I’m gonna be honest folks– It takes a special type of golf fan to get fired up about this week’s Championship, which takes place just outside of Tampa at the Innisbrook resort. The Valspar Championship happens to coincide with the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament which will always make it tough to get the type of viewership that most tournaments receive. Not to mention, the tournament is sandwiched between The PLAYERS and a WGC with the Masters looming, so the field isn’t exactly an elite one. With all of this being said, we know that plenty of our Amateur Hour fans are diehard golf fans, and this is still an event sure to provide plenty of drama on Sunday. Time to review the PLAYERS before diving into this week’s field.
Valspar Championship Power Ranking Grade: C
-9 of 12 golfers ranked made the cut.
-6 of the 12 golfers ranked finished in the top 35.
-3 of the 12 golfers ranked finished in the top 5.
There was some good, some bad, and some ugly for me last week at The PLAYERS which ultimately leads to a firm C grade. The good was largely shouldered by slotting the champion, Rory McIlroy, in the #2 slot in the rankings. In addition to that, Tommy Fleetwood and Dustin Johnson both cracked the rankings and both were in contention on Sunday. Rickie Fowler, Francesco Molinari, and Brooks Koepka all failed to get any real momentum going throughout the week for various reasons, and thus did not live up to their respective rankings. The ugly was all in my Jordan Spieth gamble, which ultimately completely backfired. Jordan made 11 birdies in 36 holes, but simply had way too many blow-up holes and found the drink at least five different times. While the putting looked to be back on schedule for Jordan, the ball-striking continues to be extremely inconsistent. Onwards to Valspar.
Standard Disclaimer: For non-major Championships I will be ranking 12 golfers a week, and for the Majors I will be going 20 deep. I don’t rank for guys that I think will be in the mix, I rank solely on likelihood of winning the golf tournament. Thus, whoever I give the #1 spot to each week, is the guy I feel is most likely to reach the winner’s circle, and so forth down the list. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
1. Dustin Johnson– Nobody else really even received any consideration for the top spot. DJ continues to power along, stacking top ten finish upon top ten finish. A horse for just about any course, and this week should be no different as he comes in fresh off of his first career Top 10 at the PLAYERS.
2. Jon Rahm– A shaky Sunday last week in which he had the outright 54 hole lead for the first time in his career. I think he will be motivated after letting one slip away and not giving himself a chance at the trophy. As always, the concern will be whether or not he can keep his emotions in check when adversity hits.
3. Webb Simpson– Continues to be a model of consistency for the last 18-24 months. Short game has drastically improved and the ball-striking is elite right now. It’s now been a full year since Webb has last lifted a trophy and this is a week where he should find himself right in the thick of things.
4. Sergio Garcia– Sergio has been playing some very solid golf to start 2019 and this is a place where he has seen plenty of success. The flatstick is always the drawback and these greens will certainly test it, but expect Nino to hit plenty of greens and fairways.
5. Jason Day– Encouraging start last week for JDay after the withdrawal and back issues the week prior. Potentially even more encouraging that he is now teeing it up again this week at an event he doesn’t always play. The Aussie is out here for victories and victories only at this point in his career, and if the back is fine this could be a week he adds another title to his name.
6. Henrik Stenson– Will we get API Henrik or PLAYERS Henrik this week at Valspar? In four starts at Copperhead he has finished 11th or better all but once. Look for the trusty 3-wood to be fully activated this week in Tampa.
7. Patrick Reed– Hasn’t missed a cut in 15 straight starts worldwide and has had a lot of success here the last five years. Can be very sporadic which is always the caution with Patrick, but around the greens he is always solid and that is a big key this week.
8. Tyrrell Hatton– Hatton will be making his first trip to Innisbrook and is fresh off of a missed cut last week, but on paper this is a course that should fit his eye. In that group with Fleetwood and Noren of Europeans that have consistently contended but are still looking for that first W. Don’t rule out this week for T-Bone.
9. Jim Furyk- May the real Captain Furyk please stand up! What a performance last week from Captain Jim, and that shot into 18 on Sunday was something special. In reality though, this is a man that has been playing some really solid golf for most of 2019 now that Ryder Cup obligations are over. Look for that trend to continue this week.
10. Paul Casey– First time as the defending champion in a PGA TOUR event in a long, long time. Maybe missing the cut last week in Ponte Vedra Beach was a good thing for the ultra-consistent Englishman. A course that sets up perfectly for him in every facet.
11. Branden Grace– Contended for the first time here a year ago, utltimately finishing 8th. The current form isn’t exactly stellar, but Gracey has always been a guy that can randomly pop up in contention if the track fits his eye. Very hungry to add a second PGA TOUR trophy to his collection.
12. Kevin Na– His last two trips to Copperhead resulted in a withdrawal and a missed cut, but the results in the the three years preceding were sparkling. Look for Kevin to return to that form at a place that sets up well for him. Side note, still confused over his antics on the green with Tiger Sunday at the PLAYERS.
The field may not be elite, the buzz may not be palpable, and the golf course may not be breathtaking, but I believe the 2019 Valspar Championship will surprise many. The Snake Pit will hold these players accountable as it always does, and I think a familiar name or two will find themselves in contention for a trophy. Let’s hope for a great week!