5 players to watch at the Valspar Championship

Henrik Stenson

With just four weeks to go until the Masters, now is the time when the big names really start to ramp up their preparation for the first major championship of the year.

For those that haven't already qualified, meanwhile, a win at this week's Valspar Championship would see them seal their place at Augusta National. So there's plenty to play for.

The Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, near Tampa, is where Jordan Spieth won in 2015 to help propel him towards his maiden major victory and, once again, the 24-year-old headlines a field which also includes Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose.

But who should you be keeping an eye on this week? We've picked out five players...

Henrik Stenson1

Yes, this is Henrik Stenson’s first start on US soil for six months, but his record at Innisbrook in recent years would suggest a strong showing from the Swede this week. He first teed it up in the event in 2015 – which Jordan Spieth won – finishing fourth and, in his two appearances since, has finished T11 and T7. Currently world No.14 – his lowest world ranking since July 2013 – a win would likely see Stenson move back inside the world top ten.

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Adam Hadwin

This time last year, Adam Hadwin was getting ready for a break from golf to go on his honeymoon while the Masters was on. Then, he won the Valspar Championship to earn his place at Augusta National and completely scupper those honeymoon plans. The Canadian saw off Patrick Cantlay to win by a stroke last time out and, after a T9 finish at the WGC-Mexico Championship, he’s set himself up well for a strong defence of his title.

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Rory Mc Ilroy

Rory McIlroy, like Tiger Woods, is making his tournament debut this week – but which Rory will turn up this week? The four-time major winner has struggled so far on US soil this year, missing the cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am before a T20 finish at the Genesis Open and T59 at the Honda Classic. With only three starts to go before the Masters, McIlroy told Express.co.uk: “Geez, there’s no alarm bells ringing so you’d be wrong to think that as I am hitting the ball well.” However, another poor display here and concern about the 28-year-old – who at world No.12 is at his lowest ranking since January 2011 – is likely to grow.

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Tony Finau

Given his recent form, it’s hard to believe Tony Finau still only has one PGA Tour win to his name. Even then, that came at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, which ran opposite the WGC-Dell Match Play. This season, the American has four top six finishes to his name – including runner-ups at the Safeway Open and Genesis Open – and is seventh in the FedEx Cup standings. He also shot a final round 64 to finish fifth at Innisbrook last year.

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Steve Stricker

Has a Champions Tour-PGA Tour double in back-to-back weeks ever been achieved before? We doubt it. But that’s what Steve Stricker will be hoping to do this week. Fresh from his two-stroke win at the Cologuard Classic – his first on any tour for more than six years – the 51-year-old goes straight into the field at the Valspar, a tournament where he finished T7 only two years ago.

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