Valspar Championship – Golfers to Target

Mark Diana
Golf Analyst

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After a stretch of golf that saw WGCs, the Masters, and two gimmicky events (Match Play and Team Event), the PGA Tour is back to “normal” golf. The next stretch of the season will see more week to week consistency due to the types of courses the golfers will be playing. This week, the PGA Tour returns to Florida for the Valspar Championship. This event was cancelled last year due to COVID-19, so golfers have not seen this course since 2019. 

Paul Casey is looking for a 3-Peat at this event, after winning here in both 2018 and 2019. Valspar is hosted at Innisbrook Golf Resort at the Copperhead Course. Copperhead is a brutal course, where the winning score will likely be worse than -10 under Par. The 7,340 yard Par 71, challenges golfers to flaunt a strong iron game, while also having the short game prowess to save par. I will be looking for a golfer who is a dominant Par 5 scorer who is efficient on Par 4s, and is great on Approach.

Each week, I will highlight golfers from different price tiers to help you build your betting card! The four price tiers I will highlight this week will be the: the top-tier, mid-tier, sleepers, and longshots. Top-tier golfers will consist of golfers who are 30-1 or less. The mid-tier will consist of golfers who are longer than 30-1, but shorter than 60-1. Sleepers will consist of golfers who are longer than 60-1, but shorter than 100-1. Longshots will consist of golfers who are longer than 100-1.

Top-Tier (Under 30-1)

Corey Conners 19-1

Conners is one of the most popular golfers this week, and books are hanging a number on him that’s shocking. Conners being priced ahead of golfers like Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hatton, and Viktor Hovland speaks to how good Conners has been recently. In his last five stroke-play events, Conners has finishes of third, seventh, fourteenth, eighth, and fourth. Four Top 10 finishes in his last five events is crazy. The 29-year-old Canadian has always been a great ball-striker, so it’s no surprise that he’s ranked second in GIRs Gained, second in Tee-to-Green, and fifth in Approach for the 2021 PGA Tour season among golfers in this field. The biggest catalyst to his recent success is his drastic improvement in his putting. In 2020, Conners was ranked 181st in Putting among all PGA golfers. This year, he is ranked 68th. While 68th is still not great, his ball-striking is so good that neutral putting is all he needs to contend weekly.

Patrick Reed 19-1

Patrick Reed is far from a fan-favorite. Usually this leads to sportsbook posting higher odds for Reed than they probably should. Reed is the #7 golfer in the world, has a win this year, and plays his best golf on tough courses. Reed’s short game mastery is why he is such an attractive bet on a course like Copperhead. Where most golfers will be tallying bogeys on their scorecards, Reed will be making other-worldly par saves. When the winning score is projected to hover around -10, I think Reed is always live to win. Since the start of the 2021 calendar year, Reed is gaining 1.00 strokes per round with the flatstick. Copperhead has the second most missed putts from inside five feet, so Reed’s short game consistency should be enough to see him contend this week.

Paul Casey 22-1

Casey let me down at the Masters where he struggled all week on the greens. However, it would be hard not to mention Casey this week considering he’s won this event the last two times it was played. In both of Casey’s wins at this event, he was able to dominate the Par 5s. In 2019, Casey played the Par 5s fifteen strokes under par, which is ridiculous considering his winning score was -8. The Englishmen has been one of the hottest players on Tour since he returned stateside in January. Since that time, Casey is gaining strokes in every major category, which is a positive sign for a course that will test golfers’ entire game. Casey can add to his already strong 2021 with a 3-Peat victory at the Valspar Championship.

Mid-Tier (Longer than 30-1, shorter than 60-1)

Russell Henley 33-1

In 2021, Russell Henley has been the best Approach player among this field. Approach has shown itself to be crucial every single week, but at Copperhead strong irons are absolutely necessary. 24% of all approach shots will be from 175-200 yards, which is a 6.5% increase from the Tour average. Henley’s strong approach allows him to avoid bogeys. For 2021, in this field Henley is second in Bogey Avoidance. Strong Tee-to-Green play has led to good recent finishes for Henley. In his last three events, Henley has finished third, 28th, and ninth. Henley’s strongest aspect of his game should translate well at Copperhead, but he will need to have an outlier putting week in order to win this event. 

Jason Kokrak 35-1

Jason Kokrak has been a popular bet for a couple of weeks now. He was popular at the Masters where he finished 49th. However, back in early March, Kokrak played three events in the state of Florida. In those three events he reeled off three straight Top 10 finishes. Valspar has been kind to Kokrak in his recent appearances, where he has back-to-back Top 10 finishes including a runner-up in 2019. I really like Kokrak’s ability to be in the mix at tougher events such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Farmers Insurance Open. Over the last 24 rounds, Kokrak is first in Bogey Avoidance and third in Strokes Gained on Par 5s. Being able to score on Par 5s, while avoiding mistakes on the other holes is the perfect combination for success at this course. 

Joaquin Niemann 35-1

Joaquin Niemann got off to a red hot start in 2021 with back-to-back runner-ups in Hawaii. However, since then he has been playing well but not great. The last time Niemann missed a cut was last August at the Northern Trust, which was sixteen starts ago. However, he hasn’t recorded a Top 10 finish since his runner-up at the Sony Open back in January. Niemann’s consistency is extremely attractive this week because he doesn’t need to collect a plethora of birdies in order to win. In 2021, among this field Niemann ranks fifth in Tee-to-Green, and seventh in GIRs Gained. Niemann’s ability to get to the green should keep him in the mix all week.

Charley Hoffman 47-1

Hoffman has been on a two month heater, where he has made eight straight cuts and racked up six Top 25 finishes. The 44-year-old has seen a resurgence in the quality of his ball-striking. In his last 24 rounds, Hoffman is gaining 1.00 strokes per round on Approach, while also gaining 1.45 strokes per round Tee-to-Green, which is second amongst this field for both categories. The bottom-line is that Hoffman has been playing really good golf, and has been knocking on the door for his first win in almost five years. This middle tier of golfers is catching my eye because there aren’t many differences in the underlying stats between the top-tier and this tier.

Chris Kirk 55-1

Kirk is a golfer I have been on multiple times over this recent stretch of golf and it’s because he’s trending for a win. Over his last 24 rounds, in this field Kirk ranks: fourth in Around-the-Green, sixth in Tee-to-Green, and eighth in Bogey Avoidance. However, one of the most important stats for Kirk is his Par 4 performance. Golfers probably will not win this event on the Par 4s, but they certainly will lose it on them. The last five winners have averaged one stroke over Par on the Par 4s. In 2021, among this field Kirk ranks: first in Par 4 Efficiency (400-450 yards), and fifth in Par 4 Scoring Average, and sixth in Birdie to Bogey ratio. Kirk profiles very well for this type of event because he can “survive” the Par 4s. However, he will need to do a better job at capitalizing on the Par 5s in order to win this week.

Sleepers (Long than 60-1, but shorter than 100-1)

Max Homa 75-1

Max Homa is a grinder. He has wins at Quail Hollow and at Riviera. These two events are classical courses with tough scoring conditions. Homa’s success on these types of courses has come from his ability to avoid major mistakes while gradually moving his way up the leaderboard. Homa is a strong iron player who is good at scoring on Par 5s. That is the combination I am looking for this week. Homa isn’t the type of golfer who will go out and post a -20 under Par number. That is good news for Homa because shooting -10 under will be good enough to win or be close to winning. Ove his 24 rounds, Homa is fourth in Strokes Gained Par 5s, eighth in Approach, ninth in Tee-to-Green, and eleventh in Bogey Avoidance. 

Keegan Bradley 80-1

The Captain of #TeamNoPutt will be part of my betting card this week. He has just been so good with his ball-striking and Tee-to-Green numbers that I can’t lay off of him. I mentioned earlier that this course has the second most missed putts from inside five feet. If more golfers in the field are missing short putts, it should bring Bradley into the picture. His biggest weakness will be a big weakness for everyone this week, so I think he should be able to contend. For all of the 2021 PGA Tour season, in this field Bradley ranks: first in Tee-to-Green, second in Approach, fourth in Strokes Gained Par 5s, 15th in GIRs Gained, and 20th Around the Green. Bradley fits the mold for the type of golfer who will win this week. 

Gary Woodland 80-1

Gary Woodland has been gradually returning to his old self after a hip injury devastated the end of his 2020. Woodland won this event back in 2011, so he definitely could win here again. Woodland flashed some form at the Valero Texas Open where he shot -9 and finished sixth. The Former U.S. Open Champion, like other golfers in this article, this is the type of event Woodland could win. Woodland can grind out Pars and just hang around the leaderboard. I like this number for a proven winner who has started to show a return to form.

Talor Gooch 90-1

Gooch just finished playing with Max Homa at the Zurich Classic Team Event. Ironically, Gooch is a very similar player to Homa and I always pair these two guys together. Gooch has been very good over his last 12 rounds where he is first in Approach among this field. Gooch also posted good finishes at the Genesis Invitational, and the Players Championship where the courses played difficult. Gooch has never won on the PGA Tour and I think his maiden victory will come at an event where it is not a birdie-fest. 

Long Shots (Longer than 100-1)

Charles Howell 100-1

Howell has played well at the Valspar in the past with three Top 15 Finishes in his last five appearances. Howell finished ninth at the Players Championship which was a tough Florida course. I like Howell’s ability to avoid bogeys and to be consistent Around-the-Green. With hard-to-hit Greens, and a tough overall course I really like players who can scramble and save Pars. Howell probably won’t win but at this number I really like his ability to finish inside the Top 30 or Top 20.

Tom Hoge 160-1

Tom Hoge has quietly been one of the better Approach players this season. For all of the 2021 PGA Tour season, Hoge is eleventh in Strokes Gained on Approach. Hoge has played well at events where GIR and Approach is at a premium. These are huge odds for a guy who has two Top 25 Finishes in his last three starts. I would look to add Hoge as a Top 40 type of bet. 

John Huh 160-1

Huh has very limited upside but he has a higher floor. He has made nine of his last ten cuts and has five Top 25s in that span. Looking this far down the betting board you should look for guys who will at the very least make it to the weekend. Huh is the type of golfer I would look in Top 40, Top 30 markets because of the consistency he has shown.

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