It’s one of the most anticipated weeks on the golf calendar. Some might say, the fifth most anticipated. Not me, but some.
Yes, despite it being referred to as golfs fifth major, it is, nonetheless, not. I already wrote an article on that though, so I digress.
The PGA Tour stops in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida this week, for The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, Stadium Course.
Known by most golf fans for the island 17th green, the players see the course quite differently. As one of the most difficult tests on Tour year after year, and one of the only events that returns to the same course annually, it always makes for an interesting week.
Playing at 7189 Yards and a Par-72, its not the longest course on Tour, but it has teeth. For one, no two consecutive holes are routed in the same direction. You’re also handcuffed on a lot of the holes if you just want to stand on the tee and rip it, as a lot of the landing areas don’t encourage hitting Driver.
This course can cater to any and all types of players if they’re playing well, and punish any and all type of players if they’re not on their ‘A’ games. Over the last decade or so, the winning score averages right around -13, and the Cut is traditionally right around Even Par.
There are a couple of other things to keep in mind as well.
This will be the final time The Players Championship will be held in May. Starting in 2019, the event will be moved to March in an attempt to have a showcase event once a month from March through July (Players, Masters, PGA, US Open, Open Championship).
There have also been tweaks to TPC Sawgrass’ 12th hole. As can be seen below, after shortening the hole last year, they’ve added a strip of rough between the green and the water to stop balls from trickling in, a problem they encountered last year with near-misses ending up wet. This should only encourage more guys to try driving the green. Regardless, the risk/reward short par-4 is one of the best strategic holes in golf and its nice to see TPC Sawgrass up their game and give both players and fans this excitement.
Other than that, the three key holes are ones we are all pretty well aware of; the finishing stretch. One of the most fun, fair tests in golf, this crucial stretch starts at the Par-5 16th. Another risk/reward hole, we will see everything from Eagles to Double-Bogeys here this week.
The 17th is arguably the most famous hole in golf. It’s not long, but even the Pros mention how it starts creeping into their minds holes ahead. An island green on the penultimate hole will do that.
And finally, the 18th. A similar look to the tee-shot at the Par-5 18th at Pebble Beach, but this is a Par-4. Anyone coming to this tee with a one-shot lead certainly has not won the event. Bogeys will be in abundance here Thursday through Sunday.
Two advantages The Players hold over even the Majors, are the purse, and the field. At $10.5 Million total and $1.89 Million going to the winner, its the richest purse in golf. Adding to that the field, and those who defend the “fifth major” moniker start licking their chops. Until this morning when Paul Casey was forced to withdraw with injuries, each and every player in the World Golf Ranking’s Top-50 was slated to tee it up on Thursday. Still, 49 of the top 50 is nothing to snicker at. A taste of those names: Tiger, Phil, Jordan, Rory, Rickie, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed, and Henrik Stenson. That’s just a taste. Oh and for my fellow Canadians, we’ve got three Canucks in the field: Adam Hadwin, Mackenzie Hughes and Nick Taylor.
The pairings are pretty appetizing as well. First up, the featured pairings:
Thursday’s morning wave will be headlined by the trio of Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. They’ll arrive on the first tee Thursday at 8:27 am ET and Friday at 1:52 pm.
Thursday’s afternoon wave will be flanked by arguably an ever bigger trio: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler.
They will tee of on Thursday at 1:52 pm ET and Friday at 8:27 am.
Other notable pairings & Thursday Tee-times are as follows:
7:54 a.m. — Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood
8:05 a.m. — Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka
8:16 a.m. — Si Woo Kim, Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer
1:30 p.m. — Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama
1:41 p.m. — Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia
Handicapping the Field
With such a premium being placed on accuracy of tee shots this week, as opposed to distance, the key stats I will be implementing will be different than usual.
Main Stats – SG: Tee-to-Green, SG: Total, SG: Approach
Secondary Stats – SG: Around-the-green, Good Drive %, Total Driving
Minor Stats – Par-4 Scoring, Par-5 Scoring, Bogey Avoidance
That being said, I balance those stats with recent performance, both generally, and in this specific event. I also like to look at guys’ other finishes on Pete Dye courses, as he has a certain diabolical trademark in his designs. Below is my spreadsheet. I have removed players with poor showings in these categories, ideally leaving the cream of the crop for your perusal.
This week was especially difficult with SO many players in good form and/or with good course history and relative stat rankings. Here’s my Top-Ten.
- Jason Day
- Dustin Johnson
- Rory McIlroy
- Justin Thomas
- Henrik Stenson
- Bryson DeChambeau
- Francesco Molinari
- Emiliano Grillo
- Jordan Spieth
- Patrick Reed
Darkhorses: Bubba Watson, Adam Hadwin, Webb Simpson, Chris Kirk
Last week’s picks did okay. No winners, but moving in the right direction for sure. They were:
- Rory McIlroy – 16th
- Patrick Reed – 8th
- Phil Mickelson – 5th
- Justin Thomas – 21st
- Kevin Streelman – MC
Let’s hope we get back into the winners circle this week.
The Bets (as of now) that I’ve made are as follows:
Winners – Jason Day (14/1), Dustin Johnson (18/1), Rory McIlroy (14/1), Justin Thomas (16/1), Henrik Stenson (28/1)
Top Tens – Bryson DeChambeau (+450), Franceso Molinari (+500), Emiliano Grillo (+600)
Matchups – Bryson DeChambeau vs Patrick Cantlay +100
That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @RJMcCullough and check out this weeks Podcast: