On a day where a Jordan Spieth trip to the winner's circle or Adam Schenk's maiden victory felt inevitable, it was Taylor Moore who raced out in front to 10 under to claim his first title on the PGA Tour at the 2023 Valspar Championship. Beginning the day two strokes off the pace and two groups in front of the final pairing, the second-year PGA Tour golfer played as if he was the seasoned veteran at the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook with a stellar 4-under 67.
Moore's day began in relatively mundane fashion with a birdie on the par-5 opener before a string of five consecutive pars. That would be about as boring as his round would get as a bogey-birdie exchange near the turn saw the Arkansas Razorback head to the inward half 7 under for the tournament and with eyes on pulling off a stunner.
A birdie on the difficult 12th followed, and before Moore knew it, his probability to win skyrocketed. While Spieth and Schenk had moments of their own in the middle of their back nines -- namely a 71-foot birdie from Schenk on the 12th -- Moore had the advantage of posting the clubhouse lead and waiting.
Yet in order for this strategy to be successful, Moore had to hit the correct golf shot at the correct time. He did just that with a laser tee shot on the par-3 15th to set up a birdie and another unlikely birdie conversion on the tough par-4 16th to get to 10 under.
For a share of the lead!@RazorbackMGolf alum @TaylorMooreGolf birdies No. 16 @ValsparChamp.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 19, 2023
He is seeking his first TOUR win 👀 pic.twitter.com/6hmNgONWkY
A pair of pars on the final two holes gave Moore the clubhouse lead, and only then did the true madness of the month begin.
Still needing some help from those behind him, the unheralded underdog received just that when the final pair reached the treacherous Snake Pit. Spieth, the tournament favorite, made his biggest blunder of the week at the most inopportune time when his tee shot on the 16th found a watery grave. Still able to recover for bogey, Spieth was faced with needing to make birdie on one of his final two holes. When his 7-foot birdie bid on 17 slid by, a bullet was dodged by Moore.
Schenk, the overnight leader, tried his best to stay afloat with a pair of crucial par saves on 16 and 17 but sealed his faith with an ill-advised tee shot on the 18th. Hitting a snap hook off the tee, Schenk found his ball nestled up against a tree leaving no choice for his second shot but a left-handed layup. When his par effort carried too much speed and raced through the hole, the title was officially Moore's.
Adam Schenk is tied for the lead on the 72nd hole.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 19, 2023
Here's where his drive ended up. pic.twitter.com/DeXtMVtkTY
The win could not have come at a better time for Moore. As a player who ranked 103rd in the Official World Golf Rankings and 53rd in the FedEx Cup at the start of the week, he is one of many members of the PGA Tour's middle class. While some may feel slighted about the changes to the playing schedule coming in 2024, Moore proved one's play can squash any concerns.
With his victory, the 29-year-old will receive an invitation into the first major championship of the year at the 2023 Masters in two weeks time. He rises 49 spots in the FedEx Cup all the way to ninth ahead of the likes of Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Patrick Cantlay. Moore's efforts in the Tampa area have propelled him to new heights, and if the rest of his career is anything like the back nine at Innisbrook on Sunday, there's a chance he stays there. Grade: A
Here is the breakdown of the rest of the leaderboard at the 2023 Valspar Championship
T3. Jordan Spieth (-8): For much of the day, it felt as if Spieth reigning supreme for the second time at the Copperhead Course was destined to happen. Playing a "boring" round for his standards, Spieth's first 15 holes featured three birdies and 12 pars. Trouble struck in the form of a wayward tee shot on the 16th, and while he managed to save bogey, the damage was already down.
"I made two bad swings today," said Spieth. "I got away with the one on 6 and I didn't get away with the one on 16. Fought hard from there and made a nice bogey, and then a nice couple shots on the last couple, and that 18th pin is just brutal there. You just can't rely on having to birdie that hole to that pin."
A missed opportunity on the 17th sealed his fate, but not all is lost for Spieth. He continues to strike his irons adequately and made some crucial putts down the stretch, squashing any potential issues with the putter. His eyes are surely on Augusta National, but one has to wonder: If Spieth is unable to take down Moore and Schenk, will his game stack up to the likes of Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm? Grade: B
T3. Tommy Fleetwood (-8): Going into Sunday's final round, Fleetwood had entered the final round of a pro event inside the top five nearly 40 times. On average, he gained 0.5 strokes against the field in those performances, winning four of them and losing the rest. That's not terrible, but it's also not great. He has not thrived in those scenarios. To give you an example of some other true SG numbers of players who fell into those buckets, here they are.
- Bryson DeChambeau: 2.0
- Fony Finau: 1.9
- Jon Rahm: 1.9
- Dustin Johnson: 1.8
- Rory McIlroy: 1.8
- Justin Thomas: 1.4
- Rickie Fowler: 0.9
- Jordan Spieth: 0.8
Fleetwood is obviously a really good golfer, and he was terrific all week, but until he's able to close out a tournament on the PGA Tour, there will certainly be some question marks. Are those fair given how much he's won on the DP World Tour? I don't know, but they will continue to persist. Grade: B-
6. Sam Burns (-5): Burns has now lost to five golfers in his last three Valspars. He had a monster closing kick in which he shot the second-best round of the day on Sunday and began leaderboard creeping a bit with the leaders on the front nine. He was too far back entering the last 18 holes to make any real noise, but this was a really nice outcome for him following a MC-MC-T35 stretch coming in. Burns said he's been trying to dial in his driver following a failure in regulation testing at Riv — "that was a tough couple weeks, trying to figure out something I like" — and it seems like he finally did. Burns finished in the top 15 in driving this week and appears to be back on track. Grade: A-
T10. Justin Thomas (-3): J.T. had a nice week following a lousy Players Championship. His iron play has been really consistent for the last month following Riviera, but the putting is still a bit of a concern heading into the Masters. It's something to keep an eye on at Match Play in Austin next week as he gets his final prep work in for Augusta. To put his week into perspective, his tee-to-green play was better than Spieth's. If he putts, he probably wins. That's a pretty good place to be, but at some point you do actually have to putt. Grade: B+
MC. Matt Fitzpatrick (+3): It has not been a year anyone expected from Fitzpatrick so far. He made a 9 on his third hole of the golf tournament, went out in 42 and never recovered. Fitz has been struggling with some neck injuries over the first few months of 2023, and doesn't have a top 10 since finishing T7 at the Tournament of Champions in January. That's disconcerting heading into major championship season, and Fitzpatrick doesn't have much time to get his body and his game in a good spot for Augusta. Grade: D-