DraftKings PGA: Valspar Championship Picks and Strategy

DraftKings PGA: Valspar Championship Picks and Strategy

This article is part of our DraftKings PGA DFS Picks series.


Purse: $8.1M 
Winner's Share: $1.458M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner 
Location: Palm Harbor, Fla. 
Course:  Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club (Copperhead) 
Yardage: 7,340
Par: 71
2022 champion: Sam Burns

Tournament Preview

There have been four super-loaded PGA Tour fields in the past five weeks. And all the top golfers will convene yet again next week. So Valspar Championship tournament organizers have to be feeling pretty good about things, all things considered. They have fared far better than their colleagues at the recent Honda Classic. After all, any time you can say Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas are in your tournament, things could be far worse.

Spieth and Thomas are two of the five or six marquee names on the entire PGA Tour, guys who possess a commanding star power far beyond their world rankings. So even though the field of 144 includes just five of the top-25 in the world rankings and five more from the top-50, Spieth and Thomas showing up elevate a tournament that is not, um, elevated.

There are some other semi-bold-faced names, notably U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, two-time defending Valspar winner Sam Burns, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose and Keegan Bradley. When you throw in some of the young, potential stars of tomorrow in Justin Suh, Pierceson Coody and the newest Tour member in 21-year-old Akshay Bhatia, that's more than a good launching point for tournament organizers to sell some tickets.

But it is a surprise. All the top guys have played four of the past five weeks. They get to go home, unpack, do a laundry and load up again for next week's WGC-Match Play, which even starts a day early on Wednesday.

Don't mistake all this for thinking that the Valspar folk are completely happy. They aren't. How could they be? They surely would like to get their hands on one of those designated tournaments. The Florida Swing opener at PGA National three weeks ago just lost its title sponsor, Honda, after years of field-abuse. Valspar Paints, title sponsor at Innisbrook since 2014, has two more years on its agreement with the PGA Tour through 2025. It would behoove the Tour give the Palm Harbor community one of those $20 million purses sooner rather than later. Easier said than done, since the same obstacles for the Honda affect the Valspar, specifically that the other two tournaments in the Florida Swing, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and THE PLAYERS Championship, will always be designated.

We won't be solving that problem today, so let's move on.

As we've seen throughout the four-event Florida Swing, all the courses have the potential to be brutes. But Copperhead has played far easier than usual the past two years, with Burns winning both times at 17-under. The tournment is normally played in March, but in 2021 it was moved to early May. So it appeared the warmer clime sent scores lower. But last year, back in March, same thing, 17-under. Remember, Copperhead was the sixth-hardest course on Tour in both 2018 and '19, with Paul Casey winning back-to-back at 10- and 8-under.

There have been two important changes to the course since last year, changes seemingly designed to stem the trend of lower scores.

The official golf course superintendents sheet advised that they've upped the rough across the course by almost an inch, from 3 inches to 3.75. Further, they've also moved the rough closer to the greens by reducing the greenside intermediate cut from an average of six feet to a mere 21 inches. These changes are huge and would suggest an added emphasis on scrambling. It will be interesting to see whether the first page of the leaderboard returns to near single digits. That's what the oddsmakers think (see Champion's Profile below).

Copperhead, the only course the tournament has ever known since arriving in 2000, is not your traditional Florida track. The 1971 Larry Packard design is extremely narrow and tree-lined with numerous dog legs and plenty of undulations and is situated on the west coast of the state by the Gulf of Mexico. It's also an oddity for a par-71 in that there are five par-3s and four par-5s. But even with all those par-5s, par is a good score on most holes. Long iron play, along with scrambling and putting inside 10 feet, rule the roost here. The greens are poa and moderate in size, averaging about 5,800 square feet, and will run at a speedy 12 on the Stimpmeter. There are 74 bunkers and water on half the holes.

Not to be outdone by other courses with cute little nicknames for their hard holes, Copperhead features the famed Snake Pit, a three-hole sequence that is one of the toughest closing stretches in golf. It begins with what's often the hardest hole on the course, the 475-yard 16th with water on the entire right side. It's followed by the long 215-yard 17th and the 445-yard 18th. They all normally play over par and, if the golfers aren't careful, way over par. At the opposite end of the course is the easiest hole, the 560-yard 1st that is the shortest of the par-5s. So don't get too excited if your guy gets an opening birdie (but do be disappointed if he doesn't). Last year, Burns played that hole in 4-under and two years ago in 6-under. He played the par-5s in 10-under last year and 15-under two years ago. The par-3s are all bears, with the short of the five coming in at 195 yards.

As for the weather, Thursday appears to be the best day right now -- highs around 80, minimal wind. But the wind will get gusty over the next three days. Further, thunderstorms are forescast for Saturday. While the rain should end for Sunday's round, it will be far cooler, with highs only in the mid-60s.

Fun Innisbrook factoid: Courtesy of the 2021 GCSAA sheet, we learned that "Wildlife on course includes raccoons, bald eagles, coyotes, fox squirrel (unique at Innisbrook), alligators, turtles, snakes." Of course, snakes.

Key Stats to Winning at Copperhead

The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.

• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation (175-200 yards)
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling 
• Strokes Gained: Putting/Putting Inside 10 Feet
• Bogey Avoidance

Past Champions

2022 – Sam Burns
2021 – Sam Burns
2020 – None
2019 – Paul Casey
2018 – Paul Casey
2017 – Adam Hadwin 
2016 - Charl Schwartzel 
2015 – Jordan Spieth
2014 – John Senden
2013 – Kevin Streelman

Champion's Profile

If ever there was a tournament where shorter hitters can prosper, this is it. Copperhead may technically be long at more than 7,300 yards for a par-71, but there are a bunch of dog legs to stifle distance, not to mention five par-3s. (Interestingly, the course considers its signature hole to be the 590-yard, double-dog-leg 14th, not one of the Snake Pit trio.) The two Burns years with winning scores both times at 17-under were unlike previous years, when the winner was generally between 7- and 10-under. The two changes with the rough mentioned above are designed to reign in scoring. We won't know for sure till they play, it looks as if those two years could be aberrations. We'll be looking quality long iron players who are happy to play it safe. Casey and Hadwin were Exhibits 1 and 1A. This has been one of the hardest tracks for greens in regulation, which brings scrambling into play. And more often than not, great putting has translated into success at Copperhead, especially from inside 10 feet. Casey was not a great putter but, combined with his tee-to-green expertise, he was obviously good enough. The over/under on the winning score at golfodds.com tells us how they think things will play out this week with the course changes (and the weather): 275.5, which is 8.5 under par. Buckle up for carnage.


Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap

Tier 1 Values

Justin Thomas - $10,000 (Winning odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook: +1100) 
It certainly is a bit of a surprise that Thomas is here, playing for the fifth time in six weeks. There was an unconfirmed report that said he plans to skip next week's Match Play, which would make the decision to play this week a little more understandable. Thomas opened the year with five straight top-25s but only one top-10 before falling back last week at THE PLAYERS. He's not at his best by any stretch, but he's still the best golfer in the this field and maybe the best around the greens. He's also best in this field in Tee-to-Green over his past 24 rounds.

Jordan Spieth - $10,600 (+1200) 
Spieth won this tournament, albeit a lifetime ago in 2015 at 10-under. He's been back only two times since, lastly in 2018. He's been playing very well lately -- sixth at Phoenix, fourth at Bay Hill. He really could've won at Bay Hill but he let that slip away with a series of short missed putts. He was 19th last week at THE PLAYERS. Some decent putting could land Spieth his first win in almost a year.

Tommy Fleetwood - $9,800 (+2200) 
The scores should be kept in check, the weather could be dicey. Fleetwood can handle those situations. He's ranked 22nd on Tour in SG: Approach and an elite sixth in SG: Around-the-Green. Fleetwood had three good rounds at Sawgrass last week before falling back on Sunday. He was 16th last year in his Valspar debut.

Tier 2 Values  

Keegan Bradley - $9,400 (+2200) 
Even though Bradley missed the cut last week, he's been playing well in 2023 -- second at Torrey Pines, 10th at Bay Hill, 20th at Phoenix. Bradley is ranked 30th on Tour in SG: Total, and a big part of that is his vastly improved putting -- he's ranked 58th. He's also top-50 in bogey avoidance. Bradley was runner-up to Sam Burns here two years ago.

Adam Hadwin - $9,200 (+2200) 
Hadwin has won this tournament when scoring was tough. He was seventh last year when it was easier. He's probably the biggest horse for this course outside of two-time defending champion Sam Burns, and maybe more so considering the course should play far tougher this year. Hadwin checks in at No. 1 in our model calculating all the key stats listed above. He's coming off a T13 at THE PLAYERS, he's up to 61st in the world rankings and he'll want to keep his foot on the pedal to crack the top-50 for a Masters berth.

Justin Suh - $8,900 (+3500) 
We were on Suh last week at $6600. He tied for sixth and now has rocketed up near $9000. Still, he's worth it. He was 24th the week before at Bay Hill and fifth before that at the Honda. Suh is still really young, part of the famed Class of '19 with Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland. He ranks second behind only Hadwin in our model, sixth in the field in SG: Approach, 12th in Tee-to-Green and 10th in Putting over his past 24 rounds.

Wyndham Clark - $8,900 (+3500) 
Historically, Clark has been very good off the tee and on the green, and dreadful in between. Annually ranked around 180th in SG: Approach, he checks in at 49th on Tour right now -- by far the best of his career. His putting is off this year (of course, that's why we can't have nice things), but not terrible, just average. He's made 10 straight cuts, moving him to a career-best 109th in the world rankings. Clark hasn't had many great finishes, though he was 10th at Phoenix and 27th last week at Sawgrass.

Gary Woodland - $8,600 (+3500) 
We were on Woodland two weeks ago at Bay Hill, and he missed the cut -- his only miss in his past five starts. He had been ninth the previous time out at Riviera. Woodland may never return to his 2019 heights, but he says he is healthy and swinging well. The numbers back that up, as he's ranked 16th in SG: Off-the-Tee and 14th in Putting. Conversely, his short game is a mess. Woodland won this tournament many years ago in 2011.

Tier 3 Values

Stephan Jaeger - $7,800 (+5000) 
Jaeger has been playing well enough to make the cut in tough fields at Torrey Pines, Riviera and Sawgrass, and well enough for a high finish in a weaker field at PGA National (T14). His stats show a golfer who is average or better across the board, and borderline elite around the green with a ranking of 12th. Jaeger's worst area is putting, but that has been getting better.

Robby Shelton - $7,500 (+9000) 
Shelton missed the cut at $6600 last week, and he was one of our picks. It's hard to come right back after a guy burned you, but Shelton's numbers still look good -- and in a far weaker field. He's one of the shortest drivers on Tour, averaging about 283, yet his approach and greens-in-regulation numbers are far better. Shelton is 36th in SG: Approach, and even better Around-the-Green at 16th. He's fifth best in the field in proximity from 175-200 yards over his past 24 rounds. That should come in quite handy this week.

Akshay Bhatia - $7,500 (+13000)
We (me) went out and picked up Bhatia in the season-long RotoWire league after seeing he secured Special Temporary Membership for the rest of the season. The 21-year-old made the cut at the Honda, then was runner-up at Puerto Rico. He's surely moving up in class this week, and there are bound to be nerves. A lot of his game needs a lot of work, but he's pretty accurate off the tee, ranked 60th on Tour, and elite from the fairway, ranked 10th in SG: Approach, albeit in very few rounds so far.

Eric Cole - $7,300 (+9000) 
Cole is the feel-good story from the Honda Classic, where he lost in a playoff to Chris Kirk. He somewhat predictably missed the cut at Bay Hill the next week, but bounced back with a T27 at THE PLAYERS. Cole clocks in at 10th in our model over his past 24 rounds. In that span, he's fourth-best in this field in SG: Approach and 10th in bogey avoidance.

Long-Shot Values

Dylan Wu - $6,800 (+11000) 
The 26-year-old Northwestern alum and a native Oregonian has made four straight cuts. Three of them were in lesser fields. His tie for 35th at THE PLAYERS was not. Wu is ranked 40th on Tour in driving accuracy and above average in every strokes-gained category but putting. And he's a ranked a passable 127th there. Over his past 24 rounds, he's putting far better than that.

Zach Johnson - $6,800 (+20000) 
Johnson didn't qualify for THE PLAYERS Championship, so he carries his run of five straight made cuts into Innisbrook. He has played the last four editions of the Valspar -- two in the seemingly easier conditions, two in the harder. He did better in 2018-19 in the harder conditions with top-25s. Of course, he was a better golfer then than he is today, but he is riding a nice streak. Johnson is ranked top-20 on Tour in both driving accuracy and SG: Putting.

Tano Goya - $6,600 (+30000) 
The 34-year-old Argentine has made eight of 12 cuts this season, including his past five that culminated with a T11 at the Puerto Rico Open. We're not quite sure how he's doing it -- most of his stats look horrid. But he is ranked 64th on Tour in greens in regulation, and that's a pretty important one.

Erik Barnes - $6,400 (+30000) 
It's a little hard to see why Barnes has missed nine of 14 cuts this season, and five of seven in 2023. His made cuts were T13 at the Farmers and T49 at the Honda. And he was good enough to get into THE PLAYERS last week. Barnes' strokes-gained stats show a golfer ranked in the top-90 in all of them, and 66th in SG: Total. Really, that's very good. It surely seems as if Barnes is playing better than he's scoring. Let's see where he stands come Sunday night.

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The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Len Hochberg plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DK: Bunker Mentality.
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Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years. He was named 2020 "DFS Writer of the Year" by the FSWA and was nominated for the same award in 2019.
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