The Players Championship preview

13 min

After a quiet period following The Masters, the PGA ramps up its summer schedule this week with the event often referred to as the ‘fifth major’ – the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

Given the importance placed on the tournament by the Tour pros plus the bevvy of exemptions and invites afforded to the winner, we’re treated to an absolutely stellar field this week with all of the world’s top 50 included amongst the 144 players competing for the season’s biggest non-major purse.

Situated in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, Sawgrass is a course that is nearly as recognizable as Augusta National, and certainly the jewel in the crown of all Pete Dye designs.

Remodelled in 2017 with BermudaGrass now populating all the greens, the beauty of Dye’s design and modern green-keeping advances means that every hole presents a true challenge that requires full attention and also means that the test is about as balanced as a golf course can present.

Indeed, this is borne out by the list of recent victors here, with Tim Clark, KJ Choi, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Si Woo Kim about as diametrically opposed a set of golfers as you could imagine yet, crucially, they all played fantastic golf during the week of their victories.

The 17th at Sawgrass is the most iconic par 3 in Golf and has seen a major amount of thrills and splash down through the years.

Much focus will, of course, be on the signature 17th hole, an island green, which should be just a mere 137-yard wedge but, inevitably, causes havoc year after year and which will cost numerous golfers their chance of success. However, anyone thinking ahead to that test will likely have already taken their eye off the ball enough to see their chances sunk.

Given the balance required here, it can be tricky to find an avenue in from a betting perspective, a fact perhaps reflected in the market where last week’s winner, and 2016 Players Champion, Jason Day currently heads the field at a huge 17.0 at time of writing.

It’s very rare to see such a long price about a favourite on the PGA Tour but the strength in depth of the field does create some cracking value prices for us to be feasting on. Indeed, the average price of winners here this decade is over 100/1 with last year’s winner Si Woo Kim setting off at over 500/1, so value further down the market is well worth exploring.

Some key trends for finding a winner at Sawgrass

In terms of methods of finding the winner, history on Pete Dye designs is a definite plus as his golf course designs are unique to him and often have similar features in terms of hazards and sight shot lines. Indeed, previous winners Sergio Garcia, Jason Day and Matt Kuchar all have multiple victories on Pete Dye course so strong correlating course form is an important attribute here.

Similarly, good performance on BermudaGrass greens is key for me as is past performance in windy conditions. The Stadium course tends to get very blustery so the ability to control length with the irons and wedges, plus the ability to read greens which have been further dried by the wind is all important.

Finally, I’m primarily keen on looking at players entering the week with decent recent form rather than looking specifically at Sawgrass specific form.

Whilst I mentioned having good overall Pete Dye form was important, given the very specific well-rounded test presented this week, I’d rather have someone who is firing on all cylinders but who has not finished top 10 here previously rather than the other way round. Ideally, a combo of the two would be ideal and in the case of Jason Day, it helps explain favouritism.

Aside from Day, the top of the of market features the usual suspects in Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson – who sees his status as world number 1 truly under threat this week unless he has a decent finish. None of that quartet has ever won here and all have mixed records, with as many top 10s as missed cuts down the years. Whilst the odds on offer look tempting, I’m happy to take them on with some alternative choices further down the list.

My Three Fancies for this week

I’ll start with Henrik Stenson (30.0), a past winner of this event in 2009. The amiable Swede has a fine record at Sawgrass in addition to that win, with further finishes of 5th in 2013, 3rd in 2006 and four other finishes inside the top 17 across the years. Additionally to this, his recent record is outstanding with a recent form line reading 4-T6-T5, with that T5 being a career-best Augusta performance after years of poor performance there.

The strong iron play of Henrik Stenson as always will be key for the Swede.

Given this convergence of course and current form, Stenson looks a promising prospect but he also rates third in overall performance on Bermudagrass greens since 2014, which really adds further encouragement to his chances this week.

He can be a frustrating sort but he looks primed and ready to get a win ahead of the summer’s major schedule and the Ryder Cup and I expect him to go well.

Next up is another man who is bidding to try and feature in another Ryder Cup, Ian Poulter (81.0). The Englishman has looked reinvigorated over the past 12 months, a run that was kick-started by a runner-up finish here last season, mirroring the same result in 2009. His subsequent uptick in form saw him capture his first PGA Tour event on US soil when winning the Houston Open at the end of March and his most recent result was a T7 at another Pete Dye design, Harbour Town GC.

Ian Poulter is coming into form just in time for a potential run at a spot in the European team for the Ryder Cup.

With that result, he now sits 5th in the list of Pete Dye specialists, gaining 0.8 strokes on his expected strokes gained elsewhere, whilst he also features at 24th on the Bermudagrass specialists list also.

A motivated man who loves the course, in excellent form, at a long price is good enough for me.

My final pick is Bryson DeChambeau (66.0). I’ll freely admit to being sceptical when he first came on Tour full of hype and bluster about his sartorial selections and same length clubs but I’ve really come round to him over the past few months. Having let his game do the talking, the 24-year-old has quietly put together a really impressive sophomore season, piling him top-five finishes at the Phoenix Open in January and more recently at Bay Hill (2nd), Harbour Town (T3) and Quail Hollow (T4).

Bryson DeChambeau has been less talk and more action in recent times.

Those are not easy tracks and notably all feature Bermudagrass greens, and DeChambeau sits 8th on the Bermudagrass specialists list. Whilst DeChambeau is playing Sawgrass competitively for the first time, he’s in great form and has proven to be a quick study.

I believe a man with his confidence will want to show what he can do amongst the game’s best and this is the perfect opportunity to follow up his victory at last year’s John Deere Classic with another TPC course win.

Recommended bets:

  • Henrik Stenson – 2 points @ 30.0 (lay 3 points (7.0)
  • Ian Poulter – 1 point @ 81.0 (lay 4 points @ 11.0)
  • Bryson DeChambeau – 1 point @ 66.0 (lay 4 points @ 10.0)

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