RBC Heritage

Harbour Town Golf Links



Read The Line

My best bets for the Valspar Championship and the FIR HILLS SERI PAK Championship

March 20, 2024
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA - MARCH 16: Sam Burns of the United States reacts after a birdie on the 17th green during the third round of THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass on March 16, 2024 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

It is tough to put Sunday's emotional roller-coaster into words. Wyndham Clark gave us hope on the 72nd hole. Once Xander's approach was 50+ feet from the cup, we all knew it was down to Scheffler and our outright. The 36-hole leader played the weekend five under par with a four-stroke lead and lost by one. Only three players were better than 66 on Sunday. Si Woo Kim, Grayson Murray, and the No. 1 player in the world, Scottie Scheffler carded a 64. I'm still not over it, but the PGA Tour rolls on, and we have another tournament to win. Three outrights finishing in the top nine is validating our process, but it's time to take one down!

One last stop on the Florida swing; the Valspar Championship. A field of 156 players are signed up to compete for $8.4 million. The top 65 and ties get to play the weekend and will have a chance to take home the copperhead trophy and $1.5 million for first place. The Tampa Bay Classic was once a schedule nomad. Played in May, September, October and now March, this spot in the lead-up to Augusta National has brought better than average talent to Palm Harbor, near Tampa Bay. Ten of the top 30 in the world will be on hand to stop Taylor Moore from defending his title.

What You Need to Know Before Betting the Valspar Championship

Wet paint

The wet winter that plagued all of Florida has cleared up in recent weeks. The Tampa-St. Petersburg region has seen less than an inch of rain in March. A couple of showers passed through on Monday, but for the most part, tournament officials and grounds personnel have the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort ready to challenge the tour. The average winning score over the past decade is just 11 under par. The event has had one cutline under par in the last 20 years. It doesn't matter what time of year you play the Copperhead; it is tough.

A par 71 layout covering 7,340 yards, the most distinguishing characteristic of this scorecard is the five par 3s. Seventy-three hundred yards and one less driver hole adds up over four days. The Valspar committee has a very stern test they continue to make more and more difficult. Nine holes have water in play, 74 bunkers and the final three holes are referred to as the "snake-pit." A catchy name for the close to the Copperhead, the par 4 sixteenth, par 3 seventeenth, and par 4 eighteenth play to an average of .55 strokes over par. It's not quite TPC Sawgrass, but these three will make you earn the Valspar title.

Innisbrook Resort: Copperhead
Private
Innisbrook Resort: Copperhead
Palm Harbor, FL
4.2
108 Panelists
The Copperhead course is most famous for hosting the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship every April, but Innisbrook is home to three more championship courses—Island, North and South—with views more like the sand hills of the Carolinas than you might expect in Florida. The Copperhead course is a tough ball-striking challenge with tight, tree-lined fairways and a demanding three-hole finish—known as the Snake Pit—that often makes for dramatic finishes to the annual PGA Tour stop.
Explore our full review

The GCSAA report shared a couple of notes on the course preparation. The rough was increased last year by .75" and they will keep it at the new height. Surrounding the greens, the intermediate cut of rough was squeezed from 72" wide to just 21". Moving the deep rough closer to the green will increase difficulty. The average green size is just 5,822 sq/ft. Similar to the Stadium Course last week, players historically struggle to reach the TOUR average for GIRs. A big reason for missing greens is the length of the approach shots. The Copperhead forces players to land in a common area off the tee. Dogleg turns, penalty areas, and fairway width makes this a positional OTT place.

By laying up off the tee, the course becomes quite longer on approach. Those iron shots become the first key to contending. A second key might just come from the clouds. Use the real-time weather link this week. More wet weather or storms are expected on Friday. More than an inch of rain is in the forecast as of writing this. Temperatures will be warm, but let's hope the precipitation doesn't become a factor. Innisbrook doesn't sit far from the Gulf of Mexico. Early wind values are low, but the proximity to the coast could add a little to the prediction.

Snake charmer

There have been three winners of the Valspar over the past five years. Paul Casey and Sam Burns won back-to-back, and then Moore last year. Researching their wins and the leaderboards just behind them, I see a couple of very specific trends. The first is iron play.

Those same three winners gained over five strokes (average) on the field with their approach game. There's a definite lean toward mid and long iron play to consider. When you analyze proximity to the hole, those same winners gained more from 200+ yards than any other category. This really makes sense when you consider the five par 3s and four par 5s. The 5s are reachable and the average par 3 length is 212 yards. Hit it close from long range and you'll be in position to win on Sunday.

I mentioned the par 5s. Of the 3s, 4s, and 5s, winners separate by their play on the par 5s more than the other par holes. Over the past five years, those three guys have gained an average of 6.7 strokes on the field playing the par 5s. You have to play the par 3s and 4s solidly, but because they are so difficult the eventual winner makes the most birdies on the longest holes. The par 5 birdie rate is 31%. Comparatively, the collective par 3 birdie rate is 10% and the 3s have an average bogey rate of 18%. Survive those and make your move on the 5s and reasonable 4s. Thankfully six of the nine par 4s are under 450 yards.

Speaking of birdies, with an average winning score of 12 under par in the last five events, pay attention to those same winners who generated an average of 19 sub-par scores. Players will make bogeys on the Copperhead Course. I'm weighing bogey avoidance heavily along with scrambling and around the green play. Almost every player will attempt to compete from the same spot in the fairway so the second-best place to differentiate in the ball striking categories is with your short game. The last ten winners have gained an average of seven plus strokes on the field with their short game and putter. Sam Burns has an incredible resume here and his putter and creativity around the greens is why.

Putting on Poa trivialis doesn't hurt either when it comes to Sam's success. The putting surfaces at Innisbrook are some of the most difficult to read on the Florida swing. I have played this course and covered this tournament live before and I believe that's the main reason why we get the same winners here. If you can read these greens, you have a considerable advantage on the field. The average player does not putt well here.

Five of the last 10 winners lost strokes OTT and still won. Concentrate on the players who excel from approach and in. The Copperhead has produced a couple of very good finishes over the past ten years. Three playoffs, first time winners, and young stars. Enjoy the iron play and stay with the hot hand. Any player that decided to jump back in the arena after last week, wants to get ready for Augusta. The best way to prepare is to win. I have four players on our card who have been excellent over the past three to six weeks. They are in perfect form to collect the Copperhead snake trophy come Sunday.

Best bets:

In five starts at the Valspar, Sam Burns has finished 12-30-1-1-6.

  • Sam is gaining five strokes against the field over his last five TOUR starts.
  • Burns gains an average of 10 strokes on the field per start at the Valspar.
  • He gains an average of seven strokes with the flatstick on the Copperhead Course.
  • Second in the field for par 5 scoring, Burns is ranked top 10 in bogey avoidance and strokes gained putting.

Brian Harman's iron game is off the charts in his last two starts. He gained 5.6 strokes at API and nine at TPC Sawgrass.

  • Harman finished top 5 at Innisbrook in 2022.
  • Harman is a birdie machine ranked top 20 in BoB% and eleventh in putting.
  • The Open Champion, when the weather comes in on Friday look for Brian to blow away the field.
  • Harman's secret weapon is par 4 scoring. He's great on the 5s too but watch him separate on this collection of par 4s.

LPGA

It's all the same, only the names will change

We have one month until the first LPGA major of the season. The tour has returned from the winter Asia swing and with spring comes a renewal of hope. The FIR HILLS SERI PAK Championship is a new name for a recent venue. Palos Verdes Golf Club will host 142 players competing for $2 million dollars. The top 65 and ties will play the weekend and earn a chance to claim the $330,000 first-place check. Twenty-one of the top 30 in the Rolex world rankings are prepared to compete. Palos Verdes has two past champions Marina Alex (2022) and Ruoning Yin (2023).

We will never forget Alex's win at +9000 in 2022. She stood tall against Jin Young Ko and brought home a huge longshot victory for us at RTL. It was Yin's first career win, and it catapulted her year into a second victory last year at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship. The hilly seaside layout is pretty short by LPGA standards. The par 71 scorecard measures just 6,258 yards. Four par 3s (with an average length of 174 yards), 11 par 4s (avg. length 370 yards), and three par 5s (avg. length 500 yards) define the scoring test. If you are familiar with playing Palos Verdes, they flip the nines for the tournament. The LPGA finishes on the ninth hole.

Just like the other great courses in the Los Angeles region, Palos Verdes was designed by George Thomas and Billy Bell (1924). Narrow fairways wind their way through the Pacific hills of Palos Verdes Estates. To contend, the best will favor accuracy over length. Bombers don't have an advantage traversing up and down these hills. Seventy-six bunkers and only one hole with water in play, this ball striking test will certainly question your judgement. Each of our outright selections have previous experience competing here. The average green size is just 3,952 sq/ft and they are covered in a Poa annua - bentgrass mix. Smooth putting surfaces in the morning this coastal course displays views of the Pacific Ocean on 13 holes.

That proximity to the coast brings a healthy breeze and imperfect putting surfaces in the afternoon. The area saw a little rain about two weeks ago. Tournament officials have the course is very good shape for the competition. Thursday and Friday the forecast calls for temperatures in the mid 60s, and a healthy wind blowing out of the southwest. By the weekend, the temperature will drop into the low 60s, and the wind will blow. Afternoon wind speeds are expected in the 20+mph range with gusts up around 30mph. This is already a very entertaining venue for scoring. Throw in these conditions and the best ball strikers and scramblers will be rewarded.

Accuracy over power

The average winning score after two years is 13 under par. With so many short holes, one would think the total would be lower. The par 3s are a stern test and the amount of elevation changes keep the players guessing on approach. Small greens also force you to pay extra attention to the surrounds. Miss your target in the wrong place and double bogey can be a good score. Looking back at the two leaderboards, I see a couple of trends amongst the contenders from both years.

Classic courses always put an emphasis on approach play. The top of both leaderboards hit more than 70% of their GIRs (on average). Successful players will have a healthy combination of iron acumen and ball flight control capabilities. Changing elevation with your approach game is hard. Throw in the weekend wind and you better believe in your carry distances. Of course, judging carry distances up and down these hills takes confidence in your compression skills. Thirteen of the attacking shots in come from 150 yards and under.

Accuracy over power is important as you must play from the fairway. The same collection of top ten players from the past two years hit an average of 80% of their fairways. Very few women can hit 70% of their GIRs and 80% of their fairways. The pool of prospects just shrunk significantly. Then consider how many greens you will miss and the need to get up and down to save par. Scrambling is another key this week with the weather conditions. The average strokes gained T2G by the top 10s is six. Forget the yardage, this place is really tough.

To score you must take advantage of the par 5s. Players in this group averaged 3.9 strokes on the par 4s, 3.0 strokes on the par 3s, and 4.5 strokes on the par 5s. The quickest way to 12 under par is to birdie all of the 5s. The leaders needed an average of 18 birdies to put themselves inside the top 10. The ability to avoid bogeys and convert birdie chances is key. Since I keep my own statistical charts for the LPGA, I'm cross referencing the most accurate drivers with incredible iron play. They need a solid short game and since the greens are so small, I'm weighing putting the least of those ball striking categories.

Two years ago, I picked Marina Alex to win. Last year, I had Georgia Hall who lost on the final hole by one stroke. I love courses like Palos Verdes. Our card is really strong, and even though the name of this event keeps changing, our success in the Palos Verdes hills will not!

Best bets:

Rose Zhang finished seventh at the TOC in January and then went back to school.

  • Plenty of time to practice, Zhang is well prepared to play a course she won on in college.
  • Ranked first in GIRs in this field, she second to Furue in fairways hit.
  • Rose is ranked fifth T2G, and an excellent iron player.

The only player with two top 13 finishes at PVGC in the field is Megan Khang.

  • Khang is incredibly accurate off the tee and on approach.
  • Megan is ranked third in the field for SG:T2G.
  • Khang's secret weapon is her short game and definitely why she plays Palos Verdes so well. ARG she's ranked third in the field.

Keith Stewart is a five-time award-winning PGA professional, a betting contributor and content partner with Golf Digest and founder of Read The Line, the premier on-site live golf betting insights service covering the LPGA and PGA TOUR. Subscribe to Read The Line’s weekly newsletter here and raise your golf betting acumen. Keith's winning content can also be found on Sports Grid, Bleacher Report and The Sporting News. Follow him on Twitter @readtheline_.