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Stat attack!: Valspar Championship preview

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PALM HARBOR, FL - MARCH 18: Luke Donald of England holds the trophy after winning the Transitions Championship at the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club on March 18, 2012 in Palm Harbor, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

For Luke Donald, the Valspar Championship can’t come at a better time. The former weorld No. 1 has dropped to 25th in the world ranking and is currently outside qualification for the European Ryder Cup team. Although he hasn’t missed any cuts since the PGA Championship, he has only one top-10 finish worldwide in 2014. This week the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, where he won in 2012, provides him a great opportunity to boost his rankings. Overall, eight Europeans in the top 50 in the world ranking are outside Ryder Cup qualification. With majors and other big events looming, it’s time to start the process of getting on the team. Like Donald, Justin Rose and Jonas Blixt are in the field this week.

Top 50 Europeans currently outside Ryder Cup qualification

 Player World rank Ryder Cup rank/Euro points Ryder Cup rank/World points
 Justin Rose 7 12 10
 Graeme
 McDowell
15 27 11
 Luke Donald 25 15 13
 Lee Westwood 36 34 32
 Miguel Angel
 Jimenez
40 13 16
 Gonzalo F'dez-
 Castano
42 7 12
 Jonas Blixt 49 40 41
 Francesco
 Molinari
50 11 17

The automatic qualifiers for the European team is made up of the top four players on the European Tour points list (currently Victor Dubuisson, Jamie Donaldson, Thomas Bjorn and Ian Poulter) and the next five top finishers in the world ranking points list (Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Stephen Gallacher and Joost Luiten). Of the players in this week’s field, Donald stands the best chance of gaining ground. He’s finished in the top-10 three times since he put Tampa back on his schedule, and in 2012 he made birdie on the first hole of a playoff to beat Robert Garrigus, Jim Furyk and Sang-moon Bae.

Luke Donald at the Valspar Championship

 Year Place Scores
 2013 T-4 70-72-67-69—278
 2012 Won 67-68-70-66—271
 2010 T-6 71-68-67-71—277
 2003 T-58 76-69-72-73—290
 2002 T-22 72-67-72-70—281

Donald has played only one round over par at the Copperhead Course since 2010. Of players with at least eight rounds, only Jim Furyk has a better percentage of rounds at par or better at Tampa in that span. It’s worth mentioning that the par-71 Copperhead course played to an average of 72.222 in 2013, although it played to a subpar scoring average in 2012 and 2011.

Percentage of rounds at par or better at Tampa since 2010 (minimum eight rounds)

 Player Rds. at par or better Total rounds Percentage
 Jim Furyk 15 16 .938%
 Luke Donald 11 12 .917
 Gary Woodland 9 10 .900
 Justin Leonard 14 16 .875
 Kevin Streelman 7 8 .875
 Bubba Watson 7 8 .875

Donald and Justin Rose are among three players in the field who have never missed the cut in five or more starts at Tampa. Ten players this week have made five or more starts at Tampa and have missed no more than one cut with at least one top-five finish.

Top performers at the Valspar Championship

 Player Starts Cuts made Best finish
 Jonathan Byrd 10 10 T-4, 2006
 Luke Donald 5 5 Won, 2012
 Ken Duke 6 5 T-5, 2012
 Jim Furyk 6 5 Won 2010
 Justin Leonard 9 8 T-4, 2013
 Justin Rose 7 7 T-5, 2011
 Webb Simpson 5 4 2, 2011
 Vijay Singh 8 7 Won 2004
 Brandt Snedeker 6 5 4, 2011
 Charlie Wi 7 6 T-4, 2009

When Kevin Streelman won the Honda Classic in 2013, he was third in strokes gained-putting, and T-11 in fairways hit and greens in regulation. He was seven strokes back of leader Shawn Stefani after two rounds and shot 65-67 on the weekend to win by two. He was T-31 after two rounds. That’s the third-best comeback after two rounds for a PGA Tour winner since 2012.

Best 36-hole comebacks on the PGA Tour 2012-2014

 Player Tournament Place after two rounds
 Bubba Watson 2014 Northern Trust T-40
 Ken Duke 2013 Travelers T-32
 Kevin Streelman 2013 Tampa Bay T-31
 Tommy Gainey 2012 McGladrey T-30
 Webb Simpson 2012 U.S. Open T-29
 Jimmy Walker 2013-14 Frys.com  T-28

The third-round 65 was out of the ordinary for Streelman, who is T-152 on Tour in third-round scoring in 2014 and was T-72 a year ago. He was in the 60s in the third round six times in 2013 after making 18 cuts. In addition, his weekend total of 132 at Tampa matched the best mark in tournament history.

Fewest strokes, last 36 holes at Tampa

 Score Player Year Finish
 132 Kevin Streelman 2013 Won
 132 Robert Garrigus 2012 T-2
 132 Nick Watney 2010 4
 132 Mark Calcavecchia 2007 Won
 132 Vijay Singh 2004 Won
 132 John Huston 2000 Won

The last six winners of the Valspar Championship have finished in the top 10 in strokes gained-putting for the week. Of that group, only Donald in 2011 would finish in the top 25 in strokes gained for that season. The improvement on the greens during Tampa week, especially for 2008 winner Sean O’Hair and 2011 winner Gary Woodland, is notable. 

Strokes gained putting for Tampa winner 2008-2013

 Year Player Strokes gained Tampa (rank) Strokes gained season (rank)
 2013 Kevin Streelman +1.819 (3) +.251 (51)
 2012 Luke Donald +2.598 (1) +.797 (3)
 2011 Gary Woodland +2.011 (3) -.170 (142)
 2010 Jim Furyk +1.736 (2) +.404 (26)
 2009 Retief Goosen +1.410 (5) +.461 (26)
 2008 Sean O’Hair +1.465 (6) -.221 (148)

One final thought: Three players in the field this week finished in the top 25 in strokes gained-putting at Tampa in each of the last two years, but have been outside the top 25 in that stat on Tour since 2012. They are K.J Choi, Stewart Cink and Jerry Kelly. Choi is one of two players who has won this event twice, and Cink was T-2 in 2008 and T-3 in 2005. Kelly’s best finish at Tampa was a T-13 in 2010.

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