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Back on the Case

Dave Tindall
A look at the odds/pricing of the leading finishers at the Valspar Championship and an early peek at next week's events on the PGA and European Tours.

Recap of the day

Morning session: Last year’s winner Paul Casey had made a low-key start to his defense with a 70 in round one but cashed in on his early tee-time to jump 28 spots and into a tie for the lead on 6-under after a 5-under 66. It would prove the low round of the day. He was joined in T1 by Austin Cook (67) while Scott Stallings (68) and Sungjae Im (67) pulled to within one. Lurking a further shot back? World No. 1 Dustin Johnson after a second straight 69.

Afternoon session: As in round one, the wind, drying conditions and firmer greens made it a difficult test for the p.m. wave. Not surprisingly, no-one could advance the lead although renaissance man Luke Donald did briefly take top spot on his own at -7 before falling back into tied third on 5-under after a 70. Jason Kokrak threatened to reel in Casey and Cook after hitting -4 with seven to play but got bitten in the Snake Pit (Innisbrook’s tough closing three-hole stretch) with bogeys at 16 and 17 to fall back to -2.

R2 leaderboard: -6 Paul Casey, Austin Cook, -5 Scott Stallings, Sungjae Im, Luke Donald, -4 Dustin Johnson, Joel Dahmen, Curtis Luck, -3 Roberto Castro, Lucas Glover, Shawn Stefani, Kramer Hickok, Rory Sabbatini, Jon Rahm.

Selected others: -2 Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Evs Louis Oosthuizen, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Kevin Kisner, +1 Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia.

Cut: 70 players made it through on +1 or better, so the weekend field is covered by just seven shots.

Missed cut: +2 Adam Hadwin, Ryan Moore, +3 Gary Woodland, Charl Schwartzel, Jason Day, Keegan Bradley, +6 Webb Simpson, +8 Tyrrell Hatton, +10 Patrick Reed.

Revised betting: 7/2 DJ, 4/1 Casey, 9/1 Rahm, 11/1 Im, 14/1 Cook, 18/1 Stallings, 20/1 Glover, Donald.


Saturday weather forecast

Mostly sunny, temperatures rising into the high 70s and reasonable winds of around 6-8mph. Don’t blame the weather for the high scores, Innisbrook is just tough regardless of the elements.


Leaders after 18 holes

Paul Casey (66, 136) – Did his scoring on the par 5s (birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle) and dropped just a single shot elsewhere. Ranks 1st for Tee-To-Green so far this week, gaining over 5.4 strokes in that category today.  Only 68th in SG: Putting.

Austin Cook (67, 136) – Positive numbers in all the main SG categories is always an ideal recipe and Cook’s balanced attack took him up 10 spots to tied first. Five birdies in his first 11 holes with just one bogey at 12. Quite a turnaround having gone 0-for-5 since the year turned to 19.

Scott Stallings (68, 137) – Third on his debut here in 2011 but five MCs, T68 and T31 in seven subsequent visits, Stallings is shining at Innisbrook again after two rounds in the 60s. Today’s 68 had six birdies against three bogeys while he pelted an impressive 14 GIRs. 4-for-4 in Sand Saves this week.

Sungjae Im (67, 137) – Third at Bay Hill just two starts ago, last year’s Web.com Tour Player of the Year ranks 5th in SG: Tee-To-Green so far. Hit 13 GIR today, getting up and down four times out of five.

Luke Donald (70, 137) – Donald birdied all the par 5s today and briefly led on his own before bogeys at two of his final four holes. Has only hit half the greens this week but the old short-game magic (1st in SG: Around-The-Green) is fuelling his unexpected challenge.


Fate of the favorites

Dustin Johnson (69, 138) – DJ had slipped back to even par after a double at 13 and a dropped shot at 16 but outpaced a lone bogey with five birdies coming home to pull to within two. Hit only 11 greens in regulation again and is 90th for SG: Approach this week although this was his 13th straight round in the 60s.

Jon Rahm (68, 139) – Ranks third for birdies (five on each lap) but got more from them today by cutting the bogey count to just two. Gained over 4 shots Tee-To-Green and could be the man to watch on Moving Day.

Jason Day (71, 145) – Opened with 74 and slumped to 6-over for the week after a par-bogey-double bogey start. Battled back to 3-over but not enough to make the final 36 holes. Nothing good in his stats and he remains an enigma but next week’s Match Play offers potential for another Day bounceback given his record in that format.

Sergio Garcia (72, 143) – Missed a 3ft 11in par putt at 18 to shoot over par for the day after just one birdie and one bogey in his first 17 holes. Only three birdies over his first 36 holes and yet only seven back and still capable of a good finish. Flatstick will need to heat up though (109th in SG: Putting).



Paul Casey (66): “It's a great golf course. I think it's one of the best we play on tour. Might be the best one we play on the Florida swing. You know I like it because I'm defending champion. Champions always like the golf courses they win on. But it's really quality. It's very tough as well. There's a premium on ball striking. Scoring's never that low around here. I played today quite aggressively and tried to take advantage of the golf course that I knew was going to get very, very tough this afternoon.”

Austin Cook (67): “We have struggled the last few weeks with ball striking and just kind of putting everything together. The last week ball striking was a lot better, but I think in two rounds I had 65 putts, and so we put in a new putter this week in the bag and it just kind of cleared the mind on the greens and was able to really put good strokes on it now. It's something as simple as just changing a putter can make a big difference sometimes. Just steady ball striking and then putts actually falling now.”

Dustin Johnson (69): “I played well today. A couple mistakes, but other than that this golf course, it's tough and if you get out of position, it's hard to make pars. The greens are firm and fast and the rough, it's not like real deep but it's deep enough to where it affects you. Anything under par around here is a good score and I'm happy with the position I'm in. I feel like the golf game's in good form and I'm doing a lot of things very well, just got to eliminate the mistakes over the weekend.”


Road to victory at Innisbrook

2018 Paul Casey – R1: 8th, R2: 2nd, R3: 11th
2017 Adam Hadwin – R1: 12th, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2016 Charl Schwartzel – R1: 25th, R2: 15th, R3: 8th
2015 Jordan Spieth – R1: 38th, R2: 2nd, R3: 2nd
2014 John Senden – R1: 45th, R2: 35th, R3: 3rd

Notes: Three of the last four winners had made their move by this stage and were sat in the top two after 36 holes. The trend plays out when delving further back with 12 of the 18 champions in the top five at the midpoint. There are some exceptions though. John Senden (2014), Kevin Streelman (2013) and Mark Calcavecchia (2007) were all outside the top 30 thru two rounds and were eight, seven and six shots back of the lead respectively


Fate of the 18-hole leaders at Innisbrook – where did they finish?

2018 Corey Conners – 16th
2017 Adam Hadwin – 1st
2016 Steve Stricker – 7th, Will MacKenzie – 37th
2015 Brendon de Jonge – 33rd
2014 Robert Garrigus – 4th

Notes: Hadwin converted a halfway lead in 2017 but was the first to do so since K.J. Choi in 2006. Choi actually did it twice, the other in his wire-to-wire victory in 2002. We’ve seen a few weekend slumps but, overall, only seven of the 22 to have held the 36-hole lead finished outside the top ten.


Focus on – Paul Casey

Continuing the theme of looking ahead to The Masters which we did in Thursday’s Roundup, Casey is definitely a huge fan of Augusta National. In fact, he’s had more top tens there (five) than the other three majors combined. The exact numbers are eight top 20s with four of those doubling as top sixes. Last four years: 6-4-6-15. The Englishman touched on why he does well there when discussing Innisbrook in today’s post-round press conference. “I like slopey greens, these are very, very difficult greens, but that's the way I kind of like them,” said Casey. “It's why I play well at places like Augusta as well.” Can he get his hands on the green jacket? If so, Casey has some history to overcome as it’s 21 years since a 40-something won The Masters. Mark O’Meara was the last to do it in 1998, aged 41 (Casey’s age now).


Focus on – Bubba Watson

Bubba is always in gamers’ thoughts for The Masters and it might have been forgotten by some that he also cracked the top five at Augusta National last year. That was his first top five in any major since the second of his Masters wins in 2014. Looking at his form ahead of his two green jackets, he went into the 2012 event on the back of a second place at Doral and a top four at Bay Hill in his previous two starts while he’d also chalked up a win and two seconds in the build-up to his 2014 triumph. Ahead of the T5 last year, Bubba was already a dual winner in 2018 (Genesis Open and Match Play). So far in 2019, a T4 in Phoenix is his only top ten so, on past evidence, the left-hander would need something stronger on his season record before being considered a Masters contender. Right now, he’s tied 15th after rounds of 69 and 71. Should Bubba end the week in the top two or three, his Masters appeal would have to rise significantly.