2pts each-way Justin Rose @ 20/1
2pts each-way Jordan Spieth @ 12/1
1pt each-way Adam Hadwin @ 22/1
0.5pt each-way Pierceson Coody @ 80/1
0.5pt each-way Davis Riley @ 28/1
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There’s something going on at Cheltenham this week but intrepid golf punters will be paying scant attention with three competitive tournaments to get their teeth into.
Even though it’s all a bit ‘After The Lord Mayor’s Show’ following Scottie Scheffler’s Sawgrass masterclass – he’s down to 8/1 with Fitzdares to retain his Masters crown after his sixth victory in 13 months – the Valspar Championship has still attracted some good names to the fourth leg of the Florida Swing.
Sam Burns is there, bidding for ‘mission impossible’, a third Valspar in a row, but with the likes of Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth among some decent opposition, he needs to wake up a game that’s gone to sleep.
Much was expected of Burns after a stellar 2022 but he has so far failed to deliver unless you count a fair sixth at Phoenix and 11th at the AmEx. Given the extra pressure being heaped on him by media looking for the big angle he is probably worth swerving in a field where there are question marks against almost everybody.
Tommy Fleetwood would have been the selection had the Southport man not folded like a pack of cards at the Players on Sunday, trying too hard to make a long-overdue breakthrough in the USA, but there could still be an English winner in Justin Rose.
While Fleetwood is zero from 111 PGA Tour starts, Rosey is in his comfort zone on the world’s premier circuit, his 11 victories there highlighted by that glorious 2013 US Open triumph.
He’s 42 now but after a few thin years Rose has found his second wind and the sheer beauty of his golf on the last day at Pebble Beach last month was a joy to watch. That victory after a four-year drought has restored confidence and he showed again at Sawgrass there’s still plenty of life in this old dog.
Despite finding the water at the treacherous 17th and double-bogeying, he battled back for a share of sixth, the second-best Euro performance behind Tyrrell Hatton’s electrifying Sunday back nine of 29 which catapulted him from 26th to second and $2.3m, the biggest cheque of his career.
Five years ago, Rose was fifth to fellow Englishman Paul Casey on the Copperhead course at Palm Harbor, a 7340-yard par 71 that’s one of the best tests on the circuit.
Short-hole specialists will be in their element as there are five par threes and drivers will be used only sparingly on skinny, tree-lined fairways. There’s variety too with doglegs and water hazards, plus the notorious Snake Pit three-hole finale which sorts the men out from the boys, much like Sawgrass although not quite so menacing.
A straight driver with a good golfing brain is required which is why the experienced Rose gets the call and why Jordan Spieth is nominated as the biggest danger, aiming to repeat the Valspar-Augusta double from his annus mirabilis of 2015, the year he won pretty well everything bar the Boat Race.
It was a two-Major, five-victory year. In 2023 the Texan wizard is nowhere near that domination of the game but his driving is better now even if his short-putting isn’t.
His pal Justin Thomas leads the opposition but he and his putter have looked complete strangers more than once this term and I’d like to see him and US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick happier with their game before putting them up again.
Winning isn’t Canadian Adam Hadwin’s strong suit but he has one W on his CV from 318 starts and that came in the 2017 Valspar when he pipped the formidable Patrick Cantlay. He reiterated his liking for Copperhead with last year’s share of seventh and as he put in a good shift with 13th at the Players we know his game is trending.
Davis Riley, pipped by Burns in a playoff last year, missed the cut at Sawgrass last week as many more gifted than him did, notably Rory McIlroy, but a top-ten at Bay Hill was more representative of one of the better non-winners chasing the $8.1m Valspar purse.
Newcomer Pierceson Coody, a 23-year-old Texan who has won twice on the satellite Korn Ferry circuit, completes the staking plan after an eye-catching 14th at the Palmer Invitational on only his second main-tour start. He was looking even better at the 54-hole stage but stalled. Even so, this lad has a big future.
We had a long weather delay last week and, sad to say, thunderstorms are again on their way on Saturday. But it will be sunny to start with.
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