The PGA TOUR will make its third stop on the Florida Swing for THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach this week. The course will play as a Par 72, measuring 7,189 yards and be putt on Bermuda greens.
The field consists of all the top golfers on TOUR, but will be without Tiger Woods, who’s skipping his fourth straight event due to a back injury. Past winners here include Rory McIlroy, Jason Day (who’s also dealing with a back injury), Si Woo Kim, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson, who’s the only winner since 2012 to lose strokes with his approach and still win.
The Stadium course is one of the most famed, and potentially one of the most difficult, Pete Dye designs. On paper, TPC Sawgrass doesn’t stack up as one of the toughest of his courses. Harbour Town ranked 12 spots tougher in scoring relative to par last season, but winning this event is a top priority for the golfers making it more difficult than it appears. The 88 bunkers, 17 water hazards and the pressure of playing well are big reasons the tournament recorded the ninth-most bogeys and fourth-most double bogeys in 2019. The finishing holes, No. 17 and No. 18, may get all the attention, but Dye made sure the challenge of the course was not just in the final stretch, but how golfers navigate the entire course. No back-to-back holes feature similarities of any kind. There may be stretches of Par 4s strung together, but they dogleg in different directions, either play against or with the wind and vary greatly in distance. Par 5s are followed by Par 3s which then are followed by Par 4s, all designed for the golfers to be elite with their ball striking, but also sharp with their course management.
Even though big numbers are out there, TPC Sawgrass still only ranked as the 23rd toughest course in scoring last season and 29th the previous year. A big reason we’ve seen scores average 17-under over the past two years is how many eagles were made, especially on the Par 5s. In 2019, Sawgrass recorded the second-most eagles on TOUR and the third most in 2018.
Other key statistics to focus on when creating lineups is Par 4 and Par 5 scoring along with experience on Pete Dye designs. The greens are going to be small and fast, which means overall proximity and Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green will be a priority.
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Patrick Cantlay ($9,800)Cantlay has been the model of consistency, making 14 straight cuts (in cut events) since the PLAYERS tournament last year. His missed cut here in 2019 shouldn’t be an issue, especially with how well he’s hitting his irons ranking fifth in approach over his past six tournaments. He’s strong on both Par 4 and Par 5 efficiency and is top 5 in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green over his past 36 rounds on Pete Dye courses. This is his first tournament on the Florida swing and the greens may give him some issues, but his ball-striking is too good to deny this week.
Xander Schauffele ($9,400)We finally saw a solid putting week from Schauffele, who gained close to six strokes on the greens last week at Bay Hill. If his putting can match his iron play, where he’s gained an average of 4.5 strokes over his past three tournaments, he’ll be in contention again like he was in 2018 when he finished runner up to Webb Simpson. Xander’s also been elite in both Par 4 and Par 5 efficiency over the past 24 rounds similar to Cantlay. But where he’s been deficient is in converting these opportunities into birdies or better with his putting. His issues on the greens should be mitigated this week as he ranks inside the top 30 over his past three tournaments on fast, Bermuda greens.
Tony Finau ($8,100)The irons are still firing with Finau gaining just over 11 strokes total with approach over his past four tournaments making him a player to roster again this week even though he lost a ton of strokes on the greens at Bay Hill. Finau missed the cut last week at the API, but he has played the weekend at TPC Sawgrass over the past two years, finishing inside the top 22 last season, largely due to the 5.6 strokes he gained on the greens. Finau has become one of the elite ball strikers on TOUR and can hit it a mile, but his short game has also been fantastic ranking sixth in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green over his past six tournaments.
Cameron Champ ($6,900)Even though Champ has missed his past two cuts, the long-hitting PGA TOUR sophomore is still striking it well, ranking 38th in SG: Tee-to-Green over his past six tournaments. He ranks 14th in birdie or better percentage over the same time frame, but what should make him a solid value is not just his ability to score on Par 5s, but also putt well on these greens ranking 12th in Strokes Gained: Putting on fast Bermuda greens over the past 50 rounds.
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