VALSPAR: The PGA Tour’s Florida Swing continues this week at one of the most underrated venues on Tour, the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort, where a stronger than expected field will look to get the year revved up with a springtime victory.
One man is definitely used to winning here– Sam Burns has taken home the trophy in each of the past two years and he’s back to defend, with a price that’s currently hovering around 19.0 at BETDAQ. Burns is joined atop the market by Justin Thomas (11.0), Jordan Spieth (15.5), and Matt Fitzpatrick (18.0), three top-15 players in the latest World Golf Rankings, and with guys like Justin Rose (26.0), Keegan Bradley (27.0), and Tommy Fleetwood (30.0) also set to tee it up, the field is looking stronger than one would expect for a tournament sandwiched between the Players Championship and the WGC Match Play.
Whenever you see a stronger than expected field at a Tour event you can be sure that the golf course is a big reason why, and Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course is indeed one of those that draws near-universal acclaim from the players. Originally designed by Larry Packard in the early 70s, Copperhead had undergone several small tweaks prior to a major renovation in 1999 which transformed it from a traditional resort course to a 7,400-yard beast that can test every club in the bag. Narrow dog-legs, firm and fast greens with undulation uncommon for a Florida course, strategic bunkering, and water that comes into play on half the holes are a few of the challenges that must be dealt with this week, and the three most difficult holes on the course are numbers 16, 17, and 18, a closing stretch ominously known as the Snake Pit. Though defending champion Sam Burns has reached 17-under in both of his victories, scores have been much higher here in the past, with Paul Casey’s 8-under winning score in 2019 the most recent example. There’s no hiding at Copperhead: you must strike the ball well and play clean golf to have success this week.
With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Tommy Fleetwood (30.0)- Though this price may seem a bit short for someone still seeking his first PGA Tour victory, Fleetwood has won plenty worldwide and has contended on the biggest of stages, and it’s only a matter of time until it happens in an official Tour event. With his tee-to-green ability and his tremendous record on difficult courses you would think that this tournament, and a course like Copperhead, would be a great fit for him, and indeed he played quite well on debut here last year, putting himself squarely in contention before a final-round 71 left him in a tie for 16th. It was the same story at the Players last week, only magnified: Fleetwood played great until a miserable Sunday 76 slid him down to T27. A few bad rounds aside, however, and it’s clear that his game is trending in the right direction, as he’s already racked up three top-20s and a top-5 in seven PGA Tour starts this season. He’ll be tough to beat at Copperhead and strikes me as a pretty fair value at a price like 30.0.
Davis Riley (54.0)- Riley is a Mississippi kid who played his collegiate golf at Alabama, and in his brief Tour career it’s already become abundantly clear that he plays his best golf on the Bermuda-covered courses of the Southeast. So, it should come as no surprise that he responded to three straight missed cuts on the West Coast with a T29 at the Honda and then a T8 at Bay Hill: he was simply back in his comfort zone. Well, he should feel pretty comfortable this week after finishing runner-up in his tournament debut here last year, riding a third-round 62 all the way to a playoff with eventual champion Burns. I expect form and confidence to collide for Riley this week, making him a dangerous player and an excellent value at better than 50/1.
Tyler Duncan (88.0)- I think Duncan kind of stands out this week among the others in his price range– his game seems to be heating up, as he followed a season-best 3rd-place finish at the Honda with a solid performance at the Players last week, and he’s an excellent driver of the ball, ranking 25th on Tour in Total Driving, so he should be well-suited to take on a demanding driving course like Innisbrook. Plus, he seems to be getting the hang of it at this tournament, as after missed cuts in his first two appearances here he’s come back with a T39 in 2021 and a T25 last year, when he opened with 69-69-65 to put himself in contention before disappointing with a Sunday 73. If the steady improvement continues he should find himself on the first page of the leaderboard this week, and that certainly makes him worth a bet at such an inflated price.