Valspar Championship experts' picks

March, 11, 2014

Each week of the season, our experts share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: The Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Horse for the Course

Michael Collins, senior golf analyst: Luke Donald
This course could be considered custom-built for the former world's No. 1. Since returning to play the course in 2010 ('02 and '03 were his previous appearances), he has finished sixth, first, and fourth. It's a track that requires a great wedge game and patience with the putter -- both of which Donald seems to embrace around the Copperhead Course.

Farrell Evans, senior golf writer: Luke Donald
In his past two starts on the difficult Copperhead course at Innisbrook, the 36-year-old Englishman has had a win and tied for fourth. When he won here in 2012, he had a 13-under total that included a 5-under 66 in the final round.

Bob Harig, senior golf writer: Jim Furyk
The 2010 champ at Innisbrook has been no worse than a tie for 13th in the past four years on the Copperhead course with three top-10s.

Kevin Maguire, senior golf editor: Luke Donald
Donald's worst finish in his past three starts at the Copperhead Course was a T-6 in 2010. He also won on this track a couple of years ago. It's only his fifth start of the wraparound season, but Donald has been turning things around in recent weeks, despite that 82 he posted in the brutal second round at Doral.

Birdie Buster

Collins: Jim Furyk
Turning 44 this May, he's officially the grizzled veteran. Long in the tooth and short on the hair, but you know what? He still hits it straight (which is huge this week) and makes enough putts to be relevant. He won here in 2010 and hasn't finished worse than 13th since, including a runner-up in 2012.

Evans: Will MacKenzie
The 39-year-old two-time PGA Tour winner earned his seventh top-25 finish of the wraparound season with a tie for sixth at the Honda Classic.

Harig: Bill Haas
Haas is coming off a strong performance at Doral, where he tied for sixth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Maguire: Russell Knox
The Scotland-born Knox owns a couple of top-10s in his past four starts, including a crowded playoff loss at the Honda Classic. The fact that he's 13th in driving accuracy (69.46 percent) and 14th in greens in regulation (72.38 percent) so far this year will go a long way on the demanding Copperhead course.

Super Sleeper

Collins: Jason Gore
A renewed sense of maturity emits from Mr. Gore this year and it may be partly because of a talking-to he got from none other than Charles Barkley. Thank goodness it wasn't about his swing. A top-10 finish last week in Puerto Rico (T-4) got him into this event. Although he hasn't teed it up here since 2008, his new attitude will get him a top finish.

Evans: Richard H. Lee
The 26-year-old University of Washington product has had top-10 finishes in two of his past three starts, including a tie for fourth last week at the Puerto Rico Open, his best finish in three years on tour.

Harig: Chesson Hadley
He's coming off a victory last week in Puerto Rico in the event opposite the WGC-Cadillac and where the top player in the field was ranked 70th in the world. It's a lot to ask for him to do it again this week.

Maguire: David Toms
With a T-4 last week at the opposite field event in Puerto Rico, the 47-year-old Toms posted his best finish since a solo second at the 2012 McGladrey Classic. Although he owns only a single top-10 in nine starts in Tampa, which came all the way back in 2004, the 2001 PGA Championship winner certainly hopes to stay competitive between now and the Champions Tour.


Collins: Graham DeLaet
O Canada! Just when you thought he was going through a lull -- his past three finishes were 70th, 33rd and 34th. But here's a stat that bodes well for him this week: He ranks ninth overall in greens in regulation, and on a course as tough as the Copperhead, the more greens you hit, the better your chances of winning. Just like Kevin Streelman last year, Graham makes this tournament his first PGA Tour title. Raise the Canadian flag.

Evans: Jason Dufner
A dismal putting performance in the final round killed his chances of winning at Doral, but the reigning PGA champion will climb the leaderboard at the tough Copperhead course with his superior ballstriking and knack for hitting fairways under pressure.

Harig: Jason Dufner
He had a few issues on the greens last week at Doral, but Dufner is one of the game's top ball strikers. That is important at Innisbrook. He likes the course, where he has made five straight cuts.

Maguire: Justin Rose
With that shoulder tendinitis hopefully behind him, the reigning U.S. Open champ returns to his winning ways at an event where he's never finished outside the top 30 in seven starts.





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