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Valspar Championship 2021 picks: Has the Corey Conners hate gone too far?

Mike Ehrmann

We know the recipe to success at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course, which has hosted this event since 2000: You need to hit fairways—with three-inch rough looming along these doglegs—and you need to hit greens. The Valspar Championship has played as one of the 10 toughest courses on the PGA Tour six of the past seven years and also produced a winning score no better than 10-under just once in that timeframe.

Seemingly, this would point to Corey Conners, one of the hottest golfers on the planet right now. The Canadian ranks first in strokes gained/ball-striking, which combines SG/off the tee and SG/approach, over the past 50 rounds, per FantasyNational.com, and his recent finishes are off the charts.

So at this ball-striking venue, why are some of our experts and other sharp handicappers in the industry fading Conners? It’s his price.

But look at the data a little closer—and the fact Conners has only one PGA Tour win to his name—and you start to build a more complete picture. If you look at a site like RickRunGood.com, which does win projections based on our expert Rick Gehman's data modeling, you’d see that Conners wins the Valspar 1.5 percent of the time when simulated 1,000 times in our expert's simulations. The FantasyNational.com’s win simulator is slightly more optimistic, but not by much: It gives Conners a 2.2 percent chance of winning this event when simulated 1,000 times.

Now, when you soak in all that information—you see you’re not getting any value on Conners’ 20-1 odds.

That would explain why Pat Mayo, of Mayo Media Network and Fantasy National, is fading Conners at his price. But our Stephen Hennessey, who’s admittedly less of a numbers guy and relies more on narratives (aka he’s not a sharp), is betting on him this week. He’s willing to take the value-less price at the chance Conners cashes in.

Understanding what the numbers say about the bets you make is how you begin to build a profitable strategy in betting on golf—which is what we’re all after.

Read below for our picks from the rest of our panel, including an anonymous PGA Tour caddie, for the 2021 Valspar Championship.

Valspar Championship 2021 picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions (Odds from William Hill)

Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Jason Kokrak (30-1) — The big hitter absolutely killed it in the Florida swing—he had top-10 finishes in all three of his Florida starts. And he’s coming off a decent week with Pat Perez (thought we’d get close to cashing that ticket), but more importantly has the great record at Copperhead—gaining more than 23 strokes on the field in his past five starts here, including a runner-up, T-8 and T-7 finishes.

Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Scottie Scheffler (30-1) — Scheffler’s been one of the best players on the PGA Tour in the past month, nearly winning the WGC-Match Play, looking untouchable until running out of gas on the final day. He has gained strokes on his approaches in five of his past six measured rounds, per Fantasy National, and finished T-18 at the Masters where he was also lights-out ball-striking. This is a ball-striker’s course, and Scheffler has proved to be able to scramble recently, too. Earning his first victory here would not be a surprise, and it’s a nice number.

Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Viktor Hovland (22-1) — Hovland’s primary knock for me this week is that he hasn’t played Copperhead before, but we have seen first-timers figure it out in recent years. Plus, with the mid-March-to-late-April shift, it’s probably safe to assume that some course knowledge is not quite as applicable. Anyway, Hovland is straight and long off the tee, which should allow him to hit accurate tee shots and also be long enough to take advantage of the par 5s. I like that for him, and he’s a good value, per my betting model, at 22-1.

Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Patrick Reed (20-1) — Reed has a “go-to” shot off the tee, which is critical in Florida with big numbers lurking for an errant drive. Historically this event has rewarded players with excellent short games because “par” is often a good score. Reed is known for his touch around the greens, helping him to victory at Torrey Pines earlier this year—and he’s done everything but win at Innisbrook. He has two runner-up finishes and a T-7 in his past five trips, so there’s no reason to think he won’t be in contention again this week.

Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Corey Conners (20-1) — This has been a topic of debate amongst golf-betting circles this week. No, Conners at 20-1 is not an exciting bet. But we’re talking about chances to win. I would absolutely vouch for him in matchups over guys in his similar price range: Viktor Hovland, Patrick Reed, even Paul Casey. We’re basing the argument on his past win equity—but he has proven he’s a different player lately. This course is built for him, and I will gladly raise my hand at the end of the week and say I took a winner at bad odds. Winning is all we care about.

Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Patrick Reed (20-1) — Ball-striking + short game = victory this week. At least that seems to be the common thread among past winners at Innisbrook. That’s why Reed has finished runner-up here twice and why I think he’ll contend once again. Save for one bad week at Bay Hill, his tee-to-green numbers have been very solid since Torrey. As for short game, is there anybody better than Reed on tour?

Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Charley Hoffman (45-1) — Hoffman has a plethora of experience here at Innisbrook, having made 13 career starts. He also will arrive in arguably the best form of his life. He ranks third in the field this week for SG/tee-to-green over the last two months and also third for total strokes-gained at similar courses.

Results from last season: Golf Digest's betting panel is RED-HOT. Our experts have now predicted five of the past 12 winners—after going up 225.30 units last season. As we’ve said, our crew gets hot and tends to stay hot, so don’t miss out on our picks! Our Stephen Hennessey predicted Jordan Spieth (11-1) at the Valero Texas Open. At The Players, Christopher Powers called Justin Thomas’ victory (18-1) as did Rick Gehman. That’s each of their second accurate predictions of 2021, with Powers hitting Koepka (50-1) and Gehman calling Daniel Berger at Pebble Beach (14-1). Pat Mayo nailed Collin Morikawa at the WGC-Workday three events ago at 33-1 in addition to Koepka at the WMPO. And Brandon Gdula also called Berger’s win at Pebble Beach. We’ll stop there! Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!

Valspar Championship 2021 picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win (Odds from William Hill)

Caddie: Russell Henley (30-1) — These odds have drifted, so it’s fair to call me out on this not being a “longshot” bet. But it’s one I feel strongly about. He’s been the second-best in this field on approach shots in the past 36 rounds per Fantasy National—better even than Corey Conners who everyone’s obsessed with this week. And he’s really good on these par 4s—plus you get some nice upside with a guy who knows how to find the winner’s circle.

Mayo: Gary Woodland (70-1) — A former winner of this event, albeit ages ago, Woodland’s slowly returning to form post injury. The driving and irons have been far better than field average lately, and getting him at a club down course is usually a recipe for success.

Gdula: Ryan Palmer (45-1) — Palmer is long off the tee but not extraordinarily long, so he’s not getting dinged massively for the course fit, and he has made both cuts here in his career by striping the irons well and putting positively. He enters with a 17th-17th-34th streak at the Players, the Valero, and The Masters.

Gehman: Denny McCarthy (80-1) — McCarthy is one of the best putters in the world—ranking first on the PGA Tour the past two seasons. His weakness has always been, well, the rest of his game. But we are starting to see improvement. Per the RickRunGood.com golf database, McCarthy has gained strokes on approach in each of his past four starts. Those starts have produced four consecutive cuts, including a third at the Honda Classic and a 13th at the RBC Heritage. If he can marry decent approach play with his phenomenal putting, he could be a threat this week.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Charley Hoffman (45-1) — I will be betting Cameron Tringale, Charley Hoffman and Chris Kirk this week … they’re all top-five in my custom model from Fantasy National. Hoffman is the highest of the three—and he also has the most PGA Tour wins (four), so I’m favoring him. He’s been so damn good recently: He’s fifth in this field in SG/approach in his past 36 rounds (per Fantasy National); sixth in the crucial SG/par 3s (there are five par 3s here) and he’s seventh in the par-4 scoring between 400-450 yards, which nearly all nine par 4s measure out at. He’s also the best out of Tringale and Kirk in SG/putting on Bermuda, and he’s 18th in this field—plus he’s coming off the close call at Valero.

Powers, Golf Digest: Emiliano Grillo (50-1) — Not a true longshot, but 50-1 is still enough to make Sunday highly entertaining if Grillo can get in the mix. Love his combination of recent form and long-term tee-to-green and approach numbers, and, before you say it, the putter is actually coming around! He gained 1.7 strokes on the greens at Harbour Town, his second-best putting performance in his last nine starts, and it also marked the second time in his last three measured starts that he gained on the greens, per Fantasy National. Never been a Grillo backer because of the balky putter, but I’m all aboard this week.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: James Hahn (125-1) — Hahn ranks ninth in total strokes-gained at similar courses and has a 65 to his name here an Innisbrook. He is also creating opportunities for birdies by the bucket load right now too, ranking second in the field this week for opportunities gained the last two months.

Valspar Championship 2021 picks: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)

Caddie: Gary Woodland (70-1) — You might be intrigued by the price, but stay away. I’ve seen him upclose over the past couple months, and it ain’t pretty. He seems far away.

Mayo: Corey Conners (20-1) — Look, if Conners has actually fixed his putter like he’s shown over the last month, then these are fair odds. It’s just too tough for me to completely buy into it, especially when there are both better and comparable players behind him on the board at far better prices.

Gdula: Paul Casey (22-1) — The odds that Casey wins this three times in a row are pretty low, and even before accounting for that arbitrary and subjective factor, my win simulation model – which accounts for weighted and adjusted form – suggests he should be closer to 33-1 than 22-1. I’m fading the odds more than the player.

Gehman: Dustin Johnson (11-1) — DJ hasn't been in stellar in 2021 with just one top-10 finish to his record. He has gained an average of 0.68 strokes per round on the field this year, which by most accounts is awesome, but not when you’re Johnson—who usually averages closer to +1.35 strokes per round. His best weapon, the driver, has left him at times, which is a scary proposition at the Copperhead Course. Being even a little off with your driver can be the recipe for a big number.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Justin Thomas (9-1) — These odds are way too low. He’s ninth in my model but in this field he’s 98th in Fantasy National’s “Good Drives Gained” stat, which measures tee shots that lead to birdie chances. That’s a recipe for being in the trees all day at Copperhead.

Powers, Golf Digest: Viktor Hovland (22-1) — Hovland can absolutely drive and ball strike his way into contention on any given week, but the short game woes scare me at a course where you’ll need to get up and down for par a bunch. Of course, I probably said the same for him at Torrey, where he finished second, so very prepared for the egg on my face.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Dustin Johnson (11-1) — DJ actually only ranks 54th in the field this week for total strokes-gained at similar courses. His form also isn’t as good as you’d want for an 11-1 shot, ranking just 42nd in the field this week for SG/tee-to-green over the last two months.

Valspar Championship 2021 picks: Matchups

Caddie: Kevin Streelman (-120) over Lucas Glover (DraftKings) — I like Streelman as a top-10 bet this week (see below), and he’s just been really consistent of late. Glover had the great finish at Valero, but a lot of his success has been dictated by the putter recently. That’s not sustainable for Glover, who went 11 events—from Bay Hill through the U.S. Open in September—losing strokes putting each week.

Mayo: Gary Woodland (-115) over Sam Burns (DraftKings) — Love Woodland in this spot, and while Burns has seemingly come out of his struggles post West Coast swing, he’s still suffering from “One Awful Round Syndrome”. If it comes on Thursday or Friday you’re going to have money to reinvest for the weekend if you like.

Gdula: Lanto Griffin (-112) over Erik van Rooyen (FanDuel) — Both are good tee to green, but Griffin is also a good putter, and EVR is not. The overall edge should belong to Griffin in this one as a result.

Gehman: Chris Kirk (-110) over Emiliano Grillo (DraftKings) — There’s a certain style of golf that is played in Florida. It usually means that there are big numbers lurking if you are just slightly off with your shots. Water tends to come into play on lots of holes, and there’s usually a three-hole stretch that can make or break your week. That’s no different at the Valspar this week, and Grillo has struggled with this type of golf the past few years. In his past eight starts in Florida, Grillo has not finished inside the top 20 and has missed the cut in half those starts. Kirk has been one of the better players on tour recently, so he gets the nod for me.

Hennessey: Corey Conners (+120) over Justin Thomas (FanDuel) — I’m taking a stand on both Conners (positively) and Thomas (negatively) this week, so this matchup will be getting my action. Read above on why I’m in on Conners and out on JT.

Powers: Adam Hadwin (-125) over Kevin Kisner (DraftKings) — If you include the Zurich, Kiz has now missed four straight cuts. His numbers are terrible, and even the trusty putter failed him at Harbour Town, where he lost 2.1 strokes on the greens. Hadwin is coming off a MC at RBC as well, but that seemed to be an outlier in an otherwise solid stretch coming in that included top 30s at the players and Valero and an eighth at Honda. Seems to be the more trustworthy golfer in this matchup, plus the vibes are good as he’s a former Valspar winner.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Justin Thomas (-120) over Dustin Johnson (Betway) — As you can see with my player to fade, I think DJ will be up against it this week. Thomas on the other hand comes into this event ranked fourth in the field for SG/tee-to-green over the last two months and second in our course suitability ranking.

Matchup results from the Zurich Classic: Gdula and Gehman: 1 for 1 (Bubba Watson and Scottie Scheffler (-108) over Tony Finau and Cameron Champ); Caddie: 1 for 1 (Viktor Hovland and Kris Ventura (-115) over Dylan Frittelli and Kevin Streelman); Hennessey: 1 for 1 (Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer (-115) over Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay); Mayo: 1 for 1 (Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman (-137) over Tyrrell Hatton and Danny Willett); Powers, Alldrick: 0 for 1.

Matchup Results this season (Wins-Losses-Pushes): Hennessey: 15-10-1 (up 4.7 units); Alldrick: 16-11-1 (up 3.77 units); Gdula: 15-13-0 (up 1.09 units); Powers: 12-12-4 (down 0.76 units); Mayo: 13-13-1 (down 1.02 units); Gehman: 10-16-2 (down 5.55 units); Caddie: 9-16-3 (down 6.38 units).

Valspar Championship 2021 picks: Top 10 (Odds from William Hill)

Caddie: Kevin Streelman (+550) — There were weeks recently where Streels was priced as low as 30-1 outright. Finally he’s being priced correctly, and these top-10 odds are nice, too—especially on a layout where you need to hit the fairway (check) and hit good irons and wedges (also check).

Mayo: Sungjae Im (+300) — Sungjae has been living off driving and putting for four months. Until the Heritage. Harbour Town was the first event since Kapalua where he gained 3.5 strokes in approaches. If those irons keep firing, Im should have no issues replicating his T-4 from 2019.

Gdula: Chris Kirk (+400) — Kirk is entering with a boatload of top-10s already: three in his past five starts and two straight. That worries me a little because a peak can last only so long, but he is doing it with positive marks off the tee and very positive marks with his irons and wedges.

Gehman: Charley Hoffman (+400) — Hoffman has been one of the best players on tour since the start of 2021. Per the RickRunGood.com golf database, he has gained 1.76 strokes per round in 32 rounds this year. That’s the best mark of any golfer in this field—second to only Jordan Spieth (+2.02 strokes/round) in the entire PGA Tour. For Hoffman, that has translated to seven top-20 finishes in 12 starts, including a runner-up finish at the Valero Texas Open.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Jason Kokrak (+300) — As I said in the sleeper section, I love Kirk, Hoffman and Tringale, so I like those top-10 bets as well. Kokrak’s number isn’t great, but I think it has a great chance to cash. Those three top-10 finishes in Florida—plus his history at the Valspar—make this a great bet.

Powers, Golf Digest: Abraham Ancer (+250) — Abe, aka Mr. Consistency aka Tony Finau lite has finished 26th or better in six of his last seven starts. He’s so close to putting it all together for win No. 1, but I’ll stick with the safe top 10 play for now.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Cameron Tringale (+450) — Tringale already has a top 10 here at Innisbrook to his name and comes into this event with two top-10 finishes in his last six events. It’s not surprising then to see that he ranks top 10 for both total strokes-gained at similar courses and for SG/tee-to-green over the last two months.

Top-10 results from the Zurich Classic: Gehman: 1 for 1 (Keegan Bradley and Brendan Steele (+275). Everyone else: 0 for 1.

Top-10 results from this season: Gehman: 7 for 25 (up 16.85 units); Gdula: 3 for 25 (down 6.5 units); Powers: 2 for 25 (down 8 units); Hennessey: 3 for 25 (down 10 units); Mayo: 2 for 25 (down 10 units); Tour caddie: 3 for 25 (down 12.45 units); Alldrick: 0 for 24 (down 24 units).

One and Done pick

Gehman: Paul Casey — At the start of the season, you pencil in some golfers for specific events. Webb Simpson at Wyndham, Rory McIlroy at East Lake, Hideki Matsuyama at the Phoenix Open . . . and Paul Casey at the Valspar Championship. He’s won it two years in a row, and he’s having arguably the best year of his career. As good as his PGA Tour metrics are this calendar year, they don’t even include his win in Dubai in February. So there’s a real chance we are actually undervaluing the year that Casey is having.

Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Joel Dahmen; U.S. Open: Jon Rahm; Corales: Denny McCarthy. Sanderson: Sebastian Munoz. Shriners: Matthew Wolff. CJ Cup: Xander Schauffele. Zozo: Bubba Watson. Bermuda: Rasmus Hojgaard. Houston: Lanto Griffin. Masters: Rory McIlroy. RSM: Webb Simpson. Sentry TOC: Patrick Reed. Sony: Abraham Ancer. AMEX: Patrick Cantlay. Torrey: Jon Rahm. Waste Management: Webb Simpson. AT&T Pebble Beach: Jason Day. Genesis Invitational: Rory McIlroy. WGC-Workday: Tyrrell Hatton. The Players: Bryson DeChambeau; Honda Classic: Sungjae Im. WGC-Match Play: Patrick Reed. Valero Texas Open: Jordan Spieth. The Masters: Dustin Johnson. RBC Heritage: Daniel Berger.

Hennessey: Charley Hoffman — Ride the Hoffer heater while it’s pumping.

Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Phil Mickelson; U.S. Open: Hideki Matsuyama; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Harris English. CJ Cup: Kevin Na. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Doc Redman. Houston: Russell Henley. Masters: Tyrrell Hatton. RSM: Brian Harman. Sentry TOC: Justin Thomas. Sony: Ryan Palmer. AMEX: Scottie Scheffler. Torrey: Sungjae Im. Waste Management: Daniel Berger. AT&T Pebble Beach: Francesco Molinari. Genesis Invitational: Tony Finau. WGC-Workday: Xander Schauffele. The Players: Jordan Spieth. Honda Classic: Adam Scott. WGC-Match Play: Patrick Reed. Valero Texas Open: Chris Kirk. The Masters: Dustin Johnson. RBC Heritage: Webb Simpson.

Powers: Patrick Reed — Will roll with my pick to win at a place he’s had great success.

Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Brendan Steele; U.S. Open: Louis Oosthuizen; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Jason Kokrak. CJ Cup: Daniel Berger. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Denny McCarthy. Houston: Russell Henley. Masters: Bubba Watson. RSM: Brian Harman. Mayakoba: Corey Conners. Sentry TOC: Harris English. Sony: Zach Johnson. AMEX: Matthew Wolff. Torrey: Tony Finau. Waste Management: Sungjae Im. AT&T Pebble Beach: Jason Day. Genesis: Hideki Matsuyama. WGC-Workday: Tyrrell Hatton. The Players: Tommy Fleetwood. Honda Classic: Adam Scott. WGC-Match Play: Matt Fitzpatrick. Valero Texas Open: Chris Kirk. The Masters: Jordan Spieth. RBC Heritage: Kevin Kisner.

By The Numbers:

Courtesy of Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com:

17 The number of golfers who have won the same event three times in a row, dating back to the 1879 Open Championship. Paul Casey would become the 18th with a win this week.

1 — The number of times this event was decided by two strokes or more in the past 11 years. Ten times this event has been decided by one stroke or in a playoff.

2004 — The last time Phil Mickelson played this event. He won twice that year (including his first Masters), finished runner-up twice and ended 2004 as the fifth-ranked player in the world.

$2,418,200 — The combined earnings by Paul Casey in his six starts at this event. The next eight highest earnings have played this event at least 11 times each.

About our experts

Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, owner of the Mayo Media Network and host of The Pat Mayo Experience. (Subscribe for video or audio. Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.

Brandon Gdula, managing editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year *(congrats, Brandon!)*. Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.

Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.

Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a U.K.-based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.