Many sports fans will be focused on March Madness this weekend, but for golf fans, the Valspar Championship is a crucial tournament for Masters preparation (we're only 22 days away—let's go!). Precise ball-striking remains a vital statistic this week, just as it was the past two weeks at Bay Hill and the Players, so as you make your Valspar Championship picks this week, look at some key ball-striking stats—strokes gained/ball-striking, strokes gained/approach and proximity to the hole.
Our expert picks this week, just like every week, includes a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green of this week's Valspar Championship, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; two of the most respected fantasy golf experts, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
Though the field isn't as strong as last week's, it's still pretty impressive given where the Valspar Championship lands on this year's calendar—just after the Players and right before the WGC-Dell Match Play. And of course, the proximity to that tournament held annually at Augusta National every year. And interestingly enough, one of our experts is eyeing the defending Masters champion, Patrick Reed, to earn a victory before he heads back to Augusta. And three of our experts are fading the field's overwhelming favorite. Read on to see why.
2019 Valspar Championship Picks To Win (Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Patrick Reed (24-1) — The reigning Masters champion hasn’t been in great form this season, but he hasn’t been in bad form, either. His lone top-10 remains a T-7 at the WGC-HSBC Champions way back in October, but in eight total starts, he has yet to miss a cut. He actually played really well last week at the Players, shooting 69 in each of the first three rounds before stumbling on Sunday with a 78 to tie for 47th. But there’s something about Innisbrook at the Valspar Championship that brings out the best in Patrick. He’s been a runner-up on the Copperhead Course twice before, including last year, and has one other top-10. Again, he’s not in great form, but he loves this place and the value is strong.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Henrik Stenson (48-1) — Four of the past five Valspar winners have missed the cut in their previous start at the event. That’s no reason to pick Henrik Stenson, because it’s a meaningless trend, but it does fit my narrative. The angle I really like is how the Swede is starting to see his game round back into form after a disastrous beginning to 2019. His iron play is getting back to regular Stenson levels the past two weeks, per FantasyNational.com, gaining an average of 4.6 strokes on approach shots in those starts, and the driving is getting progressively better. After bleeding almost five strokes off the tee to the field in Mexico, he’s been around field average since arriving in Florida in terms of Strokes-Gained/Off The Tee, but he is gaining in accuracy and losing in distance, which is fine for this week where driving is mitigated by the course conditions. Stenson was 16-1 to win this event last year, and now you’re getting more than double that price. Win or lose, you’re getting value on Stenson’s upside.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Henrik Stenson (48-1) — Incredible value on Stenson. Even if he gets bet down, there’s reason to like him if you’re avoiding the top of this star-heavy field. He has missed four of six cuts in 2019, including a 54th at the WGC-Mexico. His only promising result is a 17th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Via FantasyNational.com, Stenson has gained at least one full stroke via approach shots in five consecutive rounds, and he was doing well to hit greens in regulation in his missed cuts on the European Tour. Stenson has three top-11 finishes here over the past four years.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Dustin Johnson (5-1) — My model gives Dustin Johnson nearly double the chances of winning compared to No. 2 on my list, Jason Day. You can say Innisbrook doesn't fit DJ's game—but this bomber is an elite talent who can overpower any golf course, no matter the amount of trees or hazards. His off-the-tee and approach game are above everyone else in this field, so I'm going OK going back to the favorite here.
Golf Digest editors: Sergio Garcia (16-1) — The image rehab tour is going smoothly, no matter how glaringly obvious the motive is. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before Garcia has another on-course outburst that will make us all forget about the marriage proposals and the kissing-babies routine. But that outburst ain’t gonna come this week! All signs point to a Sergio victory at Valspar. Go back and look at the last decade of winners here and it’s a who’s who of premium ball-strikers. Schwartzel, Spieth, Streelman, Senden, Furyk. Guess who is leading the tour in strokes-gained/approach-the-green this year? That’d be Sergio (though it’s a small sample size). He’s also having a quietly strong year with a T-6 in Mexico, T-9 at Honda and a T-22 at Players, and he’s played very well at Innisbrook in the past (fourth here last year, T-7 in 2013, T-16 in 2012, T-15 in 2011). I’m locking this in as we speak. Vamos Sergio!
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted five of the season’s 17 events. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Golf Digest editor Christopher Powers correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) to start the season at the Safeway Open. Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix. And Brandon Gdula has three picks of his who have finished runner-up.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2019 Valspar Championship (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Brandt Snedeker (44-1) — I like Sneds to turn some heads for a couple of reasons. First, he’s coming off his second-best finish in 11 starts this season—a T-5 at the Players—that included awesome weekend rounds of 65-69. He’s rolling the rock right now, and when he’s hot with the putter, there are few better. Second, he’s got a score to settle with the Copperhead Course. Last season, he was playing in the final group on Sunday, but limped in with a final-round 78 to tie for 31st. With the confidence he gained at TPC Sawgrass, it seems like he could be ready to go on a run. And at 40-1, Snedeker offers great value in this spot.
Mayo: Danny Willett (160-1) — After developing a modicum of consistency with his game following his win in Dubai to close 2018, Willett has been falling off the rails lately. But it’s important to note where he’s been struggling. Mainly, off the tee and on the greens. Well, off-the-tee play isn’t as critical at Copperhead than most courses, and putting can flip at any time. The 2016 Masters champ has remained solid in one area, though: irons. Willett has been in plus-territory in strokes-gained/approaches in eight consecutive PGA events, as well as the three Euro starts he’s piled up in between. If he can continue his quality approach play and get a bit of luck on the greens, he’s the type of grinder who historically excels at the Valspar.
Gdula: Russell Knox (80-1) — Among the field, Knox ranks top-40 over the past 100 rounds in strokes gained/approach, strokes gained/around the green, greens in regulation, and par-3 scoring. He also has played this course all four years since tweaks were made in 2015, finishing 33rd, 56th, MC and 16th.
Riccio: Joaquin Niemann (110-1) — We're all waiting for elite talent Joaquin Niemann to break out. This could be the week. At every tournament he's contended, he has used his world-class ball-striking to get to the top of the leader board. His ball-striking should be rewarded at Innisbrook Resort. I wouldn't want to miss out on the first Niemann victory, and at 110-1, these odds are just too strong. My model gives him the fifth-best chance of winning—above elite names such as Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Gary Woodland.
Golf Digest editors:Ryan Moore (50-1) — People forget Moore was the 54-hole leader here in 2015 after being the only player in the field to shoot his first three rounds in the 60s. But on Sunday he bogeyed three of his final six holes and missed out on that epic playoff with Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Sean O’Hair. As we saw last week, Ry-Mo is trending in the right direction, and 2015 was not the only year he played well at Valspar. He finished third the following year and T-18 the year after that. Juicy odds for another outstanding iron player that can always get in the mix if he just makes a few putts. We really like this, and we'd back it up with a top-10 bet.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Dustin Johnson (5-1) — I’m off Dustin this week. The guy can win anywhere, but Innisbrook has several holes that will force DJ to play away from his strength, which is power and accuracy. This is a shot-maker’s course, not the kind of place that the bombers can overpower with their length. Again, it doesn’t mean DJ can’t win—hell, he’s the No. 1-ranked player in the world for a reason. It just means he’s not going to be able to rely as much on what separates him from most of the other great players today. It’s not often you bet against DJ, but this might be one of those weeks.
Mayo: Bubba Watson (50-1) — When you lessen the impact of his single greatest weapon, especially with tees lining either side of the fairway, it’s usually an indication to pass on Bubba. Long, open layouts are more his speed.
Gdula: Dustin Johnson (5-1) — DJ hasn't played here since the revamp in 2015. It doesn’t particularly matter for a golfer of his caliber, but at 5-1 odds, he’s really maxed out in terms of betting value. At that number, he has implied win odds of 16.7 percent. He projects closer to the 13-14 percent range. It’s just too short a number for me to back.
Riccio: Bubba Watson (50-1) — Bubba's bomb-and-gouge strategy works well at more open golf courses—not at Innisbrook, which is one of the more tree-lined venues on the PGA Tour and rewards accuracy. Bubba can control his ball when he's on, but other than a strong finish at the Waste Management this season, he hasn't really popped this season. Don't expect that to start at a course not suited to his eye, where he's missed four of seven cuts.
Golf Digest editors: Dustin Johnson (5-1) — For all the reasons that our anonymous PGA Tour caddie and Brandon Gdula mentioned, it's just too short of a number to bet Johnson this week.
2019 Valspar Championship: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Tyrrell Hatton (-115) over Adam Hadwin (Topbet) — Both players enter the Valspar Championship coming off missed cuts at the Players Championship, so not a lot of momentum to carry in for either. I’m going to go with Hadwin over Hatton, though, because this is where the Canadian recorded his lone PGA Tour victory to date just two seasons ago. I feel like experience counts for something at Innisbrook because it’s a tricky place. Hatton is making his first career start here. Hadwin has a "W" here. Hadwin gets the nod because of his advantage when it comes to experience.
Mayo: Jason Kokrak (-125) over Kevin Kisner (Sportsbook) — You know what you’re getting from Kisner lately. In his past five starts, he’s finished T22/T23/T27/T28/T26. Kokrak? He can do better. With Top 10 finishes in three of his past four starts, and per FantasyNational.com rankings inside the top five of this field in par-3 scoring 200-225 yards, par-4 scoring 400-450 Yards, SG/APP, and Opportunities Gained over the last 50 rounds. Shrink the sample to 12 or 24 rounds, and he’s even better.
Gdula: Paul Casey (-110) over Jim Furyk (Topbet) — Furyk has been hot, sure, but Casey offers superior approach play and scoring on par 3s and par 5s. We should trust the larger sample this week.
Riccio: Kevin Tway (-140) over Luke Donald (Topbet) — This is the biggest disparity on my model for this week: Kevin Tway has the 17th most likely chance to win the Valspar Championship, according to my analysis, whereas Luke Donald is third-to-last on my model, ahead of only D.A. Points and Satoshi Kodaira.
Golf Digest editors: Keegan Bradley (-106) over Bubba Watson (DraftKings) — Keegan Bradley doesn't have the strongest course record at Innisbrook, but neither does Bubba—who has missed four of seven cuts here. The precision needed to play here more so suits Keegan's current form, as he's led after 18 holes at TPC Sawgrass and 36 holes at Bay Hill, rather than Bubba, who finished 56th last week. We'll take Keegan here.
(Matchup results last week: PGA Tour Caddie: 1 or 1 (Tommy Fleetwood over Billy Horschel); Lou Riccio: 1 for 1 (Hideki Matsuyama over Adam Scott); Mayo pushed Si-Woo Kim over Cam Smith; GD Editors: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 1.)
(Matchup results for the year: PGA Tour Caddie: 7 for 10; Riccio: 7 for 10; GD Editors: 7 for 11 (and one push); Mayo: 3 for 7 with two pushes; Gdula: 3 for 8 with one push.)
Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Branden Grace (+500) — Grace’s highlight so far this season was a runner-up finish at TPC Scottsadle. Other than that, it’s been so-so. He’s only missed the cut twice in nine starts but hasn’t had a whole lot to write home about. That could change this week at Innisbrook. Grace scrambles very well and that’s a key component to scoring at a place like this … a place where he tied for eighth last season. He has the mindset and the short game to play well here.
Mayo: Kyoung-Hoon Lee (+1400) — KH Lee has reeled off three consecutive cuts made and, like Willett, has been getting it all done with his approaches. Hoon led the field at Riviera in SG/APP (+6.9), made the weekend in Puerto Rico (where there is no SG data), then came back stateside and contended at the Honda Classic, finishing T7, and ninth in the field in SG: APP (+5.4). He’s a long shot, but not as long as the odds indicate.
Gdula: Keegan Bradley (+430) — Bradley ranks first in the field in strokes gained/approach over his past 100 rounds on tour but can always be a headache on the greens, even with his great stretch of made cuts. His finishes at Copperhead are a disappointing (cut, 58th and 31st), but he gained strokes tee to green in all three tries.
Riccio: Russell Henley (+1100) — My model gives Russell Henley the 12th best chance of winning this week, so at 11-to-1 odds, you're getting incredible value. Henley didn't play the Valspar last year, but he finished ninth in 2017—gaining 8.9 strokes on the field for the week. Just like where he's won at the Honda and the Sony Open, Innisbrook rewards control of your long irons, so Henley could threaten for a top-10 finish here.
Golf Digest editors: Ollie Schniederjans (+600) — Ollie had to completely overhaul his game this past offseason and it appears the results may finally start to pay off. Last week, after missing four of his previous six cuts, the former top ranked amateur thrust himself into contention with a third-round 65, and on Sunday he even grabbed a share of the lead. But a disastrous triple at Sawgrass’ 17th dropped him out of the top 10 and into a tie for 16th. At Valspar, he’ll be hungry and looking to get back in the mix again, and while we’d love to toss a little money on him to win at 80-1 to win, we’ll go with a top-10 for now. Baby steps. But make no mistake, he will win on the PGA Tour very soon.
(Top-10 results last week: Riccio: 0 for 1; GD Editors: 0 for 1; Mayo: 0 for 1; PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 1)
(Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 6 for 11; PGA Tour Caddie: 4 for 11; GD Editors: 3 for 10; Gdula: 2 for 10; Riccio: 2 for 10)
Mayo: Being a course which has produced winner at odds of 100-1, 175-1, and 100-1 three of the past seven years, fading the high end, smashing the second tier and throwing on a long shot is a smart, and different way to build your DraftKings lineups this week. With an elite ball-striking core of Stenson, Kokrak, Im and Lee, you can still add high end talent to round out your roster if you like.
Henrik Stenson ($9,100); Jason Kokrak ($8,600); Sungjae Im ($7,900); K.H. Lee ($6,700); Danny Willett ($6,700).
Dustin Johnson ($11,500); Jason Day ($10,700); Joaquin Niemann ($7,200); Austin Cook ($7,000); Kevin Tway ($6,500); J.J. Spaun ($6,500)
Golf Digest Editors: Skipping the top half of the field (Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Jason Day) allows you to build a more consistent lineup here. Henrik Stenson, Brandt Snedeker and Ollie Schniederjans all gained strokes with their irons last week, and Chesson Hadley and Joaquin Niemann are both elite long-iron players. Couple that with our pick to win, Sergio Garcia, and you have a well-balanced lineup.
Sergio Garcia ($10,100); Henrik Stenson ($9,100); Brandt Snedeker ($8,400); Ollie Schniederjans ($7,700); Chesson Hadley ($7,500); Joaquin Niemann ($7,200)
Gdula: I’m anchoring my lineups with two of the stud options (Dustin Johnson ($12,600), Jason Day ($11,800), Jon Rahm ($11,700), and Sergio Garcia ($11,300), and sprinkling in some deep values, including Russell Knox ($9,000), Ryan Moore ($8,900), Joaquin Niemann ($8,800), Ollie Schniederjans ($8,100), Kyoung-Hoon Lee ($7,600), and Vaughn Taylor ($7,600).
Riccio: With this lineup, you're getting three players who could win the tournament (DJ, Day and Rahm) along with two upside guys who could contend (Niemann and Tway), plus a long-shot whose strength is his long-iron play (Seamus Power).
Dustin Johnson ($12,600); Jason Day ($11,800); Jon Rahm ($11,700); Joaquin Niemann ($8,800); Kevin Tway ($8,000); Seamus Power ($7,000)
GD Editors: Another lineup we love, sprinkled with players who should compete to win and also make the cut and all finish in the top 20.
Jason Day ($11,800); Patrick Reed ($10,800); Jim Furyk ($10,000); Brandt Snedeker ($9,800); Jason Kokrak ($9,700); K.H. Lee ($7,600)
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the Valspar Championship.
Brandon Gdula, a senior 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.