2020 PLAYERS Championship Picks, PredictionsPat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg preview the course and run through the odds while making their 2020 PLAYERS Championship Picks. The guys give their fantasy golf picks, provide their one and done strategy for the event from TPC Sawgrass.
2020 PLAYERS Championship: Show Index
2020 PLAYERS Championship FieldField: 144 Players
Cut: Top 65 and Ties after 36 Holes
First Tee: 7 a.m. ET; Thursday, March. 12
Defending Champion: Rory McIlroy
Calling yourself “The Fifth Major” does THE PLAYERS Championship (yes, it is always written in ALL CAPS, so YELL it whenever you say it, PLEASE!!!!) a major disservice. Since we know the golf calendar only sports four Majors, saying you’re the fifth doesn’t have the desired effect of elevating its status, it merely makes it seem lesser than. And it should never be treated that way. THE PLAYERS annually puts together the strongest and deepest strength of field we’ll get every year. One hundred and ten players in the field this season have at least one PGA win.
Almost all of the top 75 in the world rankings will be teeing off south of Jacksonville on Thursday, and the remainder of 144 players are all next-level PGA TOUR talent. The only two missing from the 2020 PLAYERS Championship are Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood. Westwood, currently No. 30 in the world rankings, planned his 2020 schedule before winning in Abu Dhabi in late January, and thus vaulting himself into the world’s top 50, getting an automatic invitation. Instead, he’d planned to attend the Cheltenham Festival this weekend, and, apparently, Lee isn’t one to break plans. Tiger is a different matter. A concerning one.
Woods last teed up at Riviera a month ago and almost everyone expected to see him at least once before THE PLAYERS. Although Tiger hates playing back-to-back weeks, him skipping the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, where he’s an eight-time winner, should have been a massive red flag. It was announced shortly after, that not only would be taking a pass on Bay Hill but THE PLAYERS as well due to a bad back. Tiger + back = Not great, Bob. Clearly, Woods is only concerned about Majors at this point, and if he needs to rest to ensure he can compete at Augusta, then I think we’re all good with that. But, most have to have reservations about his health even a month from now since we know so little about the situation. We can live without Tiger in the field at Sawgrass. As defending Masters champ, not having him make a run at sports’ highest sartorial honor is going to be tough.
Beyond Tiger and Westwood, there are still more injury concerns to some bigger names. Jason Day ($8,400) withdrew last week at Bay Hill and was spotted limping gingerly into his hotel for THE PLAYERS on Sunday evening. The common logic would to be to take a pass on the injured golfer, but standard injury rules don’t apply to Day. As evidence by Jason Day a year ago. Day pulled out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational after six holes with a back problem last year. Everyone crossed him off their lists at THE PLAYERS and he ended up inside the top 10. I wish I had more clarity on his situation, but I don’t. No one does. Even Day likely won’t know his health status until he gets a few holes under his belt on Thursday. If you’re someone who’s not afraid of having a dead lineup and burning some cash five hours into an event, Day is likely a very high-risk but high-reward option this week.
Then there’s Francesco Molinari ($7,100). The defending API champ withdrew just minutes before his tee time a week ago with, no surprise, a back injury. The Italian used to crush at this event, but his situation feels more dire than Day’s. We’ve seen enough from Day so far this year (T16/T4/MC) to know he still possesses substantial upside. Day has also won this event in the past, won his only Major on a Pete Dye designed course, and actually has a history of withdrawing and returning the next week and playing well. Even before the WD, maybe because of this back injury, Molinari has just been bad. Since playing in the final group of the Masters a year ago, he’s gone 18 starts between the PGA and European Tour without a top-10 finish, and he doesn’t have a top-20 result since the start of the 2020 PGA TOUR season in September. Even worse: He’s missed the cut in three of four 2020 starts in 2020, and his T53 came at a no-cut event in Mexico.
2020 PLAYERS Championship: Key StatsStrokes Gained: Approach
Par 4s Gained
Strokes Gained: Around The Green
Mayo’s Custom Stat POWER RANKINGS from FantasyNational.com
2020 PLAYERS Championship: CourseCourse: TPC Sawgrass
2020 PLAYERS Championship: Past Winners2019: Rory McIlroy -16
2018: Webb Simpson -18
2017: Si Woo Kim -10
2016: Jason Day -15
2015: Rickie Fowler -12
2014: Martin Kaymer -13
2013: Tiger Woods -13
2020 PLAYERS Championship: NotesWith DraftKings offering a slew of massive prize pools this week, including a Millionaire Maker contest, it can’t hurt to reinforce some of the rules of THE PLAYERS has taught us the past few years. Mainly, because of the 17 water hazard and 88 bunkers scattered across the course, there’s a high degree of variance year-over-year at TPC Sawgrass. That’s not even factoring in the wind picking up or the lack of distance required off the tee to compete, either. Just look at the number of big names who’ve completed ejected the past two weeks in Florida. Historically, Sawgrass tends to be more random than Honda and Bay Hill, too. Last year, of the top-six DraftKings scorers, four were priced $7,100 and below: Jim Furyk ($7,100 in 2019), Jhonattan Vegas ($6,100 in 2019), Brandt Snedeker ($6,900 in 2019) and Eddie Pepperell ($6,800 in 2019). In 2018, each of the top-seven DraftKings scorers were priced at $7,300 and below. Point being, don’t fear discomfort in your DraftKings lineups this week.
No player has ever defended his title at THE PLAYERS Championship. Also, defending champion Rory McIlroy ($11,700) has never won the same event in consecutive years.
There are 19 first-time participants in the field: Collin Morikawa ($7,900), Viktor Hovland ($7,700), Max Homa ($6,600), Scottie Scheffler ($7,500), Erik Van Rooyen ($7,200), Victor Perez ($7,200), Christiaan Bezuidenhout ($6,800), Joaquin Niemann ($6,100), K.H. Lee ($6,900), Lanto Griffin ($7,100), Sebastian Munoz ($6,100), Matthew Wolff ($7,200), Adam Schenk, Dylan Fritelli ($6,700), Jazz Janewattananond ($6,600), Sam Burns ($7,000), Nate Lashley ($6,200), Roger Sloan ($6,200) and Sepp Straka ($6,000). Last year, Eddie Pepperell (T3) finished the best of the debutants.
Adam Scott ($9,600) has more rounds in the 60s at TPC Sawgrass than any other player in the field (23). The all-time event record is held by Davis Love III and Nick Price.
Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama ($8,800) and Webb Simpson ($9,200) have the most Strokes Gained: Total in this event over the past five years. In a minimum of three starts over that five year period, only Scott, Simpson, Dustin Johnson (10,000), Justin Thomas (10,800), Ian Poulter ($7,300), Tommy Fleetwood ($9,000), Sergio Garcia ($8,000), Rory Sabbatini ($6,800), Cameron Tringale ($6,600), Jon Rahm ($11,000), Graeme McDowell ($6,900), and Branden Grace ($6,700) have made the cut in every start. Bryson DeChambeau ($9,100), Keith Mitchell ($6,600), CT Pan ($6,300), and Andrew Landry ($6,700) have all made the cut in each of their two starts.
The tiny greens at TPC Sawgrass are a regular occurrence at Pete Dye-designed courses. It’s why Strokes Gained: Around The Green (0.43/round) has been just as important as Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (0.43/round) for the Top 10 finishers over the past six years. For reference, Strokes Gained: Approach has been over 2.5 times more important to the top-10 finishers.
All Pete Dye Courses on the PGA TOUR
TPC Sawgrass (The Players Championship)
Harbour Town Links (RBC Heritage)
TPC River Highlands (Travelers Championship)
TPC Louisiana (Zurich Classic)
Austin Country Club (2016/2017/2018 Match Play)
TPC Stadium Course at La Quinta (2016/2017/2018 Careerbuilder)
Crooked Stick (2012/2016 BMW Championship)
Whistling Straits (2015, 2010, 2005 PGA Championship)
Kiawah Island (2012 PGA Championship)
Strokes Gained: Approach by The PLAYERS Championship winner
2019: Rory +6.5 (6th)
2018: Simpson -0.7 (92nd)
2017 Si WOOOOO +4.1 (16th)
2016: Day +5.6 (9th)
2015: Fowler +6.3 (3rd)
2014: Kaymer +6.0 (4th)
2013: Woods +8.0 (2nd)
2012: Kuchar +4.8 (5th)
2020 PLAYERS Championship — Targets From Each Range
Patrick Cantlay ($9,800)
Even with victories at Memorial and Shriners in his young career, Cantlay is still looking for that next level win. And Sawgrass has been that place for a lot of rising stars the past 15 years — Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson ($7,900), Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler ($8,900) — Cantlay could very logically be next. His ball striking is among the world’s elite, he enters ranked fifth in the field over his past 24 rounds in SG: Approach, has no finish worse than T17 in any if his past five starts, and maybe the biggest thing, he’s vastly improved his short game. Something once seen as a liability. If his putter cooperates, the 27-year-old may very well end up hoisting a massive novelty check.
Paul Casey ($8,200)
After consecutive top 25s at THE PLAYERS, the Brit was THEE trendy pick to emerge victorious a year ago. Unfortunately, we didn’t know he’d become addicted to swimming some time just before the event. Carding a hockey stick on the Pat 3 17th in round one sent Casey packing from Jacksonville early. Naturally, everyone jumped off the bandwagon and he returned to the links the next week and won at Copperhead. In 2020, he heads to Sawgrass with some middling results, but all are entire short game related. The ball-striking has been off the charts this year. Not literally. It’s actually quite easy to measure these things on a chart. He’s gained over +5.5 SG: Approach in each of his past two events and Casey averaged a specular +2.3 SG: Off The Tee in those starts, as well. Just pray his chipping turn around in Mexico was a predictor for future performance because it was the first time in seven starts he gained strokes around the green, which had been the longest stretch of negatives in his career.
Brandt Snedeker ($7,200)
It hasn’t been indicative of wins at THE PLAYERS, but there is a corollary between the other short Bermuda grass designs on TOUR. And Snedeker is the king of those courses; he’s won at Harbour Town, East Lake and Sedgefield (twice). Essentially, any time a course devalues a driver, Snedeker becomes a much more appealing option. Now, this isn’t to say he can just spray everywhere from the tee box and have a shot, but he doesn’t need to actively gain a bunch of strokes, either. His irons have been quality in 2020, falling into the negatives juts once in five starts, and we know his short game is going to be world-class. He’s gained over +3.6 strokes putting in six of his past 11 starts. Yes, putting is quite random week-to-week, but Snedeker has shown a pattern of gaining in big chunks if he’s rolling it well that week. For his price points, expected ownership, and his birdie making for DraftKings upside, he’s a fantastic pivot play in the low $7,000 range.Other notable names appearing near the top of stat models and the win simulator at FantasyNational.com: Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Sungjae Im, Collin Morikawa, Matt Wallace
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Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting), genre (Humor), and game formats (Daily Fantasy and Traditions Season Long). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at ThePatMayoExperience@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show.
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