Forelinx Fantasy Golf Preview ⏤ Valspar Championship

Fantasy Golf


The PGA TOUR returns to Florida this week for the Valspar Championship at the beautiful Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course. Technically, Paul Casey will defend the pair of titles he won here back in 2018 and 2019 as last year's edition of this event was cancelled due to COVID-19 and was not rescheduled for later in the year. While the course designer at Innisbrook (Larry Packard) is not particularly well-known, his creation at the Copperhead Course is certainly well-liked among PGA TOUR players. In fact, anonymous player surveys conducted by Golf.Com and Golf Digest both have seen the Copperhead Course make appearances among their top ten favorites.

The field is not too shabby, but unfortunately lost a little bit of the quality at the top due to a quartet of COVID-19 positive tests that have resulted in the withdrawal of four players from this week's tournament. Promising young professional Sepp Straka was among the four, alongside Brice Garnett, Will Gordon and top-ten player Tyrrell Hatton. Hatton's loss is by far the most notable as he was one of the top-ranked players in a field that is a little light on top-ten talent. Hatton was also listed in Group A for this week's Pick Em' Pool and the Head-to-Head contests for the first two rounds, so fantasy players will need to take note of his absence.

The Field and the Favorites

The two favorites this week should be somewhat obvious as Justin Thomas (+900) and Dustin Johnson (+1200) are running away the biggest threats to win this week. Of the two, it's hard not to like Thomas over DJ as it seems like there's a better course/player fit there as compared to the way the place lays out for DJ. It's not a golf course that particularly rewards length and generally is a far greater test of precision than one of power. 

One need look no further than the list of champions to get a sense of the kind of players the Copperhead Course rewards. Paul Casey is hardly a bomber and he's won the last two, Jordan Spieth isn't a power player and he won in 2015, Luke Donald was one of the shortest hitters on the TOUR when he won in 2012 and Jim Furyk (champion in 2010) was never known for his length. Thomas strikes us as a better A to B player and more in the mold of the types of players we just listed than DJ.

Patrick Reed is not a particularly surprising third favorite at +1800, though that price does seem a little stingy for someone who we think should be much farther behind Dustin Johnson's +1200. Nevertheless, his short game will serve him in pretty good stead around here and if he can get the ballstriking together we could easily see him contending come Sunday. His track record at this golf course is outstanding and the only thing missing to this point is a win at the Copperhead Course. He finished just a shot behind Paul Casey here in 2018 (tied for second with Tiger Woods) and lost in a playoff to Jordan Spieth in 2015.

The biggest surprise is the order of the next group of favorites that are all in the range of +2000 to +3000. The first among them is Corey Conners (+2000) who had been somewhat under the radar until his strong performance during the lead in events ahead of the Masters. Since a missed cut at Riviera back in February, he's yet to finish outside of the top-20 with top-ten finishes both at Augusta National as well as two weeks ago at Harbour Town. A few weeks ago, he may not have gotten the attention of bettors but it's obvious from his location on the board of favorites that he's no longer the best-kept secret for fantasy players. 

Conners comes in ahead of both Viktor Hovland (+2200) and Paul Casey (+2500), but the latter is perhaps the most surprising considering the fact that it's been well over three years since anyone but Paul Casey has won at Innisbrook. Casey has rattled off back-to-back wins in this event both in 2018 and 2019, including an truly impressive one-shot victory over a surging Tiger Woods back in 2018. While he's hardly the world's longest hitter, he's most definitely a precision iron player and the Copperhead Course is exactly the kind of track that suits his game.

The Golf Course

As we've mentioned, the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook is hardly the bomber's paradise that PGA TOUR's best experience on a weekly basis. It's a golf course that requires more cunning and guile than sheer power and the ability to place the ball both off the tee and into the greens is going to be paramount this week. The greens are relatively small compared to most modern courses and the fairways are mostly tree-lined, so anyone who finds themselves out of position off the tee is going to struggle to find a way to get the ball on the putting surface.

Weather is not expected to be too much of a factor this week as the forecast calls for almost exclusively sunshine and temperatures in the mid-80s throughout tournament week. That having been said, this tournament is being contested in Florida and a persistent breeze in the range of 8-12 miles per hour is expected throughout most of the week. It's not enough to make a huge difference, but it's just enough to complicate distance control into the small greens that are usually protected by trees from the wind at ground level.

The closing stretch of holes will be hugely important in determining success at the Copperhead Course this week. The run starts with the par-five fourteenth that measures a total of 590 yards but still may be reachable for the longer hitters depending on the wind direction. It's the last great chance for a birdie on the golf course and chasing contenders on Sunday will need to get one back here in order to give themselves a chance to win. Players who miss the fairway will find the lay up complicated by a pond in the lay-up area that will help compound any mistake from the tee.

The fifteenth and seventeenth are the final one-shot holes on the golf course and both measure in the neighborhood of 215 yards or so. Neither of these holes are particularly easy locations to find birdies, but mercifully proper-side misses away from the short-side will not be too terribly punished. The player in the lead come Sunday will happily take pars at both, but chasing players will not find it particularly easy to make up ground there.

The sixteenth and eighteenth hole are the toughest tests among the closing stretch and bogies will be commonplace at both holes. The sixteenth in particular is 475 yards with water wrapping around the entire right side of the hole. The length requires players to hit driver and don't be surprised to see players leak tee shots into the lake and make easy bogies and doubles here off of missteps from the tee. The home hole is almost the reverse in its challenge as the bulk of the difficulty is derived from the severe pitch of the green from back-to-front.

The winning scores here are not historically very high as the course has always proven to be a pretty stern test. The majority of the winning scores have come a couple of shots on either side of 10-under par 274. Just one of the last ten contests at the Copperhead Course have seen a winning total in the 260s (269 from Gary Woodland in 2011) and more tournaments have finished on the single-digit side of ten-under than the double-digit side lately. Adjust your tiebreaker scores accordingly.