Congratulations to Francesco Molinari who landed a second regular-season PGA Tour victory last week at a very challenging Bay Hill track, rewarding his pre-event backers at around 35/1. But that was very much the hors d’oeuvre though as we now 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 across the 144 players.
2019 sees every single player from the World’s Top 50 in attendance at the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, which 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 talk The Players Championship, the number of new visitors to Golf Betting System is increasing in the inevitable build-up to The Masters. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) our Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here. Masters lovers will also enjoy our Ante-post Masters Podcast.
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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 Webb Simpson, Si-Woo Kim and Jason Day who make up the past 3 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 re-design. 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, but it will be fascinating to see how a return to March (from 1977-2006, The Players was held in the second half of March) will affect the golf course and scoring required to contend this week.
Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida: Designer: Pete Dye 1979, 2006 re-design, Steve Wenzloff re-design 2016; Course Type: Florida, Technical; Par: 72; Length: 7,189 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 14; Fairways: Celebration Bermudagrass overseeded with Ryegrass and Fine Fescue; Rough: 419 Bermudagrass overseeded with Ryegrass and Fine Fescue 2.5″; Greens: 5,000 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.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for the Stadium Course and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
TPC Sawgrass: 250 yards from the tee: 31 yards wide; 275:33; 300:32; 325:29 350:20.
Bay Hill: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:34; 300:34; 325:39 350:29.
PGA National: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:26 350:25.
Riviera: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:29; 300:25; 325:27 350:27.
Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 41 yards wide; 275:37; 300:33; 325:34 350:30.
TPC Scottsdale: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:30; 300:29; 325:29 350:29.
Torrey Pines South: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:25 350:23.
TPC Stadium: 250 yards from the tee: 31 yards wide; 275:30; 300:29; 325:29; 350:27.
Waialae: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:32; 300:33; 325:37; 350:34.
Plantation Course: 250 yards from the tee: 54 yards wide; 275:58; 300:62; 325:57; 350:61.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Pete Dye designs include:
Whistling Straits – 2010 and 2015 PGA Championship
Ocean Course – Kiawah Island – 2012 PGA Championship
TPC River Highlands – The Travelers
TPC Louisiana – Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Harbour Town Golf Links – RBC Heritage
TPC Stadium, PGA West – CareerBuilder Challenge since 2016
Crooked Stick – 2012 and 2016 BMW Championship.
The web.com Tour Championship was hosted at the Dye’s Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass from 2013 to 2015. Chesson Hadley (2013) and Emiliano Grillo (2015) have won on that course with Russell Knox, Chez Reavie, Adam Hadwin, Sam Saunders x2, Kyle Stanley and Patton Kizzire all finishing in the top 7. The Jacksonville Open was also hosted there from 2010-2012 featuring top-5 finishes from Jonas Blixt (2011), David Lingmerth (2011), Danny Lee (2011), Russell Henley (2012), Ben Martin (2012) and Patrick Cantlay (2012).
Course Overview: Let’s start with the Steve Wenzloff re-design, which we saw for the first time in 2017. Pete Dye was consulted a number of times with all of the changes and the course will now plays 28 yards shorter as a 7,187 yard par-72. The loss in yardage comes 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. It was designed in such a way to encourage all players to go for it, with no easy lay-up available, but certainly didn’t play that way with few players taking the risk. In addition the par-4 7th and 15th holes were lengthened by 9 and 21 yards respectively.
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 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 though the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is amongst the most controllable golf courses on the planet. Just a quick look at the winners’ scores since 2010 highlights how organisers and Course Superintendant Tom Vlach 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.
However 2019 sees the tournament move from May back to mid-March in terms of its timing and that will undoubtedly change some of the detail in terms of course set-up. With TPC Sawgrass located at 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. Jordan Spieth commented on this 12 months ago when asked how that will affect the golf course in 2019, ” I grew up on Bermuda, not the overseed, having to judge firmer, faster greens, and then the biggest change will be within the rough. Obviously around the greens, overseed becomes an easier grass to chip off of than this grainy Bermuda. But out of the rough, judging fliers and shots around the green, explosion shots, having that kind of feel, that goes away a little bit when overseed comes in. It becomes a little bit easier. I think the scores will potentially go lower with a change in grass type. Now, that’s obviously dependent on condition outside, but given the same conditions, I think the scores will be a little bit lower with the tournament being moved up.””
The greens have also been 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. Undoubtedly this will have a tangible effect for many players who struggle on genuine Bermudagrass, potentially helping them to be more competitive on the greens. Recent PGA Tour winners on this type of putting surface can be seen below:
2 – Hideki Matsuyama, Phil Mickelson.
1 – Paul Casey, Rickie Fowler, Russell Henley, Charley Hoffman, J.B. Holmes, Brooks Koepka, Martin Laird, Andrew Landry, Ian Poulter, Adam Scott, Kyle Stanley, Brendan Steele, Jimmy Walker, Gary Woodland.
Key statistics that jump from the page from 12 months ago are as follows (rank equals most difficult across the 2017/18 PGA Tour season): Proximity to Hole – 9th most difficult on Tour; Rough Proximity – 4th; Sand Save Percentage – 13th; Scrambling – 7th; par-3 Scoring Average – 11th; par-4 Scoring Average – 22nd; par-5 Scoring Average – 33rd.
Winners: 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).
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, Hideki Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy, Lucas Glover, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Brooks Koepka, Aaron Baddeley and Kevin Kisner.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Desert Classic and Abu Dhabi Championship, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Driving Accuracy: 1) Chez Reavie; 2) Jim Furyk; 3) Kevin Streelman; 4) Scott Langley; 5) Ryan Moore; 6) Russell Henley; 7) Michael Thompson; 8) Andrew Landry; 9) Francesco Molinari; 10) Keegan Bradley / Matt Kuchar / Rafa Cabrera-Bello; 13) Daniel Berger / Matthew Fitzpatrick; 15) Jon Rahm / Tiger Woods; 17) Ryan Armour; 18) Paul Casey / Tyler Duncan / Adam Hadwin Adam Long.
Greens in Regulation: 1) Brooks Koepka; 2) Tiger Woods; 3) Gary Woodland; 4) Paul Casey; 5) Hideki Matsuyama / Justin Thomas; 7) Jason Kokrak; 8) Jim Furyk / Charles Howell III; 10) Sergio Garcia; 11) Matt Kuchar; 12) Rory McIlroy; 13) Ian Poulter; 14) Keegan Bradley / Matthew Fitzpatrick / Bubba Watson; 17) Francesco Molinari / Dustin Johnson; 19) Lucas Bjerregaard / Tommy Fleetwood.
Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Justin Thomas; 2) Shane Lowry; 3) Rory McIlroy / Cameron Smith; 5) Jason Day / Bryson DeChambeau / Francesco Molinari / Patrick Reed; 9) Vaughn Taylor; 10) Patton Kizzire; 11) Michael Thompson; 12) Paul Casey / Matt Kuchar / Eddie Pepperell / Ian Poulter; 16) Jon Rahm / Jordan Spieth; 18) Rickie Fowler / Rory Sabbatini; 20) Billy Horschel.
Winners & Prices: 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 5 Renewals Average: 154/1; Overall Average: 108/1.
2018: Weather: 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. 43mm of rain has fallen in this part of north-east Florida in March and there’s an 80% probability of more rain falling over Monday into Tuesday night, so I’m expecting a little cut in the fairways and greens that should start off more receptive than we’ve seen at the Honda and Arnold Palmer Invitational. I’m also expecting a tournament of two halves: Thursday and Friday will see temperatures sitting at 25-27 degrees Celsius, but as a front passes through the area, there’s a considerable fall in temperatures. Saturday sees a high of 16 degrees Celsius, improving to 19 degrees Celsius on Sunday. That’s a tangible and meaningful drop for many in this field. Wind will also be in play across the week: 15-20 mph on Thursday, 10-15 mph on Friday, and 15-20 mph on Sunday will provide a challenge for the best field in golf.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 9 winners since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this:
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).
Tournament Skill Average:
Driving Distance: 32nd, Driving Accuracy: 24th, Greens in Regulation: 18th, Proximity to Hole: 34th, Scrambling: 9th, Putting Average 13th.
Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:
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: 21st, SG Approach: 29th, SG Around the Green: 6th, SG Tee to Green: 7th, SG Putting: 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:
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.”
Phil Mickelson: “I actually think that this tournament has a bigger challenge around the greens if you miss it and makes getting up and down a lot more difficult. So I feel like it puts a premium on ball striking and hitting the green. I feel like some of the mounding is so severe, and with the rough, that a lot of shots around the greens become almost impossible. If you can hit the greens and not stress out, put stress on your short game, I feel like that’s kind of the best way to do well here. Whereas, at Augusta you can get up and down from all different places, if you happen to miss greens, and it’s not as important as being on the correct side as chipping uphill. That’s not the case here. You really just want to be on the surface.”
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 9 Players winners:
Trends in terms of recent winners are interesting. 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 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 bagging 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 12 months ago, 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.
Naturally though a couple of World Number 1s break this ‘winless trend’ since 2010. Jason Day had won the Bay Hill Invitational and 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 Dustin Johnson goes this week at a justified short price.
Where immediate course form is not a must to win The Players, course experience is still a key advantage. Yes Xander Schauffele, Kevin Kisner, Jordan Spieth and David Lingmerth (a Sawgrass member) have contended and placed across the 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 selections are as follows:
Tommy Fleetwood 2pts EW 28/1 (10EW, 1/5 Odds) with Betfair
If any player in the field this week will take heart from Francesco Molinari’s win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday, it has to be Tommy Fleetwood. And the deal at TPC Sawgrass is that this tournament tends to be won by an elite player who is hungry for a victory and in Fleetwood I think we definitely have that. A 4-time winner on the European Tour, Tommy is still to win in the United States, but a course like the Stadium Course plays to his strengths. A patient course manager, Tommy has had his best Major finishes at the U.S. Open where he has finished 4th at Erin Hill in 2017 and 2nd at Shinnecock Hills last year. That kind of approach always holds water at the Stadium Course where recent winners such as Matt Kuchar, Martin Kaymer, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and of course Webb Simpson had all performed well in the heat of U.S. Open battle before winning the Players title. So Fleetwood passes that test with flying colours and at the moment the man from Southport is playing some lovely stuff.
5th for SG Tee to Green, 12th for SG Approach, 12th for SG Around the Green and 2nd for SG Tee to Green at Bay Hill last week earned Fleetwood a sterling 3rd place finish. Indeed he led after 36 holes, but was derailed by a Saturday 76. But rounds of 69 (Thursday), 66 (Friday) and 68 (Sunday) were top class and with the likes of McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose all sub 20/1 this week, I’m happy to see that Fleetwood has only fallen a couple of points from where he was priced by the majority of bookmakers for the Arnold Palmer.
The World Number 13 seems in a great spot again and that makes him a danger on his 3rd appearance at the Stadium Course. 41st on debut in 2017 – he shot a -5/67 to be 16th after 36 holes – Fleetwood was 7th here last term closing his week with Saturday and Sunday -4/68s. His words 12 months ago about the course were also encouraging, “I love the golf course. It’s one of my favourites. Whether I do well or not, it’s still one of my favourite courses, you’ve just got to be smart. You got to hit it well, as well. But yeah, you’ve always got to keep it realistic as this is one of the toughest tests you’re going to get.”
Already with top 7 finishes across 3 of Florida’s most iconic golf courses namely PGA National (4th 2018), Bay Hill (3rd 2019) and here, I think Tommy has an immense chance this week to win his biggest every career win to date.RESULT: T5
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Hideki Matsuyama 1.5pts EW 40/1 (8EW, 1/5 Odds) With Boylesports
The fact that the TPC Sawgrass will be overseeded for the first time since 2006 may well throw up some new dynamics. Fairways now feature Celebration Bermudagrass overseeded with Ryegrass and Fine Fescue, with Rough featuring 419 Bermudagrass again with Ryegrass and Fine Fescue. On the greens TifEagle Bermudagrass now sits under Poa Trivialis and Velvet Bentgrass. Now those changes bring the Stadium Course in line with a couple of other tracks on the PGA Tour, namely TPC Scottsdale, home of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and TPC San Antonio, home of the Valero Texas Open. And that peaks my interest in Hideki Matsuyama who should feel far more at home on these putting surfaces.
All 5 of the Japanese Number 1’s PGA Tour victories have come with Bentgrass within the green surfaces and 2 more specifically came at TPC Scottsdale in 2016 and 2017. You can add 4th (2014) and 2nd (2015) to that tally in Phoenix as well, and the case with Hideki at the moment is that his Tee to Green game at the moment is pretty much peerless on the PGA Tour. 2nd for SG Approach, 21st for SG Around the Green, 36th for Sand Saves and 2nd for SG Tee to Green on the PGA Tour to date, Hideki just needs a week where the flat stick cooperates to be a major factor and considering Matsuyama struggles with his putting on Bermudagrass his record here is encouraging with 23rd (2014), 17th (2015), 7th (2016) and 22nd (2017). Indeed the Japanese was in 2nd spot in 2016 going into Sunday.
The Players Championship has always been the kind of tournament where a quality player who hasn’t had success for a while pops up, take Webb Simpson 12 months ago who hadn’t won for 3 and a half years before taking this title. In Hideki we have a player winless for 19 months – his last win back at Firestone South in 2017 – but who’s undoubtedly been showing signs in 2019. 3rd at Torrey Pines, 15th at TPC Scottsdale, 9th at Riviera and a career-best 19th in Mexico highlight that the World Number 29 is close, and who knows the putter might just be slightly less recalcitrant this week.RESULT: T8
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Ian Poulter 1.5pts EW 50/1 (10EW, 1/5 Odds) with Betfair
I like the look of Ian Poulter this week at a TPC Sawgrass course that’s served him well in the past. His form in 2019 has been impressive to say the least: 6th in Abu Dhabi, 3rd at the Dubai Desert Classic and 6th at the Saudi International were his European Tour outings across 3 consecutive January weeks and that followed on from a top-20 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and a top-35 at the Sony Open. 5 consecutive outings across Hawaii and the Middle East deserved a break and following a family skiing trip he arrived in Mexico seemingly refreshed. Rounds of 68-68-69-68 then delivered a T-3 around Chapultepec (level with Casey and Cantlay who are shorter in the market), his best WGC finish since finishing 2nd in the 2013 HSBC Champions when defending his title.
Ian now arrives at a Stadium Course where he’s finished 2nd (2009), 2nd (2017) and 11th 12 months ago, when he was asked about the course, “It’s a tough golf course. It’s a clever golf course. You need to play super smart. It can get windy around here and the greens can get firm. We (Europeans) like tough conditions, so I guess that could be one of the reasons why we like it. You can’t be overly aggressive when it toughens up.”
A winner on these type of overseeded Poa Trivialis and Velvet Bentgrass greens at the Houston Open last April, I like the way that Poults is playing right now with the World Number 31 in rude health with his long irons, plus 22nd for SG Tee to Green, 10th for SG Around the Green and 12th for Sand Saves, which is handy at this Sawgrass track that features tough bunkering.RESULT: T56
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Matt Wallace made another career statement at the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he contended down the stretch with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood. Serious European Tour peers who Matt didn’t look out of place against. Indeed Wallace’s last 3 visits to the United States have gleaned 19th at the PGA Championship last August and latterly 20th at the Honda Classic and 6th last week at Bay Hill. Serious performances from the World Number 36, who will want to maximise his first visit to TPC Sawgrass as he looks to earn enough FedEx Cup points to gain Special Temporary Membership.
I thought 9/1 from Unibet to grab a place in the top 10 at the Players Championship on his tournament debut was a fair price, especially as the likes of Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, plus relatively inexperienced individuals (at the time) David Lingmerth and Kevin Kisner have all contended on course debut here. It was clear at the Arnold Palmer that Matt thrives when playing on the PGA Tour and he showed no real signs of being overawed at all. 19th for SG Tee To Green at PGA National was followed by 11th in the same category last week and I can see the 28 year-old from Hillingdon having another strong week at TPC Sawgrass this week.RESULT: T30
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