The leading seven contenders at the Valspar Championship

The PGA Tour returns to the Innisbrook Resort for the first time in two years and the favourites have plenty of form questions to answer.

The Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort, long-time host of the Valspar Championship, is in many ways a typical Florida track.

It's based at a hotel, it's vulnerable to blustery wind, and it has greens that are predominantly Bermuda grass.

It's also atypical in that it features rather more fairways undulations than is normal for Florida courses.

"A very positional course," Rory McIlroy once said of it. "You need a conservative game plan."

Will that suit this year's leading contenders? Let's take a closer look.

Justin Thomas

His form remains a little tricky to get a grip on.

On the one hand he recently won THE PLAYERS, a second win in his last 20 starts and 12 of those have been top 15 finishes. But in 10 of those appearances he entered the final round in the top six so he's getting in-contention without regularly finding the killer instinct.

It was a similar story last time out, when entering the weekend at Augusta National tied sixth before carving 75-73 to end the week T21st.

Even his course form shows the same trait: contending in his first two starts before finishing T10th and T18th (his third and last start in 2017 ended early).

Potential key stat? The last five winners here all ranked top six for SG Tee to Green. Thomas led the tour for that category in 2020, is fourth this term, and was first when winning at TPC Sawgrass last month.

Best price 9/1 with Bet365.

Dustin Johnson

An even greater enigma than Thomas.

The World No. 1 has gone from winning four times in 10 starts, with nothing worse than T11th, to three failures to break the top 40 added to an inability to escape his group in the WGC Dell Match Play.

There was improvement last time out at Harbour Town, however: T13th was his best finish at the course and he recorded his best putting stats since the start of the year.

Back in 2008 and 2010 his missed the cut at Innisbrook, but was sixth when he next returned in 2019 having been just one back after 54 holes.

Potential key stat? All the putting categories - Johnson performance at Harbour Town was his best of 2021 in all of them.

Best price 11/1 with Bet365.

Patrick Reed

Playing well, but it could have been so much better.

He won the Farmers Insurance Open in January and was deadly doing do, turning a share of the 54 hole lead into a five shot win, but that's the exception in his last 15 starts because, although he was top six at some stage early in nine of those tournaments, there's still just that one win.

Reed with the trophy at Torrey Pines earlier this year.
Reed with the trophy at Torrey Pines earlier this year.

His first and last course appearances included rounds of 77 and missed cuts, but don't be hasty. He's also twice finished second (losing a playoff in 2015) and was seventh in 2016.

Potential key stat? The last five winners averaged less than 1.70 for Putting Average - and so has Reed in his last two visits.

Best price 20/1 with Bet365.

Viktor Hovland

Two weeks away from the tour might have done the Norwegian a lot of good.

From his second professional win at El Camaleon last December he was one fire: it was the first of half a dozen top six finishes in seven starts, a run that included a brilliant second at the WGC Workday Championship and seemed set to continue when he lay third at halfway in the Palmer Invitational.

Then he hit the wall, shooting 77-78 at the weekend, missing the cut at THE PLAYERS and struggling at the WGC Dell Match Play.

A solid, never really in-contention, T21st at the Masters was decent in the circumstances, but you sense he needed rest. A return to early season form would be no surprise.

Potential key stat? He led the Putting Averages in his last start (1.52 at Augusta National).

Best price 22/1 with Bet365.

Corey Conners

The only thing Conners hasn't done in recent weeks is win.

He closed 2020 in fine form, landing six top 25s in his last seven starts, but he's moved through the gears since New Year. In eight strokeplay appearances he's recorded another six top 25s, but they've been an improvement on those that went before: no less than four of them, including his last two outings, top eight finishes.

He has mixed memories of his only visit to Innisbrook. He opened 67-69-68 to hold a narrow lead at the end of the first three rounds, but then stumbled backwards to T16th with a Sunday 77.

A year later he finally became a winner and he's now a much better player. Looks to have a great shot at lasting the distance.

Potential key stat? Find the small Innisbrook greens matters. Conners has ranked third for Greens in Regulation in his last two starts.

Best price 20/1 with Bet365.

Paul Casey

The Englishman has a bizarre course record.

In his first two starts, in 2008 and 2011, he got into contention at halfway but fell out the top 30 both times at the weekend. Two missed cuts followed and then? Back-to-back wins, the first with an imperious final lap of 65, the second when seeing off Dustin Johnson's challenge.

He's a European Tour winner this year and opened the PGA Tour with four straight top 10s, but has now gone three starts without a top 20.

Sure to revel in the excitement of the week, but a threepeat is some task.

Potential key stat? Three-peats are rare!

Best price 22/1 with Bet365.

Louis Oosthuizen

The undulating fairways of Innisbrook seem a neat fit for the South African.

That said, he's a boom or bust merchant there: three missed cuts mixed with four top 20s. The last three starts have been his best, too. He was tied seventh in 2016, T16th in 2017 and second in 2019.

He peskily remains yet to win in America and might have thought he was ready to rid himself of that monkey (or Monty?) on his back last week in the Zurich Classic alongside Charl Schwartzel - alas he hoicked their tee shot into the water at the first playoff hole.

Potential key stat: Scoring on the par-5s is important at Innisbrook - Oosthuizen has twice been 10-under for the long holes in 2021.

Best price 33/1 with Unibet.

Tyrrell Hatton

Only one start at the event for the Englishman and it was a hard one to read.

He opened with a 69 to lie T11th at the end of the round. Nice start.

Then he lurched home in 81 blows on Friday. Missed cut. Not even close.

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His last individual start was no less enigmatic: he carded 73 in rounds one and three at The Heritage, adding 66s in the second and final lap.

"Expect anything" might be the conclusion.

Definite key stat: Hatton had to withdraw.

Best price 28/1 with Bet365.

READ MORE: Valspar Championship: Casey has eyes on unique threepeat

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