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Valspar Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 05 Mar 2018 | Comments

THE 2015 Valspar Championship was a big deal for a young golfer called Jordan Spieth. Nearly two years earlier he had won the John Deere Classic while still only 19 years of age but it was crucial that the young American proved not only to himself but to everybody else that he was not a flash in the pan. And he so he came to Innisbrook with a point to prove.

Not only did he win the tournament, but a few weeks later he was also being fitted for the Green Jacket as he went on to win The Masters in sensational fashion. And so the story has continued for Spieth. Incredibly, he is still only 24 years old but already he has won three majors and needs only the US PGA Championship to complete the full set.  Incredibly, he has now won 11 times, and that is without considering the three tournaments he has lost in playoffs. Spieth is a big-time player – the three defeats came at the hands of Dustin Johnson, JB Holmes and Patrick Reed – and the harder the golf course, the better he seems to play.

He would be the first to admit that he does not possess a classical golf swing, and the statistics confirm that he misses an awful lot of fairways, and struggles to keep up with the likes of Johnson, McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Jason Day from the tee. But what a competitor he is – and nobody, but nobody, holes as many money putts as Speith. There once was a time when if you had to pick one golfer to hole a 12-foot put to save your life then you would opt for Tiger Woods every day of the week. Not any longer. Now, the go-to man is Spieth.

He proved it when he won The Open at Royal Birkdale last year and he proves it week after week, holing long putts for fun. Like Jack Nicklaus and Woods before him, Spieth’s entire season is geared around the majors and he will arrive at Innisbrook hoping to prove that his game is in shape for The Masters, a tournament where he has yet to finish outside the top 15.

The Valspar was won in 2011 by Gary Woodland, in 2012 by Luke Donald, in 2013 by Kevin Streelman, in 2014 by John Sendon, in 2015 by Spieth, in 2016 by Charl Schwartzel and last year by Adam Hadwin.

Woodland is currently walking on air after finally returning to the winners’ circle at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He had a dreadful time off the course in 2017 when his wife Gabby fell pregnant with twins and one of them died. It put things in perspective for the American and he has returned to the game with a new outlook. There are many who believe that his victory in Arizona could be a turning point in his career and that the floodgates could now open. He is a hugely talented golfer who would be the first to admit that he has underachieved. A man who strikes the ball as well as Woodland should have many more than three victories to his name, and he will now be looking to kick on and secure his place in Jim Furyk’s Ryder Cup team.

Donald will return looking for any kind of indication that the slump in form that has afflicted his game may soon be over. Like so many before him, the Englishman chose to abandon a golf swing that has served him so well for years. And he lost his game. He had won millions of dollars with a swing that didn’t hit the ball 300-plus yards from the tee, so why, oh why, did he feel the need to tinker with it? Worst of all, he put additional pressure on his magnificent short game and, inevitably, he began to lose his touch on the greens. Putting was always the key to Donald’s game. He finally woke up to the fact that it was time to abandon his new swing and is once again finding fairways. But that magic touch on the greens continues to elude him. He will hope against hope that returning to the scene of one of his best victories will trigger something.

The tournament was won last year by Adam Hadwin, of Canada. He has continued to climb the world rankings in the months since then. Hadwin had the tournament in his pocket 12 months ago but then did his very best to throw it away over Innisbrook’s treacherous finishing stretch, known as the Snake Pit. The most dangerous hole on that stretch is the 16th, a par four measuring 475 yards. Hadwin hit his drive into the water and it cost him a double bogey, which suddenly left him tied with Patrick Cantlay. Hadwin’s caddie, Joe Cruz, played a huge part in keeping the player on track.

“I told him, ‘Forget about it,’” said Cruz. “‘All you wanted was a chance and you still have that chance.’ He said, ‘You're right. I can't be mad.’ I think this proves we belong out here."

Both players made par on the 17th, and on the walk to the 18th tee Hadwin told Cruz that they were still in better shape than they’d been in at the CareerBuilder Challenge. That was where Hadwin shot a third-round 59 but lost to Hudson Swafford by a shot. This time there were no such regrets. Cantlay hit a glorious three wood down the 18th fairway, and Hadwin did the same. Then Cantlay hit his approach into a greenside bunker and was unable to get up and down to save his par. Hadwin put his approach to the back of the green and then pitched to 12 inches before tapping in for a winning par.

“I just went out there and stuck to what I do best, and just hit some quality golf shots, and really made the game super easy, apart from what happened at the 16th,” Hadwin said. “I feel a little fortunate after that hole to have won, but I'll certainly take it and I can't wait for everything that comes with this win.”

Hadwin went from 15th to fourth in the FedExCup standings, qualified for his first Masters, and became just the second player to win on the PGA TOUR, the Mackenzie Tour—PGA TOUR Canada, and the Web.com Tour. Although he came into the week 98th in the Official World Golf Ranking, the victory moved him up to 51st, and he has continued to go from strength to strength.

Tiger Woods is also a late entrant into the tournament as he looks to build on an encouraging performance at the Honda Classic. The 14-time major champion will be playing at Bay Hill before he returns to Augusta National for the Masters.

To Win:

Jordan Spieth. Loves this place

Each Way:

Adam Hadwin. Now a world-class performer

Fantasy Picks:

Jordan Spieth. One of the very best

Adam Hadwin. Canada’s best Tour player

Gary Woodland. Has rediscovered his belief

Charl Schwartzel. Much depends on his putting stroke

Matt Kuchar. The money-making machine

Tony Finau. One of the biggest hitters in the game

Jason Dufner. Brilliant wedge player

Chez Reavie. Rough? What rough?

Patrick Reed. Looking to arrest the slide

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Tags: PGA Tour FedEx Cup

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