Every year The Players sees the best field assembled on Tour and this year will be no different with the majority of the World’s top 64 players teeing it up in a field of 146. It makes for a great betting event with relatively high prices in the outright market for many established golfers with good Sawgrass records. Jason Day defends this year after a straightforward four shot win last year and he was the latest in a line of high class winners, following wins in previous years from Rickie Fowler, Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods.
In addition to the outright market, Matchbook will be offering other side markets including 72 hole tournament match-ups. These can provide good value alternative bets in a tournament where a lot of the field have had the chance to gather valuable course experience over the years. This can often result in some overpriced golfers against more fashionable names who perhaps haven’t worked out how to play Sawgrass yet.
The Course And Who It Favours
The course is the 7,187 yard, Par 72 TPC Sawgrass at Ponte Vedra, Florida. It is a Pete Dye design that has hosted since 1980 and is considered by most to be his finest design. He set out to create a course that would test all aspects of a player’s game and favour no particular type of player. With the varied list of winners Dye has certainly got his wish but all types of players can play well there.
Generally, TPC Sawgrass tests all aspects of a player’s game but statistically what they do off the tee doesn’t matter a great deal and that is perhaps why we have seen such a varied list of winners. Of far more importance is the approach shot into the small, fast greens. It requires great distance control just to hold the greens but to have any chance of a birdie putt then even greater accuracy is required to find the correct area of Dye’s undulating and often tiered greens.
We will see plenty of greens missed and therefore scrambling will be key. But as Kaymer showed when winning in 2014, the fringes are cut very short at Sawgrass so there is the capacity to putt from off the green. This, together with the possibility of being on a different portion of green from the pin makes lag-putting crucial and good three putt-avoidance is another handy attribute this week.
The Leading Contenders
Dustin Johnson is the favourite again this week arriving here after shaking off the rust last week at the Wells Fargo. He played the weekend four shots better than anyone else and while he is the correct favourite he doesn’t have a very good record here; 28-69-59-WD-57-34-MC-MC.
He has obviously improved a lot recently but he was still a world class player while playing here in the past and it would take a leap of faith to back him here at just 8.4.
Rory McIlroy has slowly put together a solid bank of form at Sawgrass as he hasn’t been outside the top 12 in the last four editions. In none of those however did he really look like the winner and he never looks comfortable putting on greens as quick as Sawgrass.
Jordan Spieth finished 4th on his debut in 2014 and much like Augusta the course looked made for him. He followed that with two missed cuts however and even his biggest fans might think twice about backing him at 14.5 having only played the team event in New Orleans since his disappointing final round at the Masters.
Jason Day had a mixed Sawgrass record until last year’s win with 6th and 19th place finishes being sandwiched by three missed cuts. A massive threat if his head is in the right place again but having played so little competitive golf it is hard to see his whole game being sharp enough to successfully defend this week.
Stats and trends
You have to go back to 2002 to find a winner who was making his debut but further still, the other 16 winners this century all had at least a top 17 finish at the event previously and 10 of those had a top 6 finish! This is a negative for two high profile young players both making their debut; Jon Rahm and Thomas Pieters.
Since the Players moved to its slot in May after the Masters, 9/10 of the winners had played again since that event. Rory McIlroy hasn’t been seen since his 7th place finish at Augusta and neither has Charl Schwartzel who crept through the field to finish 3rd.
Of those same 10 winners, 8 of them had finished in the Top 38 at the Masters. A negative for the likes of Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson and Patrick Reed who all sat out the Masters weekend.
The worst any of those 10 winners had ranked on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach to the Green(s) in the year of their win was 42nd. The popular Brooks Koepka ranks a lowly 169th while last week’s winner Brian Harman sits just two places above him at 167.
Of the last 10 winners 9 of them had already recorded a top 10 that season.
Of the last 6 winners, 5 of them had finished in the top 10 on their last appearance.
My Sawgrass Tips
Back Justin Thomas – 3 units win at 36.0
While you definitely have to be suited to TPC Sawgrass, every year we see former winners and high finishers miss the cut if they arrive in poor form. This had me unsure whether to back Justin Thomas this week as he hasn’t been quite at his best since his blistering run of form at the turn of the year. But I really think he has a great chance this week. He played well at The Masters without ever really contending and he has come out and played well again since with a 5th in the team event.
When Thomas is driving the ball well; Sawgrass is a great course for him. He is very accurate with his short irons and will be able to attack the appropriate portions of the small greens.
Thomas currently lies at 13th in the all important strokes gained rankings: approach to the green and 16th in greens in regulation. But the standout stat that makes me think that he is set for another big week is “scoring relative to par from approaches from 125-150 yards”. He sits 2nd in that but also 4th for the 150-175 yard range. This basically tells us that not only is he hitting his short irons very close but he is also taking advantage with the putter.
Proximity to the hole is hugely important at Sawgrass given how small the greens are and how easily the ball can run off if approaches aren’t accurate. I think Thomas will be ready to build upon last year’s contending performance and at odds of 36.0 I think he looks like best piece of value in the field.
Back Jon Rahm – 2 units win at 25.0
Jon Rahm has been on my mind for The Players for a few weeks.
Everything points to another big week from the Spaniard apart from the fact that he has never played here before.
It’s 2002 since a debutant won at Sawgrass when Craig Perks played the last 3 holes in -4 for one of the few genuine shocks there. But Perks was a relative nobody in the game and Rahm is destined for the very top. It is easy to forget that he won around Torrey Pines on his first look in February and he contended for three days at The Masters on his debut.
Rahm ranks 9th in strokes gained: approaches, 22nd in GIR and 2nd in scrambling over the last 3 months. Given that he went off around 20.0 for the Masters I was expecting him to be around 18.0-20.0 this week so I think the 25.0 allows for him making his debut and still gives us a good price.
Back Kevin Chappell – 1 unit win at 70.0
Kevin Chappell finally got his win three weeks ago and I expect him to push on this year. He was runner-up here last year and really enjoys tough courses where his accurate tee-to-green game is a big advantage. He isn’t a great stats pick this year due to the slow start he had to the season but with a 7th place at the Masters preceding his win in Texas he will arrive in confident mood.
With both course and current form I’m surprised to Chappell available at 70.0.
Back Russell Henley – 1 unit win at 90.0
Russell Henley’s results have been mixed so far at Sawgrass as two missed cuts bookend a couple of top 25s but I think it is a course that should suit his game.
He has been playing very well lately and one of his Web.com wins actually came around Dye’s Valley Course next door so he will have good memories of the area.
He already has a win this season in Houston, finished 11th at the Masters and has played a couple of times since. Ranks 14th in GIR , 9th in 3-putt avoidance outside 25 feet and loves putting on Bermuda greens so he should relish the task this week.
Back Matt Kuchar – 1 unit win at 70.0
There is a long history of repeat winners at Sawgrass and many with a longer gap between wins than Matt Kuchar would have if he were to win again this week. Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Hal Sutton and Fred Couples came back to win 12,11,17 and 12 years after their first win respectively.
Kuchar has looked back to his best again recently especially when he came 4th at the Masters last month.
Kuchar sits in 11th for scrambling over the last 3 months and with a couple of events since his high finish at Augusta and a previous win at the course he looks to be a solid trends pick and a touch of value at 70.0.
Given what an all-round test of golf they face this week a good laying strategy would be to focus on those that are playing very poorly but are priced up on reputation or good record at Sawgrass.
Similarly, from a trading point of view the in-form, unfashionable “plodders” could provide some trading potential. Profit can be made just from starting the tournament well even if they never look like actually winning.
Jim Furyk hasn’t played a lot of golf this year but has four top 5s here, usually raises his game and looks a massive price.
- Back Justin Thomas – 3 units win at 36.0
- Back Jon Rahm – 2 units win at 25.0
- Back Russell Henley – 1 unit win at 90.0
- Back Kevin Chappell – 1 unit win at 70.0
- Back Matt Kuchar – 1 unit win at 70.0
Tournament Match ups
Dustin Johnson 1.636 vs Sergio Garcia 2.41
Back Garcia 2 units @ 2.41
With Dustin Johnson’s poor record at Sawgrass I was looking for a way to oppose him but an outright lay is probably a little bit too risky with for the World No. 1. It looks a far lower risk option to back Garcia to beat him over 72 holes.
Recency bias often plays a huge part in the make-up of golf outright markets as odds compilers and punters alike clutch onto the ideas and stories that have only just played out. The strange thing with this market is that it takes into account how brilliant Johnson has been over the last year but not only does it ignore the fact that Sergio has a far superior Sawgrass record (a win, two 2nds, 3rd and 4th) but it doesn’t factor in Garcia winning at Augusta just five weeks ago.
Of course a perfectly good argument can be made for why they are priced up at 8.6 DJ and 21.0 Garcia in the outright and I don’t see a great deal wrong with those. But I feel like they are leading this match-up price and given that Garcia would have won this bet 6 times out of 8 against DJ at Sawgrass I think the 2.41 looks like excellent value. Especially when we consider just how freely Garcia may now play with the major monkey off his back.
Patrick Cantlay 1.84 v Brian Harman 2.08
Back Brian Harman 2 units @ 2.08
Chris Kirk showed signs of life last week and is interesting at 2.33 to beat serial Sawgrass underachiever Ryan Moore over the first 18 holes but ultimately I still see Sawgrass as a course that should suit Moore so I can’t quite pull the trigger.
Instead let’s turn to last week’s champ Brian Harman who is somehow odds against to beat Patrick Cantlay over 72 holes. Harman finished 8th two years ago and Cantlay is making his debut at the course. Cantlay has been playing well himself with two top 5s in his last four starts but the price just seems wrong and I make Harman more like the 1.84 shot here.
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