The Confidence Factor: THE PLAYERS Championship

Biggest field.

Massive purse.

Here’s the OWGR 50 and an analysis of each.

Updated at 2:55 pm with 21 more evaluations

 

THE PLAYERS Championship

THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass

Ponte Vedra Beach, FL

 

PLAYERS Stadium Course TPC Sawgrass Cheat Sheet

Yards (per official scorecard) 7,189
Par 72 (36-36)
Greens TifEagle Bermuda
Stimpmeter 13′ and up to tournament speed
Rough 419 Bermuda at 2.5 inches
Bunkers 88
Water Hazard 17
Architects Pete Dye (1980); Pete Dye and Steve Wenzloff (2016-present)
Purse $11 million/$1.98 winner/600 FEC Points
Defending Champion Si Woo Kim -10 (278) by three shots

 

Notes:

  • Major renovations followed the 2016 edition and are described in detail below.
  • 49 of the top 50 from the OWGR are playing
  • 12 Paul Casey WD Wednesday morning (back issues).
  • 146 players will be cut to the top 70 and ties after 36 holes.
  • This will be the last event in May since moving in 2007.
  • THE PLAYERS will move back to its March position on the “new” PGA TOUR calendar for 2018-19 and will play quite differently (over-seeded rough, different wind/weather).

 

2017-18 Winners

*First-time winner

**First-time winner AND rookie winner

Event Winner
Safeway Open Brendan Steele
CIMB Classic Pat Perez
WGC-HSBC Champions Justin Rose
Sanderson Farms Ryan Armour*
Shriners Hospitals for Children Patrick Cantlay*
OHL Mayakoba Patton Kizzire*
The RSM Classic Austin Cook**
Sentry TOC Dustin Johnson
Sony Open Patton Kizzire (2)
CB Challenge Jon Rahm
Farmers Insurance Open Jason Day
WMPO Gary Woodland
AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Ted Potter, Jr.
Genesis Open Bubba Watson
Honda Classic Justin Thomas
WGC-Mexico Championship Phil Mickelson
Valspar Championship Paul Casey
Arnold Palmer Invitational Rory McIlroy
WGC-Match Play Bubba Watson (2)
Corales Puntacana Resorts Brice Garnett*
Houston Open Ian Poulter
Masters Patrick Reed
RBC Heritage Satoshi Kodaira*
Valero Texas Open Andrew Landry*
Zurich Classic of New Orleans Billy Horschel & Scott Piercy
Wells Fargo Championship Jason Day (2)

 

The Confidence Factor is the weekly column I write for PGATOUR.COM and contains plenty of angles on the track and those who have aced this exam. Take a look here: 

The Post-2016 Renovation:

After the 2016 edition all 18 greens were stripped down to the soil and rebuilt. The TifEagle Bermudagrass, THE grass currently being used in hot and humid climates, should play nice and firm as we saw last week at Quail Hollow Club. Also, five green complexes were expanded to add extra pin placements so those who played last year will have some notes and history to reflect upon this year.

Also for 2017, No. 12 has been tweaked again. The mounds right have been softened on the drivable Par-4 hole and they have added “rough” to the slope left into the water. Some have suggested the rough is just window dressing while the mounds improve sight lines. One hole doesn’t make a golf course. If it did, they already have No. 17. Guys who are “worried” about No. 12 probably won’t be on my list this week.

There’s a reason why many players don’t perform here annually. It has plenty of moving parts and there’s a feeling of surrender at some point. The challenge is major even know the label is not. Guys who have won here exhale and gladly come back to talk about how they won, not how they are going to win again.

Previous Champions (since moving to May in 2007)

*- playoff

Year Winner Total (Par-72)
2017 Si Woo Kim 278
2016 Jason Day 273
2015 Rickie Fowler 276*
2014 Martin Kaymer 275
2013 Tiger Woods 275
2012 Matt Kuchar 275
2011 K.J. Choi 275
2010 Tim Clark 272
2009 Henrik Stenson 276
2008 Sergio Garcia 283*
2007 Phil Mickelson 277

No repeat champs.

No multiple champs.

Woods has two titles joining Hal Sutton (1983, 2000) and Steve Elkington (1993, 1997), Fred Couples (1984, 1996) and Davis Love III (1992, 2003).

I had DL III in my weekly game the year he shot 65-83 to MC. TOP THAT STORY.

 

Facts and Figures:

Tournament Record: 264; Greg Norman, 1994
Course Record: 63; Last: Colt Knost, Round 2, 2016
Defending Champion(s): Never in the event history
Multiple Winners: See above
First TOUR Win: Craig Perks (2002), Tim Clark (2010)
First Win in First Appearance: Sutton (1983), Perks (2002)
Low Round Last Year: 66; Kyle Stanley, Louis Oosthuizen and Pat Perez
Rookies of Note Last Year: Mackenzie Hughes T16, Patrick Cantlay, T22
International Winners: 7 of last 11 since the move to May
Youngest: Si Woo Kim (21 years, 10 months)
Oldest: Fred Funk, 2005 (48 years)
Won the Week Before: Woods, 2001 (Arnold Palmer Invite)
Won the Lot: (Major, WGC, PLAYERS) Woods, Mickelson, Kaymer and Day
Odd Fact: No Englishman has ever won.

 

Interesting Interludes:

  • Only three of the last 15 winners have registered in the top 10 in driving distance, including Si Woo Kim last year. Power is not the requirement this week.
  • Kyle Stanley led with 20 birdies last year, played in the final group, shot 74 and finished T4.
  • Sergio Garcia circled 23 birdies in 2016 and collected T54 money.
  • Justin Thomas (T24) and Kevin Kisner (P2) co-led the field with 21 birdies in 2015. Both were making their debut.
  • Rory McIlroy made 25 birdies in 2014 and didn’t crack the top five (T6).
  • Fuzzy Zoeller made an event-record 26 birdies in 1994 and lost by four shots to Greg Norman who set the tournament scoring record.
  • Jason Day shot 69-81 (MC) in 2015. Jason Day won wire-to-wire in 2016. Jason Day shot 80 on Sunday last year (T60). Jason Day won last week at WFC.

 

Experience Required?

Alex Noren played his first PLAYERS last year and finished 10th.

Si Woo Kim played his first PLAYERS in 2016 and cashed T23.

Along with Kisner (P2) and Thomas (T24), Ben Martin (T4) had a nice debut in 2015.

Jordan Spieth played in the final group in his debut in 2014, shot 74 on Sunday and cashed T4. Morgan Hoffmann was T17 while Hideki Matsuyama was T23.

In 2013, David Lingmerth was in the final group with Sergio Garcia and finished T2.

There are always exceptions to rules.

 

My Favorite Section: The 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, Lingmerth).
  • 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. #Notable.
  • 2017: J.B. Holmes and Kyle Stanley played in the final group and shot 84 and 75 respectively, finishing T41 and T4.

The pressure to execute on Sunday and down the stretch isn’t as easy as Rickie Fowler made it look in 2015. I’ll point out that Fowler hasn’t posted a round in the 60’s in eight tries since. The pressure is real. The holes are really difficult. There aren’t many pretenders who lift this trophy so it’s time to lay the lumber.

The Field: OWGR 1-50

Dustin Johnson (1): He knows, you know and I know that if he doesn’t finish inside the top 10 this week he’s no longer No. 1 in the world. He was No. 1 in my rankings last year and finished T12, his best from nine attempts. Remember, this was the guy who was never going to win a major or couldn’t “think” his way around a course. Oops. He’s closed with 68 the last two years so I think he’ll be just fine this week. Fade him at your peril.

Justin Thomas (2): I dig using the Fowler putter. I don’t care how you get the ball in the hole just do it! Over half of his rounds here are in the red and his scoring average in 11 events is 71.27. He’s already won on a difficult Florida track this year at Palm Beach Gardens.

Jon Rahm (3): He played four years at Arizona State on a Pete Dye course. He won earlier this year at the Stadium Course West. He enters the week off solo fourth at ANGC and WIN at Open de Espana. He’ll be VERY difficult to leave out in any format.

Jordan Spieth (4): I don’t care what he says, I don’t believe he’s a big fan of Pete Dye layouts. I’m not pounding square pegs into round holes so I’ll save a start for Trinity Forest, the site of the AT&T Byron Nelson, where he’s a member. He’ll have a decided schematic advantage next week in Dallas.

Justin Rose (5): His last start was the Masters so he rolls in without a rust buster. His only top 10 at this event was in 2014. Don’t forget he opened 65-74 in 2016 before closing 78-66. Confused? Me too. He closed with 80 last year. That’s too many big ones in the last two years for me. I’ll have no problem finding starts for him down the road.

Rickie Fowler (6): Numerologists will LOVE him this week as he was T2 on his third start, WIN on his sixth and will be teeing it for No. 9 this week. As is his style, hope he’s within touching distance come Sunday and don’t have him on your bench! I’m saving him for Shinnecock.

Jason Day (7): His results don’t surprise me here one bit. The other part that won’t surprise me is if he wins again this week. He has a wonderful TILT factor that sets him off in a positive direction. I’m riding the heat wave.

Rory McIlroy (8): After seeing him on the struggle bus last week, I’m not “hoping” he figures it out this week. The beauty of using him is “bad” isn’t terrible and he can win without his best stuff. I’m not sure if THIS COURSE is where I HOPE that happens. There are too many bunkers, water hazards, slow rounds, change in weather or you name it. We all know that he gears his game up for majors so that will be my focus as well.

Hideki Matsuyama (9): The return from the wrist injury that wouldn’t allow him to defend his title at WMPO hasn’t been smooth. I can see why season-long investors are worried and why short-term players would stay away. His T79 last week at QHC didn’t inspire BUT, there’s ALWAYS but!

If you’re going to break somebody out of a slump, he might be the guy and this might be the course. He’s posted 13 of 16 rounds at Par-or-better and his career scoring average here is 70.75.

Patrick Reed (10): He plays almost every week and the burning desire to achieve top-five status is within touching distance. He showed no hangover last week after his first major and has rattled off five top-10 finishes in a row. There have been plenty of guys who rolled in here on form and steamrolled the joint (Kisner ’15, Chappell ’16 and RCB ’17) but he might be the class of that lot.

Brooks Koepka (11): The Florida kid has knocked off the rust with the Zurich Classic and WFC in back-to-back weeks. That tells me his wrist is just fine and I remember how well he was playing before it was injured. He’s a quick study here as he’s improved from MC to T35 to T16 in three tries.

Paul Casey (12): WITHDREW WEDNESDAY MORNING (Back Issues).

Sergio Garcia (13): Defending your first major championship is never easy so he got a pass (and a fade) from me there. Playing at a course you designed in your previous life with, at the time, the love-of-your-life’s father, is never easy so he got a pass (and a fade) from me at VTO. Not this week. All aboard. Full steam ahead. He’s rattled off 14 in a row here and knows this place inside and out. The baby is here. The wife is great. Time to play ball.

Tommy Fleetwood (14): I’m torn here but I’m going to lean on his ball-striking to see me through. He was T4 at PGA National and that’s not an easy Florida track by any means. He collected T41 last year but I’ll point out he signed for 67 on Friday before 76-74 weekend. He’s the steadiest of the St. George’s crew and the newness of the greens should be to his advantage as well.

Henrik Stenson (15): The only part that concerns me is that when 80% of gamers, at minimum, are on anybody, how often does that player perform? Well, count me in for one of the thousands because his form is on point and he’s a past champion here. Go read The Confidence Factor if you’re worried about key stats this week (#NumbahWon). If we all go down, we all go down together…

Marc Leishman (16): I’m not very good with the Aussie so I’m not going to pretend otherwise. He’s thrived recently on the big-boy scoring tracks Kapalua, Torrey Pines, Bay Hill and ANGC but struggles on the older-school ones. When in doubt, I bail out. I’ll wait for the wind of Texas.

Bubba Watson (17): I’m not going to let his two wins on the season seduce me into a purchase this week. I get that he won the WGC-Match Play on a Dye course. I also have to accept the fact that his best finish is T37 and he’s made only six of 10 cuts. This tight arena doesn’t give him the freedom to move the golf ball as he would prefer. He’s made it abundantly clear in the past that he prefers courses right out in front of him. This does NOT qualify. He’s a wonderful contrarian selection this week if you believe the form will push him through.

Alex Noren (18): He’ll be one of the few this week to get back to Dye courses and say goodbye to Tom Fazio. He struggled at the Masters the last two years and didn’t shine at Quail Hollow Club (T67, PGA; MC LW) either. His best finishes in his first year on TOUR are at some tough places to play against some big fields. He was P2 at Torrey Pines and third at PGA National and Austin Country Club (Dye).

Phil Mickelson (19): He suggested that him and Tiger get to the point and just have a match. I’d rather watch that then both of them scuffling in the featured group this week. Mickelson plays GREAT EVERY YEAR AT QUAIL HOLLOW and then comes to TPC Sawgrass and does nothing. His last round in the 60’s on this course was in 2011. JUST SAY NO (AGAIN).

Tyrrell Hatton (20): His two best finishes on TOUR in 2018 are top 10’s in a reduced-field event. This is quite the opposite of that. He was T41 in his debut last year. I’m guessing he’ll be more comfortable at Carnoustie or Bellerive where the field won’t have a head-start on him.

Matt Kuchar (21): The 2012 champ has a stroke average here of 71.48 and that’s with 81 in Round 3 last year. I’m not leading with him but he’s in the support staff that knows how to get it around and in the hole here.

Pat Perez (22): He’s another who hasn’t been bitten by the #NappyFactor bug yet. He has one top 10 in 2018, the first event, and enters the week on MC-MC. Easy pass this week.

Brian Harman (23): Push all of your chips into the center. He’ll be ignored this week as he hasn’t posted a top-10 check in three consecutive events. He marks all the boxes and will fly comfortably under the radar during a week of hyperbole, pomp and circumstance.

Kevin Kisner (24): It was disappointing to see him MC last week at QHC but I could understand the angle. First major with the 54-hole lead. Life-changer if you win. Etc. His only top-10 checks this year were at Pete Dye’s Austin Country Club and Pete Dye’s Harbour Town. Dots connected.

Rafael Cabrera-Bello (25): I’m supposed to play him this week after MC at the Open de Espana his last time out? His T4 last year at TPC Sawgrass was buoyed by his double-eagle 2 on Sunday. His scoring average here is 70.83 but he MC (72-71) in 2016.

Ian Poulter (26): He’s another no-brainer this week after collecting T5, WIN, T44 and T7 in his last four starts. I’d mention he was T2 here last year and has cashed in 11 of 14 starts at TPC Sawgrass but that would be overkill. Add to the fact it’s a Ryder Cup year and OH MY GOD IS HE GOING TO WIN AGAIN???

Satoshi Kodaira (27): I have no time for back-and-forth travel to Japan. He will be so lightly owned that contrarians who get lucky will be smiling. Now, if they don’t get lucky…

Charley Hoffman (28): Total pro who makes cuts here but never threatens. He’s posted four of his last five rounds here at Par-or-better. He makes for great support staff in deeper lineups as he’s played the weekend here in four of his last five.

Xander Schauffele (29): He proved to gamers last year that his first time at any event he could cause a ruckus. The only ruckus he’s caused lately was threatening the bottom of the leaderboard on Sundays. Wonderful long shot if you’re desperate but that’s where it ends for me THIS WEEK.

Francesco Molinari (30): Some guys just have a track they love to play and this qualifies. He’s played this event seven times and made four cuts. They all have gone for top-10 paydays. His scoring average of 70.68 is only bested by Si Woo Kim and the Korean has only played two events. The good news for some of us is that we’ll save a start on Stenson. The bad news is that no Italian has even won on TOUR, ever. Decisions, decisions!

Tony Finau (31): I love the fact that he’s 0-2 here because that will chase off the course historians. I’m enjoying the way he finished the Masters, the team game at Zurich and his low round of the day, 66, at WFC last Sunday. He’s proven to be way more than a power player at this level.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat (32): First-timer who needs to hole putts to bother isn’t on my radar this week.

Louis Oosthuizen (33): The co-36-hole leader last year finished T2, giving him runner-up finishes at every major championship and now THE PLAYERS. His MC last week gave him a few extra days of practice. Don’t game angry, my friends!

Patrick Cantlay (34): This will be absolutely no surprise if he adds his name to the crystal trophy. He learned a very valuable lesson last year as he was just four shots off the lead entering Sunday. The lesson was 77 painful shots to finish T22 after posting three doubles and three bogeys. His stat pack is fantastic and he was T7 at Harbour Town the last time he played his own ball. BINGO.

Branden Grace (35): He should have a check in the mail from Charl Schwartzel. Grace had to WD for the birth of his first child and Schwartzel stepped in and turned his season around. Grace has never MC here in four tries but this is one hell of an event to knock of the rust, #NappyFactor or not. Careful.

Gary Woodland (36): TFN, I’m out.

Daniel Berger (37): He cashed in nine of 10 in 2018 but nothing better than T11. He’ll defend for the second season in a row in June in Memphis and that’s hardly an “easy” TPC course. He grew up on Bermuda and that should help break any ties.

Matthew Fitzpatrick (38): He’s been off since Harbour Town where he was T14 after a closing round of 67. This is not the course to bust rust and with MC, MC the last two years, I’m passing.

Cameron Smith (39): Super short game will work this week and with top-10 finishes in three of his last six on TOUR, he makes more sense to me than a few others above him.

Si Woo Kim (40): Nah, dawg. Defending champs are dead meat here. Only Adam Scott (T8) has followed up a win with a top 10 in this century. Not even Tiger did that.

Webb Simpson (41): Yes. Yes please. Now, just survive Saturday and I’ll have something rolling. He posted T16 last year with 77 in Round 3 and enters the week on a heater with only one bad round in his books in the last three weeks. Give me more.

Bryson DeChambeau (42): He was my OAD last week as he picked up his third finish inside the top four in his last four starts on TOUR. All his big finishes are on Bermuda as well.

Ross Fisher (43):  In four tries he’s never seen the weekend including 76-73 last year.

Adam Hadwin (44): All you can get plus two more. Navigated a difficult Innisbrook for his only win last year and hasn’t MC since the FEC Playoffs last September.

Haotong Li (45): Superb talent but I’m not sure the level of courses he’s played compares to this one. I’ll gladly accept being proven wrong. I’m also not a fan of back-and-forth to the East as preparation against the best field in golf.

Alexander Levy (46): If his name was Tommy Fleetwood, gamers would be lined up 10 deep to grab him. He has four top-10 finishes including a win in seven events on the European Tour this year. Wonderful “off-the-radar” pick.

Kevin Chappell (47): He’s been in a bit of a funk (MC, MC, T30) since T7 at API as a back injury slowed him down at WGC-Match Play. In this field, I can’t lean on hope.

Kyle Stanley (48): His only finish outside the top 25 in his last five events was T52 at the Masters. He was the co-54-hole leader last year and led the field in birdies with 20. He’s had a taste of it, which won’t hurt, and his ball-striking numbers won’t hurt either. He’s seventh in fairways and second in GIR. SIGN ME UP.

Brendan Steele (49): His only MC this season was at the Masters so he’s on form. His T6 last year was his best in seven tries and was his third weekend from his last four. He’s figured something out.

Luke List (50): I love that he bounced back from his first MC since January with T9 last week at WFC. He was second at Honda and T3 at RBC Heritage as well. He birdied No. 17 twice last year but MC. Hahaha.

Don’t Forget About:

Emiliano Grillo: Cut-making machine who has four top-10’s in his last six events. He was 11th here last year in his second try.

Zach Johnson: He’s made 12 of 13 here and won’t have to worry about figuring anything out.

Kevin Streelman: He’s signed for TWO bad rounds in 2018.

Billy Horschel: When he gets hot, he burns bright. Check to see how the 2014 FedExCup finished. He was T5 at Harbour Town followed by T11 at VTO before winning with Scott Piercy at Zurich Classic. He’ll be the hometown favorite this week and his career scoring average is under-par here.

Chesson Hadley: He’s cashed 9 of 11 and four straight T20 or better. He’s back for his fourth time.

Charl Schwartzel: This course has always rewarded players who are on their games. After solo third with Oosthuizen in New Orleans he put up T9 on his own ball at a difficult QHC. This is the time of year when he heats up.

Russell Henley: Bermuda greens and his ball-striking numbers stick out. His nine rounds of par-or-better over 16 tries gives him an average of 71.69. I’ll take chances on guys who have done the business here.

Jimmy Walker: In 26 career rounds he’s signed for par-or-better a whopping 17 times. He’s also found a bit of form recently on a course he’s familiar with at the VTO.

Jamie Lovemark: He’s played twice and never missed the weekend. Four of his rounds are red numbers. He’s also rattled off seven straight before MC last week in Charlotte.

Rory Sabbatini: 11 in a row on TOUR. T6 last time here in 2015.

Russell Knox: Jacksonville resident had made three straight before last year. He’s had success at PGA National as well and will be comfortable on Bermuda.

Martin Laird: Stick him in every lineup as he’s made five of his last six on TOUR with three going for T11 or better.

Chris Kirk: He’ll tune up for Colonial looking for his fourth top-15 payday here in his last five tries. He’s 5-7 career at TPC Sawgrass.

Bud Cauley: EVERYBODY DRINK!

Ben An: Yeah, if this isn’t the track to highlight his skills I’m not sure where else.

Jhonattan Vegas: I NEVER type his name correctly on the first try. EVER. He’s found 8 of 16 in the red here. That’s something.

Chris Stroud: He has no form to speak of but he’s proven over the years this routing and event suits his eye (71.55). He’s posted 12 of 22 rounds under par so stick him on every long shot format you play.

Robert Streb: #NAPPYFACTOR is real with this one. He MC in NOYNE STRAIGHT before cashing last week at WFC.

Adam Scott: He’s not in the U.S. Open as of today. He’ll need to turn up the gas. He’s made six straight here and 13/16 career. I’m going to regret putting him in here, aren’t I?

Nick Watney: He’ll rollin’ but his T2 last week won’t find him any value this week. Everyone will overpay for the hotness. This is why I try to catch them on THE WAY UP, not once they arrive.

J.B. Holmes: Nah, brah. 84 with the lead on Sunday last year. I wouldn’t ever go back!

Questions? Email me mikeglasscott@gmail.com.

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