Predictions, Equipment Round-Up for Valspar Championship
Annually one of the toughest stops on the PGA Tour, Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course played as the sixth most difficult track in 2013-14, producing an average score of nearly a stroke and a half over par. Last year, John Senden overcame an eight-shot deficit through 36 holes to beatr Kevin Na with a final score of just seven under par.
The Copperhead Course has put a premium on putting over the last few years, with each winner since 2010 finishing in the top five in a relevant putting statistic (strokes gained, putts/GIR, putts made distance, etc.). Here’s a peek:
John Senden, 2014: third in distance of putts made.
Kevin Streelman, 2013: fourths in putts/GIR.
Luke Donald, 2012: fourth in distance of putts made, first in strokes/gained putting.
Gary Woodland, 2011: T2 in putts, third in strokes/gained putting.
Jim Furyk, 2010: third in putts/GIR, third in distance of putts made.
With putting statistics in mind, along with recent play and past performance at Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course, here are this week’s picks with their weapons of choice on the greens and odds:
Matt Kuchar (25/1)
One of the Tour’s strongest putters, Kuchar finished last season 15th in strokes gained/putting and seventh in total putting. So far this season, in a campaign that includes a T3 at the Sony Open and a T2 at the Humana Challenge, Kuchar is fifth in one-putt percentage (44.84%), fourth in putts per round (27.75) and leads the Tour in average putts during the first round (26.69). He’s had a glimmer of success at Innisbrook, too, finishing T10 there in 2012.
Kuchar is putting with a Bettinardi Kuchar Model 2 mallet putter that’s 42 inches in length with 6° of loft.
Sang-Moon Bae (60/1)
Just inside the top 20 in strokes gained/putting last season (18th), Bae is only a few weeks removed from a T8 at a demanding Riviera. He finished T-14 at last year’s Valspar and lost in a playoff there in 2012 when Donald birdied the first playoff hole.
Bae’s putter is a very rare Odyssey Damascus Grand that he’s used since last year, including at his Frys.com Open win. There were only 350 of the Japan-only putters made, each of which sold for $3,500. They are made from exotic Damascus steel that has a woodgrain look to it. Bae’s model has a standard black PVD finish and a head weight of 345 grams.
Jamie Donaldson (50/1)
The 2014 Ryder Cup hero (well, if you’re European) is currently seventh on Tour in strokes gained/putting and has been playing well of late, finishing sixth at the Honda Classic after a closing 66 on a tough day. The 39-year-old is also fourth in total putting, second in one-putt percentage (45.28%) and eighth in putting from inside 10 feet this season.
Donaldson is wielding an Odyssey White Hot XG Sabertooth, the same putting he used at the Ryder Cup last year.
Luke Donald (25/1)
Yes, he’s struggled mightily over the last few years on Tour, but a T7 at the Honda Classic showed signs of a potential resurgence. Besides winning at Innisbrook in 2012, Donald has finished T4 twice (2013 and 2014) and T6 (2010) there. Donald was seventh on Tour last season in strokes gained/putting and first in putting from inside 10 feet. He also went 478 for 478 on attempts from three feet or closer. The comfort he feels at Innisbrook could be enough to break his cold streak.
Donald is currently putting with an Odyssey White Hot XG #7H.