Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's The Players Championship Tips

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Last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational was another tough test, with firm and fast conditions allied to 20-25 mph gusting winds. It was just how Arnie would have liked it! Tyrrell Hatton became the seventh international victor since 2010 at Bay Hill, capturing his biggest career win to date and his first on the PGA Tour. He also landed a 50/1 win for this column. With Paul Williams also putting up Matt Every as First Round Leader at 175/1 on last week’s podcast, it was a hugely profitable week.

Before we talk through my Players Championship tips, 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) the Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

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. 2020 sees 47 of the World’s Top 50 in attendance – no Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood or Shugo Imahira – 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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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 Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Si-Woo Kim and Jason Day, who make up the past 4 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 iteration 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, 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 last year. Undoubtedly 2019 saw the course play easier than we’ve seen in past years, with overseed across the golf course and softer turf/green conditions.

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. 2019: 71.51 (-0.49), Rank 23 of 49 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; 275:32; 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.
  • Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:33; 300:29; 325:30 350:26.
  • TPC Scottsdale: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:30; 300:28; 325:27; 350:27.
  • 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.

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 – The American Express since 2016
  • Crooked Stick – 2012 and 2016 BMW Championship.

The Korn Ferry 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 Brendon Todd, Russell Knox, Chez Reavie, Adam Hadwin, 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 Danny Lee (2011), Russell Henley (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 now plays 26 yards shorter as a 7,189 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 doesn’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 also rebuilt. 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.

Last year 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 12 months ago, “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 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 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, Phil Mickelson.
  • 1 – Paul Casey, Corey Conners, Rickie Fowler, Russell Henley, Charley Hoffman, J.B. Holmes,  Brooks Koepka, Andrew Landry, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Kyle Stanley, Brendan Steele, Jimmy Walker, Gary Woodland.

the players championship tips

Winners: 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).

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 Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler, Harris English, Bryson DeChambeau, Daniel Berger, Sungjae Im, Justin Thomas, Byeong-Hun An and Tommy Fleetwood.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to The American Express and HSBC Abu Dhabi, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour (where recorded) 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) Jim Furyk; 2) Matthew Fitzpatrick; 3) Corey Conners / Chez Reavie; 5) Bronson Burgoon; 6) Kyle Stanley; 7) Scott Piercy; 8) Joel Dahmen; 9) Ryan Armour; 10) Brian Stuard; 11) Paul Casey / Brendon Todd; 13) Bryson DeChambeau / Collin Morikawa; 15) Daniel Berger; 16) Tyler Duncan; 17) Viktor Hovland / Matt Kuchar; 19) Kevin Kisner; 20) Jason Dufner / Tyrrell Hatton / Martin Laird.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Rory McIlroy; 2) Collin Morikawa; 3) Corey Conners; 4) Tyrrell Hatton; 5) Gary Woodland; 6) Jon Rahm / Xander Schauffele; 8) Paul Casey; 9) Tony Finau; 10) Patrick Cantlay / Adam Scott; 12) Sergio Garcia / Shane Lowry; 14) Victor Perez; 15) Tommy Fleetwood; 16) Russell Henley / Brooks Koepka / Harold Varner III / Nick Watney; 20) Hideki Matsuyama.
  • Scrambling: 1) Tyrrell Hatton; 2) Daniel Berger / Justin Thomas; 4) Adam Hadwin / Marc Leishman / Shane Lowry; 7) Webb Simpson; 8) Kevin Kisner / Henrik Stenson;  10) Abraham Ancer; 11) Ryan Moore; 12) Bud Cauley / Brendon Todd; 14) Sergio Garcia; 15) Rory McIlroy / Xander Schauffele; 17) Danny Willett; 18) Luke List / Bernd Wiesberger; 20) Aaron Baddeley / Jason Day / K.H. Lee.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) J.B. Holmes; 2) Christiaan Beziudenhout / Jon Rahm; 4) Victor Perez; 5) Justin Thomas; 6) Tyrrell Hatton / Mark Hubbard / Dustin Johnson; 9) Matt Kuchar / Vaughn Taylor; 11) Branden Grace; 12) Max Homa; 13) Talor Gooch / Patrick Reed / Webb Simpson; 16) Graeme McDowell; 17) Viktor Hovland; 18) Hideki Matsuyama; 19) Brandt Snedeker / Jimmy Walker.

Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 20 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to The American Express and HSBC Abu Dhabi, which includes both PGA and European Tour events where recorded. 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:

  • Top 20 SG Off The Tee: 1) Bryson DeChambeau; 2) Jon Rahm; 3) Jhonattan Vegas; 4) Sergio Garcia; 5) Tyrrell Hatton; 6) Paul Casey / Tommy Fleetwood / Bubba Watson; 9) Abraham Ancer; 10) Joel Dahmen / Victor Perez; 12) Shane Lowry; 13) Cameron Champ / Collin Morikawa / Adam Scott; 16) Max Homa / Xander Schauffele; 18) Corey Conners / Viktor Hovland / Justin Thomas.
  • Top 20 SG Approach: 1) Tyrrell Hatton; 2) Rory McIlroy; 3) Collin Morikawa; 4) Marc Leishman / Victor Perez; 6) Hideki Matsuyama / Henrik Stenson; 8) Gary Woodland; 9) Justin Thomas / Webb Simpson; 11) Daniel Berger; 12) Nick Watney; 13) Bud Cauley / Sergio Garcia / Patrick Reed; 16) Joel Dahmen / Kevin Na; 18) Harold Varner III; 19) Paul Casey / Tony Finau / Russell Henley / Sebastian Munoz.
  • Top 20 SG Around The Green: 1) Tyrrell Hatton; 2) Byeong Hun An / Rory McIlroy / Brandt Snedeker; 5) Aaron Baddeley / Jason Day / Adam Scott; 8) Tony Finau; 9) Jordan Spieth; 10) Mackenzie Hughes; 11) Hideki Matsuyama; 12) Charles Howell III; 13) Chez Reavie; 14) Sungjae Im; 15) Harris English / Tommy Fleetwood; 17) Brooks Koepka; 18) Shane Lowry / Rory Sabbatini; 20) Dylan Frittelli.
  • Top 20 SG Tee to Green: 1) Tyrrell Hatton; 2) Rory McIlroy; 3) Collin Morikawa; 4) Sergio Garcia; 5) Marc Leishman; 6) Jon Rahm; 7) Byeong Hun An / Daniel Berger / Hideki Matsuyama; 10) Tommy Fleetwood / Victor Perez; 12) Bryson DeChambeau; 13) Patrick Cantlay / Shane Lowry / Justin Thomas; 16) Tony Finau / Adam Scott; 18) Abraham Ancer; 19) Jason Day / Webb Simpson.
  • Top 20 SG Putting: 1) Jon Rahm; 2) Christiaan Beziudenhout; 3) Patrick Rodgers; 4)  J.B. Holmes; 5) Tyrrell Hatton; 6) Webb Simpson / Brendon Todd; 8) Keith Mitchell; 9) Kevin Na / Matt Wallace / Bubba Watson; 12) Abraham Ancer; 13) Talor Gooch  / Ian Poulter; 14) Daniel Berger / Louis Oosthuizen; 16) Matt Kuchar / J.T. Poston / Patrick Reed; 19) Marc Leishman / Justin Thomas / Bernd Wiesberger.
  • Top 20 SG Total: 1) Tyrrell Hatton; 2) Rory McIlroy; 3) Jon Rahm; 4) Daniel Berger; 5) Christiaan Beziudenhout; 6) Bryson DeChambeau; 7) Sergio Garcia; 8) Marc Leishman; 9) Shane Lowry / Collin Morikawa; 11) Abraham Ancer / Victor Perez; 13) Tommy Fleetwood / Matt Kuchar; 15) J.B. Holmes / Justin Thomas; 17) Patrick Reed / Xander Schauffele; 19) Patrick Cantlay / Webb Simpson.

Winners & Prices: 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 6 Renewals Average: 130/1. Overall Average: 99/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 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. I’m expecting firm and fast conditions again for the Players. Only 14mm of rain has fallen in this part of north east Florida in March, so like Bay Hill last week, I think we could see firm conditions in play this week. To quantify that, I think we’ll see firmer turf and green conditions than we saw here 12 months ago.

Wind-wise, conditions in the main will be calmer than they have been for both the Honda Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational. Nothing more than 15mph looks set for the opening 36 holes and Sunday looks the calmest day of the tournament. A front though passes through on Saturday, seeing temperatures fall to 20 degrees Celsius and north-easterly winds gusting 20+ mph. All-in-all, I’m expecting a mid-teens winning total as tends to be the norm here.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 10 winners of The Players Championship since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:

  • 2019, Rory McIlroy (-18). 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).

Tournament Skill Averages:

Driving Distance: 29th, Driving Accuracy: 27th, Greens in Regulation: 15th, Proximity to Hole: 32nd, Scrambling: 12th, Putting Average 12th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 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: 16th, SG Approach: 24th, SG Around the Green: 10th, SG Tee to Green: 6th, SG Putting: 23rd.

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

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.

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 10 Players Championship winners:

  • 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 10 Players Championship winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 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.

Incoming form of winners since 2010:

  • 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.

  • 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.

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.

Even Si Woo Kim (2017) and last year’s winner Rory McIlroy won here off quite significant winless periods. 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 12 months ago 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.

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 Rory McIlroy goes this week as the defending champion and favourite.

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:

Bryson DeChambeau 2.5pts EW 22/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Coral

So the deal here at TPC Sawgrass is that this tournament tends to be won by an elite player who’s in decent enough nick and who’s desperately hungry for a victory after a fallow winning period. Take defending champion Rory McIlroy whose win here came 12 months after his previous victory (at Bay Hill in 2018). He’d strung 5 top-6 finishes together on the PGA Tour and was still available at what these days seems a generous 14/1.

2017 victor Webb Simpson hadn’t won for three and a half years (107 starts between victories) before winning The Players in dominant fashion. And the list goes on and on with Kim (8 months), Fowler (3 years), Kaymer (18 months), Kuchar (almost 2 years) and Choi (3 and a quarter years) all having a level of main Tour victory dormancy before capturing the Players title.

Yes Jason Day (2016) and Tiger Woods (2013) had won in the season prior to capturing their respective Players victories, with both being dominant World Number 1 at the time. This leads me to take on current OWGR World Number 1 Rory McIlroy, who at 7/1 needs to triumph to generate the size of profit I’d be looking for. That price is undoubtedly correct with his fantastic level of consistency continuing at Bay Hill last week, but the point is that since 2009 on both the European and PGA Tours, Rory has never successfully defended a title.

My first Player Championship selection is Bryson DeChambeau who ticks plenty of boxes for me this week. Winless since January 2019 when he secured the Dubai Desert Classic on TifEagle Bermudagrass greens, DeChambeau is undoubtedly trending towards a victory. 13th at Silverado, 4th at TPC Summerlin, 8th at Emirates GC (when defending), 5th at Riviera, 2nd at Chapultepec, and 4th last week at Bay Hill so far across season 2019/20, it’s not the most outrageous of suggestions to state that a win is coming soon! And let’s not forget that DeChambeau has captured 6 main Tour (5 PGA and 1 European Tour) victories since July 2017. He undoubtedly comes with win equity and is one of the best players in the world when confident. He also wins big tournaments with 2018 seeing him win the invitational-status Memorial, plus the Northern Trust (at Ridgewood) and the Dell Technologies Championship (at TPC Boston) in consecutive PGA Tour FedEx Cup PlayOff events. Big tournaments with the very best in attendance.

DeChambeau 2020-style is undoubtedly hitting his straps and ‘The Scientist’ has ranked 3rd, 3rd and 4th for ball-striking across his last 3 performances. That’s his trademark and his 8-week tracker numbers are also excellent as in this field he ranks 13th for Driving Accuracy, 1st for SG Off the Tee, 12th for SG Tee to Green and 6th for SG Total.

An improving 37th (2018) and 20th (2019) here on the Stadium Course across his 2 appearances, DeChambeau’s current form on arrival at TPC Sawgrass both with the driver and irons makes him a perfect fit this week for a serious challenge. And I was impressed with his Bay Hill outing last week, especially as he topped weekend scoring on an extremely firm and challenging Florida golf course. In my opinion he’s primed and ready to capture his biggest professional title to date.

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Gary Woodland 2pts EW 50/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

It would be just like me to tip up Gary Woodland on his last appearance and to receive no return, then see him win the outing after. Such is the life of a golf punter, so I’m staying loyal to the reigning U.S. Open champion as he ticks too many boxes to dismiss.

Now Woodland was 5th going into the weekend at the Honda Classic and I thought I was onto a good thing. But then 3 sandy divots and 2 doubles and a bogey later, Woodland’s bet slip was consigned to the bin. Fact is though Gary fought back from 21st on Saturday night to fire a final round -3/67 and miss out on the each-way places by a single shot.  He’s playing good golf and is talking very positively about his game, Yeah, today I played great. I hit a lot of good putts. It’s as good as I’ve putted it and not made anything, so that was a little frustrating. But any time you can shoot 3-under out here, – this golf course is hard. I wish I would have putted a little better overall, but I’m excited with where I’m headed.” Well as we know he’s headed to TPC Sawgrass and I think he has a good shot at a fantastic each-way price.

Winless since his U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach last June, Gary is playing some immense stuff from tee to green. In my 8-week trackers he ranks 5th in the field for Greens in Regulation and 8th for SG on Approach. 13th for SG Off the Tee, 2nd for SG on Approach and 6th for SG Tee to Green when 8th last time out at the Honda Classic, Gary has putted positively in 4 of his 5 outings in 2020.

7th at Kapalua and the aforementioned 8th at PGA National so far in 2020 on TifEagle Bermudagrass, Woodland won his first PGA Tour title in his home Sunshine State at Copperhead in 2013. 5th and 7th for Scrambling over his past 2 outings is the green light for me to support Woodland this week at TPC Sawgrass, a course where he was 11th back in 2014 after being 4th at 36 holes and 5th after 54 holes. He has far more belief and self confidence these days and I also like the fact that his 2017 Phoenix Open victory (and subsequent 7th place when defending) came on very similar TifEagle Bermudagrass greens with the Poa Trivialis and Velvet Bentgrass overseed.

Daniel Berger 1pt EW 66/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

I think Floridian Daniel Berger is worth a play this week at an each-way price. He came to most golf punters’ attention back at the 2015 Honda Classic where he was beaten in a play-off by Padraig Harrington. A Tour rookie at the time, he soon grabbed the attention again finishing 2nd to Jason Day at Conway Farms, in so qualifying for the Tour Championship. Always some feat for a first timer on the PGA Tour.

2016 saw Daniel establish himself in the World’s Top 50 as he won his first PGA Tour title at the St Jude Classic and went on to finish runner-up at the WGC HSBC Champions. But 2017 was his best season to date with 5 top-7 finishes on the PGA Tour, including his second consecutive St Jude Classic victory seeing the Florida State University graduate making the American Presidents Cup team.

18th in the World as recently as June 2018, when he lost in a play off to ‘that’ bunker shot from Jordan Spieth, Berger’s career – like his more famous Texan friend – had been in reverse, but that’s changed this season. 18th at TPC Summerlin, 17th at Accordia, 9th at TPC Scottsdale, 5th at Pebble Beach and 4th last time out at PGA National, Berger is back in the ascendancy powered by a fantastic all-round game.

Across my 8-week Strokes Gained trackers in this field, Daniel ranks 11th for Approach, 7th for Tee to Green, 14th for Putting and 4th for SG Total. That effectively means he’s 4th in Strokes Gained current form, whereas he sits just within the top 30 in the betting. The Players Championship is undoubtedly a step up, but Berger was 9th here in 2016 and he’s always liked these TifEagle Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis and Velvet Bentgrass greens. A glance at his form at TPC Scottsdale (10th 2015, 7th 2017, 9th 2020) and the GC of Houston (5th 2016, 5th 2017), highlights that perfectly.

Russell Henley 1pt EW 200/1 (10EW, 1/5) at Paddy Power

Russell Henley is another I always think of in the southern United States. Like Berger, Russell is seemingly on an upswing and as we’ve seen here every year, players contend and score big each-way returns at fancy prices.

A 3-time winner on the PGA Tour across Hawaii (2013 Sony Open), Florida (2014 Honda Classic) and Texas (2017 Shell Houston Open), Henley is Bermudagrass positive and plays nicely enough on these tricky overseeded putting surfaces. 16th (2017) and 15th (2019) at TPC Scottsdale, plus 7th (2014), 4th (2015), 5th (2016), 1st (2017) and 8th (2018) at the GC of Houston highlight a player who’s very comfortable on the Poa Trivialis with Velvet Bentgrass overseed greens. And that makes for great reading on the basis that the Kiawah Island, South Carolina 30 year-old is flushing it right now. 17th at Riviera where he was 4th after 54 holes came via 11th SG on Approach, 4th SG Around the Green and 7th SG Tee to Green performances. Then a fortnight ago, 8th last time out on the TifEagle Bermudagrass greens of PGA National came via 1st SG on Approach and 2nd SG Tee to Green performances.

17th here in 2014, when he shot 65/71 to sit 3rd going into the weekend, Russell has always been the sparky sort who can compete at the very top of leaderboards for short periods of time. 1st at PGA National in 2014, 2nd at TPC Boston in 2014, 3rd at Kapalua in 2015, 12th at Whistling Straits in 2015, 7th at TPC Southwind in 2016, 11th at Augusta National in 2017 and 3rd at East Lake in 2017 are all performances at golf courses which correlate well with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson and Jason Day. If Henley putts well on these overseeded surfaces he thrives on, he could well feature in the higher echelons of the leaderboard, so I will follow him with extra each-way places built into the price.

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