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Tom Jacobs shares his picks and predictions for the first round leaders at the Valspar Championship.

Valspar Championship First Round Leader Picks & Predictions: Back Keegan Bradley to Start Fast Again

In an event where we are worrying who is and isn't going to tee up, or who can actually last the four days before the fatigue kicks in, it seems a great time to look toward the one-round market this week.

Brian Harman wasn't far away from making it back-to-back winners for this column last week, sitting two shy of Tommy Fleetwood and Tom Hoge's rounds of 66, so let's see if we can cash another one here, before leaving Florida.

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Valspar Championship First Round Leader Strategy

Over the past decade there have been two occasions the solo leader has come from the PM wave and five occasions the solo leader has come from the AM wave, otherwise it has been split. For the last four years all the first-round leaders have been from the AM wave and in 2016 two of the three co-leaders were from the AM wave as well, so I would be targeting the AM guys.

Here are the last ten first-round leaders at the Valspar Championship:

All tee times are local (EST)

2021 - Keegan Bradley (7:50 am) - 64

2019 - Joel Dahmen (7:51 am) & Sepp Straka (9:30 am) - 66

2018 - Corey Conners (8:40 am) - 67

2017 - Jim Herman (8:23 am) - 62

2016 - Charles Howell III (1:30 pm), Keegan Bradley (7:34 am) and Ken Duke (8:18 am) - 67

2015 - Brian Davis (12:40 pm) - 65

2014 - Danny Lee (14:20 pm) , Greg Chalmers (14:00 pm) , Matt Every (9:20 am), Pat Perez (12:30 pm) - 68

2013 - Shawn Stefani (14:10 pm) - 65

2012 - Padraig Harrington (8:27 am) - 61

2011 - Paul Casey (8:37 am) - 64

What Score Is Required To Lead After Round 1?

The average leading round one score over the past ten years is 64.9. An opening 64 would be the target for me. There's some wind in the forecast, which could see it get to 65/66 but the 64 would feel a safe target.

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The Favorites

Justin Thomas +2600 (Bet $100 to win $2600)

We know how fast Thomas starts, having led or co-led 11 times in his career, and being within two of the lead 33 times in total, but it will depend on fatigue this week.

If he can recover quickly from a grueling week at Sawgrass he has to be in the running in this market, and he at least gets a lie in, given his 13:03 tee time.

When finishing 10th on debut he shot an opening 67 to sit 4th after day one, so he's got previous of playing well here and on day one, but I will just pass up this part of the market.

Not only is Justin Thomas the favorite here, but he is also one of the favorites to keep an eye on when wagering on the first major of the season at Augusta

Viktor Hovland +2600 (Bet $100 to win $2600)

As I have said recently, Hovland prefers to grow into an event and that continues to be the case, as he started with rounds of 71-73 last week and closed 68-69 to finish inside the top-10.

Last week was affected a lot by weather, so I won't put too much stock into that but on his debut here last year, when finishing 3rd he just continued to get better in each round, and I suspect it will be the same this time around.

The late finish on Monday won't help either.

Collin Morikawa +2600 (Bet $100 to win $2600)

Collin is the freshest of the bunch here, having missed the weekend, but he still hasn't opened with a round of 67 or better to start his week this season, so I am in no rush to play him in this market.

Dustin Johnson +2900 (Bet $100 to win $2900)

Dustin could well start fast this week, as I feel out of any of the top few, he was the least affected mentally last week, especially as he closed with a course record tying 63 yesterday.

He finished 6th here in 2019 on only his third start here and he posted a third round 67 that week, but I will pass on him this time around.

Xander Schauffele +3100 (Bet $100 to win $3100)

Xander is making his course debut and is coming off the back of a missed cut, but that might play into his favour in terms of freshness.

He has been within two of the first-round lead 21 times already in his career, dating back to 2016, and most recently when opening with a 67 in Phoenix this year.

He's held one first round lead in his career, and that was at the 2019 Tour Championship, on a course he loves so while I respect his game, I will avoid him in this market, on a course that is new to him.

First Round Leader Picks

Keegan Bradley +5000 (Bet $100 to win $5000)

This formula is very easy, so I will keep this short.

In his last five visits here, Bradley has sat 1st, 6th, 5th, 6th and 1st after Round 1, so while he's missed cuts and finished down the leaderboard in that time, he's always started fast.

Bradley has been within two of the first-round lead 43 times in his career, and on 9 of those occasions has led or co-led going into round 2.

The worry is he will suffer from fatigue, as he was in contention right up until his 72nd hole at the PLAYERS, which didn't finish until Monday, but if he can find the energy, he's likely to start well here.

Keegan Bradley will tee off #10 tee at 8:57 am with J.T. Poston and Nate Lashley

Alex Noren +5500 (Bet $100 to win $5500)

Alex Noren continued his fine form last week at the PLAYERS, finishing 26th at the weather-affected event and now he returns to an event where he finished T21 last year on debut.

He shot two rounds of 68 here 12 months ago, and while you would think he needs to shoot three lower at least, to contend after day one, he's plenty capable of doing so.

He's ranked 7th and 8th in the past two starts in SG Approach and he's ranked 8th and 17th in SG Tee-to-Green overall in those starts as well.

46 times in his career, Alex Noren has sat within two of the first-round lead, with this year's Phoenix Open the most recent occasion.

He's led or co-led after Round 1, 10 times in his career, and three of those have come on the PGA Tour. They came at the Honda, the PLAYERS and at Torrey Pines, so that's twice he's led after day one in Florida, and his Torrey effort further suggests he likes these tough layouts, which is something Noren has been known for.

He's perhaps adapted more to low scoring conditions, since plying his trade full time on the PGA Tour, but he's playing well enough to succeed at both types of events.

Alex Noren will tee off #10 tee at 9:08 am with Adam Schenk and Matt Fitzpatrick.

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Patton Kizzire +9500 (Bet $100 to win $9500)

Patton Kizzire currently ranks 7th in Round 1 Scoring Average so far this season, and has been inside the top-12 at Thursday-end in each of his past three starts.

His course form doesn't jump off the page, but last year when 60th, he opened with a 66 to sit 2nd after day one, and closed with a 68, so given his current form, including his 22nd at the PLAYERS last week when on the wrong side of the draw, he looks a nice bet.

Kizzire ranks 10th in SG Approach and 18th in SG T2G in this field, since the start of 2022, so his ball-striking is generally on point and he's played well at correlating courses also.

He has already been within two of the opening-day lead twice this year, at the Sony and last week at the PLAYERS, and it was the Valspar and the Sony last year where he was within two of the lead as well, so it appears repeat performances are possible for Kizzire.

Kizzire has been within two of the first-round lead 17 times in his career, but only once has he held the lead going into Friday (2017 Mayakoba), so he's more than due one.

Patton Kizzire will tee off #10 tee at 8:46 am with Martin Trainer and Matt Kuchar

Danny Lee +16000 (Bet $100 to win $16000)

Danny Lee ranked 10th in Approach and 20th in Tee-to-Green at Bay Hill, despite finishing way down the leaderboard, and I think he can take that form to Copperhead this week, where he has some history.

Lee was one of the co-leaders here in 2014 when he opened with a 68, and a year later he posted a 67 on Sunday, both of which are strong scores on this golf course. He was inside the top-10 after round 1 a year later, before withdrawing, and 12 months ago he shot a Saturday 67, so he's got a good bank of form here.

38 times in his career Danny Lee has been within two of the first-round lead, and on 8 of those occasions he has led or co-led going into Friday, and there is enough evidence that he can go low enough on this golf course to do that again here.

He'd need to go lower than he has in the past here, to lead at Thursday-end, but his third-round 65 at Riviera two starts ago was a good sign, and he was two-back of the opening-round lead at Bermuda, before posting a final-round 64 at Mayakoba a week later. This shows he's playing well enough in spurts to spike at any time, and hopefully it is on Thursday.

Danny Lee will tee off #10 at 9:19 am with Aaron Wise and J.J Spaun

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Article Author


Tom Jacobs is the host of the Lost Fore Words golf podcast and has been writing betting articles on golf for the past decade. Tom also co-hosts the DP World Tour Picks & Bets show on the Mayo Media Network, so has his finger on the pulse on all the major Tours. A long-suffering Nottingham Forest fan, Tom also enjoys watching Soccer at the weekend, and was delighted to see his Forest team win promotion this season!


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