PGA Tour veteran Adam Schenk heads into the weekend at the 2023 Valspar Championship with the solo lead at 7 under. After commanding a share of the first-round lead, the former Purdue Boilermakers golfer continued to push ahead early Friday morning with a 2-under 69. While his alma mater may be a No. 1 seed in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, Schenk will play the role of an underdog Cinderella over the next 36 holes with Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jordan Spieth (-5) and Justin Thomas (-3) all nipping at his heels.
Sam Burns is also on the outskirts of contention at even par. He looks to become the first player since Steve Stricker to successfully win a tournament three years in a row; he arrived as the two-time defending champion at Innisbrook. After his previous driver was ruled nonconforming earlier this season, he has finally found a comfortable replacement and it has shown at the Copperhead Course.
Stricker is not the only former Valspar Championship winner who may factor over the weekend as Spieth reigned supreme eight years ago in the Tampa area. Having been in contention at the WM Phoenix Open and Arnold Palmer Invitational, Spieth will have eyes on positioning himself for the final nine come Sunday.
1. Adam Schenk (-7): Schenk has not taken a single week off in 2023. Yes, you read that correctly. Beginning his year at the Sony Open, Schenk's appearance in the Valspar Championship marks his 10th consecutive week of competition. During this span, he has connected on seven made cuts with his best finish a T20 at the Farmers Insurance Open. While unconventional, Schenk's reason for this nonstop schedule is a good one: He and his wife are expecting a child in the coming weeks.
"I've generally played a lot anyway, but having a little baby boy here in about a month and a half, so trying to make as many points as I can to take as much time off as I can and spend time with him and my wife, which will be very special," said Schenk.
Maybe his wife hates him?! 👀👀 https://t.co/fBXjyBrr9n— Kourtney Schenk (@Kourtney_Schenk) March 7, 2023
2. Kramer Hickok (-6)
T3. Tommy Fleetwood, Jordan Spieth, Cody Gribble, Davis Riley (-5)
T7. Wyndham Clark, Matt Wallace, Taylor Moore, J.T. Poston, Stephan Jaegar (-4)
T12. Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, Adam Long, Byeong Hun An, Doug Ghim, Rory Sabbatini, Alex Smalley, Lucas Glover (-3)
The debate for the best player without a PGA Tour win often centers around young stars like Cameron Young and Sahith Theegala, but Fleetwood rightfully belongs in the conversation. The Englishman has been close a number of times, especially in the state of Florida, and he likes his chances to finally break through (if he's able to remain patient).
"Sometimes you have it, sometimes you lose it, sometimes you are somewhere in between," Fleetwood said of his patience. "So far this week, I've done a good job of it. It's just always something you pick up on, whether it's your own expectations or trying to force things when you feel like it's not going your way. It's such a difficult thing to do. I can only sort of speak about the last two days, and I feel like I've done a good job of that. I just want to keep that attitude going into the weekend. Obviously, the further you get sort of along the week, the harder it gets in a way. But, yeah, just keep the attitude going and take each shot as it comes."
215 yards ➡️ 3 feet 🦅— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 17, 2023
Eagle moves @TommyFleetwood1 into the co-lead @ValsparChamp pic.twitter.com/klRXNWGgYR
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em
Hickok missed eight of his first nine cuts in the 2022-23 season and went searching for answers. Instead of word of mouth or the advice of others, he simply looked at which swing coach's golfers were playing the best. With this in mind, Hickok sought out the advice of Mark Blackburn. The fruits of their labor are beginning to blossom as Hickok arrived at the Valspar Championship having made three straight cuts, including a T14 finish at the Honda Classic.
"I switched coaches back in the fall, and I'm just making some swing changes, and so when I get in tournaments, it's sort of reverts back to my bad habits. ... It's certainly better than it was last week, and it's better than it was a week before. It's just coming along," said Hickok on his new partnership with swing coach Mark Blackburn. "His guys were playing really well. Max Homa has been playing great. Chez Reavie seems to win every other year. Trey Mullinax won last year. He's got Justin Rose; he won this year. So, I just tried to follow the hot hand, and he's really helped me a lot. I'm really excited about our path together."
Wait, why is Rob Gronkowski here?
The former Patriots and Buccaneers tight end was on the grounds at Innisbrook on Friday. Taking in the sights and scenes, Gronkowski stole the spotlight with his charisma and his own personal take on Scottie Scheffler's Masters champions' dinner menu.
"My menu would be cheeseburgers, chicken finger subs, buffalo wings with blue cheese on the side, and of course my lovely ice shaker right here with an ice cold beverage inside, just getting a little tipsy at all times, baby," said Gronkowski. "Is that when you meant by 'menu,' like, food?"
Gronk is in the house 💪— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 17, 2023
Tampa local @RobGronkowski is excited to spend the day @ValsparChamp. pic.twitter.com/N6IXh1nrSz
2023 Valspar Championship odds, picks
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
- Jordan Spieth: 5-1
- Tommy Fleetwood: 27/4
- Adam Schenk: 15/2
- Kramer Hickok: 17/2
- Justin Thomas: 9-1
- Davis Riley: 10-1
- Wyndham Clark: 12-1
- Stephan Jaegar: 18-1
- Taylor Moore: 18-1
- J.T. Poston: 25-1
Thomas sits only two strokes off his good friend, Spieth, and has yet to strike his irons well. He ranks second in strokes gained off the tee and ninth in strokes gained approach. So, if his typical approach play -- his usual strong point -- shows up over the weekend, he will be in good shape. Poston at 25-1 is also intriguing as he leads the field in strokes gained approach. The two-time PGA Tour winner is a player who has appeared keen on grabbing his third and should his putter begin to cooperate he may do just that.
Rick Gehman and Mark Immelman break down Round 2 of the Valspar Championship before heading into the weekend. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.