The 2014 Valspar Championship comes after a whirlwind of exciting PGA Tour action and promises to keep the blistering pace going as an important event. While some of the game's elite players are taking the week off, a strong field will be traveling to the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla.
Many of golf's big names will be using this event as a pivotal stop en route to the Masters, so it's worth tuning in to see how the top stars are faring as the major season approaches. Kevin Streelman won the 2013 event with an aggregate score of 10 under par, so it's tricky to score well at this venue on a consistent basis. The final three holes, known as the Snake Pit, are among the toughest on tour.
Among the notables in the field this week are former world No. 1 Luke Donald, reigning major winners Jason Dufner and Justin Rose, and a slew of younger stars, including Jordan Spieth and Harris English.
Pulling off such an impressive draw after the WGC-Cadillac Championship is no small feat. A ton of the top golfers on the planet will be vying to win the Valspar Championship.
Below is an overview of the key information regarding when and where to watch what should be an intense competition, along with more focused analysis on particular players to keep an eye on.
When: Thursday, March 13 through Sunday, March 16
Where: Innisbrook Resort Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Fla.
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit PGATour.com.
FedExCup Points: 500
|Thursday, March 13||3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Friday, March 14||3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Saturday, March 15||2-6 p.m.||NBC|
|Sunday, March 16||3-6 p.m.||NBC|
Top Trio Dealing with Early 2014 Adversity
Dufner, Rose and 2012 FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker will be grouped together to start the tournament, and they're likely to draw the biggest gallery.
All three played in the most recent Ryder Cup and have thrived on the biggest stages in golf, so they should be considered favorites. They have faced some trying circumstances as of late, though.
Unfortunately for Dufner, he shot a final-round 76 at Doral last week to sink to a tie for ninth after being in position to win. Although there are plenty of positives to take from the performance—and bear in mind that this is the guy who came back stronger than ever after collapsing in the 2011 PGA Championship—that is a quick turnaround from one of the worst rounds Dufner has had in recent memory.
As solid of an iron player as he is, Dufner is 137th in total putting and must right the ship with his flatstick to be a factor. John Huggan of Golf Digest was critical of Dufner's lack of conviction with short-range putts:
If I was Paul mcginley I'd be rooting for bubba and Dufner to make US Ryder cup team...both look very dodgy over short putts— John Huggan (@johnhuggan) March 9, 2014
Rose had to withdraw from the Honda Classic with right shoulder tendinitis and came in a tie for 34th in his return at the Cadillac Championship. However, he birdied six of seven holes at one point in the final round, and a strong finish here from Rose would provide a huge boost of confidence.
Snedeker is no stranger to injuries, which has perhaps held him back from accomplishing even more. On a difficult course such as this one, he has to be regarded as a threat due to his impeccable putting. Snedeker is 114th in the FedEx Cup standings, and something has to change if he wants to contend at the Masters like he did in 2013.
All of these capable winners need a lift, so perhaps they can promote a positive environment and get back on track. That would certainly please galleries, tournament organizers and golf fans anticipating an exciting weekend.
Past Champions Seek to Recapture Magic
A furious charge by Boo Weekley, who shot a final-round 63, wasn't enough to prevent Streelman from notching his first career PGA Tour victory last year. Streelman was in contention at a few more big tournaments after that, but he hasn't really threatened to win again since last May's runner-up finish at the Players Championship. Perhaps this will be the week he gets back into the heat of contention.
For the first two days, the defending champion will be playing with Donald and Gary Woodland, who won this tournament in 2012 and 2011, respectively.
This tournament marks Donald's last win on this side of the pond. Despite ascending to the apex of the world rankings for approximately a year, the veteran Englishman felt he needed to retool his swing. One area in which Donald has fallen short is major championships, so it makes sense that he broke himself down to build himself back up.
It had to be frustrating, but Donald is showing signs of returning to form. Toss out his blow-up round of 82 amid a blustery second round last week, and he played the other three days at five under par. That was preceded by a top 10 at the Honda Classic too.
If he can get the putter hot this week at the site of his first tour win, don't count Woodland out. He's coming off a tie for 16th last week at Doral, but he needs to keep the momentum going with a strong effort here.
Then there's Jim Furyk, the 2010 winner. At 43 years old, he isn't getting any younger, but he keeps hanging around year after year, proving his doubters wrong. He fought to a tie for fifth at the WGC match play event before struggling last week. The man is a past U.S. Open champion and can grind with the best of them when pars are at a premium.
Golf's Youth Movement Engulfs Palm Harbor
A staggering collection of young talent will be on display at the Valspar Championship, and the 20-year-old Spieth is expected to do big things. As CBSSports.com's Kyle Porter points out, Spieth is a 15-1 favorite to win at Copperhead—tied with one of the most consistent players on tour in Matt Kuchar:
How much has Jordan Spieth's life changed in a year? pic.twitter.com/SKj1lJsn4V— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) March 11, 2014
Spieth had the 36-hole lead in two tournaments this season, but he fell apart in the third round each time. Other than his missed cut at the Sony Open, he's finished inside the top 25 in all seven of his starts, backing up the hype he generated by bursting onto the scene as last year's top rookie.
Spieth is excited after some struggles the past two times he teed it up after closing out the Cadillac Championship with a three-under 69:
Great momentum heading to Tampa next week! Had a good time today paired with @RickieFowlerPGA maybe next time we'll be later on Sunday haha— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) March 9, 2014
Not far off from Spieth as a 20-1 shot is English, a 24-year-old who's won twice already and figures to be a prominent factor for years to come.
Italian phenom Matteo Manassero is just 20 years old himself and has already won four times on the European Tour. For the second week in a row, he'll be in the USA in an attempt to establish himself and stand out amid a slew of prodigies.
American Peter Uihlein is a product of the heralded Oklahoma State golf program, but he opted to make a name for himself overseas before taking his shot at the PGA Tour. He's in the field as well.
Which young star will fare best this week?
Keep an eye on John Peterson, who finished tied for fourth at last year's U.S. Open and is still seeking to make his first big splash since joining the top circuit at age 24.
Chesson Hadley won at the less-hyped Puerto Rico Open last week, so watching how he handles the bigger stage and the tougher course will be a fascinating subplot.
Finally, Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa was great as a teen—he shot a 58 at age 18—but has had to battle back from a prolonged slump. Ishikawa could break out at any time, and he already has three top-seven finishes this season.
With the bright futures that lie ahead for these players, the quality and parity of the PGA Tour should continue to increase—and as a result, a new generation of stars should emerge.