5 Things: English ready; Snedeker searches; more
PALM HARBOR, Fla. The PGA Tour’s month-long Florida Swing enters Turn 3 with the Valspar Championship beginning Thursday at Innisbrook Resort, just outside Tampa. With the stout Florida lineup – a rising comet in the Honda Classic, a WGC (Trump Doral) and a date at Arnold Palmer’s place next week, the Valspar is easy to overlook, but Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course is an excellent tournament test. Its roster of past champions (which includes K.J. Choi, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk) is ample proof it’s a great spot for top ballstrikers. This week’s field also includes two reigning major champions (Justin Rose and Jason Dufner).
Here are 5 Things to know from the Tampa Bay area:
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1. ENGLISH RIGHT AT HOME: Harris English, 24, already a two-time winner on Tour and No. 5 in the FedEx Cup standings, is no stranger to the Copperhead. A little more than two years ago, fresh off his college campus in Athens, Ga., English blistered the Copperhead with a bogey-free 65 in the final round to capture the Southern Amateur, his first “major” amateur title. It was a key victory in propelling English onto the Walker Cup squad, and from there, he’s been on a tear as a pro.
“ I was staying with one of my buddies from high school, and we had a great week,” English said of 2011. English also finished seventh at last year’s Tampa Bay Championship at Innisbrook.
“I've had some good memories from this golf course,” he said. “It's treated me well.”
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2. JUMP START: One top player looking to get something going this week is Brandt Snedeker, who has had a frustrating start to his 2013-14 wraparound season. In eight starts, Snedeker, the 2012 FedEx Cup champion, has yet to finish inside the top 10, and has but one top 25 finish in a stroke-play event, that being a tie for 11th at the 30-man Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua.
“I’m showing some signs of life,” he said with a smile after wrapping up a session on the practice green Wednesday. “I’ve just been so impatient on the golf course, and I need to work on that. I’m forcing the issue out there way too much.”
One part of his game that is usually a strength – his putting – has been holding him back. From 2009-13, Snedeker finished lower than fourth in strokes gained putting only once – that being when he was 10th in 2011. This season, he ranks 88th, and he says not getting the ball into the hole has put undue pressure on the rest of his game. He hasn’t shot in the 60s since a second-round 64 in Phoenix.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “You never like struggling on the greens.”
Though he failed to break par in any round last week at Doral, Snedeker said he did see some positive signs with the putter – the Odyssey White Hot XG mallet that has been his faithful companion for eight seasons – and that’s a start. Plus, the windup of the Florida Swing and the leadup to Augusta marks one of his favorite slices of the season, so he’s pretty enthused about the weeks ahead. He’ll play this week in Tampa and next week at Bay Hill, then take two weeks off before heading to Augusta.
“One week at home in Nashville, and one week at Sea Island,” he said. “I seem to play better at Augusta with two weeks off going in. They get the greens rolling nice and fast at Sea Island, and it seems to get me into the right frame of mind.”
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3. HE'LL BE BACK: This week marks Max Homa’s seventh PGA Tour start (six, including this week, coming via sponsor invites), which is pretty good for a young kid out of college with a Web.com Tour card. He’s enjoyed the experience, seen his comfort level grow each week and feels the lessons he is learning will prove valuable both on the Web.com Tour later this year and back on the PGA tour in years to come.
“I played in the U.S. Open (at Merion) and the Web.com event in Pittsburgh last year, and I don’t want to say I was nervous, but I felt a little bit out of place,” said Homa, who was playing at Cal this time last year. “I wasn’t used to seeing grandstands and all the people. I think I’m getting used to all the logistics. Once you tee it up, it’s no different than playing in a college event. But the logistics . . . the registering, finding your way around, all that, it’s different.
“It’s definitely tough being a rookie out here. I remember Cameron Tringale said that to me. First year out is pretty tough. I’ve never seen any of these courses.”
His biggest highlight? An opening tie for ninth at the Frys.com Open in October, not far from where he went to school, which put $135,000 into his bank acount. Since, he’s made cuts in two of five starts. Next up? Homa heads to the Web.com Tour for starts in Panama and Louisiana.
“It’s all been a fun ride,” he said of his PGA Tour time. “It’s going to be a bummer to go back down (to the Web.com), but it makes me motivated to get back out here next year.”
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4. HE'S SEARCHING: Paul Goydos will be 50 this summer, eligible to join the Champions Tour, but he’d rather compete against the kids on the PGA Tour. To do that, however, he’ll have to get to work. Playing on a medical extension, Goydos has 10 starts (including this week) to earn $567,525 and keep his card, basically, for the latter half of the year.
After returning from surgery that removed two bone spurs on the top of his left hand and playing only two events the previous season, Goydos has gone at it pretty hard in 2013-14, and has a busy stretch ahead (likely playing 13 of 15 weeks). The only problem? He hasn’t been playing very well, having missed the cut in five consecutive starts.
“I’ve heard all the ‘You’ve had all this time off, you need to get back into it’ . . . Well, one, I don’t think they’ll let me play the ‘up’ tees because I’ve been hurt; and two, I started playing the Hogan Tour in ‘91. It’s been 23 or 24 years. I would think I’d be able to show up and compete.
“So instead of saying I’m rusty, I’d say I’ve been lousy. I need to get better. Rust is a nice excuse, but the reality is I’ve been lousy. It would be patently unfair to the people who maybe are rusty to put me in that category.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Justin Rose, at No. 6, is the top-ranked player in this week’s field. “It’s been one of my favorite venues on Tour for a while,” Rose said. . . . The Copperhead’s finishing stretch of 16-17-18 ranked fifth on the PGA Tour among non-major venues from 2007-13, playing to an average of .612 strokes over par. The only tougher venue among the Florida tracks was PGA National’s Champion course (.707 strokes over par). . . . Three-time major winner Nick Price was at Innisbrook on Wednesday, visiting with corporate sponsors and with a few players on the putting green. Though his over-50 compatriots Vijay Singh and Mark Calcavecchia were nearby on the range hitting balls and getting ready for the tournament, Price was there only as a tournament ambassador, helping out pal Hollis Cavner, the tournament’s executive director. “I wish I could play like Calc,” Price said, smiling. “My game is OK, but it’s not ready for this.” Price said he still is hoping he gets the call to return as International team captain for the 2015 Presidents Cup, which will be played in South Korea.