THE PLAYERS Championship Preview

05-09-17

The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass was built for players and spectators alike.

This week, they’ll pass out almost $11 million in cold cash for hot play.

THE PLAYERS Championship

 

TPC Sawgrass

Stadium Course

Ponte Vedra Beach, FL

 

Yards: 7,189 per the official scorecard

Par: 72 (36-36)

Greens: TifEagle Bermudagrass; 5,000 square feet on average

Stimpmeter: As fast as they would like them starting at 13′

Rough: 2.5″

Water Hazards: 15

Bunkers: 75

Course Architect(s): Pete Dye (1980)

Purse: $10.5 million; $1.89 million-winner; 600 FedExCup points; exemption of five years on Tour.

Defending Champion:  Jason Day routed the field to win by four shots, tying the largest margin of victory since the event moved to May in 2007.

 

Notes:

  • Major renovations followed the 2016 edition and are described in detail below.
  • 48 of the OWGR top 50 are playing this week with only Brandt Snedeker (hand injury) and Thomas Pieters (no reason given) absent.
  • 146 players will be cut to the top 70 and ties after 36 holes.
  • Remember, this event moved from March to May in 2007 and is played under much different weather conditions.

 

 

2016-17 Winners

 

Frys.com: Brendan Steele

CIMB: Justin Thomas

WGC-HSBC: Hideki Matsuyama

Sanderson Farms: Cody Gribble**

Shriners: Rod Pampling

OHL Mayakoba: Pat Perez

RSM Classic: Mackenzie Hughes**

SBS TOC: Justin Thomas

Sony Open: Justin Thomas

CB Challenge: Hudson Swafford*

Farmers: Jon Rahm*

WMPO: Hideki Matsuyama

AT&T Pebble Beach: Jordan Spieth

Genesis Open: Dustin Johnson

Honda: Rickie Fowler

WGC-MC: Dustin Johnson

Valspar: Adam Hadwin*

Arnold Palmer: Marc Leishman

WGC-Match Play: Dustin Johnson

Shell Houston Open: Russell Henley

Masters: Sergio Garcia

RBC Heritage: Wesley Bryan**

Valero Texas Open: Kevin Chappell*

Zurich Classic: Cameron Smith* & Jonas Blixt

Wells Fargo Championship: Brian Harman

 

*First-time winner

**First-time winner AND rookie winner

 

 

The Particulars:

 

Pete Dye and Alice Dye’s creation in the Florida Swamp has stood the test of time, Mother Nature and all the equipment upgrades of the last 30-odd years and is considered one of the best tracks anywhere.

For the 36th consecutive year the Stadium Course will identify a champion from the ranks of the world’s best players. From the iconic island green to the fantastic finishing holes, there is nowhere to run and hide from Dye, the field or the elements.

There’s a reason nobody has defended their title here: It’s a massive field on a massively difficult golf course. And to add even more intrigue this year, Dye has added some more teeth to the equation.

After the 2016 edition all 18 greens were stripped down to the soil and rebuilt. The new surfaces of TifEagle Bermudagrass, THE grass currently being used in hot and humid climates and this easily qualifies, should play nice and firm as they haven’t had a even a year to settle in. Also, five green complexes were expanded to add extra pin placements to add another layer of execution to an already difficult loop.

The Stadium Course has also expanded its fairways and shrank the rough to allow errant shots to find pine straw instead of thick Bermudagrass. Playing out the pine straw will encourage more recovery shots but dicey lies will also provide headaches. Of the last 14 winners, eight have resided in the top five GIR. Jason Day was 15th last year but only T-51 in fairways.

The biggest talk this week will be about the pond that now resides between holes Nos. 6 and 7 and the new, drivable par four No. 12. There is also a new tee box on No. 15 that will add 20 yards.

Pete Dye has also rebuilt all of his already diabolical bunkers and regrassed the areas around the edges which will also reward those more accurate approaching the putting surfaces.

Quite simply for me, nothing in the above has been done to “help” the putters in the field this week. New pin placements will make old yardage books outdated to some degree as will new putting surfaces with rebuilt, firm greens.

While the routing of the course and majority of the greens (13 of 17) haven’t changed, players who have “been there, done that” will still hold an advantage for me. They have accepted how to play here and understand what it takes to get it around while others just show up and hope to overpower and get lucky.

That’s not how you beat Pete.

The winner this week will trust where he’s aiming and will not be suckered into tempting fate. He will also be fully aware of the visual tricks and pin placements where par is a very good score. This is truly a risk-reward track and there’s a reason why not many newcomers do well here. Course discipline is just as important as execution this week.

It may look like this is a bomber’s paradise but with four par fives and a yardage of less than 7,200 yards I’m sure we’ll see some of short, straight knockers finding their way up the leaderboard as well.

It will take all 14 clubs, six inches between the ears, a bit of luck and plenty of nerves to handle the course, the prize pool and the crowds this week.

Good luck!

 

Previous Champions

I’ll take it back to 2007 when the event switched to May.

 

2016: Jason Day; -15

2015: Rickie Fowler; -12*

2014: Martin Kaymer; -13

2013: x-Tiger Woods; -13

2012: Matt Kuchar; -13

2011: KJ Choi; -13

2010: x-Tim Clark; -16

2009: Henrik Stenson; -12

2008: Sergio Garcia; -5*

2007: Phil Mickelson; -11

*playoff

X-not playing this week

 

 

Course Ratings:

Last year, the 36-hole record was set by Jason Day (63-66) as the course was green and soft. The course record was equaled twice, once by Day on Thursday and Colt Knost (DNS this year) on Friday with both posting 63.

There were three players that hit all 18 GIR last year. There were just three players who did that in the previous 34 editions. #Velcro.

In short, the first two rounds were the two easiest scoring rounds in the history of the tournament.

That history isn’t repeating itself this year, I’ll guarantee that.

 

Persons of Interest:

Only two of the last 14 winners have registered in the top 10 in driving distance. Jason Day was 18th last year.

Better score on par fours because EVERYONE is going to tear up the par fives.

No player besides Rickie Fowler has finished outside the top 25 in GIR since the move in 2007.

Of the last 10 winners, seven have been in the top 30 in putting.

Sergio Garcia led the field in birdies last year with 23 but finished T-54. Risk and reward around each corner!

Rory McIlroy made 25 birdies in 2014 yet only finished T-6.

Fuzzy Zoeller set the record for most birdies, 26, in 1994 and finished SECOND, four shots behind Greg Norman.

Guys who bomb it better not miss too many fairways wildly and have their wedge games dialed in.

Guys who miss GIR better be able to avoid multiple bogeys on closely mown areas and savage bunker complexes.

Great putters will need to adjust to the rebuilt greens and new TifEagle.

It’s not easy nor should it be for almost $11 million on table.

 

Weather:

Perfect.

The Stadium Course has received less than an inch of rain since the calendar turned over to May.

Prevailing winds the first three days will allow them to set the course in any way they choose.

Hot temperatures (90-plus) will kick things off the first two days before the wind shifts out of the NE (into the wind) and cools down into the low 80’s on Sunday.

 

54-Hole Graveyard

These players either had the outright lead or co-led after 54 holes.

 

  • 2007: Sean O’Hair finished T-11 after quad on 17, bogey 18.
  • 2008: Paul Goydos, 74; lost playoff.
  • 2009: Alex Cejka, 79; T-9.
  • 2010: Lee Westwood, 74; T-4.
  • 2011: Graeme McDowell, 79; T-33.
  • 2012: Kevin Na, 76; T-7.
  • 2013: Sergio Garcia, 76; two in the water on No. 17 (co-leader with champ Woods).
  • 2014: Jordan Spieth 74, co-leader with champ Kaymer.
  • 2015: Chris Kirk, 75; T-13.
  • 2016: Jason Day went wire-to-wire to become the fifth winner ever to do so and first since Hal Sutton in 2000.

 

Facts and Figures:

 

  • This is will be the 36th edition of THE PLAYERS at TPC Sawgrass and the 44th overall.
  • Tournament record event: 264; Greg Norman, 1994; one bogey.
  • Tournament record post-2006 renovation: 272; Clark, 2010.
  • Course record: 63; last done by Colt Knost on Friday last year.
  • Defending champion(s): 0-34.
  • Best finish by defending champion since 2000: T-8; Adam Scott, 2005. No other champion has breached the top 15 since.
  • Multiple champions: Five, none with both victories in May.
  • Last multiple champion: Tiger Woods, 2013.
  • International winners: Six in 10 tries since moving to May.
  • European winners: Four (Lyle, Garcia, Stenson and Kaymer).
  • Maiden Tour victory: Craig Perks, 2002 and Clark.
  • First time at event: Sutton, 1983, and Perks.
  • Youngest: 23; Scott, 2004.
  • Oldest: 48; Fred Funk, 2005.
  • Week before: Woods; 2001 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
  • All of it: Day joined Woods, Mickelson, Scott and Kaymer as the only players to win a major, a WGC event and THE PLAYERS.

 

 

The Field

 

Favorites

In order of preference for this week and this tournament

 

Dustin Johnson: This week will test the ever-present theory of current form versus course form. In eight starts in 2017 he has one MC and seven finishes inside of the top six. His streak of three wins in a row was broken last week as he missed a playoff by a shot. In a vacuum, you write him down in permanent marker and don’t look back.

BUT.

In 26 previous loops at the Stadium Course he’s posted only eight in red figures with only two in the 60’s.

The good news is the T-28 was last year and included three of those rounds in the red.

I faded him last week in most formats because I was interested to see how he would fare. He made the cut on the number and a missed a playoff by a shot shooting 67-67 on the weekend.

In Dustin I’m trustin’.

Rory McIlroy: We last saw McIlroy as a single dude trying to marry all four majors together at Augusta. He finished T-7 falling just short of his goal. He was married shortly thereafter and will also be looking to knock off a bit of rust in his first event back. It’s a soft landing spot as McIlroy is 31-under in his last four years finishing T-8, T-6, T-8 and T-12 last year. Only two of those rounds are above par in that stretch.  We all know his best is THE best but we haven’t seen four rounds of it in a while. He makes a fantastic second choice for those who don’t think DJ can break his hex at TPC Sawgrass.

Rickie Fowler: The 2015 champ and 2012 co-runner-up has been purring along all season his final round at the Masters with Jordan Spieth non-withstanding. If this is the course that reflects the best player through the bag on Tour then he could be on the top of any list. He currently leads the Tour in scoring and is second in SGT. His last six events on Tour have resulted in a win and three other top fours plus nothing outside of T-16.

Jordan Spieth: It’s an absolute fact he’s MC the last two years here but it’s also a fact that in those four rounds, three are par or better. He’s currently second in GIR, third in scoring and played in the penultimate group at the Masters his last time out. His short game prevents most rounds from getting out of hand but if he keeps hitting greens, look out, as you won’t find many better putters or chippers as evidenced at the team game at Zurich where he finished fourth with Ryan Palmer.

Jon Rahm: Look, I’m overrating him here and I don’t care. There are fantasy rules for mortals and then there are fantasy rules for dudes like Rahm. He fits into the #SpiethBoner category and his results have reinforced that belief. Every course he plays essentially is “new” in his eyes and it is not bothering him one bit. He was one swing from a playoff last week and he hit 5-wood into the wind 265 yards and couldn’t get up-and-down. Since his first win earlier this year at Torrey Pines he’s racked up five more top 10’s in seven events. I’m excited to see how he handles the mental challenge this week but a tough course isn’t going to bother him.

Sergio Garcia: Remember when this guy never won on Tour and might not have played enough over here to justify a season-long selection? Yeah, me neither. The moniker of “best player to never win a major” is gone after his excellent win at Augusta. He hasn’t played since but, like McIlroy, this is a comfy landing spot. Only two Masters champs since 2004 have MC (Mike Weir and Jordan Spieth) and I don’t expect him to follow. He’s hit the top 10 six times here and made 15 of 17 cuts. He’s an excellent iron player and that short game around here won’t hurt.

Hideki Matsuyama: His streak of stumbling along after his title defense at TPC Scottsdale finally ended with T-11 at Augusta his last time out. Just like at Augusta, Matsuyama continues to creep up the leaderboard annually at TPC Sawgrass. He didn’t break 70 in 2014 but finished T-23. The following year he opened with 67 to finish T-17. He was T-2 after 54 holes last year before limping home with 73 for T-7. Sitting in the top four in par four scoring average doesn’t hurt this week either.

Kevin Chappell: Coming off his first Tour win at Valero and first top 10 at the Masters (T-7) in his last two starts, he easily fits right into the SMOKING HOT category. He, like the rest of the field, was chasing shadows here last year as Day ran away with the big prize. I’ll point out Chappell was the only player to stick all four rounds under par last year in his solo-second finish. He’s also played 20 rounds here and half of them are in red figures. TPC San Antonio and Augusta National are a couple of the hardest tracks on Tour. He’s also top 10’d at Congressional, East Lake, Firestone South and Olympic Club so he’s hardly shy on tough tracks.

Francesco Molinari: The Italian has cracked the top 10 the last two years at the Stadium Course and three times from six tries in his career. Sure the other three are MC’s but his recent form doesn’t point anywhere in that direction. After taking a couple of weeks off, he returned with 66 last week to open at Eagle Point. His closing round of 75 knocked him out of the top five (T-24) but one round isn’t my concern. I’m more interested in his SGTTG and SGT numbers which are both currently inside the top 10.

Justin Thomas: There’s something about this place that brings out the best in him. In his first action in 2015 he posted 65 on Saturday with a record-setting performance of 10 birdies. He closed with 75 to finish T-24. Last year he racked up eight birdies on Sunday to shoot 65 and move up 20 spots to T-3. Of his eight rounds, five are 70 or better and three are 73 or worse. He’s posted 41 birdies in 144 holes.

Justin Rose: He fell just short at Augusta in a playoff to Garcia to continue his excellent 2017. In eight starts, he’s hit the top four half of the time and nothing worse than T-39. Some might frown on his record at this event but my glass is half-filled. He’s posted seven of his last 10 rounds in red figures and his T-4 in 2014 and T-19 last year are his two best marks from 13 tries. He sits ninth SGT and is one of the best tee-to-green on Tour.

Paul Casey: On the back of three top 12’s in a row, this will NOT be the week I’ll be leaving the Englishman behind. I’m not leaving behind a guy who sits inside the top 11 in GIR and top 30 in SGT who also is T-12 in par four scoring average. He opened and closed with 68 last year.

Brooks Koepka: I’m playing the come here this week but the upside based on his recent form is the deciding factor. Whatever he found at WGC-Match Play has stuck and that’s why I’m bullish. He took that momentum and turned it into T-11, his best finish ever at Augusta and backed that up with solo second at a difficult TPC San Antonio. He also teamed up with (carried) his brother to finish T-5 at the Zurich Classic. He shot 78-67 in his first try in 2015 and opened 66-70 last year before limping home T-35. #ArrowUp.

Matt Kuchar: I’m going to need somebody in here to back-door a top 10 and this is clearly the man for the job. The 2012 champ threw up 68 last year on Sunday to storm onto the podium (T-3). He did similarly at the Masters with a bogey-free 67 on Sunday for T-4 and T-11 the following week at Harbour Town with 64 on Sunday.  In his last eight trips five have resulted in T-17 or better and 25 of his last 30 rounds are par or better.

Martin Kaymer: The last time he MC was the 2016 Valspar Championship so his form is not of my concern. I’m leaning on the Euro to continue his run of eight weekends from eight tries and it doesn’t hurt he shares the course record set during his victory in 2014. Of his 32 rounds, 24 are par or better so it’s obvious that this track fits his game and he’ll be attacking most holes from the middle of the fairway.

Jason Day: He goes into the 16 spot this week because that’s the best finish of a defending champion in the last 12 years. His form has suffered perhaps of his mom dealing with cancer and he’s only played once since announcing her condition (T-22, Masters). Every-other-year he MC. Wanna guess which year this is? Hahaha.

 

 

 

Next Tier

Just missed; no particular order of preference

 

Pat Perez: His career-best season rolls on with T-2 last week at Eagle Point. Solid throughout the bag and never short on confidence he’s going to be overlooked in a deep field.

Branden Grace: He took a while to warm up in the States in 2017 but his weekend and the Masters jumpstarted his season. He followed with T-11 in his defense at RBC Heritage, another Dye course that doesn’t play long, and T-10 at a difficult Valero event proves to me that he’s dialed in. I prefer him on difficult courses and he should be in the top 15 above.

Ryan Palmer: Set it and forget it with the Texan and hope the wind blows! He put his game back on track with T-11 at RBC Heritage and followed it up with a tough T-6 at Valero. He rode shotgun with Spieth at the Zurich Classic for fourth place so I’m riding the wave.

Adam Scott: He’s the steadying factor this week as he’s rattled off five in a row at TPC Sawgrass. We haven’t seen the form that saw him rack up top 10’s in all four FEC Playoff events to close last year and that’s my drawback this week.

Ross Fisher: His bread-and-butter is usually overpowering big golf courses but this week we’ll see if he can knock it around. With four top 10’s in his last five worldwide, I’m more than willing to take a look.

Charl Schwartzel: He finds the way to get the ball in the hole which is the name of the game. After a pair of MC to start 2017 he’s rattled off solo sixth, T-45, T-17 and solo third at the Masters in his last four. He’s played five of six weekends here but nothing better than T-26 in that run.

DanielBernd WiesBerger: Yes. Both. I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and French-fried potatoes. Make it a double.

Russell Henley: He collected the cash at SHO and backed that up with T-11 at Augusta and T-26 on Hilton Head. He once finished T-17 here with an 80 and seven of his 12 rounds are 71 or lower.

Marc Leishman: Every week I endorse him he disappears so be aware. He’s made the weekend in five straight tries and won in March at Bay Hill.

Patrick Cantlay: What seems to bother this guy? Not even playing with an ice-cold at the time Patrick Reed could cool him off at Zurich.  T-3 at Dye’s Harbour Town and solo second on TifEagle at Valspar highlights his four starts on the year. #Stretching.

Louis Oosthuizen: I can never figure him out. If you are playing conservatively you’re not reading this column anyhow. He hasn’t MC since last summer’s Open Championship so I’m not chucking him aside.

Brian Harman: His streak of six in a row in red numbers ended on the weekend last year when the wind started to blow with 77-74. He played great in the wind last weekend winning at Eagle Point and was T-8 here in 2015.

Hudson Swafford: He’s played the weekend in four of his last five with the only hiccup being his first Masters.

Jhonattan Vegas: The plan isn’t a tough one to follow here as he’ll knock it on a bunch of greens and hope his putter has a decent week.

Jason Dufner: He’s hitting plenty of fairways and greens, which is normal, but it’s his SGP and birdie average, both in the top 35 that gains my attention this week.

Ryan Moore: I have no problem adding him as support staff this week as he’s played six weekends in a row at T-38 or better. The best of that run was T-9 at Augusta. His MC in that streak was his first since this event last year. #Form.

 

 

Off the Beaten Path

Course horses, long shots, cheeky picks, DFS last call, red herrings, general mish-mash.

Adam Hadwin: He should pop in his third try but might get lost in a deep field. He’s hasn’t gone home early in his last 12 tries on Tour.

Zach Johnson: No idea what direction the arrow is pointing but he’s rattled off 11 of 12 here and eight in a row. #CourseHorse.

Brian Gay: He was on target for his third consecutive top 10 before 77 of them last Sunday dropped him. This will be his 14th start at Sawgrass so he should be familiar with what works and what doesn’t.

Ben An: Since the beginning of calendar 2016 he’s made 32 weekends from 36 starts. It’s not because he’s a hot putter.

Kevin Kisner: Which one? Do you know? Lovely wild card this week but I’m hurt after last week.

Russell Knox: One of two last year to put three rounds in the 60’s. A recent run of dire form was busted with T-11 at RBC Heritage so connect those dots. Home game this week for the JAX resident makes for a lovely sleeper.

Billy Hurley, III: He’s just playing too well to omit in deeper formats and he thrives on difficult tracks.

Tony Finau: I love his current form as he has four top 10’s this year. I’m not in love, THIS WEEK, that his favorite club in the bag is driver. Hot is hot so I’ll hitch up.

Daniel Summerhays: The other part of the Utah Mafia that couldn’t make the cut at Zurich, Summerhays had played this event four times and has hit the top 26 in three of them.

Zac Blair: If he enjoyed firm greens last week at Eagle Point, the new TifEagle at Sawgrass should be right up his alley. He also won’t mind a few hundred less yards. He’s made four of his last five with T-8 last week and T-12 in Houston as the highlights.

Lee Westwood: Old Glass would have stuck him way up the list with three top 10’s in his last five here. He knows how to get his ball around this place with five top 10’s from 13 tries.

Jamie Lovemark: He’s played four rounds in one start and three of them were 71.

Tommy Fleetwood: It’s definitely about the putter and only the putter with the Englishman as his tee ball and iron are on point. He probably should be higher up the list but he’s never played here before.

 

 

Fades:

Henrik Stenson: He enters the week on the back of three MC’s in a row. His “new normal” has been all-or-nothing but I’m concerned that he didn’t fire on courses he’s had decent successes on in the last few years (Bay Hill, GCH, Augusta). In a field this deep I can look elsewhere.

Phil Mickelson: He hasn’t hit the top 20 since his win in 2007. He hasn’t played the weekend in the last four years. I’m not being sucked in by his decent run of form but you can.

Bubba Watson: Fantasy golf is all relative. Watson has rolled out five weekends in a row here and six of his last seven but never collected a check for more than T-37. So if your angle is “well, he’s due then”, just what exactly is he “due” for? His best stroke play finish in 2017 is T-26 in a light field in Shenzhen and he didn’t fire at TPC Scottsdale, Riviera or Augusta, three places where he’s raked over the last five years. No, thanks.

Danny Willett: You tell me when it’s safe to go back into the water. Majors change your lives almost as much as kids. Willett had both in a matter of days last year. Don’t buy on OWGR ranking only, folks.

Emiliano Grillo: He’s only MC twice in the last calendar year, both on Pete Dye courses. Hahaha.

Robert Garrigus: In seven tries he’s racked up six MC and a 73rd-place finish. Daydream somewhere else.

 

Next:

Wednesday I’ll present my gaming angles for the week so keep your eyes peeled at @MikeGlasscott and mikeglasscott.com for more information.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out through Twitter or email me mikeglasscott@gmail.com.

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