The team event that took place at TPC Louisiana was a lot more fun than I originally gave it credit for, and it was certainly helped by a competitive final stretch of holes and a playoff on Sunday. Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman ultimately prevailed over the South African duo of Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. Now, the TOUR heads back to Florida for a traditional stroke-play event at the Valspar Championship.
Coming back to a more traditional format has also brought some of the best in the world to this event as World Nos. 1 and 2 will tee it up this week at the Innisbrook Resort. Dustin Johnson will make his second appearance since the Masters, while this will be the first event for Justin Thomas since Augusta. Patrick Reed and Tyrrell Hatton will be those two as the other top-10 players set to play this week. Viktor Hovland, Sungjae Im and two-time winner of this event Paul Casey are the other notable top players, which make up a solid field with nearly half of the top 20 making an appearance.
This tournament sets up similarly to the other early season Florida tournaments as Innisbrook is another tough track, as the last two Valspar Championships have seen Paul Casey win at just 8- and 10-under respectively. In fact, four of the last five winners have been at 10-under or worse, with just Adam Hadwin’s 2017 win making it to 14-under par. We’ve got a great field and it should set up for a grind this week in Tampa.
Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead) Palm Harbor, FL
7,340 yard par 71
- 3 par 5s, 5 par 3s, and 10 par 4s
- 5,822 sq ft average green size, just below average for PGA Tour
- Bermudagrass greens set to roll at 12 on the stimpmeter
- Bermudagrass rough grown out to 3 inches
- 8 water hazards in play on 9 holes
The Copperhead course at Innisbrook resort is a long and unique par 71 with five par 3s. The star of the show, though, is the three-hole closing stretch known as the Snake Pit. Course architect Larry Packard designed the finishing holes to be some of the toughest around, and they have lived up to that moniker, with each usually averaging over-par play.
While the course finishes with a bang, it actually starts with the most gentle of handshakes. The first hole plays as the easiest one on the course. The 544-yard par 5 surrenders a 40% birdie rate with some eagles here and there, as well. Things quickly get more serious from there on the second and third holes, mid-400-yard par 4s that both play a bit over par on average. When we get to the second par 5 of the course at the fifth hole, which plays nearly even par on average, it’s easy to see why this course has seen winners hovering at or inside double digits in four of the past five editions of this tournament.
The 450-yard par-4 6th is a dogleg right that requires precision off the tee since a missed fairway can lead to trouble on the hole that delivers the most bogeys on the course. It’s easy to see why this hole plays at the second toughest at the Copperhead course year in and year out. It starts a stretch of five consecutive holes that play over par on average and do not yield more than a 15% birdie rate. Included in that is the most difficult par 3 on the course at the eighth. It is listed at 235 yards on the scorecard this year and will be another hole where players will be happy to escape with par over their four rounds.
It is not until the par 5 11th that players will see another true scoring opportunity. The 559-yard hole is narrow and will bite some for bogeys during the week, but it also yields better than a 30% birdie rate. It will be important for players to take advantage of this hole, which plays as the second easiest as Innisbrook, mainly because there are so few other holes that can be attacked with birdie in mind. The same can be said for the par-5 14th, but that ends the stretch of fun. The final four holes, including the Snake Pit, will decide this week’s winner.
The Snake Pit starts with the hole with the biggest bite, as the par-4 16th is the toughest hole on the course. Sixteen has water protecting the entire right hand side of the hole, leaving no miss to the right off the tee on a hole that moves left to right. Many players will choose accuracy over distance and take their medicine with a long approach into the green, just looking to make par.
A par 3 is next at 17, as the 215-yarder also plays over par and only gives up birdies 9% of the time. Then it is on to the final hole at the 18th, a 445-yard par 4 littered with bunkers, especially down the right side of the fairway. Once players find the putting surface they will have to navigate a large undulating green, which is possibly the most difficult on the course. It will be a grind to the finish for the eventual winner of this year’s event, but they will have earned it and there is no doubt the Snake Pit will have played a huge part in deciding the champion.
Paul Casey (1-1-DNP-DNP-DNP)
There is no other place to start with a course horse than Casey, who showed up in 2018 having not played in any of the prior three tournaments. He came back in 2019 and did it again. Casey is definitely the top course horse.
Patrick Reed (MC-T2-T38-T7-T2)
While Casey has come through as the champ multiple times, it’s been Reed who has been left as the runner-up in two of his trips to Copperhead. Still, a stretch of three top 10s in his last five trips speaks to how well the course suits Reed, which really comes at no surprise for a player that thrives around tough tracks.
Jason Kokrak (T2-T8-T58-MC-T7)
Kokrak is a player with a similar stretch of play at the Valspar to Reed. He was runner-up in 2019, and has two other top-10 finishes at this tournament. He will come in with a newly minted putting game and is already setting up to be a popular pick this week.
Pictured above: Paul Casey
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images