After four designated events in five weeks, the PGA Tour heads across the Florida peninsula to Palm Harbour, just north of Tampa for the Vaslpar Championship at Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course.
Despite the absence of Irish interest, the field assembled is remarkably strong given the heavy recent schedule, with Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth headlining along with reigning US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and defending champion Sam Burns.
Burns, now a four-time PGA Tour winner, will be hoping to make it back-to-back-to-back victories at Copperhead having captured his maiden Tour title here in 2021 and then successfully defending last year. Missed cuts at Riviera and Bay Hill suggest that Burns isn’t firing on all cylinders coming into this year’s tournament but he’d missed three cuts in his last five starts prior to last year’s triumph so he’ll like his chances at a course that clearly fits his eye.
Other notable names include Tommy Fleetwood, Pebble Beach Pro-Am winner Justin Rose, DP World Tour Race to Dubai leader Victor Perez, 2017 Valspar champion Adam Hadwin and major champions Keegan Bradley and Gary Woodland.
A tight, tree-lined course, Copperhead demands accuracy off the tee, with a fair share of elevation changes and doglegs featuring in the 7,300-yard par-71 layout.
Spieth and Woodland are past champions, with the former taking the honours in 2015 just weeks prior to bagging his first major title at Augusta National. A walk-off 30-footer for birdie on the third playoff hole saw the phenom overcome Patrick Reed and Sean O’Hair, and coming off strong finishes at Bay Hill and Sawgrass, could be primed for another strong challenge at a course that requires a strong tee-to-green performance.
Thomas has yet to get across the line in five starts at Copperhead, with last year’s third place finish his best showing, and though he’s struggled on the greens in recent weeks, he starts as tournament favourite.
Copperhead’s finishing three holes are known as ‘The Snake Pit’ and the par four, three, four combination is among the most difficult closing stretches on the regular PGA Tour rotation.
Burns, Spieth and Woodland will be the marquee group for PGA Tour Live’s early coverage on Thursday, and they’re due to tee off at 08:18 (12:18 PM Irish time), with Justin Thomas also featured in the group following alongside Joel Dahmen and JT Poston.
English trio of Rose, Fleetwood and Fitzpatrick will be the marquee group for Friday’s early coverage, followed by Zach Johnson, Kevin Kisner and Brian Harman, with the Rose grouping slated for a 13:08 tee time on Thursday before trading times with the Spieth grouping on Friday.