The 2021-22 PGA Tour season has had one dramatic event after another, the latest Cameron Smith’s victory in the 48th Players Championship on Monday, and things should keep going that way this week with the Valspar Championship, the fourth and final event of the Florida Swing on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla.
Sam Burns claimed his first PGA Tour victory last year at Innisbrook, shooting 8-under-par 63 in the second round and closing with a 68, his fourth straight round in the 60s, to win by three strokes over Keegan Bradley.
“I remember walking up 18 there with a four-shot lead not knowing I was going to win for sure but having a pretty good idea I was,” said Burns, who added a second victory in the 2021 Sanderson Farms Champion last October. “I think the finishing holes (at Innisbrook) are fantastic. So much can happen, you’re never really out of it and never too far ahead.”
“ … I always felt that you had to play perfect golf to win. I always felt that you had to play your absolute best on a Sunday to win. And after those experiences, I realized that it’s not the case. I was trying to do too much
“I worked so hard for that moment, to finally win.”
Seven former Valspar champions, including Burns, Paul Casey of England (2018 and 2019), Adam Hadwin of Canada (2017), Charl Schwartzel of South Africa (2016), Kevin Streelman (2013), Luke Donald of England (2012) and Gary Woodland (2011) are in the field this week.
Also playing are second-ranked Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal, third-ranked Viktor Hovland of Norway (pictured), eighth-ranked Justin Thomas, Olympic Gold Medalist and ninth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, and 10th-ranked Dustin Johnson.
“2022 is going to be a little different than 2021, obviously,” said former Tampa Bay Buccaneers great Ronde Barber, serving as the tournament’s general chair for the Copperhead Charities, who is looking forward to having a full audience of spectators.
“We’re back to full strength, the field is fantastic this year, but most importantly, we can do whatever we want, with no (COVID) restrictions.”
The tournament was not played in 2020 because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
1. Viktor Hovland, Norway –The third-ranked Hovland made a bid for his fourth victory in recent months before tying for ninth in the Players Championship, his third straight top-10 finish, as he also tied for second in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and tied for ninth in the Genesis Invitational. He tied for third in his Valspar debut last year with four rounds in the 60s.
2. Justin Thomas, United States – JT could only tie for 33rd in his effort to become the first repeat winner of the Players but has four top 10 results this season, including third at Mayakoba, a tie for fifth in the Sentry TOC, a tie for sixth in the Genesis and a tie for eighth in Phoenix. The eighth-ranked Thomas has three top-20s in the Valspar, the best a tie for 10th in 2015.
3. Paul Casey, England – Two of Casey’s three PGA Tour victories and 20 as a pro have come in the Valspar Championship, by one stroke over Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed in 2018, and by one shot over Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Kokrak in 2019. He closed with three straight 69s last week and was in the hunt all the way before finishing solo third in the Players Championship.
4. Collin Morikawa, United States – The second-ranked Morikawa will try to bounce back from his first missed cut of the season in the Players Championship after he tied for second in the Genesis, was solo second in the CJ Cup, tied for fifth in the Sentry TOC and tied for seventh in the Zozo Championship earlier. He’s making his first start in the Valspar Championship.
5. Dustin Johnson, United States – Even though he closed with a 63 to tie for ninth in the Players Championship, former No. 1 Johnson slipped to 10th in the world rankings. That was his first top-10 finish since he was eighth in the Tour Championship last September. DJ has played in the Valspar Championship four times, with his best finish a tie for sixth three years ago.
6. Xander Schauffele, United States – The Olympic Gold Medalist got the worst of the weather draw and missed the cut for the first time this season in the Players Championship after tying for third in the WM Phoenix Open and tying for 13th in the Genesis Invitational in his two previous starts. The ninth-ranked Schauffele is playing in the Valspar Championship for the first time.
7. Tyrell Hatton, England – After tying for second in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Hatton finished in a tie for 13th last week in the Players Championship. He also tied for fourth and tied for sixth in two DP World Tour events this year in the Middle East and is up to No. 15 in the world rankings. Hatton shot 69-81 to miss the cut in his only start in the Valspar in 2019.
8. Joaquin Niemann, Chile – The 23-year-old Niemann tied for 22nd in the Players after winning the Genesis Invitational, tying for fifth at Mayakoba and tying for sixth in the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this season. He’s climbing toward the top 10 in the world rankings at No. 18 and is playing in the Valspar for the third time, having posted a tie for eighth last season.
9. Shane Lowry, Ireland – After finishing second, one stroke behind Sepp Straka in the Honda Classic, Lowry was in the chase at the Players before closing with a 72 to tie for 13th. He also tied for 12th and tied for 24th in the two DP World Tour events in the Middle East this season. Lowry, the 2019 Open champion, tied for 49th in his only Valspar appearance in 2018.
10. Keegan Bradley, United States – The 2011 PGA champion is starting to play back to that form, as he finished fifth in the Players by closing with 68-68, after tying for seventh in the Zozo Championship, tying for 11th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and tying for 12th in the Sony. Bradley took the lead to the final round of the Valspar last year but finished second after a 72.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Brooks Koepka, United States; Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa; Sam Burns, United States; Abraham Ancer, Mexico; Tommy Fleetwood, England; Kevin Kisner, United States; Adam Hadwin, Canada; Harold Varner III, United States; Russell Knox, Scotland; Gary Woodland, United States.
1. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, South Africa – A five-time winner on pro tours around the world in his career, Bezuidenhout has posed five top-20 finishes on the PGA Tour this season.
2. Doc Redman, United States – T-26 in the Players after a T-25 in the Farmers, where he shot 63 in round two. Opened and closed with 68s to T-39 in only Valspar appearance last season.
3. Taylor Pendrith, Canada – Two-time winner on PGA Tour Canada finished T-13 in the Players, T-5 in Bermuda, T-16 in the Farmers this season. Making his debut in the Valspar.
4. Doug Ghim, United States – Contended in the Players last week before finishing T-6, his best finish since a T-5 in The American Express. Missed cut in Valspar debut at 72-72 last season.
5. Sung Kang, South Korea – Three-time winner as a pro finished T-22 in the Puerto Rico Open, T-27 in the Shriner’s this season. T-18 in 2019 Valspar Championship and T-22 in 2016.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html