TPC Sawgrass is a tricky Pete Dye design, so we can look to comparable courses such as Harbour Town for an idea of what type of player might perform well. The course is a typical par-72 layout with four par 5s, but it doesn’t really favor the bombers. Several par 5s will be reachable for most of the field, but the difficulties of the par 3s and par 4s will mitigate the length advantage of the bombers. Like most Pete Dye designs, the players will be navigating tricky doglegs, mounding, bunkers and water hazards, and will be forced to hit less then driver off many tees. Once in position, the players will hit approaches to very small greens (again, similar to Harbour Town), so proximity and scrambling should play major roles in targeting certain players this week. Experience is key. With the exception of journeymen winners like Craig Perks and Stephen “9&8” Ames, past winners here have had at least 5 years of experience playing the event. Each of the last eleven winners at TPC Sawgrass has recorded at least one top-25 finish. You don’t need to strictly avoid first timers here, but like we talked about at The Masters, experience does play a pivotal role.
Strokes Gained Approach (SG:APP): TPC Sawgrass is a course that challenges every player, but I do believe that approach play is the most important element. There are water hazards, bunkers, and native areas that players have to avoid, and many tricky approach shots into small greens. Pete Dye courses always place an emphasis on elite ball-striking. In terms of recent play, the players to target in strokes gained approach are Henrik Stenson, Bryson DeChambeau, Adam Hadwin, Scott Piercy, Sergio Garcia, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Stewart Cink, Keegan Bradley, and Ian Poulter.
Strokes Gained Around-the-Green (SG:ARG): Because the green complexes are so difficult at TPC Sawgrass, I’m adding extra emphasis on the short game. I want elite scramblers who can save pars when they miss approach shots. The best around-the-green players in recent weeks are Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day, Patrick Reed, Jamie Lovemark, Adam Hadwin, Tiger Woods, Jonas Blixt, Tommy Fleetwood, Jimmy Walker, and Wesley Bryan.
Birdie or Better % (BoB%): There are really not many weeks where we aren’t going to target birdie or better percentage, because that’s what fantasy golf scoring is all about. This is a difficult course, but much of the fantasy scoring will come from birdies and occasional eagles. The best players in this field in recent birdie or better percentage are Jon Rahm, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell, Trey Mullinax, and Tommy Fleetwood.
Strokes Gained on Par-4s (SG:P4): Par-4 scoring is always important, but I’m adding even more emphasis this week with strokes gained on par-4s. TPC Sawgrass has difficult holes throughout, but the par-4s will set the winner aside from the rest of the field. Some of the leaders in terms of strokes gained on par-4s over the last ten events are Kyle Stanley, Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Nick Watney, Luke List, Kevin Streelman, Trey Mullinax, Patrick Reed, Byeong Hun An, and Marc Leishman.
Rory seems to have figured this place out, after missing his first three cuts. Since 2013, he’s made all five cuts here with three top-10 finishes. Recent form is strong as well, with a win at Bay Hill, a 5th at the Masters, and another solid T-16 at Quail Hollow. His irons and short game have let him down this season, but I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the past few events. He’s the co-favorite with Jason Day, in my mind.
What a stunning performance by Day at Quail Hollow, picking up his second win of the season. He dominated with scrambling, hiding some of the glaring issues we’ve seen with his iron play. In any event, Day is capable of turning that around any week, and he’s returning to TPC Sawgrass where he’s a past champion. Day is a streaky player who rides confidence, and we’ve seen him go on incredible runs of golf in his career.
After nearly winning here in his debut in 2014 (he finished 4th), Spieth has missed the cut three straight years at the Players Championship. This is surprising, given his elite iron play and putting. Although the putting has abandoned him this season, he’s been even better off-the-tee and with approach. Good enough, in fact, to top my statistical model. Spieth shouldn’t be too popular this week, even coming off back-to-back top-5 finishes.
Stenson is in a great spot to win the Players Championship for the second time. He’s one of the best iron players in the world, and will be able to utilize his awesome 3-wood off most tees. Hitting fairways and greens is the name of the game around TPC Sawgrass, and few do it better than Stenson. He’s coming off three straight top-10 finishes worldwide and should be full of confidence. In my recent statistical model, Stenson leads the field in strokes gained approach, the key metric this week.
Rickie, the perennial bridesmaid, was up to his old tricks again at Quail Hollow. He got within one shot of the lead on Saturday, before four-putting for double bogey on the 17th hole. He then posted an ugly 73 on Sunday to fall outside the top-20. The thing about Fowler is he tends to play the same courses well year-in and year-out. He’s a past champion here at TPC Sawgrass, with another runner-up finish. However, he’s also missed the cut five times. Good luck figuring this one out!
Will the number one player in the world go overlooked this week? I definitely think he will. Although DJ hasn’t been in great form and has never finished better than 12th (last season) at the Players Championship, I think he makes for a fantastic leverage option this week. He needs a good week to retain his spot as world number one, and statistically, he’s still been good. In his last start, he finished 16th at Harbour Town, which is actually good considering how terrible of a course fit that is for him. He had previously missed both cuts there, so the 16th place finish (with a 72 on Saturday) was actually encouraging.
Thomas has been good without being flashy, which is great to see. He was always known as a boom-or-bust player, but now we take his consistency for granted. One 17th place finish and peopole think he’s in a slump. Thomas had a 3rd place finish here in 2016, so he’s proven his ability to play here. His recent form is stellar, and it’s very likely he wins this week and becomes the top-ranked player in the world.
Tiger is playing well, and now comes to a course where he’s a two-time winner. Usually we’d want a bomber’s course where Tiger can take advantage of his distance, but these days Tiger plays better when he can scale back with irons and three-woods. He played excellently last weekend at Quail Hollow, but had one of the worst putting performances of his career. Statistically, Woods ranks 4th in my model over the past ten events, giving me the full confidence to back him this week.
I’m a bit surprised by Casey’s course history here at Sawgrass, because he hasn’t posted top-10 finishes like I would have expected. On paper, this track fits his game to a tee. He’s fairly long off-the-tee, but is one of the most accurate iron players on Tour. He won on a similar track this season (Copperhead), and is coming off a 5th place finish at Quail Hollow. I’m a big fan of Casey this week, but he’ll likely be a popular pick.
Rose’s course history here at Sawgrass is surprising, with a few MCs and only one top-10. Rose is known as a very accurate iron player, but he’s done most of his damage in recent years off-the-tee and on the greens. In any event, he’s been playing out of his mind for the last year, and is arguably one of the best five players in the world.