10 Players to Watch: Valspar Championship

  1. Jordan Spieth, United States — Before Spieth captured the Valspar last year, he had one PGA Tour victory. Now he has seven, including two majors, and is has been No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings for the last 24 weeks and 35 in all. His victory at Innisbook came when he sank a 28-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole to beat Patrick Reed and Sean O’Hair. Spieth also tied for seventh in 2013 and tied for 20th a year later on the Copperhead Course. He started this year with an eight-stroke victory in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and although he has not played quite as well since, the only time in he finished outside a tie for 21st in his last five events came when he missed the cut in the Northern Trust Open.
  1. Henrik Stenson, Sweden — The big Swede has started so well in the 2015-16 season on the European Tour that he ranks second in the Race to Dubai standings behind Danny Willett of England, with three finishes in the top six in four starts. However, his best result in three events on the PGA Tour was a tie for 11th in the WGC-HSBC Champions in November and he tied for 28th last week in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, his first event on U.S. soil this year. Stenson, No. 7 in the World Golf Rankings, has 17 world-wide victories in his career, but none since a successful title defense in the 2014 DP World Tour Championship-Dubai. In his first appearance in the Valspar last year, he had bookend 67s and finished fourth, one stroke out of the playoff won by Jordan Spieth.
  1. Danny Willett, England — Moving rapidly up the World Golf Rankings, Willett can crack the top 10 this week after climbing to No. 11 when he tied for third in the WGC-Cadillac Championship last week after being in the hunt all the way to the finish. In his only other PGA Tour event in the 2015-16 season, he also tied for third in the WGC-HSBC Champions last November in China. The Englishman leads the European Tour’s Race to Dubai on the strength of his victory in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. That gave Willett, who played college golf at Jacksonville State, victories in each of the last three years on the Euro Tour. This will be his first start in the Valspar Championship, as this is his initial season as a PGA Tour member.
  1. Patrick Reed, United States — After claiming his first four PGA Tour victories in a span of 17 months through the 2015 Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Reed has been winless, although he continues to some play very good golf. He has finished in the top 10 four times in the 2015-16 season, including second in his title defense at Kapalua in January and a tie for sixth in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last month. However, he will be trying to regroup after missing the cut in the Honda Classic and tying for 52nd in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in the first two events of the Florida Swing. Reed missed the cut in his first appearance in the Valspar in 2013, but last year he finished 68-68-66 before losing out to Jordan Spieth on the third playoff hole.
  1. Jason Dufner, United States — With his tie for 11th last week in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Duf seemed to be regaining the form he showed earlier this year, when he claimed his fourth PGA Tour victory in the CareerBuilder Challenge, one of his three top-10 finishes in the 2015-16 season. The 2013 PGA champion did not finish in the top 50 in four events after that victory, but only a 77 in round three last week kept him from another top-10 result at Doral. Dufner will be playing in the Valspar Championship for the ninth time and his only top-10 finish was a tie for 10th in 2012, when he held the lead after starting 66-66, before playing the weekend in 71-71. He has posted five other results in the top 25 on the Copperhead Course.
  1. Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa — Continuing to play well after he missed the cut in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic to start 2016, Oosthuizen tied for 14th in the WGC-Cadillac Championship last week, falling out of the top 10 with a 73 in the final round of his first event on U.S. soil this year at Doral. That came a week after he claimed his 13th career victory in the ISPS Handa Perth International, and he also tied for seventh in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. Oosthuizen, who captured the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews, has not played well in the Valspar since he tied for 20th in his first appearance in 2012, missing the cut in his last three starts on the Copperhead Course and failing to shoot the par of 70 in his last seven rounds.
  1. Harris English, United States — Big things were predicted for English even before he won the FedEx St. Jude Classic and the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in 2013 for his first two PGA Tour victories, but he does not have a victory since despite showing some of those old flashes. Last week he was in the chase most of the way on the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral before winding up solo 10th against the strongest field of the year, and he also finished third in the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month. English is making his fifth start in the Valspar Championship, and he has played well on the Copperhead Course, tying for seventh in 2013 and tying for 10th last year, when he closed with a 65.
  1. Ryan Moore, United States — Seemingly on the verge of his fifth PGA Tour victory last year after opening with scores of 69-68-67 on the Copperhead Course, Moore closed with a 72 and wound up fifth in the Valspar, two strokes out of the three-hole playoff in which Jordan Spieth beat Sean O’Hair and Patrick Reed. He is making his ninth appearance in the Tampa Bay-area event and also tied for eighth in 2007. Moore has finished 10th three times on the PGA Tour this season, most recently in the Northern Trust Open last month by posting four scores in the 60s, and he also tied for 11th in the Waste Management Phoenix Open a few weeks earlier. He hasn’t won since a successful title defense in the 2014 CIMB Classic, but might be ready to break through again.
  1. Kevin Na, United States — Even though he has been close so many times, Na has only one PGA Tour victory, in the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He started the 2015-16 season with runner-up finishes in the Frys.com Open and the Shriners and has eight seconds in his career in addition to eighth more thirds. One of those second-place results came two years ago in the Valspar, when he played the middle rounds in 68-68, but finished with a 72 and wound up one stroke behind John Senden of Australia — who chipped in from 70 feet for a birdie on the 16th hole and sank a 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th to beat him. Na closed with a 66 on the Copperhead Course to tie for 10th last year and also tied for eighth in 2009.
  1. Charl Schwartzel, South Africa — Another player who had a strong start to the season on the European Tour, ranking fifth in the Race to Dubai, Schwartzel tied for 17th last week in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral against the deepest field of the year. The 2011 Masters champion claimed the 14th victory of his career last month in the Tshwane Open and also captured the Alfred Dunhill Championship for the third time, and second in a row, at the end of November in the early stages of the wrap-around schedule. Schwartzel has his game back in good form after spending part of the Christmas holidays in the hospital because of dehydration from a stomach virus. He is making his second start in the Valspar, having shot 76-73 — 149 to miss the cut in 2012.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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