WATCH: CHASE OR FADE – LINEUP CONSTRUCTION
THE PLAYERS Championship is largely considered the fifth major of the PGA Tour season. Held at TPC Sawgrass, with its iconic 17th island green, it’s a tournament that gets a lot of attention. The course is a par 72, that will play just a shade over 7,200 yards this week. Sawgrass has undergone some significant changes since the 2016 edition of THE PLAYERS that should add some drama to an already action-packed tournament. The par 4 12th hole is now drivable with water and bunkers ready to swallow up errant tee shots. They have also changed the greens to TifEagle Bermuda and expanded some to add more pin locations. All of that is just a long way of saying that this golf course will not play exactly the same as it has in the past.
Going With the Grain
As we look through the history of this tournament, we’re trying to figure out how successful golfers have attacked this course. In the past five years, driving distance has been slightly more important than driving accuracy. TPC Sawgrass also went through Hurricane Matthew and lost over 200 trees from the storm, which has certainly opened things up a bit for errant tee shots. Looking at accuracy on approach is another important stat to target during lineup construction this week. With the exception of Rickie Fowler’s winning effort in 2015, no winner has been worse than 24th in Greens in Regulation for their week.
Dustin Johnson ($12,000) came back last week with an impressive weekend of 67s to put himself in contention. If you’re targeting Driving Distance, Johnson coming off of an injury shouldn’t worry you as he averaged over 310 yards per drive at the Wells Fargo. In addition, he hit 75% of greens in regulation. His current form makes him an extremely difficult golfer to fade this week. His course history leaves a bit to be desired, but few golfers have ever played to the level he is on currently.
Jason Day ($10,000) is another high-priced golfer that seems to fit this course well from a Driving Distance and approach shot accuracy perspective. The defending champion has been boom-or-bust in the past though, making him an interesting GPP play. Day has only made 3-of-6 cuts at this event, but his three made cuts have been 19th or better. His recent form could keep his ownership down. If he’s able to put his game back together this week, he could pay off in a big way.
Dustin Johnson and Jason Day will likely find their way into lineups no matter what. There are also some cheaper golfers that are attractive when you combine Driving Distance and Greens in Regulation. Paul Casey ($8,300) is currently 49th in Driving Distance and 11th in Greens in Regulation. He has made nine straight cuts this year. Casey has historically played well at Pete Dye courses, but had struggled at TPC Sawgrass before his 23rd place finish last year. Jhonnatan Vegas ($7,300) has made 6-of-7 cuts. He currently sits at 57th and 30th in Driving Distance and Greens in Regulation, respectively. Vegas has also made three straight cuts at this event.
Going Against The Grain
While most successful golfers at THE PLAYERS have been long off the tee and accurate on approach, it’s also possible to make up some ground on the field if a guy can scramble well and gain strokes around the green. There is one obvious stud and a few value plays that fit the bill when it comes to a solid around the green game.
It’s hard to fit Jon Rahm ($9,600) into either of these categories because he’s been playing so well this year. It’s no secret that he has impressive distance off the tee. An underrated part of his game to the casual fan, though, is his scrambling. He’s 24th on tour at getting up and down for par on the rare occasion that he misses a green in regulation. In his last eight starts, he’s made every cut and only finished worse than 16th once. That one start resulted in a 27th place finish.
Matt Kuchar ($7,900) is one of the shorter hitters off the tee and hasn’t been terribly accurate on approach so far this season. Despite his struggles with the full swing, he’s ninth on tour in Scrambling. Since 2009, he’s only missed one cut at this event. Kuchar has a victory to go along with his five Top 25 finishes in that timeframe.
There are few golfers in the world that could pull off the season that Phil Mickelson ($7,400) is putting together this year. He is outside of the top 50 in Driving Distance and outside of the top 150 in Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation Percentage. Looking at his results at the end of each tournament shows you 13 straight made cuts. He has made up for his other deficiencies with his short game. He is currently 10th in Strokes Gained: Around the Green and 14th in Strokes Gained: Putting. Getting Mickelson right could be the key to some lineups given his price, but he’s not the safest play due to his recent course history here.
Cameron Smith ($6,900) wraps up our cheaper Against the Grain plays this week. He has a similar profile to Mickelson so far this year. He’s struggled off the tee and on approach but has more than made up for it around the green. Smith is currently second in Strokes Gained: Around the Green. He comes in with a lot of momentum after earning his way into the field just two weeks ago by virtue of his win at the Zurich Classic.
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