The Valspar Championship is this weekend’s headline act and it could be decided by a play-off for a third consecutive year as scoring is expected to be close.
Both Charl Schwartzel and Jordan Spieth, the past two winners of this event, were taken to play-offs to be crowned champion in Florida and patterns suggest the same could be expected this year.
Over recent years winning scores have been relatively low at seven-under and 10-under-par and you have to go back to 2006 to find a winning margin greater than two shots. The low winning scores means, often, closer fought events.
Henrik Stenson and Justin Thomas are the only players from the world’s top 10 competing in this event on a low-key week for tour golf as players prepare for the upcoming major season. Nevertheless, Thomas, the new leader in the FedExCup standings, can look at this one with great optimism despite his final round collapse at the WGC-Mexico Championship on Sunday. The 23-year-old had a lead over the world-numbers one and three after 54 holes and has three PGA Tour wins already this season.
After a mid-field tied 38th finish in Mexico, Schwartzel will return to Tampa as defending champion. Bill Haas, also returning, took Schwartzel to a play-off last time out but made bogey on the first play-off hole to open the door for the South African to claim only his second title on US soil. Schwartzel will be joined at Innisbrook Golf Club by the contingent of other past winners John Senden (2014); Kevin Streelman (2013); Luke Donald (2012); Gary Woodland (2011); Jim Furyk (2010); Sean O’Hair (2008); Carl Petterson (2005); two-time winners Retief Goosen (2009 and 2003) and K.J. Choi (2006 and 2006); and former world-number-one Vijay Singh (2004). Singh also holds the tournament-score record of 266 (18-under-par).
Jordan Spieth, however, will not return to the event that kick-started his phenomenal year of five wins, including two majors, in 2015. He only managed a tied 18th finish in his title defence last year.
Having begun – as the Tampa Bay Classic – in 2000, this is to be the 17th installation of the tournament; the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Golf Club in Tampa will, as it always has, play host. At just over 7300 yards, it’s a fairly lengthy course especially when put in context as a par 71. The course is not renowned for its tournament hosting capabilities as this is the only major tour event it has ever hosted. With that said, it has done enough to retain host status of this event since its inception.
The field may not be as fierce as it has been in recent weeks for this event but proceedings begin to pick up next week for the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the final event before the next World Golf Championship.
Heading in as the favourite, and with Hideki Matsuyama absent again, the Valspar Championship offers Thomas a considerable opportunity to consolidate his position as FedExCup leader.