Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's The Players Championship Tips 2022

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Well done to those of you on Scottie Scheffler last week at a Monday best price of 16/1 (bet365). Viktor Hovland became my 7th runner-up finish of the PGA Tour season. Fact is often more bizarre than fiction. Personally I loved the Arnold Palmer Invitational set-up, and it’s great to see the best players in the world stretched by firm greens and howling wind.

With the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the rear-view mirror, it’s well worth checking out our latest best golf additional each-way places analysis – to make sure you have all the golf additional each-way angles covered. Betfred, Coral and Ladbrokes have in recent weeks started giving more additional each-way places, so make sure you are up to speed with the 2022 golf betting market.

We move on to The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass which is always a highlight of the golfing season. Relocated from May to March as part of the shorter PGA Tour season restructure, this is traditionally the strongest field of the year.

Played at the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, this 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.

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Before we go into the detail surrounding the Players Championship, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System. Welcome and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular, +6,000 strong, private Group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

Course Guide: The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is one of the most iconic courses in world golf.

The Pete Dye design has always been a course where no particular type of player has a true advantage. The tournament’s mantra has always been that the best player on the week wins the tournament. In Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Si-Woo Kim and Jason Day, who make up the past 5 champions, it’s pretty clear that different types of player can thrive here in Ponte Vedra.

2017 marked the first time that we saw the latest reincarnation of the Stadium Course, after a PGA Tour Design Services managed redesign. Make no mistake, this is a true Florida golf course test which often features plenty of wind. The tournament organisers now have full control of this new golf course, which we saw return to March (from 1977-2006, The Players was held in the second half of March), for the first time since 2006 in 2019, when Rory McIlroy triumphed. Undoubtedly the course characteristics have changed (read the player notes below), with overseed across the golf course and softer turf/green conditions.

Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida: Designer: Pete Dye 1980, 2006 re-design, Steve Wenzloff re-design 2016; Course Type: Florida, Mid-Score; Par: 72; Length: 7,256 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 17; Fairways: Celebration Bermudagrass overseeded with Ryegrass and Fine Fescue; Rough: Celebration Bermudagrass overseeded with Ryegrass and Fine Fescue 2.5″; Greens: 5,500 sq.ft. average TifEagle Bermuda overseeded with Poa Trivialis and Velvet Bentgrass; 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. 2016: 72.06 (+0.06), Rank 19 of 50 courses. 2017: 73.29 (+1.29), Rank 5 of 50 courses. 2018: 71.41 (-0.59), Rank of 29 of 51 courses. 2019: 71.51 (-0.49), Rank 23 of 49 courses. 2021: 72.42 (+0.42), Rank 16 of 51 courses.

Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Pete Dye designs include:

  • Austin Country Club – WGC Dell Matchplay since 2016
  • Crooked Stick – 2012 and 2016 BMW Championship
  • Harbour Town – RBC Heritage
  • Ocean Course – Kiawah Island – 2012 + 2021 PGA Championship
  • TPC River Highlands – The Travelers
  • TPC Louisiana – Zurich Classic of New Orleans
  • TPC Stadium, PGA West – The American Express since 2016
  • Whistling Straits – 2010 and 2015 PGA Championship

Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and how they compare to recent courses that we’ve seen on Tour:

  • TPC Sawgrass: 250 yards from the tee: 31 yards wide; 275:32; 300:30; 325:28 350:20.
  • Bay Hill: 250 yards from the tee: 32 yards wide; 275:33; 300:33; 325:39 350:29.
  • PGA National: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:27 350:25.
  • Riviera: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:26 350:28.
  • TPC Scottsdale: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:30; 300:28; 325:27; 350:27.
  • Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:33; 300:29; 325:30 350:26.
  • Torrey Pines South: 250 yards from the tee: 26 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:24; 350:23.
  • TPC Stadium: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:26; 350:24.
  • Waialae: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:32; 300:34; 325:37; 350:34.
  • Plantation Course: 250 yards from the tee: 59 yards wide; 275:61; 300:65; 325:60; 350:62.
  • Seaside Course: 250 yards from the tee: 42 yards wide; 275:40; 300:34; 325:31; 350:23.
  • TPC Summerlin: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:37; 300:33; 325:30; 350:31.
  • CC of Jackson: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:28; 300:29; 325:28; 350:25.
  • Silverado: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:26; 300:24; 325:25; 350:24.

Course Overview: 2019 saw the tournament move from May back to mid-March in terms of its timing and that undoubtedly changed some of the detail in terms of course set-up. With TPC Sawgrass located in Ponte Vedra Beach in north-east Florida, March means that the course has to feature overseeding. So Ryegrass and Fescue has been added to the fairways and rough. Rory McIlroy commented on this on his way to victory here, “And then when you miss the greens, you do not have to contend with that Bermuda, you’re not having to guess, how is this going to come out, whatever. So it lends itself to more aggressive play.”

The greens are also now overseeded, with the TifEagle Bermudagrass now sitting under Poa Trivialis and Velvet Bentgrass. This overseeding technique takes the inherent graininess of the Bermudagrass away and leads to smoother putting surfaces, with a Bentgrass over-sheen. In all likelihood they also make them more responsive. Undoubtedly this can have a tangible effect for many players who struggle on genuine Bermudagrass, potentially helping them to be more competitive on the greens. Recent – going back to 2009 – PGA Tour winners on this type of putting surface can be seen below:

  • 2 – Hideki Matsuyama.
  • 1 – Paul Casey, Corey Conners, Russell Henley, Charley Hoffman, Marc Leishman, Rory McIlroy, Ryan Palmer, Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Cameron Smith, Kyle Stanley, Brendan Steele, Justin Thomas, Jimmy Walker, Gary Woodland.

We saw this revised Steve Wenzloff re-design in 2017. Pete Dye was consulted a number of times with all of the changes and the course was shortened to a 7,189 yard Par 72. The loss in yardage came predominantly from the 12th hole which was changed from a standard 358 yard par-4, to a driveable, dog-leg left, 302-yard hole with the same par. The changes weren’t overly popular as the balance between risk over reward was far too great and driving the green was rarely an option for most of the field.

With this in mind, 2022 sees the 12th extended to a 369 yard par-4, taking the overall course length back up to 7,256 yards. Still extremely short for a Par 72 with 4 par-5s.

As part of the 2017 re-design, other changes saw spectator mounds between the 6th and 7th removed, replaced by a new body of water which only added to the distraction factor from off the tee. All bunkers were also re-built. Green complexes on the 1st, 4th, 8th, 9th, 11th, 13th and 14th were modified to feature larger putting surfaces, with the aim of allowing more pin positions to reduce wear on the greens. Critically the tired MiniVerde Bermudagrass putting surfaces were replaced by TifEagle Bermudagrass to offer consistently fast greens speeds.

Effectively now 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 2018 highlights how organisers and Director of Golf Course Operations Jeff Plotts can effectively manage the tournament to the target score they want in varying conditions. But the real point here is that Pete Dye’s design is brilliant in the fact that either controlled ball-strikers or short game specialists can win at the Stadium Course.

the players championship tips

Winners: 2021: Justin Thomas (-14); 2019: Rory McIlroy (-16); 2018: Webb Simpson (-18); 2017: Si Woo Kim (-10); 2016: Jason Day (-15); 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).

Cut Line (since move to March): 2021: E; 2019: -1.

Lead Score Progression (since move to March):

  • 2021: Round 1 -7; Round 2 -9; Round 3 -13; Round 4 -14.
  • 2019: Round 1 -7; Round 2 -12; Round 3 -15; Round 4 -16.

Tournament Stats: We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s event that 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 | Combined Stats.

Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Daniel Berger, Sungjae Im, Xander Schauffele, Billy Horschel, Patrick Cantlay, Chris Kirk, Hideki Matsuyama and Talor Gooch.

Tournament Winners & Prices: 2021: Thomas 20/1; 2019: McIlroy 14/1; 2018: Simpson 100/1; 2017: Kim 500/1; 2016: Day 12/1; 2015: Fowler 66/1; 2014: Kaymer 90/1; 2013: Woods 9/1; 2012: Kuchar 55/1; 2011: Choi 45/1; 2010: Clark 100/1. Past 7 Renewals Average: 115/1. Overall Average: 92/1.

For a full summary of winner’s odds on the PGA Tour since 2010 click here.

Historical Weather:

  • 2021: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 72. Wind E 8-12 mph. The first round was suspended due to darkness at 6:32 p.m. ET with 21 players left on the course. Friday: The first round resumed at 7:30 a.m. and was completed at 8:31 a.m. mostly sunny. High of 73. Wind E 4-8 mph. Saturday: Mostly Sunny. High of 75. Wind E 6-12 mph. Sunday: Mostly sunny. High of 78. Wind ESE 6-12 mph.
  • 2019: Thursday: Partly Cloudy. High of 76. Wind SE 12-22 mph. Friday: Partly Cloudy. High of 80. Wind S 10-18 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy. High of 66. Wind N 10-20 mph. Sunday: Cloudy with intermittent showers. High of 59. Wind N 8-22 mph.
  • 2018: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 82. Wind variable 5-10 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy. High of 91. Wind variable 7-14 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 85. Wind ESE 10-15 mph. Sunday: Mostly cloudy. High of 82 Wind E 10-15 mph.
  • 2017: Thursday: Mostly sunny with a high of 91. Wind WSW 8-16 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny with a high of 91. Wind WSW 8-16 mph. Saturday: Overcast with showers in the morning with a high of 84. Wind SW 15-25 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy with a high of 79. Wind NE 12-22 mph.
  • 2016: Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 83. Wind SE at 10-18 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 88. Wind S at 6-12 mph. Saturday: Mostly sunny with high in the low 80s. Afternoon wind gusted up to 20 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy with a high of 82. Wind ENE at 10-18 mph.
  • 2015: Thursday: Sunny, with a high of 83. Wind N at 10-15 mph with gusts to 20 mph. Friday: Partly sunny, with an afternoon high of 80. Light showers fell in the afternoon. Variable wind at 7-14 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy with a high of 83. Wind variable at 7-14 mph. Sunday: Highs in the mid-to-upper 80s, with sunny skies. SW wind at 10-15 mph.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, is here.

Bay Hill was a beast of a course last week, with the combination of firm fairways, deep rough, releasing greens and a windy weekend making “Arnie’s Place” a typically tough proposition. This week in Ponte Vedra Beach also looks a real mixed bag. Warm (23 degrees Celsius) and settled weather on Thursday and Friday should see excellent scoring, and with thunderstorms a distinct possibility throughout tournament week, we may well see a soft course as well.

Saturday looks a lottery with a slump in temperature (15 degrees Celsius), potential rain and gusting 35mph westerly winds calling a definite halt to low scoring. That weather clears on Sunday, but the temperatures drop to 10 degrees Celsius, which I can’t recall at a Players Championship previously.

Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Sony Open which includes both PGA Tour and DP World Tour events. Players’ rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Jon Rahm; 2) Collin Morikawa; 3) Sergio Garcia / Rory McIlroy; 5) Patrick Cantlay / Shane Lowry; 7) Dustin Johnson; 8) Xander Schauffele / Lee Westwood; 10) Tyrrell Hatton; 11) Keith Mitchell; 12) Viktor Hovland; 13) Emiliano Grillo / Si Woo Kim; 15) Joaquin Niemann; 16) Chris Kirk / Hideki Matsuyama / Will Zalatoris; 19) Sungjae Im / Luke List / J.T. Poston; 22) Cameron Champ; 23) Louis Oosthuizen; 24) Ryan Palmer / Thomas Pieters.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Shane Lowry; 2) Will Zalatoris; 3) Paul Casey; 4) Jon Rahm; 5) Tyrrell Hatton; 6) Russell Henley; 7) Matt Fitzpatrick / Viktor Hovland / Hideki Matsuyama / Justin Thomas; 11) Scottie Scheffler; 12) Keegan Bradley / Russell Knox; 14) Joaquin Niemann; 15) Patton Kizzire; 16) Tony Finau; 17) Max Homa / Dustin Johnson; 19) Lanto Griffin; 20) Jason Kokrak / Alex Noren; 22) Martin Laird / Erik van Rooyen; 24) Daniel Berger; 25) Luke List.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Rory McIlroy / Harold Varner III; 3) Webb Simpson; 4) Chris Kirk; 5) Scottie Scheffler / Cameron Smith; 7) Louis Oosthuizen; 8) Jason Day / C.T. Pan; 10) Patrick Cantlay; 11) Pat Perez / Thomas Pieters; 13) Lanto Griffin; 14) Russell Henley / Xander Schauffele / Brendon Todd / Cameron Tringale; 18) Kevin Streelman; 19) Matt Fitzpatrick; 20) Zach Johnson / Hideki Matsuyama; 22) K.H. Lee / Joaquin Niemann; 24) Shane Lowry / Sebastian Munoz.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Shane Lowry; 2) Will Zalatoris; 3) Scottie Scheffler; 4) Jon Rahm; 5) Rory McIlroy; 6) Russell Henley / Hideki Matsuyama; 8) Tyrrell Hatton; 9) Keegan Bradley / Matt Fitzpatrick; 11) Joaquin Niemann; 12) Xander Schauffele; 13) Chris Kirk / Collin Morikawa; 15) Paul Casey / Luke List; 17) Viktor Hovland; 18) Lanto Griffin / Justin Thomas; 20) Martin Laird / Lee Westwood; 22) Keith Mitchell; 23) Daniel Berger / Si Woo Kim / Russell Knox / Adam Scott.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Tyrrell Hatton; 2) Louis Oosthuizen; 3) Matt Fitzpatrick; 4) Jason Kokrak / Adam Scott; 6) Francesco Molinari; 7) Viktor Hovland; 8) Brian Gay; 9) Lucas Herbert; 10) Billy Horschel; 11) Denny McCarthy / Scottie Scheffler; 13) Thomas Pieters / Gary Woodland; 15) Patrick Cantlay / Mackenzie Hughes / Matt Kuchar; 18) Lanto Griffin / Rory McIlroy; 20) Max Homa; 21) Daniel Berger / Andrew Putnam; 23) Seamus Power / Sepp Straka; 25) Henrik Stenson.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Tyrrell Hatton; 2) Scottie Scheffler; 3) Matt Fitzpatrick / Rory McIlroy; 5) Shane Lowry; 6) Xander Schauffele; 7) Jon Rahm / Adam Scott; 9) Billy Horschel; 10) Russell Henley / Viktor Hovland / Hideki Matsuyama / Will Zalatoris; 14) Louis Oosthuizen; 15) Jason Kokrak / Joaquin Niemann; 17) Justin Thomas; 18) Lanto Griffin; 19) Patrick Cantlay / Sergio Garcia / Chris Kirk / Thomas Pieters; 23) Max Homa; 24) Mito Pereira; 25) Daniel Berger.

For a summary of the Strokes Gained Performances from this week’s field here at the Stadium Curse, TPC Sawgrass since 2016 click here.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends: Analysing the Strokes Gained final stats of the Players Championship winners since 2016 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2021, Justin Thomas (-14). SG Off the Tee: 10th, SG Approach: 5th, SG Around the Green: 12th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 42nd.
  • 2019, Rory McIlroy (-16). SG Off the Tee: 2nd, SG Approach: 6th, SG Around the Green: 25th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 45th.
  • 2018, Webb Simpson (-18). SG Off the Tee: 32nd, SG Approach: 62nd, SG Around the Green: 3rd, SG Tee to Green: 16th, SG Putting: 1st.
  • 2017, Si Woo Kim (-10). SG Off the Tee: 2nd, SG Approach: 18th, SG Around the Green: 3rd, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 37th.
  • 2016, Jason Day (-15). SG Off the Tee: 28th, SG Approach: 9th, SG Around the Green: 11th, SG Tee to Green: 3rd, SG Putting: 8th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:

  • SG Off the Tee: 15th, SG Approach: 20th, SG Around the Green: 11th, SG Tee to Green: 5th, SG Putting: 27th.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the winners of the Arnold Palmer Invitational since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:

  • 2021, Justin Thomas (-14). 295 yards (18th), 60.7% fairways (32nd), 72.2% greens in regulation (17th), 35’7″ proximity to hole (6th), 65.0 % scrambling (14th), 1.71 putts per GIR (14th).
  • 2019, Rory McIlroy (-16). 305 yards (5th), 58.9% fairways (49th), 80.6% greens in regulation (3rd), 35’3″ proximity to hole (11th), 57.1 % scrambling (40th), 1.67 putts per GIR (9th).
  • 2018, Webb Simpson (-18). 281 yards (71st), 82.1% fairways (1st), 76.4% greens in regulation (5th), 43’6″ proximity to hole (69th), 64.7 % scrambling (24th), 1.60 putts per GIR (3rd).
  • 2017, Si Woo Kim (-10). 295 yards (11th), 69.6% fairways (15th), 62.5% greens in regulation (37th), 43’2″ proximity to hole (47th), 81.5 % scrambling (1st), 1.76 putts per GIR (26th).
  • 2016, Jason Day (-15). 311 yards (1st), 58.9% fairways (51st), 72.2% greens in regulation (15th), 38’1″ proximity to hole (47th), 85.0 % scrambling (1st), 1.67 putts per GIR (13th).
  • 2015, Rickie Fowler (-12). 296 yards (11th), 62.5% fairways (43rd), 62.5% greens in regulation (51st), proximity to hole 30’6″ (4th), 70.4 % scrambling (10th), 1.62 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2014, Martin Kaymer (-13). 290 yards (19th), 64.3% fairways (39th), 75.0% greens in regulation (3rd), proximity to hole 36’4″ (44th), 77.8 % scrambling (4th), 1.70 putts per GIR (23rd).
  • 2013, Tiger Woods (-13). 288 yards (22nd), 67.9% fairways (19th), 76.4% greens in regulation (3rd), proximity to hole 34’5″ (24th), 70.6% scrambling (6th), 1.71 putts per GIR (26th).
  • 2012, Matt Kuchar (-13). 281 yards (47th), 62.5% fairways (37th), 73.6% greens in regulation (3rd), proximity to hole 33’9″ (7th), 52.6% scrambling (23rd), 1.64 putts per GIR (5th).
  • 2011, K.J. Choi (-13). 281 yards (44th), 71.4% fairways (10th), 69.4% greens in regulation (21st), proximity to hole 35’2″ (35th), 68.2% scrambling (7th), 1.64 putts per GIR (8th).
  • 2010, Tim Clark (-16). 278 yards (59th), 75.0% fairways (5th), 76.4% greens in regulation (4th), proximity to hole 35’10” (30th), 76.5% scrambling (2nd), 1.66 putts per GIR (8th).

Traditional Skill Set Averages:

  • Driving Distance: 28th, Driving Accuracy: 27th, Greens in Regulation: 14th, Proximity to Hole: 29th, Scrambling: 12th, Putting Average 12th.

Let’s take a view from players as to how the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass sets up and what skill sets the course favours:

Justin Thomas (2021): “Well, I think as well as I was starting to learn it, it got switched to March, so I kind of had to re-learn it. I really, really love this place in May and how firm and fast it would play, and I felt like it was not very many drivers. I used a 2-iron at this event and I just would get it on the ground a lot and just really focus on hitting the ball in the fairway. I’m still clearly focused on hitting the ball in the fairway because this is a course that, if you drive it well, being in March, it’s always going to be softer, the fairways and the greens, and you can make so many birdies out here. You have four par-5s, a lot of short scoring clubs into holes. But if you get it out of play, you’re missing the fairways, you get it out of play on the par-5s, it’s tough to shoot under par out here. I think that’s what makes this golf course so good and also why a lot of people have had a wide array, including myself, have had a wide array of finishes. It truly is just how you’re playing.

I feel like it’s not like a lot of courses where you can, even if you’re playing bad you can just kind of skank it around and hit it on one side. I know if I’m going to miss this fairway I can at least hit it over here and get it on this part of the green. It doesn’t play like that. You really have to step up on each tee, on each par-3, par-4, par-5 and just hit the golf shot that it requires, and then just keep going.

I would say it was easier yesterday than it was today, but I mean, this course is like that. As long as you hit the ball in the fairway, it’s not very long, you got four par-5s, you can realistically eagle– besides No. 9 you can, but it’s not likely. You can eagle every par-5, you got a short hole and you can make eagle on this weekend at No. 12. So you can have crazy stuff happen out here and you can really, really shoot a low number. I know that going in or I knew that going into the weekend and I know that every time I tee it up out here. So I think that’s the reason why maybe I played well is I just know to stay patient because you never know when a run is coming.”

Rory McIlroy (2019): “Yeah, the course was softer, including the fairways, also. I think the course over the last 10 years or whatever it’s been in May, it hasn’t lent itself to aggressive play. It’s sort of position and irons off tees and really trying to plot your way around the golf course, where I hit drivers on holes today that I would never have hit driver the last few years. So just to be a little more aggressive, get a shorter club in your hand, and even when you are aggressive and you miss, it’s a touch easier to get yourself back into position. The rough isn’t as long or as gnarly. You’re running into that pine straw and you still have some sort of a shot and some control of your ball. And then when you miss the greens, you’re not having to contend with that Bermuda, you’re not having to guess, how is this going to come out, whatever. So it lends itself to more aggressive play. I don’t know if the course is easier or not. We’ll see what the stroke average is at the end of the day. But because I think it’s playing longer, it’ll play longer for most of the guys, and I think it should all even out. But I definitely like the golf course the way it is in March.

I hit driver on the 4th hole – I mean, it was back into the wind, but still, the ball hits on the fairway and it’s not going that- it’s staying within sort of 10 yards of its pitch mark. You know, and then obviously it’s a Pete Dye course. You’ve got all these funky lines around, and in May it gets firm. You get a bad bounce here. With the Rye and how lush the grass is, even if you hit it into these banks, it’s not going too far, so you can be a little more aggressive. Like even, I hit my second shot on 2 today, I knew I was going into the left rough or into those left moguls, but I was much more comfortable doing that this year than I would have been in previous years.”

Webb Simpson (2018): “I’ve always loved it at TPC Sawgrass. You know, I feel like it doesn’t give one particular golfer an advantage, and I’m always a fan of those golf courses. You know, you take a hole like 18, Rickie, the year he won hit driver every time, and you can do that. I hit 5-wood every time, and I have a much longer club than if I hit driver. But there’s so many holes like that that give you an opportunity to hit different clubs off the tee, and you really think your way around the golf course, and any given day even if it’s really windy you’re going to have plenty of birdie opportunities, and that’s fun. It’s fun to know if I play well I can shoot 6-under like I did today, or if you’re a little off you might shoot a few over.

The challenge here is, if you’re hitting all your shots exactly where you’re looking, and so the temptation is to start aiming more at the flag. But I didn’t do that. I mean, you’ve got to isolate every shot and every putt and just ask yourself, what’s the objective here. Although I’m hitting it great, on 13, I aimed 30 feet right of the hole. 14, I have 9-iron in my hand, I’m aiming 15 feet right of the hole.

Si Woo Kim: “Conditions? I think that this year it’s better than last year. I played last year and Saturday was really crazy bumpy and then this year we had a chance to stop balls on the green. It plays easier this year. I think I’m a little bit more nervous at the Stadium Course. I know that Q-school, that course and this course was composed by the same architect, and we have more – I think here they have more hazards, and the course is a little bit more difficult than the Q-school course, so I think I was a little nervous for this tournament.

Jason Day: “It’s a difficult golf course in regards that, for me, not so much trying to hit the driver off the tee, but there’s a few 3-woods out there for me that I have to hit, and if there’s one club in the bag that’s uncomfortable for me at times, it’s the 3-wood. That’s why I might be hitting a few more 2-irons off the tee this week, just to try and get it in play, so that I can hit the fairways and try and get it on the green and give myself an opportunity at birdie.

Thursday: “The conditions are very hot, so the ball is going forever. Guys can dial it back a little bit and not hit certain clubs or drivers or 3-woods. They can hit irons off the tees, give yourself a lot more opportunities coming in from the fairway. And you can attack these pin locations, especially this morning. You can attack them coming in from the fairway or even the rough or the fairway bunker. But the greens are pure. They’re so nice and they’re rolling so perfect. It’s kind of sad that they’re going to rip the bloody greens up. I’m expecting it’s going to be even better next year.

Saturday: “But it was just, the green speeds kind of took me by surprise. It was just such a drastic change from Thursday to Friday to now, this afternoon. I mean, the front nine was a bit borderline in my honest opinion, but I think a lot of the players probably think that, as well. I think it was, what, I think they said it was 71, the scoring average yesterday, and 76 today or something like that, which is just unbelievable. we were out there for nearly six hours today trying to play 18 holes. That was just, it was – talk about slow play, they made the course pretty much nearly unplayable. If they do make it like that, then I’m just going to have to grind my hardest to win the tournament, and I’m okay with that.

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.

Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the winners of The Players Championship since 2010:

  • 2021 – Justin Thomas: Round 1: 26th, Round 2: 22nd, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2019 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 5th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2018 – Webb Simpson: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2017 – Si Woo Kim: Round 1: 7th, Round 2: 16th, Round 3: 4th.
  • 2016 – Jason Day: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2015 – Rickie Fowler: Round 1: 11th, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 11th.
  • 2014 – Martin Kaymer: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2013 – Tiger Woods: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 4th.
  • 2012 – Matt Kuchar: Round 1: 6th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2011 – K.J. Choi: Round 1: 25th, Round 2: 11th, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2010 – Tim Clark: Round 1: 11th, Round 2: 23rd; Round 3: 6th.

Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 11 Players Championship winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2021 – Justin Thomas: Round 1: 6 back, Round 2: 7 back, Round 3: 3 back.
  • 2019 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2018 – Webb Simpson: Round 1: level, Round 2: 5 ahead, Round 3: 7 ahead.
  • 2017 – Si Woo Kim: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 6 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2016 – Jason Day: Round 1: 2 ahead, Round 2: 4 ahead, Round 3: 4 ahead.
  • 2015 – Rickie Fowler: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 3 back.
  • 2014 – Martin Kaymer: Round 1: 2 ahead, Round 2: 1 ahead, Round 3: level.
  • 2013 – Tiger Woods: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: level.
  • 2012 – Matt Kuchar: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2011 – K.J. Choi: Round 1: 6 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 1  back.
  • 2010 – Tim Clark: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 7 back, Round 3: 3 back.

Form of Players Championship winners since 2010:

  • Justin Thomas: 15th WGC Concession/MC Riviera/13th TPC Scottsdale/MC Abu Dhabi.
  • Rory McIlroy: 6th Bay Hill/2nd Mexico/4th Riviera/5th Torrey.
  • Webb Simpson: 21st Quail/5th Harbour/20th Augusta/29th World MP.
  • Si Woo Kim: MC New Orleans/22nd TPC San Antonio/MC Augusta/WD Houston.
  • Jason Day: 5th New Orleans/23rd Harbour/10th Augusta/1st World MP.
  • Rickie Fowler: 9th World MP/MC New Orleans/12th Augusta/71st Houston.
  • Martin Kaymer: 18th Quail/23rd Heritage/31st Augusta/MC Houston.
  • Tiger Woods: 4th Augusta/1st Bay Hill/1st Doral/37th PGA National.
  • Matt Kuchar: 13th TPC San Antonio/44th Heritage/3rd Masters/10th Copperhead.
  • K.J. Choi: 3rd New Orleans/8th Augusta/6th Bay Hill/MC Copperhead.
  • Tim Clark: 63rd Heritage/MC Masters/30th Bay Hill/22nd Doral.

First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.

  • 2021 – Garcia – AM – 7/65 – 80/1
  • 2020 – Matsuyama – AM – 9/63 – 40/1
  • 2019 – Bradley / Fleetwood – AM/PM Split -7/65 – 75/1 & 45/1
  • 2018 – Cantlay / Hadley / D Johnson / Kuchar / Noren / Simpson – 3AM/3PM Split -6/66 – 60/1, 90/1, 33/1, 66/1, 66/1 & 70/1
  • 2017 – Hughes / McGirt – AM/PM Split -5/67 – 250/1 & 100/1
  • 2016 – Day – AM -9/63.
  • 2015 – Hearn / Hoffman / Matsuyama / Na – 1AM/3PM -5/67
  • 2014 – Kaymer – PM -9/63.
  • 2013 – Castro – AM -9/63.
  • 2012 – Laird / Poulter – AM/PM Split -7/65.
  • 2011 – Watney – AM -8/64.
  • 2010 – Allenby / Holmes – AM/PM Split -6/66.

For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:

  • 7 – Dustin Johnson.
  • 6 – Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas.
  • 4 – Jason Day, Brian Gay, Billy Horschel, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth.
  • 3 – Sergio Garcia, Si Woo Kim, Kevin Kisner, Matt Kuchar, Ryan Palmer, Cameron Smith, Brandt Snedeker, Henrik Stenson.
  • 2 – Daniel Berger, Sam Burns, Paul Casey, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Brooks Koepka, Marc Leishman, Scott Piercy, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Robert Streb, Hudson Swafford, Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson.
  • 1 – Abraham Ancer, Keegan Bradley, Patrick Cantlay, Cameron Champ, Stewart Cink, Bryson DeChambeau, Talor Gooch, Branden Grace, Lanto Griffin, Adam Hadwin, James Hahn, Tyrrell Hatton, Lucas Herbert, Garrick Higgo, Max Homa, Mackenzie Hughes, Sungjae Im, Matt Jones, Patton Kizzire, Jason Kokrak, Martin Laird, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Hideki Matsuyama, Keith Mitchell, Francesco Molinari, Sebastian Munoz, Carlos Ortiz, C.T. Pan, Pat Perez, J.T Poston, Scottie Scheffler, Charl Schwartzel, Scott Stallings, Sepp Straka, Kevin Streelman, Brain Stuard, Brendon Todd, Jhonattan Vegas, Nick Watney, Lee Westwood, Aaron Wise, Gary Woodland.

Trends in terms of recent winners are interesting and mixed. Rickie Fowler had finished 2nd here in 2012 prior to winning in 2015. His form during that season had been mediocre to say the least, but a 12th at Augusta and a 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, the American 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 prior to capturing the title here in 2014. The German 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. And in 2018, Webb Simpson arrived here winless in 4 and a half years, without a PGA Tour Bermudagrass win to his name and had never finished in the top 10 at TPC Sawgrass in 8 appearances.

Si Woo Kim (2017), Rory McIlroy (2019) and Justin Thomas (2021) all won here off a fairly significant winless period. Kim’s 500/1 shock came 8 months after his first PGA Tour win which had arrived at the 2016 Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club. Rory’s victory here came at 14/1; his last win had been almost a full year to the day at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational played at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida. And Justin Thomas, who won at 20/1 last year, had waited 6 months for his 14th PGA Tour victory. His previous victory had been the previous August at the WGC-St Jude Invitational.

Naturally though a couple of World Number 1s break this ‘winless trend’ since 2010. Jason Day had won the Bay Hill Invitational and WGC Dell Match Play titles prior to Augusta where he’d finished 10th. Day had also finished 6th at TPC Sawgrass 5 years earlier and his win here in 2017 was at 12/1. Tiger Woods was playing brilliantly prior to arriving at TPC Sawgrass in 2013. His strong play overcame his relatively poor Stadium Course/Pete Dye design form to win one of his sweetest victories at 9/1. It will be fascinating therefore to see how Jon Rahm goes this week as the World Number 1 and amongst the favoruites.

Where immediate course form is not a must to win The Players, course experience is still a key advantage. Yes Eddie Pepperell, Xander Schauffele, Kevin Kisner, Jordan Spieth and David Lingmerth (a Sawgrass member) have contended and placed across recent renewals and Henrik Stenson finished 3rd on course debut back in 2006, these are the real exceptions. Hal Sutton (1983) and Craig Perks (2002) were the last players to win here on course debut.

Ultimately though this Pete Dye design has always been a course where no particular type of player has a true advantage. The best player on the week wins, period.

My Final Players Championship Tips Are As Follows:

Rory McIlroy 2.5pts EW 18/1 (9EW, 1/5) with William Hill

My notes on the Players Championship say take one of the elite players at a value price, and in my eyes Rory McIlroy is a good investment on that basis. His last wins on the PGA Tour have come at 22/1 (CJ Cup last October), plus 18/1 (Wells Fargo Championship and we have seen Rory win at 14/1 (2019 Players Championship) and 20/1 at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational. Big wins in class tournaments here in the Sunshine State.

My notes also state that we’re looking for Florida in-your-face form. So with that in mind, Rory has 3 wins in Florida and the following results: PGA National: 1st (2012), 2nd (2014); Doral: 10th (2011), 3rd (2012), 8th (2013), 9th (2015), 3rd (2016); Bay Hill: 4th (2017), 1st (2018), 6th (2019), 5th (2020), 10th (2021); TPC Sawgrass: 8th (2013), 6th (2014), 8th (2015), 1st (2019). Pretty stellar, all told.

12th in Abu Dhabi, 3rd in Dubai, 10th at the Genesis Invitational and 13th last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he was also 6th at the DP World Tour Championship (where he ripped his shirt in frustration) and was 1st at the CJ Cup across 2 of his last 3 appearances in the autumn of last year. Hardly disastrous form and I find Morikawa, Thomas and Rahm at shorter prices in the market.

But this is the bit I really like about Rory this week. 1st for Total Driving, 13th for Greens in Regulation and 3rd for Ball Striking last week at ‘Arnie’s Place’, from a Strokes Gained perspective he ranked 8th for Off the Tee, 24th for Approach and 9th for Tee to Green. Yes he struggled with the putter, but prior to Bay Hill he ranked in the top 10 for Strokes Gained Putting across 3 of his past 5 appearances. Opened with a -7/65 last week to be the First Round Leader and with potentially softer conditions and less wind for 54 holes this week, I fancy his chances. RESULT: T33

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Hideki Matsuyama 2pts EW 30/1 (9EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Go back to Tim Clark in 2010 and exclude Tiger Woods (as ever): all winners here at The Players Championship have been first-time Players winners. They made on average 6 starts here on the Stadium Course before winning. Thomas with 5 starts, McIlroy with 9 starts and Simpson with 8 starts have been the last 3 winners – TPC Sawgrass clearly reacts best to experience.

Hideki Matsuyama’s Florida-type golf course record isn’t stellar, I’ll give you that. 6th (2015) is as good at it gets at Bay Hill, but his last 2 trips there have gleaned 18th (2021) and 20th last week. 15th at the WGC held at The Concession last year is also worthy of note. It’s typically Hideki – efficient in the main. But where this gets interesting for me is the World Number 11’s record here at TPC Sawgrass. 7 appearances here have gleaned  23rd (2014), 17th (2015), 7th (2016), 22nd (2017) and 8th (2019). Matsuyama was also the First Round Leader here in 2020 – shooting -9/63 – before the tournament was scrubbed.

That’s a strong record for Hideki – especially on Bermudagrass greens, which I have never thought overly suit him – but of course he won the Sony Open at Waialae back in January. The switch of The Players to March in my opinion undoubtedly aids Hideki as the course now features overseeded TifEagle Bermudagrass greens. These type of greens are similar to what we have seen at TPC Scottsdale over the years – a course where Hideki was runner-up in 2015 and winner across both 2016 and 2017. Players champions – Rickie Fowler won there in 2019 as did Webb Simpson in 2020. Justin Thomas has finished 3rd there twice (2019 and 2020) and must be short odds to win the WM Phoenix Open in the near future.

I’ll close with Hideki’s visibility within my 8-week Strokes Gained trackers. In this field he ranks top 20 for Off the Tee and Around the Green, top 10 for Approach and Total Strokes Gained, i.e. Current Form, plus he ranks 6th for Tee to Green. Clearly Hideki is in good shape heading to Ponte Vedra Beach. RESULT: WD Pre-Event

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Brooks Koepka 1.25pts EW 40/1 (9EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Brooks Koepka has both understated form in general and here at TPC Sawgrass. The 4-time Major champion and 8-time PGA Tour winner recently described his World Ranking as “embarrassing” and there have been undoubted signs that the 31 year-old is finding some motivation at last.

3rd at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month when defending, he ranked 7th for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, 16th for Tee to Green and 5th for Putting on greens which are very similar to this. And 16th last time out at the Honda Classic also showed real signs of both motivation and confidence with his fresh for 2022 Srixon equipment he is now using. 17th for Off the Tee, 21st for Approach and 14th for Tee to Green across the Strokes Gained categories, Brooks closed with a 69 to vault up to 16th spot. High-class driving for Brooks is so important to his game and he’s undoubtedly gaining in confidence off the tee right now.

His Florida course type record is also low-key. 2nd at PGA National in 2019, he was also 2nd behind Collin Morikawa at the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession last year. Weeks later he then withdrew from The Players with the infamous knee injury which plagued his 2021 campaign. This will be Brooks’ 6th appearance at TPC Sawgrass and 16th (2017) and 11th (2018) give encouragement that the Floridian gets on well enough here. Indeed he’s the joint-course record holder (with Hideki Matsuyama amongst others), shooting -9/63 in that 2018 renewal. A real price play this week. RESULT: MC

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Shane Lowry 1.25pts EW 45/1 (8EW, 1/5) with bet365

This will be the 7th Players appearance for Shane Lowry and he has the all-round game shape I like, especially if bad weather hits on Saturday. TPC Sawgrass form-wise, 16th here in 2016 was slightly disappointing after a Thursday/Friday 65-68 had the Irishman in 2nd place heading into the weekend. And the World Number 36 arrives here this year knowing that he finished in the top 10 here 12 months ago, where book-end rounds of -4/68 saw him grab an each-way place at 200/1.

Lowry has started 2022 well. 2nd after 54 holes in Abu Dhabi, he eventually finished 12th. 24th in the Dubai Desert Classic and 14th at the Saudi International was the precursor to the Honda Classic 2 weeks ago, where the County Offaly man made his 2022 PGA Tour bow. 3 straight rounds of 67 saw Shane in the lead coming down the stretch at PGA National, but a closing par in torrential rain and wind saw Sepp Straka take the title.

Shane was undoubtedly disappointed coming so close to winning his first PGA Tour event since his 2019 Open Championship title, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the Irishman, it’s that he can string together contending performances when at his peak. He’s undoubtedly close to that right now, ranking 5th for Off the Tee, 1st for Approach, 1st for Tee to Green and 5th for Current Form in this field across my 8-week Stroke Gained trackers. RESULT: T13

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Alex Noren 1pt EW 125/1 (8EW, 1/5) with bet365

I tipped up Erik van Rooyen last week along the lines of OWGR motivation and dropping outside of the top 64 in the world with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play around the corner. He missed the cut! Well I’m in on Alex Noren this week for similar reasons. Outside the world’s top 50 – a position he resided comfortably in between 2016-19 – the Swede, who has a home in Jupiter, Florida, currently sits without any 2022 Major invites and just within the World Matchplay field at his current rank of 62nd. So at a time when he could do with one more big finish to open some career doors, the Players Championship this week offers up a huge opportunity.

6th at TPC Scottsdale and 5th at PGA National last time out, Alex is playing some great stuff right now. He clearly has a liking for tough Florida tests having also finished 3rd at the 2018 Honda Classic, and his record here on the Stadium Course is decent enough. 10th on course debut in 2017, Alex was also 17th a year later. Both times the Swede found himself in the top 5 heading into the weekend.

6th for Total Driving, 7th for Strokes Gained on Approach, 1st for Greens in Regulation, 4th for Ball Striking and 8th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green a fortnight ago at the Honda Classic, Noren is clearly hitting his straps with his ball striking. I’m also a believer that the Stadium Course overseeding will enhance his chances this week, as will what could well be some cold and northern European-type playing conditions over the weekend. RESULT: T26

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 15:40GMT 7.3.22 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.