PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) — And now, back to the Florida swing.
Or what’s left of it.
A pair of World Golf Championships that have gone through new sponsorships, new dates and new venues have caused a major detour in the road to the Masters. Instead of the PGA Tour gradually making its way north to Augusta National, it spends one week in Florida, one in Mexico, two more in Florida and two in Texas.
The Valspar Championship starts Thursday at Innisbrook Resort, which has a golf course that doesn’t even resemble Florida.
For starters, it has elevation.
It has tree-lined fairways. And only seven holes have water hazards.
It does, however, have gators in some of the ponds.
Charl Schwartzel is the defending champion, and his week got off to a dubious start. On the first hole of his pro-am, an amateur hit a shot that caromed off a tree and struck the South African in the wrist — but only because he lowered his arms below his waist to prevent the golf ball from hitting something else.
Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger didn’t even play in the pro-am, saying their stomachs were not feeling right upon returning from Mexico City.
At least they had a short trip.
Three players from last week’s Mexico Championship flew more than 9,000 miles to the Hero Indian Open in Delhi on the European Tour. And then there’s Matt Griffin, who had to travel 7,000 miles across the international dateline to defend his title in the New Zealand Open.
Henrik Stenson at No. 6 in the world is the top-ranked player on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook. That means for the second straight Florida event on the PGA Tour, the top five players in the world are not playing (none of the top six were at the Honda Classic.
The surprise was Jordan Spieth, who decided to take two weeks off before he plays the Dell Match Play, Shell Houston Open and the Masters. Spieth chipped in for birdie on the 17th hole in 2013 that was the first step in securing a PGA Tour card. He won in a playoff two years ago at Innisbrook by making a 30-foot birdie putt in a playoff. Spieth makes a lot of putts like that .
The star of the Valspar Championship is typically the golf course.
Such is the test of Innisbrook that the tournament has been decided by one shot or a playoff the last eight years. The winning score has been no better than 10-under par the last four years, and six out of 10 times since it moved to March.
Schwartzel last year beat Bill Haas in a playoff.
Three years ago, John Senden chipped in on the most dangerous hole — the par-4 16th around a lake — to win and earn a trip to the Masters. That’s another element to the Valspar Championship — the winners gets an invitation to the Masters, and only 29 players in the field already are exempt.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 2-6 p.M. (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 1-3 p.M. (Golf Channel), 3-6 p.M. (NBC).
The last time the word “Hero” was used in a tournament title, Tiger Woods was playing 72 holes and swinging with freedom. That was the Hero World Challenge in December in the Bahamas. This is the Hero Indian Open — same India-based motor company — and it’s the biggest event in India.
S.S.P. Chawrasia is the defending champion after three times being a runner-up. Anirban Lahiri is the top-ranked player from Indian, and he won his national open in 2015 when he earned a spot in the Masters and in the Presidents Cup.
Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain decided to play (with some appearance money in store for the Ryder Cup player), and he traveled from Mexico City along with Marcus Fraser and Scott Hend of Australia. A top finish by Hend could be enough to get him into Match Play in two weeks, meaning another 9,000-mile trip.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 12:30-2:30 a.M., 4-7 a.M. (Golf Channel); Saturday, 2:30-7 a.M. (Golf Channel). Sunday, 3-7:30 a.M. (Golf Channel).