Having lived in Tampa for over 30 years, it’s always a blast to have the PGA Tour come to an area that is heavily involved in Pro and College Sports already. And even though, as part of the “Florida Swing,” the Valspar Championship is mixed in March around Spring Training Baseball, Tampa Bay Lightning post season runs, “March Madness,” and NFL Free Agency for the Buccaneers, etc., it’s still a tremendous event.
And, when you look at it’s recent history, there is plenty to indicate that a big name will contend if not win and/or you will get a dramatic conclusion. As a matter of fact, each of the last two years former major winners, Charl Schwartzel and Jordan Spieth (above), each won sudden death playoffs to claim the title.
I worked the live play by play of the event three years ago for PGA Tour radio, as Aussie John Senden made a monstrous 70 foot birdie on coincidentally, the 70th hole (the 16th at Innisbrook), to take the lead by one and outlast Kevin Na and others.
You look at the other past champions on the “Copperhead Trophy” and, it’s impressive. Major winners Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen (twice), Vijay Singh, and Mark Calcavecchia have all gotten it done.
Then, you include former World #1 Luke Donald’s dramatic playoff win over three others, including Furyk, in 2012, and you begin to realize that this stop on the Tour will likely have names you know vying for it all come Sunday.
Back to the Singh victory, when this tournament was a fall event back in 2004, and that was the year that he won nine times on Tour, including the PGA Championship. Even more impressive to me, he shot 266, -18 for the four days to win by five with incredible rough to contend with that weekend.
I know this first hand, because I got to play in a Sponsors “Day after the Tour Event” scramble on the same Copperhead Course with the same flags that Monday. And, on at least three occasions, I completely lost my ball no more than 5-7 feet off the fairway in the 6-8 inches of thick Bermuda!
I remember thinking that entire morning, “How in the world did Vijay shoot -18 in THIS?!”
The answer? He’s a Tour Pro and has always hit it really, really, really, straight!
So, here we go with the latest edition of the PGA Tour in the Tampa Bay area, as the 2017 Valspar Championship cranks up. For the record, the last time that this event has had a winner by more than two shots is K. J. Choi in 2006. and seven of the last eight championships have been a playoff and/or one shot win.
That means we likely get A. Get some drama come Sunday and B. As listed above, look for notable names to contend, if not win it all.