Horses for Courses: THE PLAYERS Championship

A field of 154 of all shapes and sizes.

Let’s see who has run well before at Pete Dye’s PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass

Let’s try this again.

One year ago the first round of the 2020 PLAYERS Championship was almost completed before the tournament and the PGA TOUR was completely shut down. COVID-19 arrived and was sweeping the country and the decision was made to be safe rather than sorry.


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One year later, the TOUR returns to its flagship event on its most famous course to offer a prize pool of $15 million for the deepest field in golf. Of the top 50 players in the OWGR 48 are on the property this week with only Matthew Wolff (wrist) and Brooks Koepka (knee) unable to participate. From the field of 154, 112 are previous winners on TOUR. This year’s champion will take home $2.7 million and 600 FedExCup points plus a five year exemption on TOUR.

THE PLAYERS Stadium Course designed by Pete Dye will serve as host as it has since 1982. The second full edition since the return to March will feature Rory McIlroy as the defending champion as last year’s tournament was cancelled after one round. The over-seeded conditions will apply on the 5,500 square foot greens, 2.5 inches of rough and 26 acres of Celebration Bermuda fairways. Water comes into play on 17 of the 18 holes and 88 bunkers will also gobble up loose shots.

Pete Dye plays games with your eyes, head and feet. No lies are flat. Tee boxes are set at off angles. No two holes run in the consecutive direction. No bulkheads or mounds are nearly as close or far as they appear. Your brain, caddy and nervous system are always running at 10 trying to figure out where to attack. Dye’s tracks reward the boldest lines and punish those who don’t place it perfectly. Great shots are rewarded. Good shots can be salvaged. Safe shots will take some navigating to save par.

We learned that March is different from May. There’s no chance of the course to be firm and fast this early in the season. The weather and the overseed don’t allow it so fairways get wider (no roll), greens are more receptive and the rough is easier to play from because of the extra grass. I think we should still look back to the last two editions from May because the routing of the course hasn’t changed and we can learn from those two events as well. Last year before the delay, this is what the scoreboard looked like for a point of reference:

Hideki Matsuyama 63 – tied course record

Si Woo Kim 65 – 2017 champion

Christiaan Bezuidenhout 65 – debut round

Harris English 65 – only his second round in the 60s from 21

Needless to say this should be a wide open event. The 31 first-time players from 2020 and 2021 combined won’t be at as much of a disadvantage because of the new March start. Eddie Pepperell (not entered) was T3 on his debut in 2019.

TPC Sawgrass has catered to all styles over the years. Great ball-strikers, super short games and even recent bombers like McIlroy all have found their way around. Fred Funk hit 45 fairways to win at 48 years old. Si Woo Kim only needed eight rounds to figure it out to win at 21. Kim is the only player in the last 10 events to win with less than 5 previous visits.

Experience pays on Pete Dye tracks and on TPC Sawgrass.

Recent Event Winners Stats

 2020201920182017
  Rory McIlroyWebb SimpsonSi Woo Kim
WhenMarchMarchMayMay
ScoreEvent Cancelled After 16-under 27218-under 27010-under 278
MOV1 Round143
Cut  1-under 1431-under 1432-OVER 146
     
AgeCOVID-19293221
     
Disantance – All Drives T470 (last)8
Driving Accuarcy T49115
GIR T3T5T37
Ball-Striking 317T18
Proximity 1169T39
Putting: Birdie or Better % T17T1445
SG: Off-the-Tee 2322
SG: Approach-the-Green 66217
SG: Around-the-Green 2533
SG: Putting 45137
SG: Tee-to-Green 1162
Scrambling T40241
Bogey Avoidance 1T7 T1  
     
Par-3 Scoring 1T55T27
Par-4 Scoring T22T11
Par-5 Scoring T7T5T36

2020: Event Cancelled After First Day (COVID-19)

2019: Rory McIlroy (-16, 272)

Defeated Jim Furyk (not entered) by one shot to win in his 10th appearance. … Played in the penultimate group as he began Round 4 just one back. … Co-leader after 36 holes on 12-under. … Gained just over 13 shots Tee to Green. … Picked up his third victory on a Pete Dye track (Kiawah Island, Crooked Stick). … 15th TOUR victory. … 15th International winner. … Joins Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson as major, WGC and FedExCup champions who have won THE PLAYERS. … Worst finish in five events leading into the week was T6.

Notables:

Jhonattan Vegas (T3) posted a bogey-free 66 for his best payday. … Tommy Fleetwood (T5) played in the final group for the first time on TOUR and posted 73. … Dustin Johnson (T5) became just the second player to post all four rounds in the 60s as he enjoyed his best finish in 11 tries. … Brandt Snedeker (T5) co-led the field with 23 birdies. … 2016 champion Jason Day (T8) hits the top 10 for the third time in four seasons. … Brian Harman (T8) only squared seven bogeys for the week. … Hideki Matsuyama (T8) closed 66-67 before opening with 63 in 2020. … Justin Rose (T8) played the final 54 holes in 14-under after opening with 74. … Abraham Ancer (T12) made 23 birdies on his debut to share the lead on the week. … Holding the 54 hole lead for the first time after firing 64, Jon Rahm (T12) closed with 76. … Adam Scott (T12) has 23 rounds in the 60s here. … 2008 winner Sergio Garcia has 24 rounds in the 60s, best all time. … Keegan Bradley (T16) shared the first round lead with Fleetwood with 65. … Webb Simpson (T16) keeps the streak alive of previous champions unable to defend. … Cut was 1-under 143. … Only 11 of the 24 who had played previously in March made the cut.

2018: Webb Simpson (-18, 270)

Led by seven after 54 holes and won comfortably by four in the last May event. … Joins the major-PLAYERS-FedExCup Playoff event fraternity as the sixth to do so. … First top 10 in his ninth start at TPC Sawgrass. … Co wire-to-wire winner as he shared the 18 hole lead with five others. … Tied the course record of 63 in Round 2 to set the 36-hole mark on 15-under. … Led by five after 36, also a record. … Led by seven after 54, another record. … Tied Greg Norman on 19-under after 54 holes. … Became only second winner to shoot an over par score (73) and win. … Just third winner to lead in Driving Accuracy. … Loves Bermuda as his best finishes that season were T4 Sony, T5 The Honda Classic, T8 Valspar and T5 RBC Heritage; T21 week before at Wells Fargo.

Notables:

Charl Schwartzel (T2) picked up his only top 25 to date. … Debutant Xander Schauffele (T2) posted three rounds of 68 or better. … Jimmy Walker (P2) collected his best finish in his ninth start. … Jason Day (T5) bounced back from T60 in his title defense in 2017. … Jason Dufner (T5) grabbed his second top 10 in nine starts. … Keegan Bradley (T7) began his run of form here closing with 66. … Tommy Fleetwood (T7) closed 68-68 to suggest he was figuring it out. … Danny Lee (T7) opened 68-66 before playing the weekend 2-under. … Harold Varner III (T7) made 25 birdies and an eagle. … Brooks Koepka (T11) tied the course record on Sunday with 63 but will miss this year with a knee injury. … 2017 champ Si Woo Kim (T63) extended the streak of defending champions not to hit the top 10 (Adam Scott, 2007; T8). … Most eagles in event history and on TOUR for the season. … Warm temperatures and light wind. … Top 22 players 10-under or lower. … Cut 1-under 143. … Event followed the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.

2017: Si Woo Kim (-10, 278)

Won by three shots to become the youngest champion in history at 21 years 10 months. … Began the final round two shots back. … Bogey-free 69 was the only bogey-free round on Sunday. … Highest winning total since 2008 (Garcia). … Won in only his second start. … Did not lead after any of the first three rounds. … Had seven MC and four WD on the season entering the week. … Becomes only second Korean winner (KJ Choi, 2011).

Notables:

Louis Oosthuizen (T2) co-led after 36 holes and was one back after 54. … Ian Poulter (T2) posted all four rounds at par or better. … Co-leader after 36 and 54 holes, Kyle Stanley (T4) hung on for his best finish at TPC Sawgrass. … Lucas Glover (T6) shot 32 going out on Sunday but made four bogeys on the back. … Francesco Molinari (T6) was one of five players to post both weekend numbers in the red. … Adam Scott (T6) posted all four rounds par or better. … Brendan Steele (T6) fired 68 on Sunday, tying the low round of the day with Dustin Johnson (T12). … Alex Noren (10th) was the best debutant in the field. … Jason Day (T60) couldn’t defend, but nobody does. … Emiliano Grillo (11th) matched Sergio Garcia (T30) for the round of the day on Saturday with 67. …  Pat Perez (T22) shared the low round of the week, 66, with Oosthuizen and Stanley. … Cut was 2-over 146. … Wind picked up on the weekend as the 36-hole lead was 9-under. … Only two bogey-free rounds on the weekend. … Only 12 rounds in the 60s.

Key stat leaders

Top golfers in each statistic on the 2019-2020 PGA TOUR are listed only if they are scheduled to compete this week.
* – Top 10 finish here since 2015 or past champion

Strokes-Gained: Tee to GreenGolfer 
   
1*Justin Thomas 
2*Hideki Matsuyama 
3Jon Rahm 
4*Sergio Garcia 
5Collin Morikawa 
6*Rory McIlroy 
7*Xander Schauffele 
8*Harold Varner III 
9*Dustin Johnson 
10Scottie Scheffler 
11Tony Finau 
12Patrick Cantlay 
13Tyrrell Hatton 
14Russell Henley 
15*Daniel Berger 
16*Webb Simpson 
16Corey Conners 
18Harris English 
19Bryson Dechambeau 
20Viktor Hovland 
21Paul Casey 
22Luke List 
23Joaquin Niemann 
24Emiliano Grillo 
25Cameron Tringale 
26Patrick Reed 
27*Jason Dufner 
28Shane Lowry 
29Ryan Palmer 
   
Top 30 Scoring Averages at TPC SawgrassGolferAverage (Rounds) minimum 8 rounds
   
1Bryson DeChambeau70.00 (8)
2*Tommy Fleetwood 70.12 (12)
3Byeong Hun-An70.40 (10)
4Richy Werenski70.50 (8)
5*Hideki Matsuyama70.73 (22)
6*Jason Day70.73 (30)
7*Justin Thomas70.74 (19)
9*Alex Noren70.80 (10)
10*Si Woo Kim70.81 (16)
12Emiliano Grillo70.93 (14)
13*Francesco Molinari70.96 (28)
14*Rory McIlroy71.00 (32)
16*Adam Scott71.18 (66)
18*Matt Kuchar71.22 (50)
19Billy Horschel71.25 (24)
20Henrik Stenson71.27 (48)
21Jon Rahm71.27 (11)
22Patrick Cantlay71.30 (10)
24Russell Knox71.35 (20)
T27Mackenzie Hughes71.38 (8)
T27*Kevin Kisner71.38 (16)
30*Sergio Garcia71.43 (76)
   
Bogey AvoidanceGolfer 
   
1*Webb Simpson 
2Jon Rahm 
3Harris English 
4*Xander Schauffele 
5Russell Henley 
6Brice Garnett 
7Byrson DeChambeau 
8*Justin Thomas 
9Cameron Tringale 
10*Daniel Berger 
11Russell Knox 
12Abraham Ancer 
15Zach Johnson 
17*Brian Harman 
18Paul Casey 
19Tyrrell Hatton 
20Adam Schenk 
21*Hideki Matsuyama 
22Pat Perez 
23Brendon Todd 
24*Adam Scott 
25Matthew NeSmith 
26*Brandt Snedeker 
29*Harold Varner III 
30Cameron Percy 

Horses for Courses

Player (Starts/cuts made)Top 10s Top 25 Most Recent (Season)Big Finishes
Top 10 last five years 
     
Rory McIlroy (6/10)45Win (2019)2013 thru 15 T8 or better
Jhonattan Vegas (5/7)22T3 (2019)T7 2012; T41 is next best 
Dustin Johnson (9/11)13T5 (2019)23-under last two; last three best three career
Tommy Fleetwood (3/3)22T5 (2019)T7 2018; 25-under last two visits
Brandt Snedeker (4/11)23T5 (2019)T8 2013; closed 65-69
Justin Rose (10/16)25T8 (2019)T4 2014; Last six best run of career
Hideki Matsuyama (5/6)25T8 (2019)Last three rounds here are 66-67-63
Brian Harman (5/8)22T8 (2019)T8 2015; MC-T54-MC between
     
Webb Simpson (6/10)14Win (2018)T16 before T16 in defense
Jimmy Walker (7/10)23T2 (2018)T67 after, T56 before; T6 2014
Charl Schwartzel (6/9)11T2 (2018)MC before, MC after; T26 next best
Xander Schauffele (1/2)11T2 (2018)5 of 6 rounds par or better
Jason Dufner (9/11)22T5 (2018)T6 2011
Keegan Bradley (6/9)12T7 (2018)T16 2019; 22-under last 2
Harold Varner III (3/4)11T7 (2018)3 straight busted with MC 2019
Danny Lee (2/5)11T7 (2018)T35 2016
     
Si Woo Kim (4/4)12Win (2017)T23 debut 2016
Ian Poulter (13/16)25T2 (2017)T11 2018; Streak is 6; other top 10 was 2nd ’09
Louis Oosthuizen (5/9)12T2 (2017)T19 2013 is the next best
Kyle Stanley (3/6)11T4 (2017)MC next 2
Adam Scott (15/18)410T6 (2017)2007 winner; 4 straight T12 or better
Francesco Molinari (5/9)44T6 (2017)T7 2016, T6 2014
Lucas Glover (4/12)22T6 (2017)3rd 2010; T50 is next best
Brendan Steele (4/9)11T6 (2017)2019 MC stopped three straight
Alex Noren (2/3)1210 (2017)T17 2018, MC 2019
     
Jason Day (6/9)45Win (2016)T8, T5 last two 
Justin Thomas (5/5)13T3 (2016)Posted 65 twice and 66; 16-under last two
Matt Kuchar (11/15)27T3 (2016)2012 Winner
Daniel Berger (4/5)11T9 (2016)Best of a streak of four straight
Graeme McDowell (8/10)11T9 (2016)4 straight; last visit was 2017
     
Rickie Fowler (5/5)22Win (2015)T2 2012; T47 best since win
Sergio Garcia (18/20)610P2 (2015)WIN 2008, 2nd 2007, 3rd 2014, T8 2013, 
Kevin Kisner (3/5)12P2 (2015)T22 stalled out Sunday 2019
Kevin Na (7/13)33T6 (2015)T3 2009, T7 2012
Rory Sabbatini (10/18)11T6 (2015)Five consecutive weekends with T30 next best
     
Select Past Champions    
     
Henrik Stenson (10/14)492009 winT5 2013 last top 10
Phil Mickelson (16/26)382007 winMC in 6 of his last 7

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