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So James Hahn won at Quail Hollow last week - eventually seeing off 250/1 shot Roberto Castro in a play-off - to make it two 500/1 winners on the bounce. Golf betting never fails to amaze! This week we move onto The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass which is always a highlight of the golfing season. A top quality field of 144 players with 46 of the World's Top 50 players is always a treat and the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is the ultimate test of consistency, patience, aggression on key holes and bogey avoidance. Victory at The Players holds a 5-year PGA Tour exemption and 3-year exemptions to The Masters, US Open and Open Championship. Beware though, this is no ordinary PGA Tour tournament and The Players Championship is a title that all of golf's elite want on their CV.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Mauritius Open - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
TPC Sawgrass Competition - £100 Free Bet Prize
For the fourth year running we're running our Players Championship competition in association with Betfred who are generously offering a £100 (or currency equivalent) free bet prize to the winner. All you need to do is guess how many balls end up in the water at the Island 17th hole this week (plus tie-breaker) - you can enter via email, Facebook or on Twitter, full entry details are here!
Course Guide: The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is one of the most iconic courses in world golf. The Pete Dye design features lightning fast (12.5 on the stimpmeter) MiniVerde Bermudagrass greens, 93 testing bunkers and 23 water hazards making this a true Florida golf course test. The course's location close to the Atlantic coast makes wind a constant factor and although the track is relatively short in modern professional golf terms, the Stadium Course calls for accuracy and course management in abundance. You need more than just driving distance and aggressive play to compete here.
Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida: Designer: Pete Dye 1979 with 2006 re-design; Course Type: Florida, Technical; Par: 72; Length: 7,215 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 14; Fairways Celebration Bermudagrass; Rough: 419 Bermudagrass 2.5"; Greens: 4,500 sq.ft. average MiniVerde Bermudagrass UltraDwarf Bermudagrass; Tournament Stimp: 12.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 72.47 (+0.47), Difficulty Rank 19 of 49 courses. 2013: 72.32 (+0.32), Difficulty Rank 19 of 43 courses. 2014: 72.16 (+0.16), Rank 25 of 48 courses. 2015: 72.08 (+0.08), Rank 18 of 52 courses.
TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Stadium Course and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on the PGA Tour:
Course Overview: Driving accuracy doesn't tend to count for too much on the PGA Tour these days, but on the Stadium Course finding the fairway is critical. The lush 2.5" Bermudagrass that surrounds only 20 acres of fairway makes attacking the pin extremely difficult and water lurks on the vast majority of holes for the wayward. Tie this in with green complexes that are only behind Pebble Beach and Harbour Town when it comes to the smallest greens the players face each season and you start to get your head around the challenge. Greens always 'crust up' in the afternoons and it's worth noting that the course will play firm and fast as per 12 months ago due to light rainfall across the winter and early spring. Keeping the card clean across a host of challenging par 4s is vital, but birdies can be made across both sets of par 3s and par 5s which are attackable. Fact is that eagles and birdies are makeable around the Stadium Course, however ultimately this test is about patience and strategy.
The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is amongst the most controllable golf courses on the planet. Just a quick look at the winners' scores since 2010 highlight how tournament organisers and Course Superintendant Tom Vlach can effectively manage the tournament to the target score they want in varying conditions. 12 months ago, Rickie Fowler used a different approach than standard to win The Players by playing attacking golf which yielded 1 Eagle and 21 Birdies. Great attacking iron-play (Fowler finished 4th Strokes Gained Tee to Green) mixed with red-hot putting (2nd for Putts per GIR) meant that Fowler charged on Sunday to eclipse Kisner and Garcia in a play-off. Prior to Fowler's win, the recipe for victory was to strategically hit plenty of fairways and greens, maximise the 12 attempts on the par 5s and minimise bogeys. But the real point here is that Pete Dye's design is brilliant in the fact that controlled ball-strikers or short game specialists can win on the Stadium Course. However fairways that thin to only 19 yards between 325 and 350 yards do mitigate the advantage of indiscriminate bombers, so look for players who have a track record for hitting a decent number of fairways first and foremost.
Winners: 2015: Rickie Fowler (-12); 2014: Martin Kaymer (-15); 2013: Tiger Woods (-13); 2012: Matt Kuchar (-13); 2011: K.J. Choi (-13); 2010: Tim Clark (-16).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for the Players Championship which are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published Players Championship predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Justin Rose (Predictor Number 1), Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the WGC Cadillac Championship and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Rickie Fowler 66/1; 2014: Kaymer 90/1; 2013: Woods 9/1; 2012: Kuchar 55/1; 2011: Choi 45/1; 2010: Clark 100/1; 2009: Stenson 50/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Ponte Vedra Beach is here. Expect some of the most tranquil conditions that we've seen in 2016 at TPC Sawgrass this week. A little breeze will affect the afternoon starters (take note First Round Leader backers) across Thursday and Friday, but temperatures up to 31 degrees will make this a pleasant tournament.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of The Players Championship since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how TPC Sawgrass has set up in the past and what specific skills it requires:
Sergio Garcia: "I think winning here is always challenging. It's the kind of golf course that's asking you for a lot of different shots. So it's the kind of golf course that you want to play. It's really pushing you to the limits. Greens are fairly small, so you have to be accurate, not only off the tee but into the greens. You're not going to have a lot of 50 footers on these greens. It's very rare that you have a long putt like that because it kind of reminds me a little bit of Valderrama. Obviously Valderrama maybe has a little bit more movement, but it's small greens; if you hit a good shot you're always going to have a birdie putt. It always feels like you're in range to make a birdie. And if you miss the greens, then chipping is very challenging, so it's a great golf course overall."
Jordan Spieth: "Yeah, I think this course is interesting because the way the holes shape, you normally need one shape off the tee and then the next shot calls for the other shape. And sometimes off of the slope that wants you to hit it the opposite way. So it certainly there is some imagination involved. I love this grass, too. I love this Bermuda, grainy Bermuda. It's what I grew up on. I think it's also an advantage for me. I think that the course plays well for me if I'm on my game, but if I go out there and I'm struggling with a certain ball flight, then it's going to eat you up out here. You really do have to have control of both of them."
Martin Kaymer: "Well it's a golf course where you can shoot very low scores. If you hit the fairways, you can go very low. If you make a few putts here and there, it's possible. Last year when I shot 9-under par the first round, I didn't do anything special. Yes, I mean you made a few putts here and there more, but I was playing well, I hit fairways, and I used my chances. So, I didn't do any extraordinary. If you miss the fairways, it's tough. You can easily shoot 2- or 3-over par without doing much wrong. I think that's the beauty about that golf course. Anything can happen until Sunday afternoon, and therefore it's a good score to have, you know, if the winning score is somewhere around 10-under par, I think it's always a good score to have to win a tournament."
Jim Furyk: "This Pete Dye course is visually intimidating, but the more you get to play it, you're able to realize that there's more room out there on certain shots. I think that's a typical trait of Dye golf courses. The Crooked Sticks, Kiawah, here, New Orleans, you stare out from the tee box, you look at the fairway, you look at the first fairway and it looks like it's about 10 yards wide. You get out there and you look around and you go, you know, there's actually plenty of room out here. And then you look at the green and it now looks like it's eight yards wide and you go, wow, you hit a shot up there and you look around and you go, well, actually there was plenty of room up here. Visually, though, it's deceiving. I'm not going to drive it into the little necks and areas I shouldn't. So there's ample room to hit the ball. I've grown to get used to it and I've grown to like it over the years. I'll be honest with you, I did not like this golf course."
Phil Mickelson: "I actually think that this tournament has a bigger challenge around the greens if you miss it and makes getting up‑and‑down a lot more difficult. So I feel like it puts a premium on ball‑striking and hitting the green. I feel like some of the mounding is so severe, and with the rough, that a lot of shots around the greens become almost impossible. If you can hit the greens and not stress out, put stress on your short game, I feel like that's kind of the best way to do well here. Whereas, at Augusta you can get up‑and‑down from all different places, if you happen to miss greens, and it's not as important as being on the correct side as chipping uphill. That's not the case here. You really just want to be on the surface."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
For those looking for Pete Dye course specialists check out results at Whistling Straits (2010 and 2015 PGA Championship), the Ocean Course - Kiawah Island (2012 PGA Championship) and Crooked Stick (2012 BMW Championship). This year's CareerBuilder Challenge was hosted for 36 holes at PGA West's Dye designed Stadium Course and the web.com Tour Championship has been hosted at the Dye's Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass since 2013. The Jacksonville Open was also hosted there from 2010-2012 featuring top-5 finishes from Kyle Reifers (2010), David Lingmerth (2011), Danny Lee (2011), Russell Henley (2012) and Ben Martin (2012).
Trends in terms of recent winners are interesting. Rickie Fowler had finished 2nd here in 2012 prior to winning here 12 months ago. His form during 2015 had been mediocre to say the least, but a 12th at Augusta and last-16 place at the World Match Play the week prior to TPC Sawgrass was the precursor to his come-from-behind victory here. Fowler's last win had been at Quail Hollow in 2012 and despite his run of top Major Championship finishes in-between, Fowler had been winless for 3 years worldwide.
However, strong course form doesn't always translate to the winner here. Martin Kaymer had finished 19th (2011) and 15th (2012) in 5 appearances here prior to capturing the title here in 2014. Kaymer had been through a tough spell prior to his win as he had to wait 18 months since his last worldwide victory. Matt Kuchar had finished 13th (2010) and 14th (2009) prior to capturing his first tournament victory for 21 months here in 2012. K.J. Choi had a TPC Sawgrass best of 16th set 5 years previous when he captured his first worldwide title in 18 months with his 2011 victory; Tim Clark incredibly broke his Tour maiden here in 2010 with inbound form of 63-MC-30.
Naturally the only player to break this 'winless trend' in recent times was Tiger Woods who was playing brilliantly prior to arriving at TPC Sawgrass in 2013. His strong play overcame his poor Stadium Course/Pete Dye design form to win one of his sweetest victories at 9/1. Players like Tiger, Phil, Rory and Jordan transcend most trends!
No player has won The Masters and then gone on to triumph at TPC Sawgrass since the tournament moved to its early May spot on the PGA Tour schedule back in 2007. The challenge is there for Danny Willett who I'm sure will be enjoying his return to golf with absolutely no pressure on his shoulders since his magnificent Augusta win. Over the same period of time, only Phil Mickelson (Pebble Beach) and Tiger Woods (Doral/Bay Hill) have won on the PGA Tour in the season prior to taking home The Players title.
Where immediate course form is not a must to win The Players, course experience is still a key advantage. Yes Kevin Kisner, Jordan Spieth and David Lingmerth (a Sawgrass member) have contended and placed across the last 3 renewals and Henrik Stenson finished 3rd on course debut back in 2006, but these are the real exceptions. Hal Sutton (1983) and Craig Perks (2002) won here on course debut, but that was in an age when The Players was scheduled a couple of weeks before Augusta.
Bookmaker Offers. A number of bookmakers have extended their each-way terms again this week plus there's a couple of other offers out there:
My selections are as follows:
I can't recall the last time that Henrik Stenson was priced at 33/1 for any tournament so at a venue where he has 6 top-20 finishes from 10 appearances including 3rd on debut (2006), 10th (2008), 1st (2009) and 5th (2013), the 'Iceman' is well worth following this week. That view extends to the fact that we're looking for a player who hasn't won a main Tour title for a while and who has a track record of delivering Major Championship top-5 finishes. Well Henrik hasn't won since the DP World Tour Championship in November 2014 and that's despite going painfully close at Copperhead, Bay Hill, Plainfield, East Lake and Gary Player CC last season. He's also come up short in the heat of contention at Bay Hill and GC of Houston already in 2016. Defeats to Jordan Spieth (twice) and Jason Day (twice) amongst these performances understandably hold water, but head-to-head defeats to Matt Every, Marc Leishman and Jim Herman have left many people questioning whether Henrik still has the fortitude for the fight. I can see that argument, but for me Stenson has always been a player with a relatively low win conversion-to-contention ratio and that can be seen from his famous 2013 season where he was 2nd in Houston, 5th here, 3rd at Castle Stuart, 2nd at Birkdale, 2nd at Firestone and 3rd at Oak Hill before winning titles at TPC Boston (28/1), East Lake (16/1) and the Earth Course (11/1). So 33/1 makes him a great each-way chance this week, especially as the Lake Nona, Florida resident continues to save his best putting performances for Bermudagrass greens, sits 4th in the 2015/16 Strokes Gained from Tee to Green category and has a CV which is packed with top Sunshine State performances.
Sergio Garcia is another 'nearly man' who gets my support after a fast finish at Valderrama last time out. Garcia's inclusion needs no detailed explanation as the Spaniard, who hasn't won a main Tour title since the Qatar Masters in 2014, simply loves the Stadium Course. 8 top-20 finishes from 14 appearances includes 4th (2004), 2nd (2007), 1st (2008), 8th (2013), 3rd (2014) and 2nd (2015). Yes, 'El Nino' struggles to get over the line, but if there's one top-drawer tournament where that's likely then it's here at TPC Sawgrass. 2016 has seen Garcia look sprightly in Ryder Cup year with 7th in Doha, 2nd at PGA National, 18th at Doral and 3rd at Valderrama all coming on tough tracks where birdies are harder to come by. Wins in 2012 and 2014 from Matt Kuchar and Martin Kaymer both stamped their Ryder Cup passports, so with real competition from Cabrera-Bello, Dubuisson, Fitzpatrick, Kjeldsen, Olesen, Pieters, Sullivan and Wood, Garcia will look to this week as a huge opportunity to seal a place on his favourite US golf course. Sergio is hitting greens for fun at the moment (1st in my 10-week rolling Greens in Regulation tracker) and he loves to putt on these MiniVerde Bermudagrass putting surfaces.
Billy Horschel has a little momentum at present and the Floridian World Number 44 is trending in the right direction when it comes to all facets of his game. 4th at the 2013 US Open at Merion, Horschel has not won since September 2014 when he went on his TPC Boston (2nd), Cherry Hills (1st) and East Lake (1st) tare in the FedEx Cup PlayOffs which ultimately won him the overall season title. Since those heady days results have been mediocre at best, but 8th at Torrey Pines, 20th at Bay Hill, 17th at Augusta and 4th at TPC San Antonio suggest that Horschel is readying himself for a charge. He undoubtedly likes Florida-style courses and 2 of his victories at TPC Louisiana and East Lake were on Florida-type courses despite being located in Louisiana and Georgia respectively. 8th and 12th in All-Round performance in his last 2 outings, Horschel has played the Stadium Course 3 times with 2015 looking particularly interesting. 13th was the result of a performance where he was 5th for Driving Accuracy, 10th for Greens in Regulation and 4th in the All-Round category. Likes a tough challenge and the Stadium Course will provide a stern test this week.
I'll finish with 2 players who I rate particularly highly. We were on board Chris Kirk at TPC Louisiana a fortnight ago when he played brilliantly to finish in 4th spot. Another round could have seen him challenge Stuard, Lovemark and An, but Kirk is peaking nicely right now. The 4-time PGA Tour winner is an all-rounder who, when his game is in buoyant shape, has the raw materials to contend here at the Stadium Course where he's finished 13th on his last 2 appearances. A winner at Annandale (2011), Sea Island (2013), TPC Boston (2014) and Colonial (2015), it's pretty clear that Kirk has the ability to play tight classical tracks just as well as bomber's set-ups. Two wins on Bermudagrass greens and two on Bentgrass putting surfaces again highlight that Chris has the ability to play on all surfaces and I have always had him marked out as a real talent. 13th here 12 months ago masks a performance where he went out on Sunday with a one-shot lead over Kevin Kisner and since then he's won at Colonial, represented the US in the Presidents Cup and only last month made the Quarter-Finals at the WGC Dell Match Play.
TPC Sawgrass member David Lingmerth surprised the golfing world back in 2013 when he gave Tiger Woods all he could handle around the Stadium Course in his rookie season on the PGA Tour. The World Number 48 has always had a liking for Jack Nicklaus designs, indeed his win last term at The Memorial was at 'Jack's Place' - winning such a prestigious tournament to break his maiden tells you alot about Lingmerth who, when on form, likes to mix it with the world's elite. He also has a real liking for Pete Dye designs as his 2013 performance here clearly highlights. Back that up with 3rd (2011) and 6th (2014) at sister TPC course Dye's Valley, 12th at the Whistling Straits hosted PGA Championship last term and a high-class 2nd to Jason Dufner at PGA West this year where 36 holes were on the Dye designed Stadium Course. Striking the ball beautifully from tee-to-green right now and found the putter last week on the MiniVerde Poa Trivialis greens at Quail Hollow.
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