Canadian Corey can crack Copperhead

The Valspar Championship

Best bets
2pts each-way Corey Conners @ 18/1
1pt each-way Jason Kokrak @ 40/1
1pt each-way Patrick Reed @ 18/1
0.5pt each-way Justin Rose @ 33/1
0.5pt each-way Richy Werenski @ 150/1
0.5pt each-way Peter Uihlein @ 100/1
view odds

Sorry we couldn’t find another 125/1 winner like Stewart Cink for you last week but more than happy that the 40/1 headline tip Garrick Higgo did the business in the Canaries and Aussie buddies Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith scraped home in extra-time for a 12/1 triumph in the pairs tournament in New Orleans.

Both winners were first-choice selections for their respective competitions and those punters who like doing cross-doubles were rewarded with a 532/1 payout at Fitzdares prices.

I do hope you were one of them but sadly I was not. Indeed, I was expecting to fall flat on my face with a couple of missed cuts and a lot of sarcastic messages on Twitter!

But enough of trumpet-blowing. The bookies will get their revenge. They always do, but it’s great fun while the sun shines on us. Let’s see what’s cooking this week.

The two top-ranked golfers in the world, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, top the market for the Valspar Championship, where England’s Paul Casey bids for a slice of history by winning this final Florida event of the year for the third consecutive time.

He tamed the wonderful Copperhead course at Palm Harbor in 2018 and 2019 so, with the 2020 edition a COVID victim, he arrives as defending champion.

The heat’s on him to join an elite band who did the hat-trick – Steve Stricker was the most recent ten years ago at the John Deere Classic – but it is a big ask for an infrequent winner even though, at 43, the Arizona-based is playing some of the best golf of his long career.

DJ and Thomas are also under pressure and need to wipe away a few recent dodgy performances and boost confidence for next month’s second Major, the USPGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

After a great start to the year, DJ lost his Masters title, missing the cut there, then exited at the Group stage of the Dell Match Play and finished out with the washing at Sawgrass and in the big WGC event at The Concession.

JT, brilliant winner of the Players Championship, was the choice of many for the Masters but never got in the hunt. He missed the cut when expensively recruited for Abu Dhabi, missed it again at Riviera and also exited early from the Match Play.

Even though the next four on the rankings, Rahm, Schauffele, DeChambeau and Morikawa, are not playing, they might be worth taking on.

The much-improved Corey Conners is one who could take them down, while Patrick Reed continues playing great golf and has two Copperhead second places on his CV, one a play-off defeat by Jordan Spieth when at the height of his powers in 2015.

Canadian Conners’ recent run of 3-7-14-8-4 highlighted by top-tens at the Players and Masters is massively impressive. A fair 16th on his first course visit in 2018, he broke through at the Texas Open the following year and on current evidence has come on a ton in the consistency stakes.

Big Jason Kokrak was runner-up to Casey in the last Valspar and having previously posted a brace of Copperhead top-tens, he is another danger to the Big Two. His recent run of three top-tens in stronger fields at The Concession, Bay Hill and Sawgrass invites each-way support.

Birdies have to be well and truly earned at tree-lined Copperhead, a 7340-yard par 71 where the winning score is typically ten under par or less. Casey was eight and ten under for his two hard-earned victories while seven under won the day for Charl Schwartzel five years ago and John Senden in 2014.

It is a positional course where the driver is kept in the bag as often as not and great iron play is needed to get the job done. Hard, thinking man’s courses are where Justin Rose thrives if his driving holds up.

He has not been at his best for quite a while but second place in Saudi and seventh at the Masters are signs of a Rosey revival. His Copperhead form, with two fifth places, is solid enough to recommend a small each-way interest.

For those looking for a three-figure hero like Cink a couple of weeks ago, Richy Werenski might be your man.

Just a shot out of the New Orleans play-off with Peter Uihlein as his partner, third place exceeded expectations. Their foursomes round of 67 on Sunday was joint-best of the day in that difficult format.

Werenski, also fourth at Bay Hill, could make the frame again as could Uihlein who won on the Korn Ferry satellite tour the previous week and is playing with great confidence.

Hot and sticky weather is forecast with little wind but maybe a bit of early thunder.


The Tenerife Open

Best bets
2pts each-way Thorbjorn Olesen @ 28/1
2pts each-way Garrick Higgo @ 18/1
1pt each-way Sami Valimaki @ 33/1
0.5pt each-way Connor Syme @ 50/1
0.5pt each-way Marcel Schneider @ 125/1
view odds

After a blissful week in Gran Canaria, the European Tour moves to the biggest of the Canary Islands for the Tenerife Open to be followed on the same Costa Adeje course by the Tenerife Championship, a late replacement for the French Open, yet another Covid victim.

Up to 1995 there was a Tenerife Open, won twice in its time by the great Jose Maria Olazabal, but that was before Costa Adeje, designed by former Spanish amateur champion Jose “Pepe” Gancedo, known in his homeland as the Picasso of golf architects, opened.

Built on what was a banana plantation, Costa Adeje hosted the 2003 Spanish Open won by Kenneth Ferrie and more recently the 2014 Spanish Ladies Open so punters have no relevant course form beyond the strangeness of the layout to guide them.

For members and tourists Costa Adeje has six par threes, six fours and six fives but for the purposes of these two tournaments the par-five eighth converts into a 560-yard four, turning the par into a 71 for a yardage of 6857.

It is a little longer than last week’s Gran Canaria Open won so handsomely by 21-year-old South African Garrick Higgo but still pretty short and the big hitters will be licking their lips about having five par fives from 518 to 572 yards to shoot at, while par-three specialists will be drooling over having six rather than the usual four of them.

Higgo, who plays golf left-handed and tennis right-handed, looked world class in all departments in adding Gran Canaria to last year’s breakthrough victory in Portugal. We shall be hearing more from him, a lot more. He is one cool dude and quite likely to cop another trophy this weekend.

Thorbjorn Olesen, fifth on Sunday after setting the pace with an opening-round 61, should get much closer to him this time as that was his first tournament of the year. A wrist injury and becoming a father have kept the Dane away from the game.

Followers of the Nappy Factor, an invention of my old sparring partner Keith Elliott, will be more than interested in the 28/1 for this five-time winner who hammered the great Jordan Spieth in the landslide Ryder Cup victory in Paris three years ago.

The field is much the same as last week’s though without Sam Horsfield and Rafa Cabrera Bello who are chasing the big bucks in Florida. Making up for them to a degree is the gifted Finn Sami Valimaki, last year’s Oman Open winner on only his fifth main-tour start.

Like Higgo, he is only 21 and, again like Higgo, has enormous potential. His fifth place in the big Race To Dubai showdown at Jumeirah in December was particularly impressive. Only top-notchers Matt Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood, Viktor Hovland and Patrick Reed managed to beat him that week.

Max Kieffer deserves a W on his CV after finishing runner-up on his two latest starts. The German shot 36 under for those eight rounds but may have run out of birdies and puff.

Just preferred is young Scot Connor Syme, who looked Higgo’s main danger on Sunday until running up a nightmare eight at the 14th and slipping to fifth, his second top-ten of the new season. He had a good run of top-tens last summer and rates value at 50/1 provided he can quickly get over that recent disappointment.

Jamie Donaldson, Antoine Rozner, Matthias Schwab and Justin Harding are four more worth considering and if you’re looking for a big outsider, how about Marcel Schneider at 125/1?

He almost pulled off a shock in last year’s Austrian Open when beaten only a shot by winner Marc Warren and arrives on the back of a top-ten in Gran Canaria.

Please play responsibly