Previewing the 2019 Valspar Championship

March 20, 2019
Justin Ray

TIGER’S 12 MONTHS: A YEAR AFTER THE VALSPAR CLOSE CALL

At last year’s Valspar Championship, Tiger Woods was ranked 388th in the world and making his first ever start at Innisbrook. What followed was a rousing runner-up finish that served as an appetizer for what was to come the rest of the year.

Woods is not in the field this week, but the one-year mark serves as a checkpoint for evaluating his game. Now 13th in the World Ranking, how has Tiger’s last 52 weeks stacked up to his competitors?

Since last year’s Valspar Championship began, there are 160 players with at least 50 rounds on the PGA Tour. This complete data set includes all four majors, as well as overseas World Golf Championships events.

Among that group, Tiger is 6th in strokes gained total per round, trailing only Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Tommy Fleetwood. Woods is 4th in strokes gained approach in that span, 4th in strokes gained around the green, 46th in putting and 54th off the tee.

Tiger isn’t at his old peak – but over the last twelve months, he’s certainly been elite.

TRENDS AT THE VALSPAR CHAMPIONSHIP

*There are 185 different players with at least ten rounds played in the Valspar Championship over the last ten years. Of that group, only three players have a scoring average under 70: Sergio Garcia (69.6), Justin Rose (69.8), and Jim Furyk (69.9).

*Speaking of Furyk (runner-up last week), the veteran has racked up 17 rounds in the 60s at the Valspar Championship over the previous ten years, most of any player in that span. Webb Simpson (14) and Matt Kuchar (13) are the only other players with more than 12 such rounds during that stretch.

*Bubba Watson averages the most birdies and eagles per round over the last ten years at Innisbrook with 3.92. The next two names on that list are Graeme McDowell (3.90) and Garcia (3.80).

*Over the last five years, Patrick Reed is a combined 22-under in this event, eight strokes better than any other player in that span. Reed finished tied for second here one year ago.

*None of the previous ten winners at Innisbrook ranked in the top-ten that week in strokes gained off the tee. The average rank in that statistic for those ten winners is just 48.8.

*Last year, this course yielded just 55.7 percent greens in regulation to the field. That was third-toughest all season on Tour, behind only Riviera CC (53.5%) and Shinnecock (54.7%).

NOTES ON PLAYERS HEADLINING THE FIELD

*World number one Dustin Johnson will play this week, teeing it up at Innisbrook for the first time since 2010. Johnson will try to join Vijay Singh in 2004 as sitting number one players to win at Innisbrook. Two additional times, the current number one has played here – Martin Kaymer in 2011 (finished T-20) and Jordan Spieth in 2016 (T-18).

*Abraham Ancer of Mexico contended well into Sunday afternoon last week, ultimately finishing tied for 12th. The last player from Mexico to win on the PGA Tour was Victor Regalado in 1978.

*Jon Rahm will look to bounce back from a Sunday 76 at Sawgrass. To contend this week, he will need to perform better around the greens than he has so far this season on Tour. Over the previous ten years, players to finish in the top-five at Innisbrook have had a combined scrambling percentage of 71% that week. Rahm is at just 59% this season, ranking 124th on Tour.

*Henrik Stenson is 39th in the World Ranking this week, his lowest position since May of 2013. Is this a course where he can find good form? He finished 4th, T-11 and T-7 in his first three career starts at the Copperhead Course before missing the cut last year. Stenson’s strokes gained approach per round this season (+0.85) is comparable to last season, when he led the Tour (+0.96).

*Paul Casey will try to become the first back-to-back winner in this tournament’s history this week. Casey needed just 21 putts in the final round of his victory last year. It was the fewest putts in the final round of a PGA Tour win since Jim Carter at the 2000 Tucson Open.