2021 Valspar Championship Betting Preview & Picks: Back Sungjae Im, Fade Dustin Johnson at Copperhead
Stacy Revere/Getty Images. Pictured: Sungjae Im
For the first time in two years and two months, the Valspar Championship will be held this week, the delay a combination of last year’s cancelation due to the COVID-19 schedule suspension and a decision to move this event back from its previous placement as part of the Florida Swing and before the Masters.
As such, you might need a little primer to help the memory bank on this one: It is contested at Innisbrook’s devilish Copperhead Course, a 7,340-yard par-71 on the outskirts of Tampa, which traditionally favors those who are accustomed to flushing iron shots.
In fact, this is such a course-for-the-horses that we often see some of the same names on the leaderboard each year. There are 10 players who have finished inside the top-25 here at least twice in the past three editions of this event:
Now, this number might not be more and could very well be less than those who have accomplished this feat at other tournaments, but it’s worth noting not just the quantity, but the types of players. Backing the aforementioned theory, this is a list filled with flushers, guys who are so often dialed in with their approach games.
The most recognition for this correlation will rightly go to Casey, trying to three-peat this week after the event’s lengthy absence. He certainly fits the profile, but we can look beyond him or the other names on this list.
Justin Rose similarly owns a sublime record here, with seven top-25s in 10 starts. Same goes for Sergio Garcia, with four top-25s in seven starts. Jordan Spieth owns a win and four top-25s in five starts. Patrick Reed has two-runner-up finishes. Webb Simpson has one of those and four other top-25s.
What they all have in common, besides being some of the more noteworthy players to compete in this event over the past decade, is that they are each among the better iron players around, again proving that ball-striking is the most necessary skillset for success in the so-called Snake Pit.
With that in mind, let’s get to the picks, which – surprise, surprise – include plenty of players who know how to dial in an 8-iron.
One player to win the tournament.
Sungjae Im (+2800)
Other than an uncharacteristic MC at the Masters, when he shot 77-80 to finish fifth-from-last, Im has played his usual brand of quality and quantity golf this year. In a dozen starts, he owns seven top-25s, despite not seriously contending for a title yet. That’s hardly the only reason to back him outright this week, though.
Even though his ball-striking numbers are fairly mediocre this season, ranking 82nd in strokes gained on approach shots, he’s proven himself to be part of the upper tier when he’s swinging his best. He was also T-4 in his Valspar debut two years ago, part of a terrific early-career record in Florida-based tourneys, which also suggests he enjoys putting on Bermuda greens more than any others.
There’s also the fact that, in limited evidentiary proof, Im tends to be a repeater once he finds some success on a specific track. That’s a lot of signs pointing in his direction this week.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Jason Kokrak (+4000)
This kind of thing is always difficult to figure out, but don’t be surprised if Kokrak is OAD chalk this week. He’s played well recently and owns a strong track record at this one, including that runner-up finish two years ago.
I certainly don’t mind the pick – hey, I’m the one who listed him here – but this should be a strategic play. If you’re at or near the top of your pool and simply want to hold serve this week, this should do the trick. If you’re lagging behind and trying to play catch-up, though, it might be smarter to look elsewhere.
Tyrrell Hatton (+2500)
Update: Tyrrell Hatton has withdrawn from the Valspar Championship after testing positive for Covid-19.
He’s only played this tourney once before, in 2019, and the good news and bad news was that he didn’t post a single round in the 70s. Hatton went 69-81 to miss the cut, but let’s bank on there being more scores like the former than the latter this week.
The Englishman is a guy whom I haven’t targeted much recently, as he’s largely played above his baseline for the past year-and-a-half or so, but this one should be a good fit. Hatton likes playing his way into form and a fourth week in a row could have him dialed in.
One player to finish top-five.
Justin Rose (+900 for top-5 finish)
When he raced out to the first- and second-round leads at the Masters, there was always the sense that disaster was lurking right around the corner. It’s a credit to him that it never quite happened, as he turned what should’ve been a 79 in the third round into a 72, then languished his way to a 74 in the final round to finish in seventh place.
That might be considered a disappointment from where he stood at the midway point, but it was a huge step of a progress for a world-class player who’d looked anything but this year, with a T-2 in Saudi Arabia surrounded by results of T-57, T-35, T-54 and a third-round WD at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Fresh off playing with Henrik Stenson last week – and by all accounts, playing pretty well – expect Rose to flourish in familiar surroundings, with that aforementioned sublime record at Innisbrook undoubtedly offering some additional confidence.
One player to finish top-10.
Corey Conners (+200)
He’s not quite at the level of 2019 Xander Schauffele, who was so often classified as being underrated that he somehow might’ve become overrated, but Conners is at least in the same neighborhood right now. He currently holds the rep as being the player your casual golf betting buddy has been telling you, “Know who’s pretty good? That Corey Conners guy!”
Of course, you already knew that – and he’s better than pretty good, with four finishes of eighth-or-better and five finishes of 14th-or-better in his last six starts.
This should be another course which suits his game, as evidenced by his T-16 three years ago, when he wasn’t quite as “pretty good” as he is right now. Don’t be afraid to sprinkle a little on him outright this week, as well.
One player to finish top-20.
Sepp Straka (+600)
Update: Sepp Straka has withdrawn from the Valspar Championship after testing positive for Covid-19.
On the list of best players without a PGA TOUR victory, Straka is admittedly well behind the likes of Tommy Fleetwood and Abraham Ancer, but at least he’s gradually inching his way into the back end of that conversation as a guy who wouldn’t be a complete surprise if he crosses his name off that list at some point in the next year or so. Let’s start small with a top-20 here, as he’s only cashed a single top-20 ticket in his last 13 individual starts – and that was at an opposite-field event.
Two years ago, he shared the first-round lead at this one before a pair of 76s dropped him into T-46 when it was all said and done, but if he can avoid the big numbers on the scorecard, the big number on him for a top-20 could hold plenty of value.
One player to finish top-30.
John Huh (+310)
There are some players who can spend an entire season playing the PGA TOUR and barely get noticed – no TV time, very little fanfare, hardly any momentous bets in their names. Of course, many of these players are those struggling to make some paychecks.
Huh is a guy who keeps cruising along without any attention, even after taking a delayed break following last year’s pandemic suspension. Since returning in the fall, he’s made the cut in nine of 10 starts and finished top-30 in half of ‘em. I’m not suggesting that should qualify him for superstar status, but he deserves at least a little acclaim for such consistent play.
Well, we do know this much: If he keeps playing well, we’ll start betting him – and if we start betting him, you know we’ll start paying attention. Let’s focus on a conservative prop for him this week.
One player to finish top-40.
Sam Horsfield (+165)
Traditionally, it’s tough for European Tour regulars to make the trip stateside and find immediate success, especially for those who aren’t accustomed to the journey.
Remember, though, that Horsfield spent his formative years in the Sunshine State, growing up in Orlando and playing collegiately at the University of Florida, so this should be considered less of a road game and more of a homecoming for a young player who certainly has the game to compete on this circuit.
Coming off a fourth-place Euro Tour finish last week, he’s obviously in form.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
Look, we can’t sit here and analyze this course as a ball-strikers’ paradise, then leave out the game’s preeminent ball-striker. Thomas didn’t play in the most recent two editions of this event, but he was T-10 and T-18 in 2015 and ’16, respectively, before a MC in ’17.
He should once again find this one to his liking and if he channels his frustration from a T-21 finish in his most recent start at the Masters, expect to see his name prominently displayed on the leaderboard throughout the weekend.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
There are plenty of things to like about Bradley’s game moving forward. He’s an elite-level ball-striker, which means he always has a chance to find the leaderboard and should rarely play badly. That theory has held weight recently, with five top-30 finishes in his last six individual starts. Perhaps more than anything, though, is the knowledge that when Keegan gets into contention, he doesn’t shy away from the spotlight.
His four career victories include a major, a WGC and a FedEx Cup playoff event, all of which rationalizes that when he’s playing his best, he can hang with anyone in the world. Granted, it’s been a few years since he’s enjoyed such success, but we have to believe it’s always lurking when he’s swinging it well.
Bradley isn’t exactly a cheap DFS option this week, but he should provide value from his salary.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Cameron Tringale (+6600)
I’m still a bit reticent to recommend Tringale for bigger things. He’s consistent, no doubt about it, but it feels like something always holds him back from being the man with a target on his back during the final round. In racing terms, he’d be considered a rabbit – the one who doesn’t mind setting the pace early, but can’t quite keep up with it toward the end.
Luckily for us, we can still use this to our benefit, as Tringale is a frequent FRL candidate. In fact, his last half-dozen opening-round scores have been 66-67-73-70-69-67. He ranks third on the PGA TOUR in R1 scoring average this season after being 11th last season and 43rd the season before that.
All of which is more than just a coincidence and suggests another potentially low one coming this Thursday.
One player who should beat comparable players.
I actually like Kirk a lot more this week than placement in this category would suggest. He’s been on an upward trajectory lately, with three finishes of eighth-or-better in his last five individual starts. It’s tough to believe a win isn’t somewhere on the horizon – and it might be close, considering he owns a history of staying hot once he reaches this point.
He could be valuable as a top-10/top-20 play once again, but I especially like him in matchups, as he tends to grind toward the weekends, having missed just one cut in his last 13 starts.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Dustin Johnson (+1100)
I’m not sure there’s ever been a previous occurrence of a Masters favorite failing to be the RBC Heritage favorite the very next week, so apparently we can add this to the long list of DJ records, as dubious as this one might be. Some will see the comparably depressed odds on the world’s No. 1-ranked player, based on where he was just a month ago, and decide to dive back into the deep end.
On pure value speculation, it’s not a terrible idea, but I have a problem making that recommendation, even after considerable improvement with a T-13 in his most recent start at Harbour Town. If I’m paying up for DJ – even if it’s not as “up” as usual – I want some sort of assurance that he’s going to bring at least his B-plus game. After a nine-year absence from this event, he returned two years ago to finish in a share of sixth place.
All told, I certainly don’t hate him this week and he’s a viable candidate to win anytime he tees it up, but his game is still too far removed from his best stuff for me to back him here as anything but a top-of-the-lineup hope in DFS formats.
My favorite non-PGA Tour play of the week.
Matthias Schwab to win the Tenerife Open (+1400)
One week after Garrick Higgo’s second career European Tour victory and with Sam Horsfield playing in the U.S. this week, the stage is set for another twenty-something to make a giant leap in the world ranking. It’s hardly a reach, as Schwab has finished 7th-7th-8th in his last three starts; on a circuit which tends to be a bit more predictive from week-to-week, it’s tough to envision the Austria native, via Vanderbilt University, failing to contend again. He already owns a pair of runner-up finishes on the Euro Tour, a T-3 in the U.S. and a T-4 in a WGC event, so a natural progression to the winner’s circle might be overdue for the 26-year-old.
Even so, his trajectory is on the right path, a player we’ll hear much more about over the next few years — and that career could receive a massive dousing of lighter fluid this week.
I’m admittedly writing this before odds have been released and understand it might very well be a chalk play on the pre-tourney fave, but the price should still be long enough to pique our collective interest.