By Tom LaMarre
Paul Casey of England has successfully defended his title in the Valspar Championship once and he’s looking forward to doing it again.
The 43-year-old Casey (pictured), who captured the Valspar title in 2018 and 2019, finally will get the chance to win the tournament for the third straight time this week on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort and Club in Palm Harbor, Fla.
The tournament was cancelled last season because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“We went from probably a space of 48 hours from being slightly concerned to suddenly canceling events after the NBA (suspended) their season (last year),” Casey recalled. “Obviously, it was disappointing not to defend at Valspar and now suddenly the situation was no longer about golf. It’s a whole plethora of things.
“It was worrying about people’s safety, people’s health, the economic impact of that. Look at somebody at Tampa, there’s probably going to be people who probably get sick, lose jobs, loss of income, a whole bunch of other things. It’s weird one. It’s a really strange one. It’s a strange thing.
“ … I guess I’ll still be going for three in a row.”
Steve Stricker is the last player on the PGA Tour to win a tournament three straight times, achieving the feat by capturing the John Deere Classic from 2009-11, It’s been done 27 times in the circuit’s history, not surprisingly three times by Tiger Woods.
Casey, who has won 21 times in his pro career including 15 on the European Tour, captured the 2018 Valspar by one stroke over Woods and Patrick Reed by shooting 65 in the final round.
And then Casey repeated by shooting 72 and holding on for another one-stroke victory over Jason Kokrak and Louis Oosthuizen the following year, making his way through the last three holes on the Copperhead Course that are known as “The Snake Pit.”
“The Snake Pit, you’re probably always going to play that over par for the week,” Casey said. “Anybody who plays that under-par for the week is a magician. So make hay while the sun’s shining and we did that.
“I mean, what a golf course, (always) a great field and 8-under is the winning score (in 2019, 10-under (in 2018). It’s not like it’s tricked up, it shows what a good golf course and some firm greens will do.
“But it shows how difficult this golf course is, two years running, 10-under and 8-under (to win). It’s a wonderful test of golf. I’m proud to be anybody’s champion and the Valspar Championship is a great, great golf event. So to be their champion (twice), I feel very proud and honored. …Very cool memories.”
Challenging Casey’s bid will be top-ranked Dustin Johnson, second-ranked Justin Thomas, seventh-ranked Patrick Reed and eighth-ranked Tyrrell Hatton of England, plus Viktor Hovland of Norway, Sungjae Im of South Korea, Corey Conners of Canada and Kevin Kisner.
That’s not to mention major champions Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Danny Willett of England, Gary Woodland and Charl Schwartzel of South Africa.
Kokrak also is in the field again and he believes he knows how to win the Valspar Championship.
“Take down Paul Casey,” Kokrak said.
Based on the last two Valspars, that just might get it done.
- Paul Casey, England – The two-time defending Valspar champion goes for a rare three-peat and for his fourth PGA Tour victory, although he has 21 in his pro career, including the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in January. Casey tied for fifth in the Players and at Pebble Beach, two of his four top-10 finishes in the United States this year.
- Dustin Johnson, United States – The top-ranked player in the world, who won the 2020 Masters and the 2021 Saudi Invitational, bounced back from missing the cut in the 2021 Masters by tying for 13th in the RBC Heritage, closing with a 66. DJ missed the cut in his first two Valspar starts before tying for sixth in 2019 despite a final-round 74.
- Justin Thomas, United States – Ranked second in the world and also second in the FedEx Cup standings, Thomas won the Players among his five top-10 finishes this season, but had a disappointing tie for 21st in the Masters in his last outing. JT tied for 10th in the 2015 Valspar, tied for 18th the following year, but missed the cut in 2018.
- Charl Schwartzel, South Africa – Coming off a runner-up finish with Louis Oosthuizen in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans after tying for 26th in the Masters, the 2011 Masters champ seems to have regained his form after a wrist injury slowed for a few years. Schwartzel captured the 2016 Valspar and finished sixth in his title defense.
- Patrick Reed, United States – The seventh-ranked Reed has played well in the Valspar despite failing to claim the title, tying for second in 2015 (losing in a playoff to Jordan Spieth) and 2018, in addition to tying for seventh in 2016. He won the Farmers and has four top-10 finishes this season, including a tie for eighth in the Masters in his last start.
- Tyrrell Hatton, England – The eight-ranked Hatton, who won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship earlier this year, tied for eighth in the Zurich Classic with Danny Willett last week, his third top-10 this season. He also tied for 18th in the Masters, closing with a 68. Missed the cut in his Valspar debut in 2019, opening with 69 before shooting 81.
- Sungjae Im, South Korea – Finished in a tie for fourth in his Valspar Championship debut two years ago, finishing two strokes behind winner Paul Casey. Im tied for second in the 2020 Masters, tied for fifth in the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii and tied for eighth in the Honda Classic, in addition to tying for 22nd in the U.S. Open.
- Viktor Hovland, Norway – Up to No. 15 in the World Golf Rankings after winning the Puerto Rico Open and Mayakoba Classic in 2020, the 23-year-old Norwegian is seventh in the FedEx Cup standings after tying for second in the WGC-Workday and the Farmers, and tying for fifth in the Genesis. Hovland is making his debut in the Valspar.
- Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa – The 2010 Open champion finished second with Charl Schwartzel in the Zurich Classic, losing in a playoff, also was third in the U.S. Open and tied for sixth in the WGC-Workday. Tied for second behind Paul Casey in the 2019 Valspar, tied for seventh in 2017, tied for 16th in 2018 and tied for 20th in 2012.
- Adam Hadwin, Canada – Claimed his only PGA Tour victory and one of four as a pro by one shot over Patrick Cantlay in the 2017 Valspar, and tied for 12th in his title defense before missing the cut in 2019. Hadwin tied for eighth recently in the Honda, in addition to tying for 23rd in the Valero Texas Open and tying for 29th in the Players.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH—Phil Mickelson, United States; Justin Rose, England; Bubba Watson, United States; Corey Conners, Canada; Gary Woodland, United States; Kevin Kisner, United States; Carlos Ortiz, Mexico; Jason Kokrak, United States; Scottie Scheffler, United States; Henrik Stenson, Sweden.
- Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Still winless on the PGA Tour, but has 10 top-25s this season, including fourth in the Shriners, T-5 in the AmEx. T-16 in the 2018 Valspar.
- Sam Burns, United States – T-4 in Zurich with Billy Horschel, third in the Genesis, T-7 in Houston Open and the Safeway this season. T-12 in 2018 Valspar, T-30 in 2019.
- Talor Gooch, United States – Winner on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2017 was fourth in Houston Open, T-5 in the Players, solo fifth in CJ Cup, T-12 in Genesis this season.
- Henrik Norlander, Sweden – Two-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour finished T-2 in the Farmers, T-4 at Sanderson Farms and T-12 in the American Express this season.
- Denny McCarthy, United States – Has four pro victories, including 2018 Korn Ferry Tour Championship. T-3 in Honda, T-4 in Bermuda; T-6 in Sanderson Farms this season.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html