik Estrada, who played Frank Poncherello on the television show CHiPs, shares a laugh with golf fans in 2009 at Innisbrook. Estrada was issuing fans a "Sightation" for not wearing Transitions (the sponsor that year) glasses.
Actor Erik Estrada, who played Frank Poncherello on the television show CHiPs, shares a laugh with golf fans in 2009 at Innisbrook. Estrada was issuing fans a "Sightation" for not wearing Transitions (the sponsor that year) glasses. [ Times ]

This really happened. The former star of the 1970s-1980s television show CHiPs made an appearance at the Friday round as the character he played in the show, Frank “Ponch” Poncherello. Full uniform and all. Instead of handing out speeding tickets, he handed out “Sightations” (Transitions, the sponsor that year, is an eyewear company. Get it?) Name another tournament that had that!

Related: 'Ponch' still has it

13. Phil Mickelson’s last appearance (2004)

Lefty was the Masters champion in 2004, so he was at the height of his game. But after shooting 71-76 in the fall event here to miss the cut, he hasn’t come back. The year before he was even worse. He shot 80-74 and was nowhere near the cut line. He admitted the course didn’t really suit him and even with the change to a spring event, he has not made Innisbrook one of his stops.

12. Padraig Harrington goes low (2012)

Harrington finished eighth his first time around in 2010. Then he shot a course-record 61 in the opening round of this tournament. He made five birdies on the front and five more on the back and had no bogeys. It looked like it might be a boat race, but Harrington shot 73 in the second round and had only one birdie. He finished tied for 20th at 7 under.

11. Jim Furyk wins near sundown (2010)

Jim Furyk hits from the rough along the 18th hole during the final round of the Transitions Championship on March 21, 2010.
Jim Furyk hits from the rough along the 18th hole during the final round of the Transitions Championship on March 21, 2010. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | Associated Press ]

It had been almost three years since Furyk, then 40, won a golf tournament. In the final round, he had to wait four extra hours to tee off due to rain. By the time he tapped in for bogey and a one-shot win over K.J. Choi, it was nearly dark. “I never doubted I would win again," Furyk said. “I feel like I have a lot of golf left in me." He did. Furyk went on to win the Tour Championship that season and earned $4,809,622.

10. Lee McCoy nearly stuns the pros (2016)

McCoy grew up playing on Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course. But there is a big difference playing it in a PGA Tour event. Or maybe not. McCoy was a senior at the University of Georgia when he earned a sponsor’s exemption to the Valspar Championship. He narrowly made the cut, then played well enough to get into contention on Sunday. He was paired with Jordan Spieth in the final round and shot 2-under 69, four shots better than Spieth and just three shots off the lead. He finished in fourth place. Had he not been an amateur, McCoy would’ve earned $292,800. Spieth told McCoy not to look at the purse money, which was posted in the scorer’s trailer. “I shouldn’t have looked," McCoy said. “I think I’ve got $350 in my bank account right now. It hurt." McCoy is currently on the Korn Ferry Tour, a step down from the PGA Tour.

Related: Amateur Lee McCoy finishes fourth at Valspar Championship

9. John Daly makes sextuple-bogey (2013)

john Daly watches a teammate's ball during a drive at the 13th tee IN 2013 while competing in the Tampa Bay Championship pro-am.
john Daly watches a teammate's ball during a drive at the 13th tee IN 2013 while competing in the Tampa Bay Championship pro-am. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

By this time, Daly, 46, wasn’t really competitive on the PGA Tour. But he could always count on a sponsor’s exemption to Innisbrook. Fans love him because of holes like this. On the par-4, third hole of Friday’s round, Daly made a 10. Tee shot into the trees. Punch out clips a branch. Unplayable lie. Fourth shot hits another branch and goes backward. Another shot and a penalty drop. Seventh shot barely gets out of the rough. Eighth shot lands 30 feet from the green. Pitch shot to one foot. Tap in 10. “Beautiful chip," Daly told the Associated Press.

Related: John Daly's day sinks with 10 on No. 3

8. Mark Calcavecchia packs his bags (2007)

The former Gator was so disgusted with his putting after an opening-round 75 at the PODS Championship that he told his wife, Brenda, to pack their bags so they could leave right after Friday’s round. Except he shot 4-under 67 in the second round and barely made the cut. Then he shot 9-under 62 in the third round. All with a putter he picked up at a local golf shop the day before. Calcavecchia, 46, won the tournament when Heath Slocum missed a 4-footer on the 18th green. He is the oldest player to win a PGA event at Innisbrook. “From no hope, no chance, missed cut to victory," Calcavecchia said.

7. A dream lineup (2018)

Justin Rose reacts after his drive on the 10th hole during the second round of the Valspar Championship in 2018.
Justin Rose reacts after his drive on the 10th hole during the second round of the Valspar Championship in 2018. [ MIKE CARLSON | Associated Press ]

Tiger Woods stole the show two years ago, but it’s easy to forget how loaded this tournament was. Yes, grinder Paul Casey won it. But Patrick Reed and Woods were one shot behind. Sergio Garcia was two shots back. In any other year, Garcia would have been the big story, especially since he hasn’t done much here in the past. Justin Rose was three shots back and past winner Jim Furyk, at 47, was four shots behind. Jordan Spieth was also in the field, but he didn’t make the cut.

6. Snakebit (2014)

Not to pick on John Daly, but looking back on it he sure did have his moments at Innisbrook. In this tournament, he made a 12 on the par-4, 16th hole on his way to a second-round 90. He missed a 4-footer on the 18th hole to card his highest professional score. “I didn’t give up," Daly said afterward. “I tried." On the 16th hole, he hit his tee shot in the water. After a penalty shot, he hit two more balls in the water. Next shot goes well left of the water. Next shot goes well right of the green. Then came three chips to reach the green and a one putt. He had 70 putts in his two rounds.

Related: John Daly shoots 90 at PGA Tour Valspar Championship

5. Playoff determines world’s best (2012)

Four golfers are the most in a playoff in this tournament’s history. It was also the first playoff in tournament history. Luke Donald posted his final-round 66, then waited to see if anyone could beat his four-round score of 13 under. Jim Furyk, Robert Garrigus and Sang-Moon Bae could only tie it. Donald drained a birdie putt on the 18th hole (the first playoff hole) to win the championship. He also regained the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings with the win.

4. Paul Casey wins ... again (2019)

Paul Casey acknowledges the crowd at the fifth green at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course last year.
Paul Casey acknowledges the crowd at the fifth green at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course last year. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The first time seemed like a bit of a fluke. All the attention was on Tiger Woods in 2018 and Casey sneaked in with a good Sunday round in front of a smaller crowd. Last year’s victory proved he was no fluke. Playing in the final group this time with Dustin Johnson, Casey shot 72 and beat Jason Kokrak and Louis Oosthuizen by a shot. His 1 over was the highest final round of any winner and he’s the only repeat winner in tournament history. “It was a scrappy round of golf," Casey said. “I made mistakes, but so did everybody else."

Related: Paul Casey wins the Valspar Championship

3. Who’s your caddie? (2008)

Though it wasn't planned, Jon Gruden caddied for John Daly during the first round of the PODS Championship in 2008.
Though it wasn't planned, Jon Gruden caddied for John Daly during the first round of the PODS Championship in 2008. [ Times ]

This involves Daly. Again. The opening round of the PODS Championship was hampered by bad weather. A near three-hour rain delay brought play to a halt. Daly decided he’d spend the delay at the Hooter’s Owl’s Nest, which back then was behind the 17th green near the 10th green and 11th tee. While waiting for play to begin again, Daly spotted then-Bucs coach Jon Gruden. After a few beverages, Daly got the idea to use Gruden as his caddie the rest of the day. Sure enough, Gruden carried the bag for seven holes until play was called due to darkness. Just a few months later, Daly’s swing coach, Butch Harmon, dropped him because he was tired of antics like this one at the PODS Championship.

Related: John Daly won't back down on calling PGA Tour drug testing a 'big joke'

2. Jordan Spieth becomes Jordan Spieth (2015)

Spieth wasn’t widely known when he came to town in 2015. But after winning in a playoff over Patrick Reed and Sean O’Hair, he went on to win the Masters and the U.S. Open and become an international golf sensation. Spieth had to make two long par saves on the back nine just to get into the playoff. He then sank a 30-foot birdie on the third playoff hole to notch his first win. “That was luck," he said. “Guess it was my day."

Related: Jordan Spieth wins Valspar Championship in playoff

1. Almost a Tiger triumph (2018)

Tiger Woods prepares to drive the first fairway while playing the Copperhead Course on March 11, 2018.
Tiger Woods prepares to drive the first fairway while playing the Copperhead Course on March 11, 2018. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

While tournament officials were grateful to have Tiger Woods for the first and only time, they had to scramble to get the course “Tiger ready." Extra parking. Extra Port-a-Lets. Extra seating. Extra security. Nearly 120,000 people showed up over the event’s four days (around 30,000 per day). Woods was in contention after a 70-68 start. A 67 on Saturday put him near the top of the leaderboard. On the back nine Sunday, Woods was trying to chase down Paul Casey, who was already in the clubhouse with 10 under. It looked as if Woods was finished, but he drained a 44-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to close within one. He needed a birdie on 18 to tie, but his 37-footer came up just short. After the event, Woods tweeted: “Wow, what an amazing week ... people, atmosphere, adrenaline, back nine on Sunday, man I’ve missed this. Getting better. Thank you for all the support!”

Related: How Tiger Woods delivered a weekend Tampa Bay will never forget

Valspar Championship

When/where: March 19-22, Innisbrook Golf Resort, Palm Harbor

Course: Copperhead (par 71; 7,340 yards)

Purse: $6,900,000 ($1,206,000 winner’s share)

Defending champion: Paul Casey

Tickets: Start at $39 (Thursday, Friday, Sunday), $49 (Saturday). Buy them at any area Publix or here.

Daily schedule: Monday: Celebrity pro-am (closed to public); Tuesday: Professional practice rounds (free admission); Wednesday: Pro-Am ($10 admission); Thursday-Sunday: Professional rounds.

Notables committed: Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson. (Players have until Friday at 5 p.m. to commit).