There are not many PGA Tour events that Tiger Woods has not won, let alone entered. But this week’s Valspar Championship is one of the minority that the 14-time major champion has not appeared at.
Two weeks ago Woods made his most promising finish since 2015 when he rallied to a 12th place finish at the Honda Classic. And after a week’s hiatus having failed to qualify for the WGC-Mexico Championship, he will look to bolster his run in to the Masters.
Rory McIlroy’s scenario is near-identical to Woods this week. The Northern-Irishman has also never entered here, and is also coming into his maiden appearance after a week off having elected to skip the year’s opening WGC.Embed from Getty Images
The start to the year looked very prosperous for McIlroy with a tied third followed by a second, but the following events saw his fortunes change with a missed cut, tied 20th and tied 59th in consecutive weeks.
There are six more from inside the world’s top 20 joining McIlroy as Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey and Matt Kuchar are all pencilled in to take to Innisbrook Resort.
Gary Woodland is the only winner on the PGA Tour in 2018 to enter – although Garcia did win the SMBC Singapore Open in January – but Adam Hadwin (2017), Charl Schwartzel (2016), Spieth (2015), Kevin Streelman (2013), Luke Donald (2012), Woodland himself (2011), Jim Furyk (2010), Retief Goosen (2003 and 2009) and Sean O’Hair (2008) complete a plethora of past champions who will all be back this week.
Hadwin would become the first man to earn back-to-back titles here, although Goosen (2003 and 2009) and K.J. Choi (2002 and 2006) have taken multiple victories around this track.
Notably Bill Haas is making his first start since being involved in a fatal car crash prior to the Genesis Open, having recovered from his resulting injuries.
Since the events inception in 2000 – under the name of the Tampa Bay Classic – Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course has been the host.
On the face of it, the course is just a fairly standard 7340-yard par 71. But its holes of 16 through 18 make up the illustrious ‘Snake Pit’, which ranked as the fourth-toughest final three-hole stretch on Tour last year with an average of .472 strokes over par. Two par fours, measuring a combined 920 yards, sit either side of the 215-yard par three 17th, as the players face an uphill task to finish their round strong.Embed from Getty Images
The tournament has not had a particularly lengthy life so far, with this just the 18th outing, but as Woods, McIlroy and a further 18 of the world’s top 50 take to the tee it boasts arguably its best field to date.