No Harman betting on Brian to capture Valspar success

Scottie Scheffler form pointing to Augusta gloom for rivals and the bookies

Brian Harman produced a superb display to put himself right in contention (Marta Lavandier/AP)
Open champion Brian Harman could be the man to beat at the Valspar Championship after sharing second place behind Scottie Scheffler in The Players Championship at Sawgrass on Sunday night (Marta Lavandier/AP)

THREE weeks out from the start of the Major season at Augusta, and already there seems an air of inevitability about whose shoulders the Green Jacket will be resting on come April 14.

Scottie Scheffler continued his transformation into peak Tiger Woods at The Players Championship on Sunday night, benefiting from what one of my friends called a “patient ride” to become the first man in 50 years to retain that coveted title at Sawgrass.

The world number one started the final day five off the pace, having played for two days with a neck injury, but made relentless progress and his hovering presence on the leaderboard can only have had a negative impact on Xander Schauffele and Wyndham Clark, proven players who made silly mistakes late on.

Scheffler, as is his way, made no errors at all, a flawless 64 on Sunday proving enough to see off Schauffele, Clark and Brian Harman, all of whom finished a shot adrift.

That Scheffler only had to finish in the middle of the pack in terms of the putting stats to get the win is daunting, as is the fact he already has a facile Masters success to his name from 2022.

His form at present is very similar to what it was two years ago, and the bookies are taking no chances this time around with no bigger than 5/1 available about him taking Augusta to its knees for a second time.

Now that Sawgrass is out of the way, the trip to Georgia will be front and centre in the minds of all of the world’s top players, who are working out the best way to get there in peak condition.

Scheffler is scheduled to play in the Houston Open next week, while Rory McIlroy is due to tee it up at the Valero Texas Open the week prior to Augusta as he searches for the right formula to finally win at Augusta and secure the career Grand Slam.

Defending champion Jon Rahm and his LIV colleagues will also be in action in Miami a week out from the big one, and the big Spaniard will be busting a gut to prove his move from the PGA Tour has not been detrimental to his Major ambitions.

Another LIV star, Paul Casey, makes his DP World Tour comeback in the Singapore Classic this week, where he slips in as second-favourite behind Shane Lowry, who has made the long journey to Asia on the back of another fine week at Sawgrass, where he finished strong to share 19th place.

Those teeing it up in the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship from Thursday will be thankful Scheffler hasn’t made the short trip to the Tampa area for what used to be the weakest of the four Florida Swing events, but has been growing in stature in recent seasons.

Schauffele heads the betting on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort at 8/1, and he will require every bit of his famed level-headedness to set aside his missed opportunity for the biggest title of his career at Sawgrass.

This test is very different from any of the others encountered in Florida over the last few weeks, but it’s not easy by any means.

Taylor Moore won last year at 10-under around an old school, tree-lined Copperhead layout, where strategy and precision are the orders of the day.

Two-time winner Sam Burns, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas are also prominent in the betting, with the latter pair seeking to shake off missed cuts at Sawgrass when well fancied.

All of the aforementioned have claims here, but my preference amongst the top rank of players would be Brian Harman, who can be backed at 20/1 with Betway.

The Open champion ran Scheffler very close on Sunday, but he has the attitude to take the positives from his near miss, while the fact he was well off the pace at halfway before flying through the field will also be a help.

Harman has a strange record in the Valspar, missing a host of cuts but also finishing fifth in 2022, and he is very close to the peak of his powers as a Major champion.

Copperhead should actually suit him better than the results suggest, and the fact he led the Sawgrass field for approach play augurs well for a course with five par-threes, while there is a stack of crossover form with the John Deere Classic, which Harman won 10 years ago for his maiden PGA Tour title.

He might just add another to his CV come Sunday night, and the 20/1 makes plenty of appeal.

Austria’s Sepp Straka won his second PGA Tour title in the John Deere Classic (Charlie Neibergall/AP)
Sepp Straka won his second PGA Tour title in the John Deere Classic last summer and could follow up on a similar course in Tampa at the Valspar Championship

That John Deere angle makes Sepp Straka of real interest at 50/1 generally as he captured his second PGA Tour win there last summer – his first came at the Honda Classic in Florida – just before finishing second to Harman at The Open.

The Austrian has been quiet since a runner-up effort behind Scheffler at the Hero World Challenge before Christmas, but was more like his old self at Sawgrass, finishing 16th and playing solidly from tee-to-green but holing next to nothing.

Straka is hugely accurate at his best and can get in the mix in an event he has only played once before but should really take a shine to.

He has a far higher ceiling than many of those above him in the betting, and that is also the case for Victor Perez, who is finding his feet as a PGA Tour member and can go better than the 80/1 on offer suggests.

The Frenchman was third last time out at the Puerto Rico Open but failed to get into the field for Sawgrass and will be itching to get back into action here.

Second only to Scheffler in the greens-in-regulation stats this term, Perez should give himself plenty of chances this week.

While his putting has been poor enough recently, small greens here will help while a closing 65 in Puerto Rico gives momentum and Perez has loads of form on old-fashioned tree-lined courses in Europe, notably a second at Wentworth.

Finally, 2017 winner Adam Hadwin is worth backing to have one of his good weeks at a venue where the same names keep coming to the fore.

It is generally boom or bust for the Canadian, who missed the cut at Sawgrass but was fourth in the Genesis Invitational two starts prior to that.

As well as recording his only PGA Tour win in the 2017 Valspar, he’s also been seventh here in 2022 and 12th in 2018, so he likes the course and could go well at 45/1 in a field that, thankfully for everyone else, is missing Scheffler.


Brian Harman, e/w, 20/1 (Betway);

Sepp Straka, e/w, 50/1 (General);

Adam Hadwin, e/w, 45/1 (William Hill)

Victor Perez, e/w, 80/1 (Ladbrokes); top 20 finish, 4/1 (Unibet)