2018 Valspar Championship picks: Tiger Woods, Speith, McIlroy headline strong field

I'm just now coming down from my Justin Thomas-induced high at the WGC-Mexico Championship last week, and we already have another elite tournament to get to. This week is the Valspar Championship in Tampa, Florida, which is the spring version of the Travelers Championship. It's a little bit of a buried event (between two WGCs and the Arnold Palmer Invitational), but it's played on a challenging, fun course and has a tremendous field.

Let's take a look at this week's contest.

Event information

What: Valspar Championship | Where: Palm Harbor, Florida | When: Mar. 8-11

Field and odds

  • Jordan Spieth: 17-2
  • Rory McIlroy: 14-1
  • Sergio Garcia: 16-1
  • Justin Rose: 18-1
  • Henrik Stenson: 20-1
  • Paul Casey: 25-1
  • Tiger Woods: 25-1

Field strength: B+

It's not quite as good as what we saw at the WGC-Mexico Championship, but for the week following a WGC event, it's pretty amazing. It's also stunning to see Spieth as that big of a favorite over McIlroy. Not that it's undeserved.

Three stories to watch

1. Fiesta time: Innisbrook is a ball-striker's dream, and that's reflected in the best career scoring averages (all elite ball-strikers). It's quite different from, say, the Club de Golf Chapultepec guys played last week. The course has been made tougher in recent years, which will likely only serve to separate the elite iron player this week from the rest of the field. With five par 3s on deck this week, I'm excited to watch yet another event that doesn't just find the best bomb-and-gouger in the field.

2. Tiger (and Rory): Neither have ever played here, but Woods did play a co-ed tournament with Kelli Kuehne back in the 1990s, and boy are those photos amazing.

On paper, the course should fit both golfers, especially with the way Woods is hitting it. However, McIlroy currently has a negative strokes gained on approach shots number (which is out of the ordinary for him). If he's going to get going before the Masters, this would be a great place to do it.

3. Bill Haas returns: Haas was a passenger in a car crash where the driver was killed just before the Genesis Open. He understandably withdrew from that tournament and hasn't played since then. "I was in a state of shock, disbelief. It was a tragic event, traumatic," Haas told the Associated Press this week. "I'm still unsure how to handle it." Haas is not necessarily a huge name on the PGA Tour, but what happened to him was a huge deal. It will be interesting to see how he responds and how the rest of this season goes for him.

Past winners

  • 2017: Adam Hadwin
  • 2016: Charl Schwartzel
  • 2015: Jordan Spieth
  • 2014: John Senden
  • 2013: Kevin Streelman

It's not exactly a murder's row, but this tournament also doesn't normally have this solid of a field. I'd be pretty surprised if somebody outside, say, the top 50 upended one of the big names for this trophy.

Valspar Championship picks

Justin Rose
Winner: This seems a little bit too obvious. He's been flying under the radar for months now and has a sterling record at this track (five top 20s in eight appearances). Innisbrook demands great ball-striking, and there's maybe nobody better in the world at that than Rose.  Odds: 18-1   
Sergio Garcia
Top 10: Garcia has played well here in the past and looked awesome last week in Mexico. See above for ball-striking notes and simply copy-paste to this section for Garcia. A Ryder Cup could be breaking out in Tampa!  Odds: 16-1   
Jason Dufner
Sleeper: No surprise, but Dufner always plays well here. He's finished in the top 25 in his last six outings at Innisbrook. Currently 83rd in strokes gained tee to green, which should improve as the year goes on (and hopefully this week). Odds: 60-1   
Tiger Woods
Tiger watch: We have a new normal when it comes to Woods. After he finished 12th at the Honda Classic, top 10s will be expected going forward. He's never played in this event, but it's a good spot for him that will demand good iron play and knowing where to miss. It's not a course that necessarily demands you to be super long off the tee, which could put 3-woods and irons back in Woods' hands (that's a good thing!) Odds: 25-1   
CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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