After another thrilling Masters back in April, The PGA Tour is heating up once again. It started with The Zurich Classic two weeks ago in New Orleans, tweaking the format and providing a very intriguing two person team play event. Last week, the excitement was provided by Eagle Point Golf Club for The Wells Fargo Championship. Substituting for Quail Hollow, Eagle Point turned out to be a gem that players and viewers loved alike. And now, with the second Major Championship of the season just five weeks down the road, we get The Players Championship to keep the momentum going.
Speaking of Majors, The PLAYERS is commonly referred to as “The 5th Major” as it truly is the biggest tournament the players face outside of the big four. Only The PGA Championship has arguably a better field in all of golf. Forty-eight of the top fifty ranked players in the world are here and seventy-six of the top one hundred. Other than Augusta National, TPC Sawgrass, the site of The Players Championship, is probably the most recognizable golf course in the world. A Pete Dye design with water on every hole and risk-reward scenarios that make for an exhilarating watch, golfers are tested physically, mentally, and in every facet of the game. Oh, and just to spice things up even more, it is a 10.5 million dollar purse with nearly 2 Million going to the winner.
TPC Sawgrass debuted in 1982. There has never been a repeat champion. The PLAYERS had always been played in March as a part of The Florida Swing but has since switched to May in an effort to avoid weather challenges in the Jacksonville, Florida area that are often present in early Spring. Since last year’s edition, there have been more changes. The greens have been changed to a TifEagle Bermuda Grass and the 12th hole has been shortened to just over 300-yards, making it a tantalizing, drivable Par 4. Like the Major Championships, there is not really one glaring skill set that is always successful at TPC Sawgrass but rather it is a golf course that will make one do everything very well for four days. You can almost throw course form out as players who have won have also missed the cut on plenty of occasions. Rickie Fowler won The PLAYERS in 2015. He missed the cut the year before and did so again last season. It is one of the toughest courses the players face all year as well as one of the toughest at which to predict a winner.
Dustin Johnson (+8.580 Pinnacle) Off of injury at The Masters, he very nearly won his fourth straight tournament last week in North Carolina. The PLAYERS hasn’t been his best event as he’s never finished in the Top 25 but he’s never been playing better in his career either. He’s number one on Tour in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, Greens in Regulation, and Bogey Avoidance. Number two in Hole Proximity and Par 4 Scoring.
Rory McIlroy (+11.600 Pinnacle) It seems like we haven’t seen the man much lately. He’s been married, he’s switched to Taylor Made clubs, and yet he’s strung together seven straight Top 10 finishes since last September. In his last three trips to The PLAYERS he’s finished 12-8-and-6.
Jordan Spieth (+1748 Bookmaker) Spieth was very solid at The Masters before failing to put anything together on the final Sunday. He did very well in the team play event in New Orleans, finishing 4th. He finished 4th in his first ever PLAYERS three years ago but has missed the cut twice since.. which again, is very telling of the difficulty and of the randomness of results at TPC Sawgrass.
Sergio Garcia (+2050 Bookmaker) I can’t wait to watch Sergio this week. How will The Masters Champion react this week, the first time we’ve seen him since? He has a beautiful track record at The PLAYERS, having won here in 2008 and recording another four Top 5 finishes. It will be interesting to see if he picks up where he left off or will a bit of a Masters hangover be present?
Jon Rahm (+2550 Bookmaker) I love how the young Spaniard plays with such passion, emotion, and gusto and so far it has provided nothing but remarkable success – but it will be interesting to see if that holds true at TPC Sawgrass which takes such a controlled effort and severely punishes the slightest slip in focus. Rahm is making his debut here and was also doing so at The Match Play, also played on a Pete Dye course with TifEagle Bermuda greens, when he took 2nd place.
Justin Rose (+3250 Bookmaker) It will be fun to see the return of Sergio and also of the man he beat in that playoff at Augusta, Justin Rose. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Justin Rose more confident on a golf course than as of late. As is typical of TPC Sawgrass, Rose’ last four trips to town look like this; 19th-Cut-4th-Cut.
The Long Shots
Martin Kaymer (+6000 5Dimes) The efficient German machine has been very much that at The Players Championship as he has never missed a cut here in eight tries and won the big prize in 2014.
Branden Grace (+12000 5Dimes) Grace hasn’t ever missed a cut here either but that is in only three visits. He does however have tremendous success to his name at another Pete Dye course, Harbour Town, the site of The RBC Heritage, where Grace’s last three years have gone 11th-1st-and-7th.
William McGirt (+27500 5Dimes) McGirt has really been surging with confidence recently and it starts with his 9th place finish at The Match Play, another Pete Dye course. Next up The Masters where he even flirted with the lead before finishing 22nd. McGirt then went on to Dye’s course at The RBC Heritage to take 3rd. His last three Players Championships have gone 43-Cut-Cut.
Brooks Koepka (+4050 Bookmaker) Koepka can be a tough player to back when you look at his overall stats but he does hit the ball a mile, makes a ton of birdies, and is a very good putter. What leads me most to this pick however, is Koepka’s recent form and recent form on Pete Dye courses. We start with his 9th place finish at The Match Play in March, a Dye course. He followed that up with an 11th at The Masters, a 2nd place at The Valero Texas Open, and then a 5th place two weeks ago in New Orleans, another Pete Dye course. This is his third trip to The PLAYERS finishing 35th last year and Cut in his debut. Koepka is from West Palm Beach and went to Florida State. I figure him to be well into the mix this Sunday afternoon in Ponte Vedra Beach, down the stretch at TPC Sawgrass.
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