The Big Guava

After a thrilling week in Mexico City, the PGA Tour  moves on to Tampa, Florida, for the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead course. With the travel to and from Mexico City, the Valspar’s strength of field has taken a dive. Only four of the world’s top 15 players are in the field this week. The headliner this week is Henrik Stenson, who was forced to WD from last week’s event due to a stomach bug. Justin Thomas will look to win his fourth title of the 2016-17 season this week, while Patrick Reed and Gerry Watson look to spark their lackluster seasons. Field and tee times.

Hot Charl

A back-nine surge from South African star Charl Schwartzel forced a playoff with Bill Haas at last year’s Valspar. Schwartzel started the day five shots off the lead and dropped a pair of lengthy birdie putts down the stretch to post a Sunday-best 67. On the first playoff hole, Haas made bogey and gave Schwartzel his first PGA TOUR win since the 2011 Masters. While Schwartzel’s win made headlines, then-Georgia star Lee McCoy stole the show, posting a fourth-place finish as an amateur. McCoy grew up in the Innisbrook community and is back for this year’s championship, looking to earn some cash and momentum in his young professional career.

Credit:PGA Tour

The Snake Pit

In what has become a terrible tradition, the media has forced another corny moniker on the Florida Swing, dubbing Innisbrook’s three-hole closing stretch “The Snake Pit.” It will surely be a storyline that is shoved down our throats all weekend, taking away from the entire Larry Packard-designed course, which stands as one of the TOUR’s toughest stops. The Copperhead Course is much different than your typical Florida course. It has some elevation changes and features thick overseeded rye rough as opposed to the typical bermuda. Innisbrook typically produces a very balanced leaderboard and doesn’t favoring a specific type of player.

3 storylines to watch

Patrick Cantlay’s Comeback
The former phenom attempting to make his comeback from a devastating back injury and personal tragedy will make his second of 10 remaining starts on his medical extension. In his debut, Cantlay made the cut at Pebble Beach and he’ll look to chip away at the $606,849 he needs to earn back his card. Read about Cantlay’s return and stellar pre-injury career here.

The young and the statusless
The Valspar Championship always does a great job of extending sponsor’s invitations to some of the best young amateurs and pros without status on the PGA TOUR. This year, the invitations went to McCoy, last year’s Haskins Award winner Beau Hossler, current Virginia star Jimmy Stanger and former LSU standout Zach Wright. Those four are joined by Monday qualifier and former Illinois All-American Charlie Danielson. Don’t be surprised to see any of these names on the leaderboard as all possess a boatload of talent.

Finding form
With the Masters less than 30 days away it’s crunch time for some of the contenders to begin rounding into  form. Notably struggling are Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson, neither of whom have shown the form that got them into the top 15 in the world rankings. Reed started the year with back-to-back top-15 finishes but has registered just one top 25 since. Watson, the two-time Masters champ, has been dismal since switching to his colored Volvik golf balls, failing to sniff contention this season.

Paulie’s Picks

This week is a full-field event that lacks star power so success will lie in finding a couple of diamonds in the rough. Check out some players that Paulie likes for Draftkings and One and Done leagues, as well as a couple of his longshots here.

Valspar Coverage

Big Cat National

Just about two weeks ago, I got the opportunity to check out Tiger Woods’ first U.S. design, Bluejack National outside of Houston. I thought Woods and his team knocked it out of the park. Check out my detailed thoughts and photos of the course here.

The world tour continues

The European Tour heads to the Hero Indian Open this week. The event is headlined by Rafa Cabrera-Bello and a slew of Indian stars including Anirban Lahiri, Arjun Atwal and defending champion SSP Chawrasia. With many of the European Tour’s star players taking an extended stay  in the United States until after the Masters, it’s a golden opportunity for young players to earn valuable high finishes against weaker fields. Last week, young Irish star Paul Dunne did just that, notching a T6 finish.

Elite showdown

In Las Vegas, ten of the country’s top 25 golf teams are facing off at this year’s Southern Highlands Collegiate. Heading into today’s third and final round USC holds a six-shot lead over Stanford and Oklahoma State. On the individual side, California’s Colin Morikawa leads the way at 7-under with a one-shot lead over USC’s Justin Suh.  Morikawa is three shots clear of Stanford’s Maverick McNealy and Oklahoma State’s Kristoffer Ventura. Follow along live on Golfstat here.

A few of the other top teams in the country were out at the Palmetto Invitational this week, held at the illustrious Alister Mackenzie-designed Palmetto Golf Club. The 16th-ranked Clemson Tigers were able to sneak a one-shot victoryover third-ranked Virginia who was playing without their star player Jimmy Stanger. Virginia’s Derek Bard won the individual crown by three shots. Bard was the runner-up at the 2015 U.S. Amateur and competed in last year’s Masters.

Quick hooks

Alister Mackenzie-designed municipal course in San Francisco gets approval for restoration after a lengthy battle.

Fowler spends off week getting in a little bullpen work.

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Mexico Breakdown and long-awaited guest

Soly hosts Tron and Young Neil on the podcast to rehash the WGC Mexico Championship and then welcomes a long-awaited guest, PGA Tour rookie and long-hitting Cal alum Brandon Hagy. Listen on the NLU website or iTunes.

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