Rory McIlroy

The crown jewel of the Florida Swing, THE PLAYERS Championship, is finally here and so is a new contest, PGA TIERS! It’ll be broken down in six different player descriptions, Tier 1: Tournament Favorite, Tier 2: Bomber, Tier 3: Ballstriker, Tier 4: Short Gamer, Tier 5: Birdie Maker, Tier 6: Longshot.

TPC Sawgrass will play as a Par 72, measuring 7,189 yards and be putt on Bermuda greens. The field will consist of all the top golfers on TOUR sans Tiger Woods, who’s now skipped his fourth straight event due to a back injury. Sawgrass has played tough in the past — back in 2017 it ranked as the fifth-toughest course in scoring relative to par with how difficult the greens were playing. But a big reason it got easier the following two years is how attainable eagles were on all the Par 5s. Last season Sawgrass recorded the second-most eagles on TOUR and the third most in 2018. The finishing holes, No. 17 and No. 18, may get all the publicity, but the challenge won’t just come from the final stretch, it’ll come from how the course is designed from start to finish. No two back-to-back holes are the same. They’re either dogleg in different directions, Par 4s follow Par 3s, 4s follow 5s, short holes precede long ones — all of which call for the golfers to have their ball striking in top form if they want to succeed.

Let’s get to it and see which golfers should be rostered in the inaugural PGA Tiers contest.

TIERS ANALYSIS

Tier 1: Tournament Favorite

Rory McIlroy
Jon Rahm
Justin Thomas

It’s hard to argue with picking McIlroy to anchor rosters this week. McIlroy is coming off a win at The PLAYERS last year, a FedEx Cup Championship and another top-5 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, making it seven in a row. With only three golfers, a prudent strategy is playing one guy and sticking with him in the majority of lineups. Rory has been “en fuego” since the TOUR Championship and hasn’t finished outside the top 5 since August 2019. His Tee-To-Green game is impeccable, so going chalk won’t be frowned upon if you so choose. Thomas can turn it on at a moment’s notice, placing sixth at WGC-Mexico, third at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and winning twice already this season. However, he can also disappoint, missing the cut in two of his past four tourneys.


Tier 2: Bomber

Adam Scott
Patrick Cantlay
Dustin Johnson
Xander Schauffele
Brooks Koepka

We all “dig the long ball” and the five in this category can smack it off the tee. Schauffele is not just bombing it off the tee, he also ranks second in SG: Tee-To-Green and first in SG: Approach-The-Green over the past six tournaments. If course form is more your style, Scott isn’t just first in this group, he’s the top golfer in SG: Total at Sawgrass since 2015. Game theory is pivoting to Johnson, who hasn’t looked like himself and may still not be 100% recovered from surgery this offseason. He’s taken the past two weeks off from tournament play and should be getting closer to full health as he makes his way to a course he clearly prefers, ranking sixth in SG: Total over the past four years and not missing a cut here since 2013. He’s also gained an average of 5.25 strokes Tee-to-Green over his past eight rounds and ranks first in SG: Ball Striking in the field over the past six tournaments on Pete Dye designs.


Tie 3: Ballstriker

Hideki Matsuyama
Gary Woodland
Sungjae Im
Tommy Fleetwood
Paul Casey
Justin Rose

This looks like the leaderboard at the recent Honda Classic with Woodland, Fleetwood and Im grouped together. Out of the three, Fleetwood appears to be the pick with how well he plays during the Florida swing, especially at Sawgrass finishing with back-to-back top 10s. He’s also doing well gaining strokes on Par 4s ranking inside the top 15 and ranks 21st in SG: Ball striking over his past six tournaments. Even though Rose ranks 11th in SG: Total since 2015 at this tournament, he’s hard to trust with how bad his ball-striking has been, losing strokes Tee-To-Green in three straight tournaments and missing the cut in two out of those three. It’ll be hard to fade Matsuyama at a ball-striking course like TPC Sawgrass. Outside of the missed cut in 2018, Matsuyama hasn’t finished outside the top 22 and ranks fourth in SG: Total here since 2015. He’s gained strokes ball striking in his past seven measured tournaments and ranks first in SG: Tee-to-Green over the past 24 rounds.


Tier 4: Short Gamer

Webb Simpson
Patrick Reed
Louis Oosthuizen
Bryson Dechambeau
Matt Kuchar
Rickie Fowler

It’ll be tough to fade Reed if he keeps gaining double-digit strokes with his putter as he did in Mexico. But at the same time, pivoting off of Reed — who doesn’t have the best course history at Sawgrass — isn’t a bad play. Fowler played well in the first two rounds, gaining 4.2 strokes Tee-to-Green, but Dechambeau is playing the best. Dechambeau ranks inside the top 10 in SG: Tee-to-Green and first in SG: Off-The-Tee over his past three tournaments. Before ejecting in Mexico and finishing 61st, Simpson gained an average of 5.27 strokes with his irons over the previous three measured events and just under three strokes putting over his past five events. Simpson deserves a look if you’re looking to fade the top players and so does Kuchar, who plays Pete Dye courses exceptionally well, ranking seventh in SG: Tee-to-Green. He also shouldn’t be too popular given how poorly he’s been hitting it.


Tier 5: Birdie Maker

Scottie Scheffler
Collin Morikawa
Tony Finau
Byeong Hun An
Henrik Stenson
Sergio Garcia

An should be the play, but he’s extremely hard to trust. He routinely gains strokes ball-striking and consistently scores ranking second amongst his peers in this tier in birdie or better gained over their past four rounds. An’s putting will keep you on full tilt, but as always, if he finds a level putting week on greens he prefers (Bermuda), he has a shot to win especially when he ranks third in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the past three tournaments. If he doesn’t find the flatstick, it’ll be status quo for Benny An, but it’s hard to fade him when he’s hitting it so well. Morikawa ranks T2 in total eagles and hasn’t missed the cut in 21 starts, which is the longest active streak on TOUR.


Tier 6: Longshot

Tyrrell Hatton
Billy Horschel
Marc Leishman
Kevin Kisner
Bubba Watson
Jordan Spieth

If we’re on a Pete Dye course, Watson and Kisner are the two who should be highly considered in Tier 6. With Hatton and Leishman’s one-two finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, both Wason and Kisner may be overlooked. Watson gained over six strokes putting in Mexico, but he lost just under four with his irons. Kisner recorded a top 20 at the same tournament and is also having issues with approach losing strokes with his irons in three straight tournaments. Both possess a high level of experience and success on Dye designs; choosing between the two will come down to current form over course history. Kisner is second in SG: Total of the group at Sawgrass while Watson has been hitting it well, ranking 26th in SG: Ball striking, 28th in Opportunities Gained and eighth in SG: Par 4 over his past three tournaments.


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