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Players Championship attracts elite field

By Wes Reynolds  (Point Spread Weekly) 

March 10, 2020 11:11 PM
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Bryson DeChambeau
© Imagn

Tyrrell Hatton outlasted the field and the wind to cash a 60/1 winner for this column Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Hatton (50/1 this week) outlasted Marc Leishman (40/1) by one stroke and the previous week’s winner, Sungjae Im (30/1), by two. Hatton, who has won four European tournaments, won his maiden PGA Tour event with a score of 4-under 284, the highest total to win a PGA event since Patrick Reed in the WGC event at Doral in 2014. 

This week 47 of the OWGR top 50 — Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood and Shugo Imahira are not playing — join a field of 144 players at TPC Sawgrass for The Players Championship. They should find the conditions and setup more hospitable for scoring than last week. Rory McIlroy (8/1) is the favorite and defending champion. He will attempt to become the first player to win The Players in back-to-back years. He’s also looking to become the first defending champion in 15 years just to finish in the top 10 the next year. Adam Scott was the last to do so in 2005. McIlroy fell down the leaderboard Sunday in Orlando but rallied to finish T5 and extend his worldwide top-5 streak to seven events dating to October. World No. 2 Jon Rahm, with two top-3 finishes in 2020, follows at 12/1. Justin Thomas (16/1) finished third here in 2016 and has a win at Kapalua and two top-6 finishes to his credit in 2020. The duo at 20/1, Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau, come in with very divergent recent forms. Cantlay has been off for three weeks, while DeChambeau has three top-5 finishes in his last three starts. Dustin Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood tied for fifth here last year and are priced at 25/1. Former Players champions including Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler and Scott are slotted at 30/1, while former champs Matt Kuchar and Jason Day are at 50/1 and 60/1, respectively.

The Event

The Players Championship was conceived by then-PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman in 1974, and Jack Nicklaus won the inaugural event 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. It then moved in 1982 to the adjacent TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, where it remains. The Players offers the largest purse in golf at $15 million and is considered the unofficial fifth major due to arguably having 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 consists of 144 players with the following criteria:

— Winners of PGA Tour events since last Players.

— Top 125 from previous season’s FedEx Cup points list.

— Major champions from the last five years.

— Players Championship winners from the last five years.

— The Tour Championship winners from the last three years.

— World Golf Championship winners from the last three years.

— Memorial Tournament and Arnold Palmer Invitational winners from the last three years.

— Top 50 from the Official World Golf Ranking.

— Senior Players champion from previous year.

— Korn Ferry Tour money leader from previous season.

— Money leader during the Korn Ferry Tour finals, if not the regular-season money leader.

— Top 10 current-year FedEx Cup points leaders.

— Remaining positions and alternates filled through current-year FedEx Cup standings.

 

Only six golfers have been multiple winners of The Players: Jack Nicklaus (1974, ’76, ’78), Fred Couples (1984, ’96), Steve Elkington (1991, ’97), Hal Sutton (1983, 2000), Davis Love III (1992, 2003) and Tiger Woods (2001, ’13). Besides this list, 22 major champions have won this event, including recent winners such as 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 Course

The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is one of the most iconic layouts in golf. The course was designed by the late Pete Dye in 1979. It tests all facets of a player’s game and has never favored any particular type of player. Last year the event returned to March, where it had been on the schedule from 1977-2006, before being moved to mid-May from 2007-18. The track is a par-72 of 7,189 yards that 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 unique in that no consecutive holes play in the same direction, and there are both left and right doglegs throughout. The fairways and rough are composed of Bermuda overseeded with Rye. The greens are TifEagle Bermuda overseeded with Poa Trivialis and Velvet Bentgrass and are fairly fast (12-13 on the Stimpmeter). Because of moving upward in the calendar, the course has to be overseeded. The overseeding of the greens means the graininess of the Bermuda is taken out, and that leads to smoother putting surfaces. This resulted in much softer scoring conditions last year. Important statistics to examine include GIR, Par 4 Scoring, Scrambling, Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green and Strokes Gained Around The Green.

Recent History/Winners:

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

Here are the pertinent Strokes Gained statistics for the winners over the last four Players Championships:

Year

Winner

SG: Tee-To-Green

SG: Around the Green

2019

Rory McIlroy

1st

25th

2018

Webb Simpson

16th

3rd

2017

Si Woo Kim

2nd

3rd

2016

Jason Day

3rd

11th

Selections

Bryson DeChambeau 26/1

It’s hard to find many course-form players this week besides Rory McIlroy and recent winners Sungjae Im and Tyrrell Hatton, but no player is in better form than DeChambeau, with three top-5s in the last four weeks. DeChambeau ranks No. 1 on the PGA Tour in Driving Distance (321.3 yards), third in SG: Off The Tee (+ 1.009) and 10th in SG: Tee-To-Green (+ 1.424). He is also getting off to very good starts in tournaments, ranking ninth and third, respectively, in Rounds 1 and 2 scoring average. The last eight Players Championship winners have started 11th or better in their first rounds.

Gary Woodland 60/1

Woodland was fifth going into the weekend last time out at the Honda Classic before a tough Saturday. But he rallied for a respectable eighth in tough conditions, shooting 3 under in his final round. The ball striking has continued to be there despite being winless since last year’s U.S. Open.

Matthew Fitzpatrick 70/1

Of 69 players who made last weekend’s cut at Bay Hill and 138 rounds over the weekend, only one player shot a round in the 60s. That was Fitzpatrick with a 69 Sunday. He actually got to 5 under before a double on 17 in very tough conditions.

Daniel Berger 76/1

Berger comes in with three straight top-10 finishes. He likes these types of greens, similar to what players see at TPC Scottsdale (three top-10s there in last five years) and Golf Club of Houston (top-5s in 2016-17). Berger ranks 14th on tour in Overall Strokes Gained among some elite players.

Abraham Ancer 80/1

Ancer finished a respectable 12th in his debut at Sawgrass last year and was also T12 against an elite field at the WGC Mexico three weeks ago.

Sergio Garcia 94/1

Garcia won here in 2008 and was a two-time runner-up in 2007 and ’15. He led the field in driving three weeks ago in Mexico. He has also made 16 straight cuts at Sawgrass.

Shane Lowry 94/1

Lowry is a world top-25 player and is a massive price here. He has been fairly consistent this season, with six top-30 finishes in his last seven starts. He was second going into the weekend here in 2016 before a poor Saturday round took him out of contention.

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