Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's The Players Championship Tips 2024

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Congratulations if you were on-board Scottie Scheffler at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week at a Monday best price of 13/2. The ease at which he won his 7th PGA Tour event was impressive. Despite the World Number 1 winning, the trend for big-priced winners continued with Brice Garnett winning the Puerto Rico Open at 150/1. Let down by Sam Burns and Harris English on Sunday at Bay Hill, Hayden Springer delivered my third consecutive each-way return at 80/1 last week at the opposite event.

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 re-structure, this now landscapes as the strongest field of the year, excepting Major Championships.

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, +6,300 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 Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Smith, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, who make up the past champions since the Players moved to March, 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 re-design. Make no mistake – this is a true Florida golf course test, which often features plenty of wind (and rain!). 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, including the green surfaces, plus softer turf/green conditions (especially in 2022).

Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida: Designer: Pete Dye 1980, Steve Wenzloff re-design 2016; Course Type: Florida, Mid-Score, Short; Par: 72; Length: 7,275 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 18; Number of Bunkers: 92; Acres of Fairway: 26; Fairways: Celebration Bermudagrass overseeded with Champion Fine Ryegrass; Rough: Celebration Bermudagrass overseeded with Champion Fine Ryegrass 3.5″; Greens: 5,500 sq.ft. average TifEagle Bermuda overseeded with Poa Trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 12.5ft.

Course Scoring Average: 2019: 71.51 (-0.49), Rank 23 of 49 courses. 2021: 72.42 (+0.42), Rank 16 of 51 courses. 2022: 72.62 (+0.62), Difficulty Rank 12 of 50 courses. 2023: 72.45 (+0.45), Difficulty Rank 12 of 49 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

Stadium Course – TPC Sawgrass Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for 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.
  • Pete Dye 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.
  • East Lake: 250 yards from the tee: 28 yards wide; 275:26; 300:25; 325:24; 350:23.
  • TPC Southwind: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:29; 300:28; 325:31; 350:25.

Course Overview: 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 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’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.”

The greens are also now overseeded with the TifEagle Bermudagrass now sitting under Poa Trivialis. This overseeding technique takes the inherent graininess of the Bermudagrass away and leads to smoother putting surfaces, with a Poa Trivialis 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.

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 saw the 12th extended to a 369 yard par-4. And 2024 sees further course yardage growth as 19 yards has been added to the par-5 9th, taking it up from 583 yards to 602 yards. So the Stadium Course this week plays as a 7,275 yard Par 72, which is still extremely short for a Par 72, with 4 par-5s.

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

The Players Championship Winners: 2023: Scottie Scheffler (-17); 2022: Cameron Smith (-13); 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).

  • 2023: Scottie Scheffler 68-69-65-69 -17/271
  • 2022: Cameron Smith 69-71-69-66 -13/275
  • 2021: Justin Thomas 77-71-64-68 -14/274
  • 2019: Rory McIlroy 67-65-70-70 -16/272

Path to Victory: Below are end of round positions for Players Championship winners since the tournament moved to March:

  • 2023 – Scottie Scheffler: Round 1: 5th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2022 – Cameron Smith: Round 1: 15th, Round 2: 11th, Round 3: 6th.
  • 2021 – Justin Thomas: Round 1: 26th, Round 2: 22nd, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2019 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 5th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 2nd.

Shots From the Lead: Below are the Players Championship winners since the tournament moved to March and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2023 – Scottie Scheffler: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 2 ahead.
  • 2022 – Cameron Smith: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 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.

OWGR of The Players Championship Winners (since move to March): 2023: Scheffler 2; 2022: Smith 10; 2021: Thomas 3; 2019: McIlroy 6.

Cut Line (since move to March): 2023: +2; 2022: +2; 2021: E; 2019: -1.

Lead Score Progression (since move to March):

  • 2023: Round 1 -8; Round 2 -9; Round 3 -14; Round 4 -17.
  • 2022: Round 1 -6; Round 2 -7; Round 3 -9; Round 4 -13.
  • 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.

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.

My published predictor is available here. Top 10 of my published predictor are: Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas, Tom Hoge, Rory McIlroy, Will Zalatoris, Shane Lowry, Max Homa, Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama.

Our brand new predictor model is running alongside, where you can build your own rankings in live time, using the variables listed on the left hand side.

The Players Championship Winners & Prices: 2023: Scheffler 11/1; 2022: Smith 33/1; 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 4 Renewals Average: 20/1; Overall Average: 81/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 2023: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 72. Wind E 10-15 mph. Friday:  Mostly cloudy. High of 81. Wind SSW 12-22 mph. The second round was suspended for the day due to inclement weather at 4:27 p.m. ET Friday with 71 players remaining on the golf course. The second round resumed Saturday at 7:01 a.m. ET. Saturday: Sunny. High of 70. Wind NE 5-10 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 82. Wind SSW 10-20 mph.
  • 2022: Thursday: Cloudy with scattered showers and thunderstorms. High of 72. Wind SW 8-16 mph. The first round was suspended at 11 a.m. ET due to dangerous weather in the area and resumed at 3:14 p.m. ET (4 hours, 14 minutes). Friday: Cloudy with scattered showers and thunderstorms. High of 71. Wind SSE 6-12 mph. Play did not resume Friday after the suspension of play at 11:15 a.m. Saturday: Partly cloudy and windy. High of 61. Wind NNW 20-30 mph, with gusts to 43 mph. Due to dangerous weather in the morning Saturday, the second round did not start until noon ET. Sunday: Mostly sunny. High of 52. Wind NE 6-12 mph. Monday: Mostly cloudy with scattered showers. High of 67 Wind E 10-20 mph.
  • 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.

Many of you will remember the chaos here 2 years ago with a flooded course, high winds and a wholly unsatisfactory wave bias. Well fingers crossed looking at the forecast we shouldn’t get that in 2024. Wind looks far less of a factor with nothing more than 20 mph across the week, and temperatures are set to start at 22 degrees Celsius (72 Fahrenheit) on Thursday and warm up to 27 degrees Celsius (81 Fahrenheit) on Sunday.

180 mm (7 inches) of rain has fallen in the Orlando area since the turn of the year, with 10mm on Saturday, so I think that turf conditions will be soft on the fairways at the very least. Also expect lush and rough that will be over 3 inches in length. There is the potential for rain and electrical activity on Friday and Sunday afternoons.

Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to The American Express / Dubai Desert Classic which includes both PGA Tour and DP World Tour events, where recorded. Player rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Rory McIlroy; 2) Webb Simpson; 3) Cameron Young; 4) Keith Mitchell; 5) Vincent Norrman; 6) Nicolai Hojgaard / Si Woo Kim; 8) Adam Scott; 9) Byeong Hun An; 10) Ludvig Aberg / Viktor Hovland / Kurt Kitayama; 13) Min Woo Lee /  Jordan Spieth / Will Zalatoris; 16) Jason Day / Sahith Theegala; 18) Corey Conners / Scottie Scheffler / Justin Thomas; 21) Keegan Bradley / Robert MacIntyre / Patrick Rodgers / Xander Schauffele; 25) Kevin Yu.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Cam Davis; 2) Tom Hoge; 3) Scottie Scheffler; 4) Tony Finau; 5) Adam Scott; 6) Lucas Glover; 7) Christiaan Bezuidenhout / Wyndham Clark; 9) Corey Conners; 10) Nick Taylor; 11) Justin Thomas / Cameron Young; 13) Ludvig Aberg; 14) Doug Ghim / Si Woo Kim / Carson Young; 17) Xander Schauffele; 18) Keith Mitchell; 19) Emiliano Grillo; 20) Jake Knapp / Collin Morikawa / Hideki Matsuyama / Erik van Rooyen / Will Zalatoris; 25) Scott Stallings.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Jordan Spieth; 2) Harris English; 3) Justin Thomas; 4) Tommy Fleetwood / Hideki Matsuyama / Xander Schauffele; 7) Kevin Streelman; 8) Max Homa / Seamus Power; 10) Aaron Baddeley / Lucas Glover; 12) Mackenzie Hughes; 13) Ben Griffin / Ryo Hisatsune; 15) Will Zalatoris; 16) Maverick McNealy; 17) Austin Eckroat; 18) Keegan Bradley / Matt Kuchar / Scottie Scheffler / Brendon Todd; 22) Harry Hall; 23) Denny McCarthy; 24) Beau Hossler; 25) Russell Henley / Rory McIlroy.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Scottie Scheffler; 2) Tony Finau; 3) Xander Schauffele; 4) Justin Thomas / Will Zalatoris; 6) Hideki Matsuyama; 7) Corey Conners / Doug Ghim / Lucas Glover; 10) Cam Davis; 11) Wyndham Clark / Si Woo Kim; 13) Ludvig Aberg / Rory McIlroy / Adam Scott / Jordan Spieth / Cameron Young; 18) Keith Mitchell; 19) Nicolai Hojgaard; 20) Tom Hoge; 21) Kurt Kitayama; 22) Nick Taylor; 23) Byeong Hun An / Keegan Bradley; 25) Erik van Rooyen.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Sam Burns; 2) Matthieu Pavon; 3) Nick Taylor / Sahith Theegala; 5) Ludvig Aberg; 6) Brendon Todd; 7) Nick Dunlap / Russell Henley; 9) Taylor Montgomery / Jordan Spieth; 11) Tom Hoge / Max Homa / Adam Scott; 14) Christiaan Bezuidenhout; 15) Andrew Putnam; 16) Emiliano Grillo / Viktor Hovland / Kurt Kitayama; 19) K.H. Lee; 20) Aaron Baddeley / Denny McCarthy; 22) Harris English / Tommy Fleetwood / C.T. Pan / Chad Ramey / Xander Schauffele / Adam Schenk.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Scottie Scheffler; 3) Ludvig Aberg / Sam Burns; 4) Will Zalatoris; 5) Xander Schauffele; 6) Tony Finau / Justin Thomas; 8) Tom Hoge; 9) Keith Mitchell / Adam Scott; 11) Si Woo Kim / Erik van Rooyen / Cameron Young; 14) Matthieu Pavon / Sahith Theegala; 16) Doug Ghim / Russell Henley / Hideki Matsuyama / Jordan Spieth; 20) Rory McIlroy; 21) Beau Hossler; 22) Wyndham Clark; 23) Nicolai Hojgaard / Kurt Kitayama / Nick Taylor.

Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the Strokes Gained Stats of the Players Championship winners since 2019 (since tournament moved to March from May gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2022, Scottie Scheffler (-17). SG Off the Tee: 5th, SG Approach: 4th, SG Around the Green: 4th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 48th.
  • 2022, Cameron Smith (-13). SG Off the Tee: 68th, SG Approach: 5th, SG Around the Green: 19th, SG Tee to Green: 35th, SG Putting: 1st.
  • 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.

Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:

  • SG Off the Tee: 21st, SG Approach: 5th, SG Around the Green: 15th, SG Tee to Green: 10th, SG Putting: 34th.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of Players Championship winners since 2019 (since tournament moved to March from May gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this tough Florida golf test:

  • 2023, Scottie Scheffler (-17). 306 yards (1st), 67.9% fairways (18th), 75.0% greens in regulation (1st), 36’9″ proximity to hole (16th), 72.2 % scrambling (4th), 1.70 putts per GIR (34th).
  • 2022, Cameron Smith (-13). 290 yards (20th), 42.9% fairways (70th), 62.5% greens in regulation (52nd), 35’0″ proximity to hole (14th), 63.0 % scrambling (22nd), 1.56 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 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).

Tournament Skill Averages:

  • Driving Distance: 11th, Driving Accuracy: 42nd, Greens in Regulation: 18th, Proximity to Hole: 12th, Scrambling: 20th, Putting Average 15th.

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:

Scottie Scheffler (2023): “I would say most challenging for me would probably be 18. I’m a guy that usually likes to fade it off the tee and there’s a big lake on the left side there. So I usually will try and hit 3-wood so I can actually draw it around. That way if you do make a mistake and it goes in the water I can actually drop up there versus if I’m trying to fade a driver and I pull it I basically have to reload.

Then the second shot, it almost kind of teases you because it looks like you can hit it right at the pin and then if you land it just barely left of it just trickles over there into the water. So I would say most challenging is 18. I mean, really, when you go back to the whole golf course, if you hit good shots you’re going to get rewarded for it. That is so great for us to be able to come out here and play and it’s such a treat to be able to go challenge ourselves on this golf course. You don’t see the same guys on the leaderboard every year, you see whichever guy’s playing the best that week.

I mean, I just think it’s a good test tee to green. I think what makes me a little nervous is the stuff kind of around. You don’t really know if you’re going to get a good or bad break. Anytime you’re hitting fairways and greens out here it’s pretty scoreable, but the minute you miss a fairway, depending on where you end up in one of these little hollows or pot bunkers or something like that you can get in weird spots pretty quick.

I thought I was hanging in there at the start, kind of getting used to how the golf course is playing. There was a lot more wind today, and I knew it was going to pick up as the day went on. It was it felt like it was one of those days where somebody was kind of going to post a score and then they were going to be on the leaderboard, and I was just going to have to beat whoever it was. Fortunately, that chip on 8 went in.

That was just a good example of me playing smart there. If you miss it pin high on that hole to either of those pins you’re more than likely going to make a bogey. So all we were doing there was just trying to aim for the front edge, and I hit a really good shot and the wind hit it and pushed it a little left. If I wasn’t playing that smart, I would have been in a really tough position. I was in a position where there wasn’t an easy chip, but it was a very gettable up-and-down and just fortunate to see it go in.”

Cameron Smith (2022): “Being a Jacksonville Beach resident, I’ve found it hard in recent years, I guess, to really treat it like a tournament. I feel like I’m just coming out here just to practice. That’s normally what I do. It’s usually pretty cruisey around here, have a chat to the boys out the back on the greens keeping team and have a laugh at the boys back there, as well. However there are some pins around here that you can be quite aggressive with that looks like you have to play away, and just little stuff like that. I mean, everyone here is the best in the world. We all prepare the same. To say I have an advantage is a really big call.”

“I made a couple of good bogey putts today, dodged a couple of bullets. I think this golf course just does that to you. There’s always those five-, six-footers for bogey, and I just holed a lot of them today. I think the course looks great when it’s overseeded. I’m a big lawn snob, grass snob. I think it looks great. I think it plays a little bit better. I think the greens roll better in March when they’re good. It’s definitely a tougher test. “

“18, is just a hole for me that doesn’t really suit my eye. I like to work the ball left to right off the tee. That’s where I feel comfortable, and I feel as though I can’t hit that shot down there. Just haven’t quite figured that hole out. Driver, just because I just wanted to get it down there as far as I could basically. If it did turn over, I was going to have a short shot in, and it just didn’t quite turn over.”

Like I was saying before, I felt really comfortable on the range with my irons, and I knew if I could somehow get it in the fairway, I felt it was mine to win from the start. I feel really comfortable on the greens around here, so I just needed to get it on the fairway, and if I could do that, then I knew I had a red hot chance. Was able to do that a little bit on the front nine at least, and then kind of got a bit wavy there at the end. My driver got a little bit skewy the last kind of 12 holes, but was able to kind of scramble around and hit really good iron shots when I needed to. I felt really comfortable with my iron shots. I felt as though I had it under control. I just needed to hit the fairway. That was the big thing.”

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.

Incoming Form of Players Championship winners since move to March:

  • Scottie Scheffler: 4th Bay Hill/12th Riviera/1st TPC Scottsdale/11th PGA West.
  • Cameron Smith: 33rd Riviera/4th Saudi/MC Waialae/1st Kapalua.
  • Justin Thomas: 15th WGC Concession/MC Riviera/13th TPC Scottsdale/MC Abu Dhabi/3rd Kapalua.
  • Rory McIlroy: 6th Bay Hill/2nd Mexico/4th Riviera/5th Torrey/4th Kapalua.

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

  • 2023 – Ramey – AM – 8/64 – 350/1
  • 2022 – Fleetwood / Hoge – Both AM – 6/66 – 80/1 & 100/1
  • 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:

  • 8 – Rory McIlroy.
  • 6 – Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas.
  • 5 – Jordan Spieth.
  • 4 – Sam Burns, Jason Day, Billy Horschel, Chris Kirk, Si Woo Kim, Camilo Villegas.
  • 3 – Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele.
  • 2 – Patrick Cantlay, Harris English, Rickie Fowler, Lucas Glover, Russell Henley, Mackenzie Hughes, Grayson Murray, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Nick Taylor.
  • 1 – Ludvig Aberg, Aaron Baddeley, Keegan Bradley, Wyndham Clark, Corey Conners, Tyler Duncan, Nick Dunlap, Austin Eckroat, Tony Finau, Matt Fitzpatrick, Sungjae Im, Adam Hadwin, Nick Hardy, Garrick Higgo, Max Homa, Viktor Hovland, Tom Kim, Kurt Kitayama, Martin Laird, Luke List, Peter Malnati, Keith Mitchell, Francesco Molinari, Hideki Matsuyama, Taylor Moore, Collin Morikawa, C.T. Pan, J.T. Poston, Seamus Power, Davis Riley, Scott Stallings, Sepp Straka, Kevin Streelman, Steve Stricker, Adam Svensson, Brendon Todd, Gary Woodland, Will Zalatoris.

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 were 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 win 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 in 2021, 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 small number of ‘elites’ 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. World Number 10 Cameron Smith had already gained 11 OWGR spots in a 2022 which had seen him win the year-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions, prior to winning this in 2022 at 33/1. Plus defending champion Scottie Scheffler had won the Waster Management Phoenix Open and finished 4th the week before at the Arnold Palmer Invitational prior to winning this at 11/1.

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 gone close across recent renewals, and Henrik Stenson finished 3rd on course debut back in 2006, however 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:

Scottie Scheffler 5Pts Win Only 6/1 Enhanced Win with bet365

Let’s start with Scottie Scheffler who’s going to take all the beating this week.

Watching Scottie shoot a Sunday -6/66 on a Bay Hill course that played to a 73.16 field average was truly impressive, and he pretty much dismantled this same field by 5 shots. Yes the field has increased considerably in numbers, but the quality hasn’t so I’m more than happy to back him win-only on a Stadium Course where he won by 5 shots last year.

4 of Scheffler’s 7 PGA Tour victories have come on these Poa Trivialis overseed type greens, and a couple more have come on the TifEagle Bermudagrass greens at Bay Hill, so as I have highlighted for quite a period of time, this agronomy is where Scottie plays his best golf. Interestingly he has already defended a title on the PGA Tour as well and that was at the first attempt when he won the 2022 and 2023 Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale back-to-back.

Currently the best strategic golfer by a considerable distance on the PGA Tour, much of that comes from the advice of caddie Ted Scott. It’s also worthy of note that Scheffler has 3 victories and a further 2 top-5 finishes in his last 8 Florida starts across Concession, Bay Hill and of course here at TPC Sawgrass.

In the autumn, Scheffler started working with renowned putting coach Phil Kenyon and last week’s swap to a new mallet putter certainly reaped dividends as Scottie unleashed his best putting performance since the 2022 Phoenix Open win. That naturally came on top of his standard 1st for Tee to Green excellence and for me makes him a win-only must back. RESULT: Winner

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Hideki Matsuyama 2pts EW 28/1 (8EW, 1/5) with bet365

As my esteemed colleague Paul Williams pointed out last week on the Golf Betting System Podcast, Hideki Matsuyama wins in bunches.

Go all the way back to 2013 when he played on the Japan Golf Tour and Hideki finished 1-2-2-1 across a 4 tournament spell. Late 2016 into early 2017 then saw him go 1-2-1-1-2-27-33-1, which included 2 Japan Golf Tour wins, plus the 2016 WGC HSBC Champions at Sheshan and the 2017 Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. The last burst of wins came in late 2021 and early 2022 when Hideki won the coveted ZOZO Championship on home soil, before starting the New Year with 13th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and 1st at the Sony Open.

Seemingly back somewhere close his best, his recent win at The Genesis Invitational came at Signature Event level and his performance last week at Bay Hill was fascinating as well. Tied for the lead after 36 holes and 4th heading into Sunday, the upwardly mobile World Number 16 ranked 13th for Tee to Green and was positive with the putter again, which as we know is his nemesis.

Plus his form on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is excellent. 8th in this field across our Players Championship Strokes Gained Rankings, which shortens to 4th for those who have played here multiple times, the Japanese No.1 has finished 7th (2016), 8th (2019) and 5th (2023) with 3 more supporting top-23 finishes across 8 appearances.

2 of his 9 PGA Tour wins have also come on similar TifEagle Bermudagrass Poa Trivialis greens at TPC Scottsdale in 20216. RESULT: T6

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Shane Lowry 1.5pts EW 33/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Sometimes it’s best to not overthink things. Shane Lowry plays his best golf on challenging golf courses. In the United States his best results have been in Florida (where he lives) and Ohio, where he won the 2015 WGC Bridgestone Invitational and has contended at The Memorial. 3rd at Augusta National (2022); 8th (2019) and 4th (2021) at the PGA Championships hosted at Bethpage Black and Kiawah Island, The Irishman also finished 2nd at the Oakmont-hosted 2016 U.S. Open behind Dustin Johnson. Undoubtedly the upwardly mobile World Number 37 plays his best stuff on stretching golf courses where par means something, and with 3.5” rough this week on the Stadium Course, grinding will undoubtedly be imperative if you want to hang around.

4th at PGA National and 3rd at Bay Hill – which had been a bogey course for Shane up until last week – across this year’s Florida Swing, Lowry has finished 16th (2016), 8th (2021) and 13th (2022) here across 8 appearances. He also ranked 6th here last year for Strokes Gained Tee to Green when he finished 35th overall – at a point where he was struggling to make a putt of any length.

From a DP World Tour perspective, I also like Lowry’s win at the 2019 Abu Dhabi Championship. That event up until 2022 was hosted at Abu Dhabi Golf Club with a champions list which includes Players Championship luminaries such as Henrik Stenson (winner 2009), Paul Casey (5th 2021, 3rd 2022), Martin Kaymer (winner 2014), Rickie Fowler (winner 2015), Tommy Fleetwood (2nd after 54 holes – 5th 2019), Lee Westwood (runner-up 2021) and Tyrrell Hatton (runner-up 2023). RESULT: T19

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Brian Harman 1pt EW 66/1 (8EW, 1/5) with bet365

Picking up an OWGR top 10 player and a current Major Champion at this price is always a bonus, and in Brian Harman we have a player who could undoubtedly contend at The Players Championship this week.

With the rough up and water everywhere, a player who hits the ball straight off the tee always helps and the Open Champion played very nicely last week at a Bay Hill course which is way too long for him. Tied for the lead after 36 holes, Harman had a bad Saturday in the wind, but fought back for a personal best 12th place finish at Arnie’s Place. 1st for Greens in Regulation, 6th for Total Accuracy, 1st for Proximity to Hole, 3rd for Strokes Gained On Approach and 7th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green last week were numbers that jumped off the page for me.

5th (Sentry), 18th (Sony) and 12th (API) on his 3 Bermudagrass outings on the PGA Tour in 2024, Harman also likes these Poa Trivialis over-seeded greens as 3rd (2017), 8th (2021) and 3rd (2022) at the Pete Dye designed PGA West testify nicely. A couple of strong WGC Dell Match Play campaigns at Austin Country Club, 5th at Copperhead (2022) and 3 top-7 finishes at Harbour Town since 2014 also highlight a player happy enough on the these green-types.

Form here also correlates very nicely. $1.69 million earned on the Stadium Course includes 8th (2015), 8th (2019) and 3rd (2021) with 2019 and 2021 seeing proper contending performances from the Georgia Bulldog. Plus with a Claret Jug sitting at home in his St Simons Island house, I’d hazard a guess that if he gets in position this week at TPC Sawgrass he’ll be in the mix to the bitter end. RESULT: T2

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Erik van Rooyen 1pt EW 125/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

I will stick with Erik van Rooyen for another week. As we know, the 34 year-old from Johannesburg is playing some decent enough stuff. 8 PGA Tour events in 2024 have seen him finish 25th (at Bay Hill), 2nd (at PGA National), 8th (week before at Vidanta), with a further 3 top-25 finishes including Signature events at The Sentry and AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. To add some meat to that bone, across my 8-week Strokes Gained trackers EVR ranks in this field top 25 for Tee to Green, top 20 for Approach and top 12 for Strokes Gained Current Form.

25th and 2nd across the last 2 weeks in Florida highlights a player who is confident and who clearly gets on well with Florida-type golf courses. Indeed his last 5 visits to the Sunshine State have delivered 13-MC-10-2-25. The 13th was his one and only visit to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in 2022. Following a Missed Cut the week before at Bay Hill, van Rooyen shot 71-67 to sit in 3rd spot after 36 holes, 1 off the lead. Amidst the weekend mayhem he did slip back, but still finished 13th, ranking 2nd for Strokes Gained on Approach and 3rd for Tee to Green. RESULT: MC

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