Justin Rose would probably swap 10 Valspar Championships for another major title. His focus now is on the US Masters next month and the tournament owes him something. Rose has had several near misses in the first major of the season but is a leading contender to be the champion at Augusta this time. The English player can give his confidence a massive boost by winning this week on the PGA Tour.
The tournament has been played under different names since 2000 but one common element has been the host course. It is played every year on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook in Florida. Since 2007 the event has had a regular slot in March and some of the leading players use the week to begin preparations for the Masters. Rose lost in a playoff to Sergio Garcia in the first major last year and has led at the start of the back nine in the final round in the past. He won the US Open in 2013 and is the current Olympic champion.
The Copperhead Course is different to the typical resort course in that it is not set up as a putting contest for the long hitters. Sound iron play is required and there’s a significant reward for hitting greens in regulation. Unusually the course has 5 par 3s and four par 5s that provide plenty of birdie and eagle opportunities. The putting surfaces are Bermuda, smaller than average and tricky to read. Swirling winds can bring the rough into play so scores can be higher in certain years.
The fairways have actually been narrower in the last two years which puts a greater premium on accuracy over distance. That has caused average drives to increase but fairways and greens hit success rates have dipped. Avoiding bogeys is more important than converting birdie chances and the average winning score over the last five years is 10 under. In the last decade there have been 3 playoffs and every other champion won the tournament by one or two strokes.
Overseas players have a good record at Copperhead and only seven of the 18 former winners were US players. Luke Donald is the only British winner (2012) and the defending champion is Adam Hadwin from Canada who won with a score of 14 under last year. The favourite this year is Jordan Spieth who won the tournament in 2015 with a score of 10 under but required a playoff to get the job done. He is not quite playing well enough to become the third two-time winner.
Spieth had a decent week in the WGC Mexico Championship in which he returned his fifth top 20 of 2018. However, he lost ground on the greens for the fourth time in six starts and his putting woes negate his course form. Garcia has made five cuts in five starts at Copperhead but has not played in the event since 2013 when he was tied seventh. He played well in Mexico last week but couldn’t quite go with the leaders and was four shots adrift after regulation play. Phil Mickelson beat Justin Thomas in a playoff but he is absent this week.
Rose is playing at Copperhead for the first time since the course was redesigned. He was only tied 37th last week but ended the tournament positively with a final round of 67. Rose played on the old course eight times and never missed the cut. He made the top 20 five times from 2010 to 2014 so has solid course form. Rose has had some struggles on the greens but wants to have the issue addressed before Augusta. His accuracy and course management skills can see him win the 2018 Valspar Championship which would set him up nicely for the Masters Tournament.