2023 Valspar Championship Odds, Picks: Bet Jordan Spieth & Akshay Bhatia at Copperhead
Via Sam Greenwood/Getty Images. Pictured: Jordan Spieth of the United States plays his shot from the eighth tee during the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 12, 2023 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
The law of averages doesn’t exist.
OK, the terminology exists, defined as “the commonly held belief that a particular outcome or event will, over certain periods of time, occur at a frequency that is similar to its probability.”
Strictly interpreted, though, the law of averages isn’t a law at all, but a logic error – and as the Google machine tells us, it’s often referred to as “the gambler’s fallacy.”
Now they’re speaking our language.
Those who wager by solely employing statistical models to analyze the data won’t be deterred by any law of averages trying to nudge them in a different direction. As soon as we start thinking, though, that’s where we can get in trouble. Consider it a metaphor for so many other things.
This law-which-isn’t-a-law can influence how we think as bettors, especially golf bettors, even though each tournament is an individual occurrence unto itself.
All of which leads us to Scottie Scheffler.
If you bet him to win prior to last week’s Players Championship, congratulations on your no-sweat ticket. If you didn’t bet him, there were probably a few reasons for this. Maybe you were unenthused about the brutally short odds he held prior to the opening round. Maybe you liked another top player’s chances more than his.
Or maybe you let previous outcomes impact your decision making.
Since last February, Scheffler had already won five times, including the Masters and a few other big-time events which featured many of the world’s best players. In the cyclical nature of this game at the professional level, it’s not uncommon to track the peaks and valleys, the ebbs and flows, that so often occur, even with elite-level competitors.
Essentially, you want to catch a player as they ascend those peaks, and one who’s triumphed with frequency in recent months might not fit that criterion.
I’ve previously compared it with a deli line. Each of the game’s best players take a ticket, wait in line, and eventually have their number called to claim a trophy. Of course, some of those players are, to continue the analogy, ordering multiple items at the counter.
Point is, there were undoubtedly bettors who assessed Scheffler as a potential option last week and decided that even though he’s one of the world’s most talented players and a proven closer, he’d won so much over the past year that he simply wasn’t as much of a viable option to win again.
There’s that law of averages. The gambler’s fallacy.
It’s a relevant topic once again this week, as the PGA Tour travels from TPC Sawgrass to Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course for the Valspar Championship.
In 2018, Paul Casey broke a nine-year drought of close calls by claiming his second career U.S. title here. The very next year, he won this tournament again. After a cancelation due to COVID-19 in 2020, Sam Burns broke through for his first victory in 2021. The very next year, he too successfully defended his title, giving the Valspar a rarity of back-to-back back-to-back winners.
Betting a defending champion is like playing a repeat number on the roulette wheel. While it might seem unlikely that the small white ball would come to rest in the exact same spot for a second straight time, each spin is a new scenario, offering a 1-in-38 opportunity for success.
If anything, picking a player to win the same tournament again includes less variance, as skill and experience play a factor in determining success, unlike with the roulette wheel.
Again, unless you’re blindly analyzing the statistical data and playing edges, human emotion is always going to play some part in our selections – and often those emotions try to suggest that something which happened already has less of a chance to occur again.
None of this is setting up a pick of Burns for the three-peat this week, just a reminder that our own personal historical biases can sometimes get in the way when we’re trying to find a winner.
With that in mind, let’s get to the Valspar Championship picks.
Outright Winner (Short Odds)
One player to win the tournament.
Jordan Spieth +1200
Two weeks ago, prior to the Arnold Palmer Invitational, I ran into Michael Greller, longtime caddie for Spieth, near the practice green. We chatted for a few minutes about a variety of topics, most of which weren’t golf-related.
I did, though, float a theory that I’ve written about previously: The game’s best players unanimously contend that they want their games to peak four times each year, yet when we haven’t reached one of those four times and they haven’t peaked, there’s often some serious self-reflection being done in advance of the majors.
Anyway, my theory is that Spieth has done a better job than most at sticking to the plan and remaining patient for his game to develop entering the biggest weeks. Over the past month, I feel like Spieth has been golf’s version of a race car driver. Let’s see how fast we can get this baby moving and if we crash and burn, so be it.
There remains no end to the entertainment level that the Jordan Spieth Experience has given us, with wild swings from eagle to double-bogey and back without any notice.
Again, it feels like this is all part of the plan, in a way. He’s hitting ceilings and bottoming out floors all in the same nine-hole stretch, as if he’s testing out the limits of what he can accomplish, knowing he can always dial it back when it matters more.
Now might be the time when he does just that, as he’s making his final stroke-play start before next month’s Masters. Sure, the 12/1 number is really short – much shorter than we’d like for a player who owns just one victory in the past 23-and-a-half months – but when all things are considered, it’s still not terrible for the tournament’s 2015 winner.
At first blush, this is a fairly strong field, but it doesn’t go much deeper than the very top of the board, as there’s a significant drop-off after the first 10-12 players. Even most of those options have an Island of Misfit Toys type of glow, as we can find some reason to fade any of them. All of which makes Spieth a nice play as he gears up for the stretch of golf which means the most to him.
Pick: Jordan Spieth Outright
Outright Winner (Long odds)
One player to win the tournament
Akshay Bhatia (+9000)
Four years ago, I was on-site at Innisbrook when a 17-year-old Bhatia came into the interview room prior to his PGA Tour debut. He spoke about liking video games more than school, trash-talking Jon Rahm on the course and when asked about handling adversity, replied with all the innocence of a teenager: “Can you explain adversity to me?”
Fast forward, and Bhatia has learned a few things about adversity as a professional golfer – and not just in those three different situations where he removed his shirt to play a shot at the Honda Classic. Success hasn’t come quite as quickly as Akshay – or those around him – might have expected, but it’s coming fast, as a runner-up finish at the Puerto Rico Open two weeks ago earned him Special Temporary Membership for the remainder of this season.
That alone should free him up to play without too much pressure, which bodes well for this week. He’s a star in the making, and not just because he makes a lot of birdies, but he’s a much-needed fun-loving personality who will endear himself to fans with every title contention that comes with more interviews sessions.
I fully expect this number to be bet down from 90/1, possibly even by the time you’re reading this, and maybe to as short as 60/1 by the time Thursday’s opening round kicks off. It’s all for good reason, though, as he gives us plenty of reasons to be optimistic both this week and well beyond.
Pick: Akshay Bhatia Outright
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Justin Suh (+3500)
You know the story by now: In the summer of 2019, four young players turned professional and were immediately given exemptions into PGA Tour events. Three of ‘em turned into stars pretty quickly – Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff. The fourth was Suh, who dealt with some injuries over the early part of his career but is now starting to live up to those lofty expectations.
Fresh off a T6 at The Players – and with a T24 at the API and T5 at the Honda Classic the previous two weeks – he’s no longer going to sneak up on the oddsmakers or the betting public, which makes him more of an intriguing play in OADs, where some of your fellow poolsters might trust course history more than current form.
Jhonattan Vegas (+6500)
I’ve been saying this for years now: If you only knew the golf swing but didn’t know any of the players, then sat at a PGA Tour range and practice area to watch all of the pros, you’d probably think Vegas was a top-20 talent. Long off the tee and with soft hands around the greens, the three-time winner remains a candidate for late-career resurgence. At a spot where he opened with a 64 last year before finishing T27, this could be a nice week for him.
Taylor Moore (+7000)
Firmly belonging in the category of underrated, if not undervalued, Moore owns three top-15 finishes and five top 40s in his last six starts. He doesn’t excel in any one particular area, but it’s impressive that the second-year PGA Tour pro is positive strokes gained in every major category this season. The results suggest he’s building up to a title contention at some point, and while it might not be this week, I’ll be keeping Moore on the radar for the next couple of months.
One player to finish in the top five
Denny McCarthy (+750 for top five)
Few players can get red-hot in a hurry like McCarthy, who wields one of the game’s best putting strokes and is now armed with an improving iron game. In Saturday’s third round at The Players, he birdied five of his first seven holes, making a serious climb up the board before a couple of bogeys and a double left him with a 3-under 69.
He finished T-13 the following day, but the signs remain that McCarthy is ready to win something soon. I’ll play him for “only” a top five here, but on a course where the highest annual finishers are almost always those who rolled it best on the greens, this should be another great chance to finally break through for that first victory.
One player to finish in the top 10
Garrick Higgo (+750 for top 10)
Speaking of guys who can get hot, Higgo might be one of the game’s preeminent momentum players right now – which is to say, when it’s going well, he can post a ton of birdies, and when it’s not, well, it can really go sideways. He doesn’t have a top 10 in his last dozen starts, but he does own a T11 and three other top 30s during that time.
I still think he’s wildly talented, but with an emphasis on the wild part. Once he reins it in, Higgo is going to be very good for a long time. Until then, I’ll try to catch some of that momentum. Coming off a week when he finished T44 but ranked 28th in birdies, those red numbers should keep coming at this one.
One player to finish in the top 20
Maverick McNealy (+250 for top 20)
We can all be excused for failing to be on Cam Davis last week, as he’d shown zero form this year after looking so impressive last year. He wound up finishing T6, revealing that he was finally over an illness which had hampered his performance. While we might not quite be kicking ourselves for missing out, that was one of those cases where we failed to play him before it was too late.
I feel the same way about McNealy, who owned a massive floor over the past few years but has been largely out of sight and out of mind lately. He was forced to WD from the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with a shoulder injury, then WD’d from the WM Phoenix Open one week later and took a month off before playing last week, eventually finishing T60.
Just the fact that he’s in the field for this one has me optimistic about him, as it would be easy enough to head home and rest up for other events. If he is indeed fully healthy or close to it, he presents nice value up and down the board.
One player to finish in the top 30
Cole Hammer (+350 for top 30)
Currently living in professional golf purgatory, Hammer owns conditional status on the Korn Ferry Tour and is playing as much as he can in limited sponsor’s exemptions on the PGA Tour. That can put a lot of undue pressure on a player, even one who was the world’s top-ranked amateur before turning pro.
It can also, though, foster a sense of importance every time he tees it up. Unlike many of his fellow competitors who are going through the weekly grind, Hammer’s opportunities aren’t of the regularly scheduled variety, so he needs to bring his best stuff in order to qualify for another start or even just to convince another tournament director down the road to give him a spot.
He’s got the talent, though, and with a pair of top 30s already this season in limited action, including a T5 at the RSM Classic, I like him to post a few low scores at this one.
One player to finish in the top 40
Austin Smotherman (+180 for top 40)
Last year, Smotherman finished T25 at the Valspar, with a final-round 67 moving him up the leaderboard. Last week, he finished T35 at The Players, a 69-70 weekend similarly helping out. When it comes to picking a plus-money top-40 selection, we can often overthink it. If nothing else, he’s got both course history and form on his side.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
Last Monday, Bradley joined my SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio show, Hitting the Green, on-site at TPC Sawgrass and proceeded to speak about just how dialed in his game was for the week.
Four days later, he was heading home after hitting a few too many balls into the awaiting water hazards, but not all poor shots are created equally. Bradley posted a video to Twitter showing one of those shots, which nearly dropped right into the hole, then took a bounce and somehow kept rolling until it reached a watery grave.
I’m not making excuses for him missing the cut, and I’m sure he isn’t, either, but it does illustrate how bad breaks and unfortunate luck can play a role in these things. The way I see it, he was dialed in last week, and it didn’t happen for him, but he’s likely not any less dialed in for this one, where that luck could certainly turn around in a hurry at a place where he was runner-up two years ago.
A medium-priced option for DFS lineups
Speaking of SXM Radio, I was on The Starter with Taylor Zarzour, as I am every Monday morning, and he made the case that he believes Scheffler will win more PGA Tour titles than any other player over the next 20-25 years. I countered by saying that I didn’t necessarily disagree with that statement, but there’s a good likelihood that the correct answer is someone not even playing on the highest level right now.
Then I mentioned Aberg’s name. That’s less a prediction than a suggestion, but the point is, his name was the first one which came to mind when I quickly thought about a player who could be that big of a superstar for the next few decades.
Fresh off a T24 at the API where he was in serious contention entering the weekend, the No. 2-ranked amateur in the world should find the conditions and competition both a little easier this week. We love playing guys with the proverbial “nothing to lose,” and as an amateur, Aberg epitomizes that idea.
A lower-priced option for DFS lineups
Something has clicked for Goya in the middle of his rookie season on the PGA Tour. Through his first seven starts after promotion from the KFT, Goya made the cut only three times, with a best finish of T44. Since then, however, he’s cashed in five straight, with a career-best T11 at the Puerto Rico Open two weeks ago.
On a week when most DFS players probably aren’t spending too much at the top, they won’t need too many cheaper options, but Goya can offer a nice low-cost play to help differentiate your lineups.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Will Gordon (+6600 for FRL)
In 14 starts this season, Gordon has made the cut 11 times, though only two of those have resulted in top-25 finishes. If there’s a spot where he really shines, it’s early in the week, as he’s posted sub-70 scores in 10 of those 14 starts, including a 62 at Mayakoba, 65 in Las Vegas and 66 at the Sanderson Farms.
He currently ranks fifth in first-round scoring average at 68.57, more than a full stroke better than his average for any other round, so while I like his game, I prefer to target him more on Thursdays than for full events.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Wyndham Clark (+4000)
As I’ve often written previously, I’m a big fan of matchup plays which give us two chances of winning. What I mean is that I’m seeking high-floor guys who potentially have a decent ceiling, as well. Clark currently owns the 10th-longest made cuts streak on the PGA Tour, with 10 straight dating back to last year.
Simply getting to the weekend is enough to cash H2H tickets against those who trunk-slam on Friday, but Clark isn’t just getting there and fading back. Nine of those 10 made cuts have been top-40 finishes, and four of ‘em were top 20s, proving that even if his matchups make the cut, he owns a solid chance of cashing on Sunday, too.
Also Receiving Votes
Other players who should provide value
Davis Riley (+3500), Victor Perez (+6000), Matthew NeSmith (+9000), Trey Mullinax (+10000), Chad Ramey (+13000), Greyson Sigg (+18000), Carl Yuan (+20000), Erik Barnes (+25000), Martin Trainer (+50000)
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