PALM HARBOR — For the second time in less than a year, the Valspar Championship will tee off at Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor.
After being canceled in 2020, the tournament was moved to May last year, largely due to the pandemic. But this year it returns to its normal spot on the PGA Tour schedule.
The event, which has received commitments from 19 of the top 50 players in the world, is little more than two weeks away, with first-round play beginning on March 17.
Here are three things to know about the tournament.
Burns is ready to defend his title
Sam Burns was flooded with memories from last year’s Valspar win as he drove around the Copperhead Course on Monday morning. He looked up at the streetlight posters, smiling in awe at what he had accomplished after seeing his championship flag.
In May, Burns finished three strokes ahead of Keegan Bradley, shooting 17-under 267 to earn his first PGA Tour win. Burns was the fourth player in the event’s history to win his first Tour event at Innisbrook.
Burns has a chance to become the first back-to-back champion since Paul Casey in 2018 and ‘19. Casey also will return for this year’s event.
Five other players who have won the PGA event at Innisbrook — Gary Woodland (2011), Luke Donald (2012), Kevin Streelman (2013), Charl Schwartzel (2016) and Adam Hadwin (2017) — also will be in the field of 136.
Burns said he feels more confident than he did entering last year’s tournament. He has since won the Sanderson Farms Championship (in October) and is ranked No. 16 in the world.
“It’s kind of one of those things where every tournament presents a different challenge, but they’re all pretty similar, as well,” Burns said. “You’re coming down the stretch and you have to execute the shots, so being able to pull back on doing that here and remembering what I went through here… it definitely helps.
“(Having) the confidence that I felt capable of winning, that I’ve done it, it’s not like a ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ situation.”
A strong field is still building
To date, 19 of the world’s top 50 players are set to compete in this year’s tournament, with other “strong verbal” commitments on the way, according to tournament director Tracy West.
In addition to Burns, No. 2 Collin Morikawa, No. 7 Justin Thomas, No. 8 Xander Schauffele and No. 9 Dustin Johnson have committed to play.
Another commitment from a player in the top 50 would mark the first time since 2013 the event has featured at least 20 of the top-ranked players on the Tour.
“For us to have 19 out of the top 50 is huge,” West said. “With us being between The Players (Championship) and (World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies) Match Play, it’s not the easiest of dates in the world, but I think the Copperhead is a testament to the strength of field.”
West said she’s particularly looking forward to seeing how Morikawa and Schauffele handle the course. This year be mark the Valspar debut for both players.
“I never vote or cheer for any player over another... but I’d like to see (them) play well here,” West said. “... So many pros, there are big factors in how they set their schedule. How does the schedule shake out, but where do I play well? So I’m interested to see what those two can do.”
Tampa local receives sponsor exemption
Plant High alumnus Jackson Suber will join the Valspar field as one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions.
Suber, a senior who competes for Ole Miss, will make his Tour debut at the tournament alongside fellow sponsor Alex Fitzpatrick, a Wake Forest senior and the younger brother of PGA Tour player Matt Fitzpatrick.
Suber is currently ranked ninth in the PGA Tour University’s global rankings. He has won three individual tournament titles for the Rebels.
“(Suber) reached out on his own and came to visit … made the time and effort to come and pitch himself,” West said. “We’re really excited to give him the opportunity.”
Contact Mari Faiello at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @faiello_mari.