A good course trumps a bad spot on the calendar
Mar. 11, 2015
PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) — The Valspar Championship wouldn't seem to have a lot going for it.
It has the worst spot on the calendar for the Florida Swing, the one event where it makes sense for the top players to take a break. The Honda Classic is the home event of so many players living in the West Palm Beach area, and it's followed by a World Golf Championship at Doral. Arnold Palmer's tournament is next week at Bay Hill.
What it has in its favor is Innisbrook, perhaps the biggest selling point.
That explains why Adam Scott has returned, and why Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood are at Innisbrook for the first time. Jordan Spieth is playing again, along with Justin Rose and Jim Furyk. For a tournament with so many obstacles, it's not suffering for top players.
"It's a tough spot on the calendar, but the best course we play in Florida," Scott said Wednesday. "It's a quality golf course. It's the kind of course you enjoy playing golf on, and you don't get to play a lot of courses on tour like this. I think of Riviera and I think of here. If I was playing golf with friends and family, I'd pick golf courses like this that are enjoyable to walk and require a little precision. It tests you in all the right ways.
"It seems like the dimensions of everything out there are proportionate, and quite good, as opposed to some of the monsters we end up dealing with these days."
It was a peculiar choice of a word — monster — though at least Scott didn't attach a color. "Blue" comes to mind.
The Copperhead course at Innisbrook certainly is not a breather from Trump National Doral (still known as the Blue Monster), though there probably won't be as many tales as balls landing on the green and sinking to the bottom of a lake. There might not be any clubs in the lake, either, with Rory McIlroy taking a week off.
The winning score has ranged from 4 under (Sean O'Hair in 2008) to 18 under (Vijay Singh in 2004).
Water really comes into play on only about six holes. There is enough elevation to feel like it belongs somewhere to the North, not in Tampa Bay. The greens are relatively small, putting a premium on good iron play.
Stenson, at No. 3 the highest-ranked player in the field, had been playing the Honda Classic in recent years until word-of-mouth about Innisbrook reached him and he decided to change up his schedule. He made his American debut at Doral last week and tied for fourth with Scott.
"I heard some great remarks about this tournament and the course, and I thought, 'Why not give it a try?'" Stenson said. "I think as a golf course, it's going to give rewards if you're a strong iron player, and longer iron shots in particular. ... I can see why a few other guys definitely feel like that's the right tournament to give themselves a chance."
John Senden is the defending champion, winning by one shot last year over Kevin Na.
Scott has had mixed results at Innisbrook. He has good memories of his play, just not over four days, which he is trying to fix.
The former Masters champion made his 2015 debut last week at Trump National Doral and was flirting with contention on the back nine until he tied for fourth. It wasn't a bad start to the year, particularly since he switched over to a conventional-length putter for the first time in four years.
As much as he loves Riviera, he didn't go this year because of the recent birth of his first child. The Valspar Championship worked well this year for Scott, who is playing three in a row before he takes off two weeks before the Masters.
"I feel good coming off my first week," Scott said. "I was quietly confident going into last week, but when you've had a three-month layoff you never quite know what's going to happen when you actually have to add them up in competition, and that went well for me last week. So coming here to a course I've been looking forward to playing since I mapped out my schedule at the start of the year, I'm going to take on the challenge this week and hopefully do better than I've done in the past.
"I'd really love to contend for this title on Sunday."