Preview: Valspar Championship

 

Spieth returns to the course where career took off

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) Being back at Innisbrook is enough to make Jordan Spieth wonder if his entire season boiled down to three holes.

One was a two-putt par. The other was a tough flop shot from 50 feet that he knocked in for birdie on the 17th hole. The last one - perhaps the most important - was a bunker shot to 7 feet and a par putt on the final hole for a 1-under 70 to tie for seventh.

That was worth $148,893.

That was enough money to give him special temporary membership on the PGA Tour, key for earning a full tour card. Before holing out that chip, Spieth was projected to be $195 short of temporary membership, and who knows what would have happened if he didn't nail it down that day at Innisbrook.

''The last three holes on Sunday here were three of the biggest holes I played all last year,'' the 20-year-old Spieth said Wednesday. ''I mean, none of the rest of it possibly would have happened if wasn't able to hole a flop shot on 17 and got up-and-down out of the front bunker on 18.''

The ''rest of it'' turned out to be far more memorable than his tie for seventh in what his now called the Valspar Championship.

A playoff win at the John Deere Classic (after holing a bunker shot on the 72nd hole). A 62 in the final round at TPC Boston while playing with Phil Mickelson to secure a spot in the Tour Championship. A captain's pick for the Presidents Cup, making him the youngest American ever in the matches. Seventh place in the FedEx Cup.

Spieth was reminded of the significance when he was flipping through channels Tuesday night and saw highlights of his finish from Innisbrook.

''I gave more fist pumps than I did at the Deere,'' he said about his par putt on the 18th hole. ''It was pretty cool to watch, and it was one of the biggest stretches that I've ever played.''

Spieth has different issues this year. He received plenty of sponsor exemptions before becoming an instant PGA Tour member with his win at the John Deere Classic in July, and he is eager to return the favor to tournaments who helped him out. That could lead to a busy year now that he's in all four majors - he'll make his debut in the Masters next month - and already has played three World Golf Championships this season.

He's among those drawn to the Valspar Championship because of the quality of the Copperhead course, regarded by some as the best tournament course in Florida. It doesn't feel like Florida with its subtle changes in elevation and tree-lined fairways.

''Very old school,'' Harris English said.

The tournament has some new life to it after going without a sponsor last year. Minneapolis-based Valspar took over as the title sponsor through 2017 and is trying to inject some life into a tournament that has to work harder than other events on the Florida swing.

The Honda Classic is helped by so many top players having moved to West Palm Beach, such as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood. Doral is now a World Golf Championship. Next week is Bay Hill, run by Arnold Palmer.

Innisbrook is missing some of the top-ranked players - Justin Rose at No. 7 is tops from the world ranking - it has plenty of quality through the ranks in English, Spieth, Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Louis Oosthuizen.

''It's been one of my favorite venues on tour for a while,'' Rose said.

Most of the players already have one eye on the Masters, which is a month away. This is the time of the year when players start sneaking up to Augusta National to see the course, knowing it won't play anything like it will on April 10 the first day of the tournament.

Furyk feels like Innisbrook is good preparation - not because of the conditions, but because of the thinking involved.

''Thinking your way around the golf course is still good preparation,'' he said. ''I'd say the one thing here, you do get a lot of greens that have quite a bit of pitch and slope to them, especially back-to-front, and so you have to hit some putts here that feed to the hole. ... That helps a little bit in getting ready for Augusta.''

Spieth already has been to Augusta twice - once last fall on a trip that can best be described as the ultimate doubleheader (Pine Valley one day, Augusta National the next) and then a few weeks ago. He also recalls going to a Monday practice round at the Masters after a college event while he was at Texas.

''Definitely the only practice round tournament I've ever been to watch,'' he said.

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Valspar Champ field
Blake AdamsRobert AllenbyStephen Ames
Stuart ApplebyWoody AustinEric Axley
Aaron BaddeleySang-Moon BaeBriny Baird
Ricky BarnesCharlie BeljanMark Blakefield
Jonas BlixtJason BohnSteven Bowditch
Scott BrownJonathan ByrdAngel Cabrera
Mark CalcavecchiaPaul CaseyRoberto Castro
Greg ChalmersKevin ChappellK.J. Choi
Stewart CinkTim ClarkDarren Clarke
Chad CollinsNicolas ColsaertsErik Compton
Ben CraneBen CurtisJohn Daly
Brian DavisGraham DeLaetLuke Donald
James DriscollJason DufnerKen Duke
Ernie ElsHarris EnglishDerek Ernst
Matt EveryMartin FloresJim Furyk
Tommy GaineyRobert GarrigusBrian Gay
Lucas GloverRetief GoosenJason Gore
Paul GoydosBranden GraceLuke Guthrie
Bill HaasChesson HadleyJames Hahn
Peter HansonBrian HarmanPadraig Harrington
David HearnMichael HebertJ.J. Henry
Tim HerronJustin HicksCharley Hoffman
Morgan HoffmannJ.B. HolmesMax Homa
Charles Howell IIIJohn HuhBilly Hurley III
Ryo IshikawaFredrik JacobsonJerry Kelly
Kevin KisnerRussell KnoxBrooks Koepka
Jason KokrakMatt KucharScott Langley
D.H. LeeDanny LeeRichard H. Lee
Marc LeishmanJustin LeonardSpencer Levin
David LingmerthDavis Love IIIDavid Lynn
Will MacKenzieJohn MallingerMatteo Manassero
Ben MartinWilliam McGirtGeorge McNeill
John MerrickBryce MolderKevin Na
Sean O'HairGeoff OgilvyThorbjorn Olesen
Louis OosthuizenJeff OvertonPat Perez
Rod PerryJohn PetersonCarl Pettersson
D.A. PointsTed Potter, Jr.Michael Putnam
Jim RennerWes RoachJohn Rollins
Andres RomeroJustin RoseRory Sabbatini
John SendenWebb SimpsonVijay Singh
Brandt SnedekerJordan SpiethScott Stallings
Kyle StanleyKevin StreelmanBrian Stuard
Daniel SummerhaysJosh TeaterMichael Thompson
Nicholas ThompsonBrendon ToddDavid Toms
Cameron TringalePeter UihleinBo Van Pelt
Camilo VillegasJohnson WagnerBoo Weekley
Mike WeirCharlie WiMark Wilson
Gary WoodlandY.E. YangBrendon de Jonge
Strength of field
World RankPlayersNo. in Field
TOP 10Jim Furyk (4),Justin Rose (6),Matt Kuchar (9)3
TOP 25Jordan Spieth (13)1
TOP 50Bill Haas (29),Jason Dufner (31),Luke Donald (32),Webb Simpson (33),Kevin Na (35),Brandt Snedeker (39),Graham DeLaet (40),Marc Leishman (45),Brendon Todd (46),Gary Woodland (47),Kevin Streelman (48),John Senden (50)12
TOP 100Ernie Els (51),Angel Cabrera (56),Jonas Blixt (57),Matt Every (58),Harris English (59),J.B. Holmes (61),Louis Oosthuizen (62),Paul Casey (63),Brooks Koepka (66),Brian Harman (68),Cameron Tringale (70),Charley Hoffman (72),Fredrik Jacobson (74),Geoff Ogilvy (75),Erik Compton (77),Tim Clark (78),George McNeill (79),K.J. Choi (81),Ryo Ishikawa (83),Ben Martin (86),Kevin Chappell (87),Chesson Hadley (88),Matteo Manassero (90),Brendon de Jonge (96),Charles Howell III (97),Morgan Hoffmann (98),Daniel Summerhays (99)27
Course: Innisbrook Resort - Copperhead, Par 71 | Yardage: 7166
HoleParYardageHoleParYardage
15560104445
24435115575
34455124380
43195133200
55605145590
64465153215
74420164475
83235173215
94430184445