This Week’s Event: 2018 PLAYERS ChampionshipPat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg debate their 2018 PLAYERS Championship picks and the week in Fantasy and betting at this week’s PGA Tour stop at TPC Sawgrass.
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2018 PLAYERS Championship: Show Index1:33 Quail Hollow Recap
39:55 Tiger Woods
47:20 Middle Tier
1:02:15 Long Shots
1:15:39 Quick Picks
1:18:04 One and Done
2018 PLAYERS Championship Field
144 Players | Top 70 & Ties Make The Cut
First Tee: 7:10 a.m. ET
THE PLAYERS Championship!!!! While, officially, there are no exclamation points associated with the name of the tournament, I assume they’re implied since event organizers demand the name always been written in ALL CAPS!!!!!! Also, isn’t it strange that “Championship” doesn’t get the same CAPS LOCK treatment?
Does THE PLAYERS boast the strongest field in golf? Probably. For the first time all year, all 50 of the world’s top-ranked players will be competing in the same field. And, with an $11 million purse, it’s tied for the second largest payday in golf with The Masters (no CAPS needed), trailing only the U.S. Open. Is that deserving of the “Fifth Major” label? Of course not. Since there are only four Majors. If we’re going down this route, make sure to check out the AT&T Byron Nelson, the year’s 17th Major.
Calling THE PLAYERS a Major would be like nominating a made-for-TV movie for Best Picture at the Oscars. Because that’s all THE PLAYERS is: A made-for-TV event. I hate resembling those curmudgeons who answer “Secretariat” to “Who was the greatest athlete of the 20th century?” But let’s be real, Major championships don’t dye water hazards to make them more palatable for the cameras.
Now, as the viewer, we benefit from THE PLAYERS’ inferiority complex. While golf tends to go out of its way to deliver the most frustrating TV product in sports, Golf Channel actually will start broadcasting at 1 p.m. ET for Rounds 1 and 2. An extra four hours of early round golf! What a treat. Tournament organizers also throw us a bone on groupings. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler will be paired for the first two days. It’s the first time Tiger and Phil are playing together at Sawgrass in 17 years. We’ll also get Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in a pairing. It seems weird crediting an event for doing logical things like putting all the players we want to see together at the same time, but credit must be given.
For actual golf, 144 players will tee it off in Ponte Verda Beach, the Top 70 and ties will stick around for the weekend. With Si WOOOO Kim’s victory last season, international players have won 10 of the past 15 PLAYERS Championships. Although, the year hasn’t been quite as successful for defending winners. Since TPC Sawgrass became the host course in 1982, Nick Price’s 1994 T5 persists as the best finish by a reigning champion in tournament history. Hal Sutton (1983) and Craig Perks (2002) remain the only two golfers to hoist the bizarre glass vase in their first attempt at Sawgrass.
Satoshi Kodaira, Xander Schauffele, Hao Tong Li, Bryson DeChambeau, Alexander Levy, Andrew Landry, Austin Cook, Beau Hossler, JJ Spaun, WHEEEEEE Kim, Kelly Kraft, CT Pan, Tom Hoge, Kevin Tway, Brandon Harkins, Dominic Bozzelli, Ricky Werenski, Ryan Blaum and Ollie Schniderjans are making their professional debuts at THE PLAYERS. However, more of the field might have played the course than you think as the Junior THE PLAYERS Championship has been a thing since 2007. Check out the results of the players from this year’s field. Alex Noren posted the best first-timer finish in 2017 at T10.
UPDATE: Paul Casey has withdrawn with a back injury.
2018 PLAYERS Championship Key Stats
Strokes Gained: Ball Striking
Par 4s Gained
Strokes Gained: Around the Green
Par 5s Gained
2018 PLAYERS Championship Course
TPC Sawgrass | 7,189 Yards | Par 72
Greens: Bermuda | Ranked 5 of 50 in 2017 Difficulty (+1.289)
Entering 2017, TPC Sawgrass received a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills-style facelift. The greens were reseeded to TifEagle hybrid Bermudas from Mini-Verde Bermuda to hold up better in the frigid air over the winter months. The bunkers were rebuilt completely. The spectator mound between holes No. 6 and 7 was excavated, filled with liquid, and become the 25th water hazard on the grounds.
The most noticeable renovation, though, was on No. 12. Once a short dog-leg left, No. 12 was reimagined as a risk/reward, drivable Par 4 playing as short as 285 yards some days and as long as 320 yards on other. Meaning, every player in the field can reach it in one. Water will be in play just eight yards from the left edge of the putting surface, creating the potential for some massive leaderboard swings. Problem is, there was far more reward than risk in Year 1. In its first year under championship conditions, No. 12 played as the fourth easiest hole on the course (-0.173), generating just a pair of eagles against three double bogeys. As the week progressed, players simply started firing at the green off the tee once it became known the potential for a giant blow just wasn’t in play.
Going for No. 12 Off The Tee: By Round
Round 1: 26
Round 2: 39
Round 3: 46
Round 4: 41
Some of the field attempted to hit the green using irons off the tee. Now, it’s a skinny green, so very few balls actually generated an eagle putt. In fact, only two players hit the green on Sunday (Sergio Garcia and Tyrrell Hatton), but an easy up-and-down for birdie was achievable.
That’s what changed.
What remained were minuscule, firm and fast greens; along with danger lurking just off every fairway. Ball striking — with an emphasis on accuracy over distance — really played out at the top of the leaderboard. As did a player’s ability to get up and down from just off the green. With the putting surfaces being some of the smallest on TOUR, short game will come into play. While the course could be set up differently in 2018, looking back at last year’s leaderboard, not a single player inside the Top 10 finished in the negative in Strokes Gained: Around-The-Green.
A balanced attacked in all facets tee-to-green led to success last season. Putting stats, didn’t matter as much. In the week, sure, it’s nary impossible to climb a leaderboard with a hot flat stick. But, outside of a few outliers, it was a great week for team “can’t putt.” We saw Si WOOOO, Kyle Stanley, Brendan Steele, Adam Scott, Francesco Molinari and Lucas Glover all cash Top 10 tickets. It’s not like they’re a group of average putters. They’re bad.
Beyond stats, it is important to note that, although redesigned in places, this is still a Pete Dye course.
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)
It has the tiny greens you’d expect at Dye tracks, along with the emphasis on strategy all over the course. Knowing you don’t need to hit driver everywhere, understanding a miss short is an easy par, while a miss long could lead to a double bogey, and there’s enough visual intimidation to get the nerves going.
People always remember the island green on No. 17 as an example of this. And with 69 balls in the water last year, they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. In reality, if the wind is down, that hole isn’t too difficult. No. 18 is the real example of how Pete Dye can mess with the mind. With water lining the entire hole from tee to green, the drive must land on the slim fairway without running through to the other side. Too far left or too long and it’s bogey (or worse) time. Couple that with the final-hole jitters and no one is safe. Last year it was the most difficult hole on the scorecard, and second toughest of any hole on TOUR in 2017.
2018 PLAYERS Championship Picks — Targets From Each Range
It’s time. I haven’t pulled the trigger on Tiger yet this season, but this is the spot. Don’t let his past two results worry you (T32/T55), you want Tiger at less-than-driver, Florida courses. He’s finished T12/T2/T5 in three Florida starts this year and enters with better form than you’d expect. His performance at Quail Hollow last week doesn’t appear very spectacular, but once you start digging in, you discover this issue: He couldn’t putt. At all. Ball striking wise, he was one of the best in the field. On the green, third worst of any player who made the cut. Expect a rebound at a course where he’s won twice before.
Sometimes overthinking things can go horribly wrong. Take the guy who wins the most and you usually will be fine. The game’s premier Par 4 scorer, Thomas has four victories since last year’s PGA Championship (Two more than any other player) and should somehow fly under the radar this week. He’s been spotty at THE PLAYERS in three starts (T75/T3/T24) but enters with immaculate form and Top 25s in each of his past 12 starts. He’ll have an opportunity to claim the top spot in the world rankings with another high finish this week, and this finally should be his time.
Whether you look at strokes gained driving, approach, around the green, ball striking, Par 4 scoring or Par 5 scoring, List doesn’t sit outside the Top 25 in this field in any one metric over the past 24 rounds. Except putting. He sucks on the greens. Still, outside of a blip in Texas three weeks ago, he’s been an ATM since February: Nine of 10 cuts made, no finish worse than T26 after qualifying for the weekend and four Top 10s. He’ll give you a heart attack if you follow him through shot tracker and see him miss four-foot putts on the regular, but by the end of the tournament, he’s usually on the first page of the leaderboard.
Tee-to-Green, only List, Jordan Spieth, Thomas and Dustin Johnson have been better than Hadwin over the past 24 rounds. And no one has been better around the greens in this field during that stretch. So, the form is there. Plus, the Canadian’s made the weekend the past two years at Sawgrass, has crushed the Careerbuilder Dye track the past two seasons and notched a win at a similar style, less-than-driver difficult Copperhead course.
Some people don’t believe in course history, but I kinda do. Look, Emiliano Grillo and Patrick Cantlay are better options, but they’re expensive, and The Captain ain’t. Over the past five years, he’s sixth in the field in total strokes gained at Sawgrass, resulting in three Top 15s the past four years. Outside of his withdrawal in 2016, he’s made the cut in his other five appearances. And, he’s in the midst of his best season in years. So, if he still can churn out quality results when he’s in bad form, now that he’s playing well entering THE PLAYERS, he should have no issues, right?Other notable names appearing near the top of stat models and the win simulator at FantasyNational.com: Jordan Spieth, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Ryan Moore.
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’s (@ThePME) 14 Fantasy Sports Writing Association 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) and genre (humor). 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.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is ThePME) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.