Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's The Players Championship Tips 2023

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We saw 200/1 and 125/1 winners last week in the form of Kurt Kitayama and Nicolas Echavarria at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Puerto Rico Open – if you were on either then a very well done to you! I was on-board Scottie Scheffler who needed to birdie the closing 18th hole to get into a play-off with Kitayama. The varying margins of golf betting.

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 structure, this is traditionally the strongest field of the year.

Played at the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, this is the ultimate test of consistency, patience, aggression on key holes and bogey avoidance. Victory at The Players holds a 5-year PGA Tour exemption and 3-year exemptions to The Masters, US Open and Open Championship. Beware though, this is no ordinary PGA Tour tournament and The Players Championship is a title that all of golf’s elite want on their CV.

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Before we go into the detail surrounding the Players Championship, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System. Welcome and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular, +6,100 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 Cameron Smith, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Si-Woo Kim and Jason Day, who make up the past 6 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 (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, 2006 re-design, Steve Wenzloff re-design 2016; Course Type: Florida , Mid-Score, Short; Par: 72; Length: 7,256 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 17; 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 2012: 72.47 (+0.47), Difficulty Rank 19 of 49 courses. 2013: 72.32 (+0.32), Difficulty Rank 19 of 43 courses. 2014: 72.16 (+0.16), Rank 25 of 48 courses. 2015: 72.08 (+0.08), Rank 18 of 52 courses. 2016: 72.06 (+0.06), Rank 19 of 50 courses. 2017: 73.29 (+1.29), Rank 5 of 50 courses. 2018: 71.41 (-0.59), Rank of 29 of 51 courses. 2019: 71.51 (-0.49), Rank 23 of 49 courses. 2021: 72.42 (+0.42), Rank 16 of 51 courses. 2022: 72.62 (+0.62), Difficulty Rank 12 of 50 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 the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and how they compare to recent courses that we’ve seen on Tour:

  • TPC Sawgrass: 250 yards from the tee: 31 yards wide; 275:32; 300:30; 325:28 350:20.
  • Bay Hill: 250 yards from the tee: 32 yards wide; 275:33; 300:33; 325:39 350:29.
  • PGA National: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:27 350:25.
  • Riviera: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:26 350:28.
  • TPC Scottsdale: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:30; 300:28; 325:27; 350:27.
  • Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:33; 300:29; 325:30 350:26.
  • Torrey Pines South: 250 yards from the tee: 26 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:24; 350:23.
  • 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.

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 PonteVedraBeach 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.

  • 2 – Hideki Matsuyama.
  • 1 – Corey Conners, Russell Henley, Rory McIlroy, Ryan Palmer, Jon Rahm, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Justin Thomas, Gary Woodland.

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

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

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

Effectively now the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is amongst the most controllable golf courses on the planet. Just a quick look at the winners’ scores since 2018 highlights how organisers and Director of Golf Course Operations Jeff Plotts can effectively manage the tournament to the target score they want in varying conditions. But the real point here is that Pete Dye’s design is brilliant in the fact that either controlled ball-strikers or short game specialists can win at the Stadium Course.

the players championship tips

The Players Championship Winners: 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).

  • 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

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

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

Lead Score Progression (since move to March):

  • 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.

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 | SG 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, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Tom Kim, Tony Finau, Max Homa and Justin Thomas.

NEW! Check out our new version of the Predictor Model which is in the final stages of testing here.

The Players Championship Winners & Prices: 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 8 Renewals Average: 104/1; Overall Average: 87/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 2022: Thursday: Weather: 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 12 months 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 2023. Wind looks far less of a factor, with nothing more than 15 mph across the week, and temperatures are set to start at 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) on Thursday and warm up to 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) on Sunday.

Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Sony Open in Hawaii 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) Viktor Hovland; 2) Keith Mitchell / Scottie Scheffler; 4) Tyrrell Hatton; 5) Jhonattan Vegas; 6) Cameron Young; 7) Jason Day; 8) Patrick Cantlay; 9) Luke List / Rory McIlroy; 11) Corey Conners; 12) Gary Woodland; 13) Hayden Buckley / Will Zalatoris; 15) Collin Morikawa; 16) Lucas Herbert; 17) Jerry Kelly; 18) Taylor Moore; 19) Matt Fitzpatrick; 20) Joel Dahmen; 21) Sam Burns; 22) Ben Griffin; 23) Tony Finau / Russell Henley / Garrick Higgo / Taylor Montgomery / Aaron Rai  / John Rahm / Justin Thomas.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Tony Finau; 2) Jon Rahm; 3) Rory McIlroy; 4) Scottie Scheffler; 5) Xander Schauffele; 6) Max Homa; 7) Min Woo Lee; 8) Chris Kirk; 9) Rickie Fowler / Cameron Young; 11) Collin Morikawa; 12) Patrick Cantlay / Wyndham Clark / Jhonattan Vegas; 15) Sahith Theegala; 16) Tyrrell Hatton; 17) Tom Hoge; 18) Corey Conners / Ryan Fox / Viktor Hovland / Tom Kim / Justin Suh / Justin Thomas; 24) David Lipsky; 25) Eric Cole / Ryan Palmer.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Jerry Kelly; 2) Chris Kirk / Justin Thomas; 4) Tommy Fleetwood; 5) Rory McIlroy; 6) Sungjae Im; 7) Danny Willett; 8) Matt Wallace; 9) Hideki Matsuyama; 10) Seamus Power; 11) Patrick Rodgers; 12) Adam Schenk; 13) Thomas Detry / Beau Hossler; 15) Aaron Baddeley / Jason Day; 17) Sam Burns / Si Woo Kim / Robby Shelton / Scott Stallings; 21) Patrick Cantlay; 22) K.H. Lee; 23) Maverick McNealy / Matt Kuchar; 25) Wyndham Clark / Brendon Todd.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Rory McIlroy / Scottie Scheffler; 3) Tony Finau; 4) Tyrrell Hatton; 5) Jason Day; 6) Justin Thomas; 7) Max Homa / Keith Mitchell; 9) Patrick Cantlay / Jon Rahm / Jhonattan Vegas; 12) Cameron Young; 13) Xander Schauffele; 14) Viktor Hovland; 15) Chris Kirk; 16) Collin Morikawa; 17) Ryan Fox; 18) Tommy Fleetwood / Hideki Matsuyama; 20) Sungjae Im; 21) Corey Conners / Wyndham Clark / Stephan Jaeger; 24) Keegan Bradley; 25) Tom Kim.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Jason Day; 2) Alex Noren; 3) Chris Kirk; 4) Nick Taylor; 5) Sam Ryder; 6) Sam Burns; 7) Lanto Griffin / Maverick McNealy; 9) Max Homa / Xander Schauffele / Justin Suh; 12) Si Woo Kim / Peter Malnati; 14) Rickie Fowler / Taylor Montgomery; 16) Sahith Theegala; 17) S.H. Kim; 18) Doc Redman; 19) Lucas Herbert / Chad Ramey; 21) Ben Griffin / Denny McCarthy / Andrew Putnam / Jon Rahm; 25) Adam Hadwin.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Jason Day; 2) Scottie Scheffler; 3) Max Homa; 4) Justin Thomas; 5) Tony Finau / Rory McIlroy / Jon Rahm; 8) Tyrrell Hatton / Chris Kirk / Xander Schauffele; 11) Viktor Hovland; 12) Patrick Cantlay; 13) Keith Mitchell; 14) Jhonattan Vegas; 15) Ryan Fox / Sahith Theegala; 17) Rickie Fowler; 18) Ben Griffin / Justin Suh; 20) Si Woo Kim / Nick Taylor; 22) Sungjae Im / Min Woo Lee / Ben Martin; 25) Collin Morikawa.

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

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, 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: 27th, SG Approach: 5th, SG Around the Green: 19th, SG Tee to Green: 12th, SG Putting: 29th.

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:

  • 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: 14th, Driving Accuracy: 50th, Greens in Regulation: 24th, Proximity to Hole: 10th, Scrambling: 25th, Putting Average 8th.

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

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.

Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 3 Players Championship winners since the tournament moved to March:

  • 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 last 3 Players Championship winners since the tournament moved to March and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 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.

Incoming Form of Players Championship winners since move to March:

  • 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.

  • 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 – Justin Thomas.
  • 5 – Jordan Spieth.
  • 4 – Jason Day, Billy Horschel, Si Woo Kim, Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler.
  • 3 – Sam Burns, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner, Matt Kuchar, Ryan Palmer, Xander Schauffele.
  • 2 – Patrick Cantlay, Harris English, Rickie Fowler, Russell Henley, Mackenzie Hughes, Jerry Kelly, Scott Piercy, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson,, Robert Streb.
  • 1 – Ryan Armour, Aaron Baddeley, Keegan Bradley, Stewart Cink, Tyler Duncan, Lanto Griffin, Tony Finau, Adam Hadwin, Tyrrell Hatton, Lucas Herbert, Garrick Higgo, Max Homa, Sungjae Im, Tom Kim, Kurt Kitayama, Patton Kizzire, Martin Laird, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Hideki Matsuyama, Keith Mitchell, Francesco Molinari, Collin Morikawa, J.T. Poston, Seamus Power, J.J. Spaun, Scott Stallings, Sepp Straka, Kevin Streelman, Adam Svensson, Nick Taylor, Michael Thompson, Brendon Todd, Jhonattan Vegas, Nick Watney, Aaron Wise, 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 was the precursor to his come-from-behind victory here. Fowler’s last win had been at Quail Hollow in 2012 and despite his run of top Major Championship finishes in between, the American had been winless for 3 years worldwide.

However, strong course form doesn’t always translate to the winner here. Martin Kaymer had finished 19th (2011) and 15th (2012) in 5 appearances prior to capturing the title here in 2014. The German had been through a tough spell prior to his win as he had to wait 18 months since his last worldwide victory. Matt Kuchar had finished 13th (2010) and 14th (2009) prior to capturing his first tournament victory for 21 months here in 2012. K.J. Choi had a TPC Sawgrass best of 16th set 5 years previous when he captured his first worldwide title in 18 months with his 2011 victory; Tim Clark incredibly broke his Tour maiden here in 2010 with inbound form of 63-MC-30. And, in 2018, Webb Simpson arrived here winless in 4 and a half years, without a PGA Tour Bermudagrass win to his name and had never finished in the top 10 at TPC Sawgrass in 8 appearances.

Si Woo Kim (2017), Rory McIlroy (2019) and Justin Thomas (2021) all won here off a fairly significant winless period. Kim’s 500/1 shock 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 last year at 33/1.

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 placed across recent renewals, and Henrik Stenson finished 3rd on course debut back in 2006, but these are the real exceptions. Hal Sutton (1983) and Craig Perks (2002) were the last players to win here on course debut.

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

My Final Players Championship Tips Are As Follows:

Rory McIlroy 3pts EW 9/1 (9EW, 1/5) with William Hill

I’ve had Rory McIlroy in mind for this going back a few weeks. Where you can take issue with Jon Rahm (a single 9th place finish in 5 attempts) and Scottie Scheffler (MC & 55th in 2 attempts) here at TPC Sawgrass, nothing could be further from the truth for Rory, who could reach World Number 1 again this week.

8th (2013), 6th (2014), 8th (2015) and 12th (2016) when played in May, a change to March saw Rory take this out in 2019. He was 14/1 second favourite back then coming off a 6th at Bay Hill, and it’s worth noting that the current World Number 3 has an amazing Florida record. A winner at PGA National (2012), Bay Hill (2018) and of course here in 2019, Rory also has an additional 6 top-5 and 8 top-10 finishes in the Sunshine State.

I also loved the way that McIlroy’s legendary ball striking started to peak as the week went on at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week. Strokes Gained Off the Tee and on Approach metrics went like this: Thursday: 95th/52nd; Friday: 26th/42nd; Saturday: 4th/38th and Sunday: 7th/14th.

One thing we’ve learnt with Rory over the years is that plenty of his wins have come when he has growing confidence with the driver combined with his iron play. Add to that the fact that McIlroy has won 8 Bermudagrass greened tournaments on the PGA Tour – the most of anyone else in this field – and I love his chances this week in his last strokeplay tournament prior to The Masters. RESULT: MC

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Patrick Cantlay 2pts EW 18/1 (9EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Patrick Cantlay has won some pretty big tournaments over time. He won the 2021 Tour Championship and the 2021 FedEx Cup to boot. He’s won Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament twice, the FedEx Cup Playoff BMW Championship twice, but logically you would have to say that a Players Championship win this week would be the biggest victory of his career to date.

Patrick has always been a momentum player so a career best 3rd at Rivera Country Club followed by 4th last week at Bay Hill, which dispelled a theory I’ve heard that Cantlay can’t compete on Florida type courses, must have boosted his confidence royally heading to Ponte Vedra Beach this week.

Another angle in here at The Players is Pete Dye form, and Patrick has plenty. 9th (2019) 2nd (2021) and 9th (2022) at the Stadium Course at PGA West; 3rd (2017), 7th (2018), 3rd (2019) and 2nd (2022) at Harbour Town; 14th (2017), 7th (2018), 11th (2021) and 1st (2022) at TPC Louisiana in the team event; and 15th (2018), 15th (2019), 11th (2020), 13th (2021) and 13th (2022) at TPC River Highlands. So how does that translate to TPC Sawgrass?

Well 5th at the Jacksonville Open on the Korn Ferry came on next door’s Dye’s Valley course. Cantlay’s big PGA Tour “breakout” performance came at Copperhead where he finished 2nd to Adam Hadwin at the Valspar Championship. 5 visits to TPC Sawgrass have generated 22nd (2017), 23rd (2018) and 3 missed cuts, but scratch the surface and there’s plenty to be hopeful about. 2017’s course debut was memorable as Patrick was 7th/5th/7th across 18/36/54 holes, and his liking for the Stadium Course was magnified in 2018 when again he was 1st/2nd/9th across 18/36/54 holes. The ill-fated 2020 Players also saw Patrick shoot an opening round -6/66 to sit in 5th spot when the tournament was called off.

9th for Scoring Average, 2nd for Birdie Average and 2nd for Bogey Avoidance (more than useful this week) so far on Tour this season, Cantlay’s consistently excellent play of late could well be rewarded with his biggest win this week in Florida. RESULT: T19

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Tom Kim 1.25pts EW 40/1 (8EW, 1/5) with bet365

I think Tom Kim will be perfectly suited to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

The sort who can hit copious amounts of fairways and get the ball out there +300 yards, I’m pretty certain that Tom will enjoy his first visit to The Players. Sawgrass suits plotters who can score and it’s undoubtedly a ‘buy in’ week for the World Number 17 who has shown so much maturity on the PGA Tour.

It’s worth remembering that Kim has already won twice on the PGA Tour. His phenomenal victories at the Wyndham Championship and Shriners Children’s Open (we were on-board at 22/1), highlight the South Korean’s amazing ability to learn a course quickly. 3rd at the Genesis Scottish Open, 7th at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, 5th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and 6th at The American Express (host Stadium Course is a Pete Dye design), it’s amazing to think that Joohyung has seen these courses all for the very first time.

Tom has already won 10 times across a number of developmental Tours. Wins have now come across India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and the United States. This guy shows both an amazing amount of maturity for his young age allied to a huge desire and ability to win golf tournaments.

Season-long statistics like 13th for Strokes Gained on Approach, 23rd for Stokes Gained Around the Green and 4th for Bogey Avoidance are what I like to see for TPC Sawgrass, where iron play and a great chipping game are prerequisites for a contending performance. So, after a few quiet tournaments on courses which were never going to suit the South Korean, I’m expecting better things this week. RESULT: T51

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Keegan Bradley 1.25pts EW 50/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Using our Players Championship Strokes Gained rankings, it’s easy to see that Keegan Bradley gets on very well with the Stadium Course here at TPC Sawgrass. That makes sense for the Jupiter, Florida resident who made a huge Sunday charge here last year and a similar charge at Bay Hill on Sunday.

6th (Sanderson Farms), 1st (ZOZO Championship), 2nd (Farmers Insurance Open) and 10th (last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational) already this season, Keegan is undoubtedly enjoying a renaissance in his career. Up to 20th in the OWGR, he undoubtedly has his eye on a place in Team USA’s Ryder Cup team and lets not forget that Bradley likes sterner golf courses, which preferably are short or medium length in terms of yardage.

16th (2019), 29th (2021) and 5th (2022) here since the switch from May to March, Bradley is a rarity in this field – a player who has a top-5 finish at all regular Florida PGA Tour events. 4th at PGA National (2013), 2nd (2014) and 3rd (2013) at Bay Hill, plus 2nd (2021) at Copperhead, you can also throw 7th (2013) & 8th (2012) at the WGC held at Doral into the Florida mix. The underlying form player who could win this at a juicy mid-price. RESULT: MC

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Francesco Molinari 1pt EW 125/1 (8EW, 1/5) with 888 Sport

It’s a big year for Francesco Molinari as he bids to make a run for the European Ryder Cup team which will face Team USA just outside of Rome, Italy. Plus there have already been signs of significant improvement. 5th at the DP World Tour opening HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship saw ‘Frankie’ in 1st place heading into Sunday and despite Missed Cuts at Dubai, Phoenix and Riviera, a return to Florida saw the 40 year-old Italian back at the higher end of the leaderboard last week.

Rounds of 69 (Thursday), 70 (Saturday) and 70 (Sunday) saw Molinari finish 14th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, with his weekend 36 hole score actually ranking T8. Remember this is a player who has already won the 2019 Arnold Palmer, plus has 3 other top-7 finishes at Bay Hill. 3rd (2011) at the WGC Cadillac Championship held at Doral again highlights a liking for Florida-type golf courses. Something which is also highlighted by his CV here at TPC Sawgrass. 9th (2010) on tournament debut, 6th (2014), 7th (2016) and 6th (2017) highlight that Francesco can plot his way around here nicely. He was even 42nd here 12 months ago coming off mediocre inbound form.

Up almost 40 spots in the Official Golf Rankings already in 2023, at 123rd in the World momentum is building. This is a pretty perfect course for the wily Italian and you feel that like Justin Rose last month at Pebble Beach, sooner rather than later Molinari needs to contend and finish highly in a PGA Tour tournament. There are none bigger than The Players. RESULT: T60

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