Bryson DeChambeau survived a windy Sunday at Bay Hill to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational by one stroke over Lee Westwood. DeChambeau, a victor at 12-1, made just one bogey (1-under 71) during tough Sunday conditions (field average score of 75.5) and led the field for Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and approach proximity for shots of 200-plus yards to the green.
DeChambeau is the second choice on the odds board this week at 14-1 behind OWGR No. 1 Dustin Johnson (12-1). Rory McIlroy, the 2019 Players champion, and Jon Rahm share a 16-1 tag. Xander Schauffele was runner-up in his debut here in 2018 and is slotted in the 20-1 range along with Justin Thomas, who finished third here in 2016.
Viktor Hovland makes his first appearance at TPC Sawgrass and is 25-1, just behind Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa and 2018 Players champion Webb Simpson, both 22-1. Tony Finau (28-1) continues to seek his signature career win or any win on the PGA Tour to shake the "Top 10 Tony" moniker.
Jordan Spieth (30-1) is playing his best golf in almost three seasons and has three top-4 finishes in his last four starts. Hideki Matusyama tied the course record with a first-round 63 last year before the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19; he is 35-1 along with Tyrrell Hatton.
The Players Championship was conceived by then-PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman, and Jack Nicklaus won the inaugural event in 1974 at the Atlanta Country Club. The event eventually moved to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (18 miles from downtown Jacksonville) and the Sawgrass Country Club in 1977 before moving in 1982 to the adjacent TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course where it has remained. The Players offers the largest purse in golf at $15 million and is considered the unofficial “fifth major” because it arguably boasts the best field of the year. The winner receives 80 OWGR points, a five-year PGA Tour exemption and three years of exemptions to all four majors.
The field is made up of 154 players based on the following criteria:
1. Winners of PGA Tour events since last Players
2. Top 125 from previous season's FedEx Cup points list
3. Major champions from the past five years
4. Players Championship winners from the past five years
5. The Tour Championship winners from the past three years
6. World Golf Championship winners from the past three years
7. Memorial Tournament and Arnold Palmer Invitational winners from the past three years
8. Top 50 from the Official World Golf Ranking
9. Senior Players champion from prior year
10. Korn Ferry Tour money leader from prior season
11. Money leader during the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, if not the regular-season money leader
12. Top 10 current year FedEx Cup points leaders
13. Remaining positions and alternates filled through current year FedEx Cup standings
There have only been six multiple winners of The Players: Jack Nicklaus (1974, 1976, 1978), Fred Couples (1984, 1996), Steve Elkington (1991, 1997), Hal Sutton (1983, 2000), Davis Love III (1992, 2003) and Tiger Woods (2001, 2013). Outside of this list, 22 other major champions have won this event, including recent winners Rory McIlroy (2019), Webb Simpson (2018), Jason Day (2016), Martin Kaymer (2014), K.J. Choi (2011), Henrik Stenson (2009), Sergio Garcia (2008), Phil Mickelson (2007) and Adam Scott (2004).
The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is one of the most iconic courses in the world of golf. The course was designed by the legendary late Pete Dye in 1979 (with a Steve Wenzloff and Pete Dye redesign in 2016) and it tests all facets of a player’s game and has never favored any type of player.
In 2019, the event returned to March, where it was on the schedule from 1977 to 2006, before being moved to mid-May from 2007-2018. The track is a par-72 of 7,189 yards. The layout features 88 Scottish-style bunkers, 17 water hazards (including the famous island green on the 17th) and a variety of waste areas. The course is unusual in that no consecutive holes play in the same direction and there are both left and right doglegs throughout. The fairways and rough are Bermuda overseeded with Rye. The greens are TifEagle Bermuda overseeded with both Poa Trivialis and Velvet Bentgrass and are fairly fast (12-13 on the Stimpmeter). Due to the move up in the calendar, the course has to be overseeded. The overseeding of the greens means that the graininess of the Bermuda is taken out, which leads to smoother putting surfaces. This led to much softer scoring conditions in the 2019 event and was looking to be the same as last year’s first-round leader tied the course record of 63 (9 under).
Other Pete Dye designs on the PGA Tour include the following:
• Harbour Town Golf Links (RBC Heritage)
o Recent winners: Webb Simpson, 2020; C.T. Pan, 2019; Branden Grace, 2016; Matt Kuchar, 2014; Graeme McDowell, 2013
• TPC River Highlands (Travelers Championship)
o Recent winners: Dustin Johnson, 2020; Chez Reavie, 2019; Bubba Watson, 2015, 2018; Jordan Spieth, 2017; Russell Knox, 2016; Kevin Streelman, 2014
• TPC Louisiana (Zurich Classic)
o Recent winners: Ryan Palmer and Jon Rahm, 2019; Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy, 2018; Cameron Smith, 2017; Brian Stuard, 2016; Justin Rose, 2015; Billy Horschel, 2013
• Austin Country Club (2016-19 Match Play)
o Recent winners: Kevin Kisner, 2019; Bubba Watson, 2018; Dustin Johnson, 2017; Jason Day, 2016
• TPC Stadium Course at La Quinta (American Express)
o Recent winners: Si-Woo Kim, 2021; Andrew Landry, 2020; Adam Long, 2019; Jon Rahm, 2018; Hudson Swafford, 2017; Jason Dufner, 2016; Patrick Reed, 2014; Brian Gay, 2013
• Crooked Stick (2012 and 2016 BMW Championship)
o Recent winners: Dustin Johnson, 2016; Jason Day, 2012
• Whistling Straits (2015, 2010 PGA Championship)
o Recent winners: Jason Day, 2015; Martin Kaymer, 2010
• Kiawah Island (2012 PGA Championship)
o Recent winner: Rory McIlroy, 2012
2020: Tournament canceled due to COVID-19
2019: Rory McIlroy (-16/272); 14-1
2018: Webb Simpson (-18/270); 100-1
2017: Si Woo Kim (-10/278); 500-1
2016: Jason Day (-15/273); 12-1
2015: Rickie Fowler (-12/276); 66-1*
2014: Martin Kaymer (-15/273); 90-1
2013: Tiger Woods (-13/275); 9-1
2012: Matt Kuchar (-13/275); 55-1
2011: K.J. Choi (-13/275); 45-1**
2010: Tim Clark (-16/272); 100-1
* - playoff Win over Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner
** - playoff win over David Toms
TRENDS AND ANGLES
• Each of the last nine winners finished 22nd or better in their previous immediate start.
o 2019: Rory McIlroy (6th), 2018: Webb Simpson (21st), 2017: Si-Woo Kim (22nd), 2016: Jason Day (5th), 2015: Rickie Fowler (9th), 2014: Martin Kaymer (18th), 2013: Tiger Woods (4th), 2012: Matt Kuchar (13th), 2011: K.J. Choi (3rd).
• Only twice since 1983 has a player won here in his course debut (Hal Sutton, 1983; Craig Perks, 2002).
o Debuting at the Players this week: Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Scottie Scheffler, Joaquin Niemann, Will Zalatoris, Max Homa, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Sam Burns, Lanto Griffin, Cameron Davis, Maverick McNealy, Robert MacIntyre, Matthew NeSmith, Doug Ghim, Victor Perez, Sebastian Munoz, Henrik Norlander, Tom Lewis, Nate Lashley, Dylan Frittelli, Sepp Straka, Doc Redman, Kyoung-Hoon Lee, Bo Hoag, Cameron Percy, Adam Schenk, Robby Shelton, Harry Higgs, Tyler McCumber, Xinjun Zhang, and Scott Harrington.
• Six of the last eight Players winners finished in the top 10 for SG: Approach during their winning weeks.
SG: Approach Leaders (Last 24 rounds)
1. Collin Morikawa + 34.1
2. Matthew NeSmith 25
3. Russell Henley 24.7
4. Keegan Bradley 23.5
5. Tyrrell Hatton 23
6. Dustin Johnson 22.3
7. Justin Thomas 22.3
8. Kyle Stanley 21.3
9. Will Zalatoris 21.2
10. Charley Hoffman 18.9
• Par-4 scoring is also key here.
Par-4 Strokes Gained (Last 24 rounds)
1. Dustin Johnson + 34.1
2. Scottie Scheffler 32.7
3. Tony Finau 31.9
4. Patrick Cantlay 29.4
5. Andrew Putnam 26.9
6. Tyrrell Hatton 26
7. Viktor Hovland 25.5
8. Sam Burns 25.3
9. Collin Morikawa 24.9
10. Justin Thomas 23.8
• The winners here over the last four years have averaged a rank of 10th for SG: Around the Green.
SG: Around the Green (Last 24 rounds)
1. Kevin Na + 19.2
2. Jordan Spieth 14.5
3. Byeong Hun An 14.1
4. Dustin Johnson 14
5. Kyoung-Hoon Lee 13.3
6. Rickie Fowler 12.3
7. Patrick Cantlay 12
8. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 11.6
9. Louis Oosthuizen 11.1
10. Carlos Ortiz 11.1
Jon Rahm 16-1
Rahm was the 54-hole leader here two years ago before making three bogeys in his first four holes on Sunday. The troubles were not over in that round for Rahm as he rinsed his approach on 11, had a buried lie in the bunker on 16 and hit one in the drink at the famous island green on 17 for good measure. All of that led to a disappointing 4-over 76 and dropped him to a T-12 finish. This looks like the perfect time and place for redemption.
Since that poor Sunday finish two years ago, Rahm has had five worldwide victories and five runner-up finishes. He is a much different player now. The OWGR No. 2 has started 2021 a bit slowly, largely due to an equipment change with Callaway and now playing with a new ball. The flat stick has seen the most slippage as he ranks just 99th for SG: Putting over the course of the last 24 rounds.
Nevertheless, he is always elite tee-to-green. Over the course of the last 24 rounds, Rahm rates third for SG: Ball Striking (Off-the-Tee + Approach), fourth for SG: Off-the-Tee and sixth for SG: Tee-to-Green. He also already has a couple of career wins on Pete Dye designs at the Zurich Classic and American Express.
Justin Thomas 22-1
Thomas has had a tumultuous start to 2021. His unfortunate use of language was caught on a live mic during a round in Hawaii, and he subsequently lost one of his chief endorsers. In his next start, he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi. Then, his grandfather sadly died, and Thomas missed the cut at Riviera the following week.
Last time out, he finished T-15 at the Concession after a poor first round in which he had to rally to post a 1-over 73. However, he finished second in the field that week for SG: Approach. The inaccuracy off the tee ended up costing him, but at TPC Sawgrass he can be more judicious with the use of his driver and use the 3-wood or irons off the tee.
He has made the cut in all five appearances (third in 2016) and most players at the top of the odds board have erratic course form here.
Patrick Cantlay 25-1
Cantlay not only has stellar recent form in 2021 (21-2-3-15) but also good showings on Pete Dye courses. He was ninth (2019) and second (2021) for his last two starts at PGA West and third (2017), seventh (2018) and third (2019) at Harbour Town. Moreover, he posted a seventh at TPC Louisiana in the Zurich Classic with Patrick Reed in 2018. Cantlay has also been in the top 15 each of the last three years at TPC River Highlands.
In 2017 and 2019, he was in the top 10 after 54 holes at the Players, so he has taken a bit of a liking to the place. Last year, Cantlay shot an opening-round 66, which was good for fifth before the event was canceled.
No player in this field has been better for SG: Total over the last 24 rounds.
Tommy Fleetwood 52-1
Fleetwood has fared well here with finishes of fifth and seventh over the last two years and was the 36-hole leader in 2019 along with eventual winner Rory McIlroy.
Aside from the Players form, Fleetwood has played well in Florida at PGA National (fourth in 2018, third in 2020) and Bay Hill (third in 2019).
Last week, he was three off the lead after 54 holes but struggled on Sunday in the windy conditions like most of the field and finished T-10.
Cameron Smith 62-1
A bit of a speculative midrange play here considering Smith has missed two of three cuts at TPC Sawgrass, but he has the look of a player who is about to peak.
The Aussie finished fourth at Riviera and 11th at the Concession after a poor Saturday round.
Corey Conners 80-1
Conners was third last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational while leading the field for SG: Approach.
The tee-to-green game is usually on point for the Canadian, but the putter lets him down too frequently. However, he gained almost 3.75 strokes last week on the greens at Bay Hill and certainly prefers Bermuda greens.
Chris Kirk 150-1
Kirk's last two starts in Florida stand out with a T-8 at Bay Hill last week and a win last summer in the King & Bear Classic at nearby St. Augustine.
He has made seven of his last eight cuts at TPC Sawgrass and three of the last six were top-13 finishes.
Kirk regained his full playing privileges earlier this year with a runner-up at the Sony Open and looks to be in a positive frame of mind having come back from some off-course issues.
While the Players Championship certainly takes most of the golf headlines this week, the European Tour returns from a five-week hiatus for the Qatar Masters. The two Belgian Thomases, Pieters (18-1) and Detry (20-1) top the odds board. Frenchman Antoine Rozner (22-1) follows as the third choice. Austrian Matthias Schwab and Andy Sullivan also appear at 25-1. South African George Coetzee (28-1) finished seventh here last year. Defending event champion Jorge Campillo, from Spain, won last year at triple-digit odds and is triple-digits yet again at 100-1.
The Qatar Masters was established in 1998, and every one of its tournaments has been housed at the Doha Golf Club until last season. The event used to draw bigger-name fields when it was sandwiched between Abu Dhabi and Dubai in January. In 2018, the tournament was moved to late February and early March due to travel restrictions between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, the PGA moving up the PGA Championship to May forced the Players Championship up to March and has condensed the big events on the PGA Tour, which takes bigger names away from this field. Nevertheless, the Qatar Masters has produced big-name winners, including Adam Scott (2002, 2008), Paul Lawrie (1999, 2012), Ernie Els (2005), Henrik Stenson (2006), Retief Goosen (2007), Sergio Garcia (2014) and Branden Grace (2015, 2016).
The Qatar Masters spent 22 years at Doha Golf Club. It’s still in Doha, but for the second straight year, it will be held at the Education City Golf Club, which was designed in 2018 by World Golf Hall of Famer and two-time Masters tournament champion José María Olazábal. The track is a par-71 of 7,307 yards and is an exposed and relatively flat desert layout. The 36/35 split features three par-5s measuring 539, 593 and 592 yards in length. Two of the 4 par-3s are over 200 yards long and only two of the par-4s play under 400 yards. Water is in play on several holes and the track is heavily bunkered. The greens are also exceedingly fast (13 on the stimpmeter). Paspalum is used throughout the course. The paspalum used here could make it play similar to the events in Mauritius, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Played at Education City Golf Club
2020: Jorge Campillo (-13/275); 125-1*
Played at Doha Golf Club
2019: Justin Harding (-13/275); 50-1
2018: Eddie Pepperell (-18/270); 75-1
2017: Jeunghun Wang (-16/272); 45-1**
2016: Branden Grace (-14/274); 8-1
2015: Branden Grace (-19/269); 25-1
2014: Sergio Garcia (-16/272); 8-1***
2013: Chris Wood (-18/270); 90-1
2012: Paul Lawrie (-15/201); 55-1****
2011: Thomas Bjørn (-14/274); 200-1
2010: Robert Karlsson (-15/273); 66-1
* - playoff win over David Drysdale
** - playoff win over Joakim Lagergren and Jaco van Zyl
*** - playoff win over Mikko Ilonen
**** - event reduced to 54 holes
Antoine Rozner 25-1
Rozner won his first European Tour event late last year in Dubai. He also has a good history on courses with paspalum greens, including a T-2 at Mauritius in 2019 and a top-10 last season in Oman.
George Coetzee 28-1
Big George was T-10 earlier this season on these same greens in Saudi Arabia against a much stronger field and has a good history on other Middle East courses.
Sean Crocker 40-1
Crocker continues to progress toward his maiden European Tour win. He also more than held his own against a stronger field earlier this year with a T-12 in Saudi Arabia.
Calum Hill 54-1
The Scotsman finished T-4 earlier this year in Saudi Arabia besting Bryson DeChambeau, Viktor Hovland, Tyrell Hatton, Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia. Could go well on a similar course here.
Chris Paisley 60-1
The Englishman finished T-7 here last year and likes Middle East golf with top-5s against elite fields at Dubai and Abu Dhabi in recent years.
Clement Sordet 170-1
The Frenchman is making his 2021 debut this week at a big price. He has a Challenge Tour win in Oman and a runner-up in the European Tour event there on similar greens.