THE PLAYERS 2020 PREVIEW

YEP IT’S ALL CAPS WEEK BABY.

It should be. It’s major cash and a big-boy field.

Let’s all have a disco!

Tomorra!

THE PLAYERS Championship

Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

Yards: (per official scorecard): 7,185
Par: 72; (36-36)
Greens: TifEagle Bermudagrass; 5,500 square feet on average.
Stimpmeter: 13.5′ max
Rough: Over-seeded Bermuda (ryegrass/fescue) at 2.5 inches.
Bunkers/Water Hazards 88/17
Architect(s): Pete Dye (1981); Pete Dye & Steve Wenzloff (2016).
Purse: $15 million; $2.7 million and 600 FedExCup points (winner).
Defending Champion: Rory McIlroy (-16), 272.
Fact of the Week: 122 of the top 125 FedExCup Points list from last year are playing.
Fact of the Week II: 47 of the OWGR top 50.

 

2019-2020 Season Winners

*- First-time winner

**- First-time winner AND rookie winner

Event Winner
   
A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier *- Joaquin Niemann
Sanderson Farms Championship *- Sebastian Munoz
Safeway Open Cameron Champ
Shriners Hospitals for Children Open Kevin Na
Houston Open *-Lanto Griffin
CJ CUP AT NINE BRIDGES Justin Thomas
ZOZO Championship Tiger Woods
WGC-HSBC Champions Rory McIlroy
Bermuda Championship Brendon Todd
Mayakoba Golf Classic Brendon Todd (2)
The RSM Classic *-Tyler Duncan
Hero World Challenge Henrik Stenson
Sentry Tournament of Champions Justin Thomas (2)
Sony Open Cameron Smith
The American Express Andrew Landry
Farmers Insurance Open Marc Leishman
Waste Management Phoenix Open Webb Simpson
AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Nick Taylor
The Genesis Invitational Adam Scott
WGC-Mexico Championship Patrick Reed
The Honda Classic *-Sungjae Im
Arnold Palmer Invitational Tyrrell Hatton

 

Horses for Courses (The Confidence Factor) publishes at PGATOUR.COM Tuesdays. It’s a look who has played well here recently so I suggest reading it as I won’t replicate all of the information here.

 

Recent Event Winners

Year Player Notes
2019 Rory McIlroy, -16 First winner in the return to March trailed by one entering Sunday before winning by one.
2018 Webb Simpson, -18 Ended the May run in style as he set the 36-hole and tied the 54-hole record winning by four.
2017 Si Woo Kim, -10 At 21 usurped Adam Scott (23) as the youngest winner.
2016 Jason Day, -15 Wire-to-wire after tying the course record (63) to open.
2015 Rickie Fowler, -12 Made a ton of birdies to get in a playoff with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner and made a couple more to win.

 

Facts and Figures:

Tournament Record: 264; Greg Norman, 1994.
Course Record: 63; Brooks Koepka and Webb Simpson, 2018 (last to do it).
Recent Defending Champion(s): Never.
Multiple Winners Entered: None.
First-time – TOUR: Craig Perks, 2002; Tim Clark, 2010.
First-time – Event Hal Sutton, 1983; Perks, 2002.
Oldest Winner: Fred Funk, 48 (2005).
Youngest Winner: Si Woo Kim, 21 (2017).
Low Rounds 2019: 64; Jim Furyk (Round 2) and Jon Rahm (Round 3).
Local Winner: Funk, 2005.
Best First-timers 2019 (entered again this year): T12: Abraham Ancer, Joel Dahmen.

T22: JT Poston.

Odd Fact: No Englishman has ever won.

 

Quick thoughts:

March II suggests scoring this week will factor again as the over seeded rough will hide the crappy Bermuda, enabling players to get more club on the ball. Also, the days of firm and fast are gone so 7,185 will play longer and the fairways will expand (no bounce, roll out) and that helps the power player. The expanded greens should be settled in and the “newer” pin placements should be comfortably entered in the green books. The more things stay the same, the better for the elite player.

Good News, Bad News: No Tiger but plenty of other heavy hitters. In fact, only Lee Westwood, Jonas Blixt, Kelly Kraft and Shugo Imahira have decided to pass this week. The last world OWGR No. 1 to win this event was Jason Day in 2016 but I doubt Rory McIlroy is too concerned about such factoids.

Changes in Latitude, Changes in Altitude: Weather should not be an issue this week and the breeze is just part of golf life in Florida. After two brutal weeks in Palm Beach Gardens and Bay Hill, the reward this week is Pete Dye’s grand masterpiece. Maybe a couple weeks off leading into this event weren’t such a bad idea. How much patience can the “Three-in-a-row” Club really have left after single-digit winning scores the last two weeks?

Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson both said that there will be birdies this week and the field is excited to have a chance put some circles on the card again. Having four Par-5 holes and less than 7,200 yards should put most everyone in a good mood, at least to start, Thursday.

So What? So Let’s Dance! Marginal rough, perfect TifEagle greens and Pete Dye’s chicanery should make for excellent playing AND viewing. The mind games Dye plays with routing, mounds, bunkering and bulkheads suggests a veteran player should win. With the absence of weather (read: average conditions) I’d agree with that sentiment.

McIlroy needed 10 tries and Webb Simpson nine before they cracked the code. Hell, Dustin Johnson picked up his ONLY top 10 (T5) last year in his 11th try. Bubba Watson’s best payday in 12 tries is T37 twice. Si Woo Kim wonders what all the fuss is about!

Those who have figured it out will point out that bogeys and others don’t fly here. The recent winners are all in the top of the bogey avoidance stats so grind out pars and don’t make WORSE THAN bogey.

Length doesn’t matter here unless it does so that’s a tie-breaker for me in formats. Jim Furyk (2nd last year) doesn’t think I’m smart for saying that but I’ll disagree. Check out the top 20 from last year and point out the shorties. Not many.

Finally, the full bag is in play this week, and should be for $2.7 million. The winner should have to hit more than driver/wedge to unlock the Stadium Course. The pressure of the check, crowd and the closing holes also point to experience rather than youthful exuberance. I’ll add that class can trump all of that so I will not dismiss Thomas, Rahm and Im; I’m maybe not rushing into Hovland, Morikawa or Scheffler.

 

Superstars

Rory McIlroy: Big ask this week as 46 years of history props up against his title defense. The last winner to hit the top 10 in defense was Adam Scott in 2005. He’s broken other streaks and records including winning a WGC and major in back-to-back weeks so this challenge shouldn’t bother him either.

Justin Thomas: I could argue that he’s the favorite because he didn’t have to go through the ringer last week at Bay Hill and has won in 2020. I could argue he’s the favorite because he doesn’t have to worry about defending champion duties this week. It’s not a terrible argument.

Jon Rahm: 54-hole leader last year in visit No. 3 fell apart on Sunday with Tommy Fleetwood in the final pairing. They were the only two in the top 40 to post scores over par so that probably didn’t leave the best taste in his mouth. In three trips he’s signed for 82 (2017), 77 (2018) and 76 last year in the final round. It’s not as easy as Si Woo Kim made it look! With five top 10s in from six starts in 2020, form won’t be the issue!

Webb Simpson: Form of his life on a course he’s figured out equals a solid formula this week. Also, he’ll fly under the radar with the “big names” gobbling up the attention, just how he likes it. T16-WIN-T16 in his last three here combined with TifEagle Bermuda playing not even 7,200 yards? Yes, please! If you’re worried about Mexico, don’t be. Paul Tesori says they’re the hardest greens on TOUR to putt and they never play well there.

Adam Scott: Fantastic player here knocked the rust off on TifEagle last week (MC) at Bay Hill so he also didn’t have to grind 72 holes. After already mastering Riviera, he should have a large say in the proceedings this weekend again.

Matt Kuchar: What’s not to love here? Fantastic grinder who keeps it between the lines and can get out of mostly any trouble. Gave it a sniff at Riviera before cashing T2 and hasn’t played since Mexico City (T22). He should be ready to fire on a track he’s more than comfortable playing.

Bryson DeChambeau: Bulked up = results up. Top five in his last three on TOUR is enough for me. This will be his third trip to TPC Sawgrass and the first two saw seven of eight rounds in the red. He’s ready.

Gary Woodland: Is there a Feherty curse? If so, FADE HIM. If not, roll with T8-T12 entering the week and a Florida resident.

Hideki Matsuyama: Made 22 bogeys last week. I had to look that up three different times. Do you think he’ll be excited to have scoring conditions this week? Me, too! No chance he repeats that. Zero. And not like he was playing like shit on arrival. I have added a player to my DON’T TAKE IN TOUGH CONDITIONS list though…

Dustin Johnson: Uneven season rolls on but he’s just too talented to dismiss or not consider a favorite. Maybe it’s just as simple as the tournament is no longer played in May. Maybe he’s excited knowing that he’ll just bomb the pants off of the place this week and post 24-under. At 25-1, which he NEVER is, you gotta drop a buck or two, no? I am.

Patrick Reed: He doesn’t care that you hate him. At all. T15 and WIN in his last two suggests the fuel tank is more than full. Set it and forget it.

Marc Leishman: Went close last week after winning already at Torrey Pines. No luck here recently and when the wind isn’t blowing as a nuisance, I’ll pass.

Tommy Fleetwood: I don’t even know where to go here. I thought last week he’d pop right up off the mat. Wrongo. I thought those conditions were perfect. Wrongo. I think he’s a course horse this week but that question will linger until it doesn’t. Ask Finau.

Xander Schauffele: Cool as they come and the stronger the field and stronger the course, the better. Ho hum top 20 again.

Justin Rose: Posted 14-under over his last three rounds here last year not by accident. Current form is beyond garbage as he’s MC in three of four starts in 2020. Put new irons in the bag last week = MC. I mean.

Sungjae Im: Doesn’t care. Plays golf. Collects big checks. Plays again the following week. Rolls in THIRD-WIN from the last two weeks. Gives entirely zero f*cks. T22 on debut last year.

Jason Day: He’s finally hurt again. Now I can go back to playing him! Remember when he won Match Play and couldn’t pick the ball out of the hole!? Crazy times, man. Crazy. Times.

Matthew Fitzpatrick: Only player to put a round in the 60s last weekend. Not sure the fluffy, soft conditions will help but playing less than 7,200 surely should. Oh, and he doesn’t MC plus eight straight here par or better.

 

Worth another look:

Brooks Koepka: Contrarians will pounce hoping he’s rounding into form after four rounds last week. Safety-first fellas won’t touch him unless it’s a major. I’m in Group B in a field of this magnitude.

Tony Finau: I don’t know if the playoff loss to Simpson wrecked him but he hasn’t exactly bounced back (T51 Riviera and MC LTO). I’d hope he’s licking his chops this week as his last eight rounds here are par or better. Maybe the distraction of the biggest purse and field in golf is exactly the CTRL-ALT-DEL he needs right now. I’m nibbling.

Sergio Garcia: I’m always interested now in the GAS (Give A Shit) tank with him. After winning late last year in Europe he popped up in the Middle East to start his year with a pair of top 10s in three starts. Uninspired T37s at Riviera and Mexico City should push the weekender away. He’s fresh and ready on a course he hunts on regularly. Move him up.

Byeong-Hun An: His scoring average in three trips is 70.40. That in a vacuum is plenty for me but yet he’s also playing well on the same schedule as last year. Should be a lovely outsider again.

Collin Morikawa: The depth of the field might hurt him this week but in any “regular” TOUR event he’s in the top players category. I would think he’s playing the weekend but I’m not sure he’ll be sniffing around the top 10.

Patrick Cantlay: Streak of T22-T23 broke with MC on visit No. 3 last year. I like he’s been lightly raced and should be fresh after four weeks off. Not the easiest of landing spots!

Rickie Fowler: Claimed he was just a couple shots away last week at Bay Hill after MC at Honda the week prior. His record at this event minus his win and T2 in 2012 is dire, including five MC in eight with T47 his best result. Caution AF.

Daniel Berger: Top 10s in his last three and did NOT have to grind it out last week at Bay Hill. Combine that with four paydays in a row here and move him up. Way up.

Ian Poulter: This will be start No. 17. He’s in decent nick and has every idea how to get it around here. Lovely long shot play especially after T32 and T27 in hostile conditions the last two weeks.

Billy Horschel: Local who has made five of seven but only one inside T25. New clubs the last two weeks T42 and T36. Also doing a charity thing again this year for birdies and eagles. Unwarranted extra pressure if you ask me, which you did by clicking on here! Pass.

Brandt Snedeker: Terrible run of form into this event last year and stole T5. He’s looking in the same vein of form again this year minus closing with 64 in Mexico City (T22) in his last start. MC the previous three tries so maybe March is better for him.

 

Longer shots (Why and Why Not)

Joel Dahmen: T12 first visit last year. T5-T5-T14 last three on TOUR. 25th SG: Total. Er, probably should move him…

Brendon Todd: 10 straight but not much fun at TPC Sawgrass.

Patrick Rodgers: 8 of 9 in 2020 with 7 going T38 or better. Never broke 70 here in four previous events.

Harris English: Hasn’t MC in 2020 in five tries and T17 or better in the last three. MC in the last six consecutive starts here.

Brian Harman: T8 last year and 2015. Nothing inside the top 50 in his other six visits.

Sebastian Munoz: Won on Bermuda and finished third already this season. First time playing.

Carlos Ortiz: T26 or better in previous three before MC last week.

Bud Cauley: Cashed four straight including the last two weeks in difficult conditions. T25 is the best of the bunch.

Alex Noren: Some will argue that MC-T17-10 in three trips suggests a horse for a course. Some will point out MC-MC-T59 entering kills any optimism.

Harold Varner, III: Three straight on TOUR and three straight at the event in his first three before MC last year.

Danny Lee: T5 and T47 in nasty conditions the last two weeks. Plays well every-other-year at TPC Sawgrass and this is “every”.

Talor Gooch: 12 straight. Second visit in March.

Russell Henley: Nobody fixes their game at Riviera (T17) and Honda (T8) after five straight MC. Start No. 8 at THE PLAYERS.

Doc Redman: There’s always one guy annually that everyone shakes their head at and wonders about…

KH Lee: Last four beyond solid.

Corey Conners: Should be excited about overpowering this place tee-to-green without a gale in his face. Most people don’t fix it here.

Vaughn Taylor: Opened 67-70-71 last year before limping in. Very solid 2019-2020.

Lanto Griffin: T37 or better in his last four. If there’s no experience, there needs to be some heat.

 

Fades

Phil Mickelson: Never happens here. Like never since the oughts.

Bubba Watson: You know it’s bad when Ted Scott is asking folks on Twitter why they never play well here.

Jordan Spieth: Can’t putt you way out of water hazards and bunkers. Nothing doing since T4 on debut in 2014.

Tyrrell Hatton: Enjoy your hangover!

Paul Casey: Another who, for whatever reasons, never plays well here. He’s MC/WD in eight of 12 including 78-74 last year when he was bang-on form. He’ll defend for a second consecutive season next week at Innisbrook. Be patient.

Francesco Molinari: WD pretournament last week was citing a back issue. He’s not Jason Day and hasn’t been able to beat Glen Day recently. No, thanks.

 

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

 

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