The Florida Swing shifts to island time this week as the Tour visits the iconic 17th island green and TPC Sawgrass for The Players Championship. Webb Simpson heads to Ponte Vedra Beach as the defending champion after lapping the field at the The Players a year ago. His 54-hole lead of seven strokes was the largest to begin a final round in the tournament’s history, and he ended up holding off Jimmy Walker, Charl Schwartzel and Xander Schauffele to win by four.
Conditions should be quite different than 2018, as The Players shifts from a May date to it’s current mid-March spot on the calendar. Cooler, windier conditions are expected which should lead to the higher scores we grew accustomed to seeing before the event was moved from March to May in 2007.
The PGA Tour’s flagship event will feature 144 players in what many feel is the best field in golf. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson returns to action after a two-week layoff following his dominant win in Mexico, while Tiger Woods (as of Tuesday) is set to give his sore neck a go, after withdrawing from Bay Hill with a neck strain. Another injury that bears watching is Jason Day, who is in the field, after WD’ing after six holes last week.
Experience seems to play a huge factor at The Players as just two golfers in the tournament’s 37-year history have ever won the event in their TPC debut.
Accuracy and putting are the keys to tackling Pete Dye’s Stadium course. A year ago Webb Simpson hit 76% of greens for the week. While building his seven-stroke lead heading into the final round, he hit 82% of greens over his first 3 rounds. He also gained 2.3 strokes putting on the field over four rounds.
Hit it close and drain a few putts…it’s usually a recipe for success at The Players…as long as you stay out of the water on No. 17!
Nuts and bolts
Course: TPC Sawgrass, Stadium Course (7,189 yards, Par 72)
Defending champion: Webb Simpson (270, -18)
Weather: Party sunny, hights in the low 70s, Chance of rain Sat/Sun
Xander Schauffele (29/1, $11,000)
Sometimes golf betting odds and DFS numbers make me shake my head in disbelief. This is one of those weeks. Schauffele checks two important boxes heading into the week…strokes gainied appproach (11th) and strokes gained putting (13th). He’s also playing fantastic golf. Nine of his last 12 competitive rounds have been in the 60s and his worst finish in five starts in 2019 is T25—That’s five consecutive top 25’s, including his win to start the year in Hawaii. He finished T2 at The Players last year and is primed to kick off a huge run through 2019 and the majors season. It starts this week at TPC Sawgrass.
Paul Casey (41/1, $9,900)
At 41 years old, Casey is playing some of the best golf of his career, and seems ready to take his name off the list of Best Players to Never Win a Major. He’ll get that chance next month at the Masters, but first, Casey brings his elite iron game to TPC Sawgrass. The Englishman ranks 18th in SG Approach, 48th in proximity to the hole and 11th in driving accuracy, which will also be a factor this week at The Players. He’s well rested after running off top-three’s in two of his last three starts and has had top-25’s in his previous two Players Championships.
Matt Kuchar (46/1, $10,000)
The 2012 Players Champion returns to TPC where his game simply suits the golf course. He’s accurate off the tee (6th in Driving Accuracy) and makes his money with his iron game ranking 19th in strokes gained approach and 33rd in proximity to the hole. His putter isn’t bad, but it’s streaky, and when it’s hot it translates into wins: he’s already got two this season and a T4 at the Waste Management Open. Kuchar has top 20s in two of his last three starts at TPC Sawgrass, including a T3 in 2016.
Zach Johnson (120/1, $9,400)
When a player says Pete Dye designed courses suit their eye, you pay attention. Johnson enjoys tight layouts (see: Harbour Town and Colonial). He hasn’t missed the cut at The Players since 2008, a string of 10 consecutive cuts made with his best finish at TPC Sawgrass a T2 in 2012. He ranks inside the top 50 in strokes gained approach, proximity to the hole and driving accuracy.
Tiger Woods (21/1, $11,100)
I may end up looking bad here, but until we know more about Tiger’s neck injury, I’m staying away. Could he contend? Yes. Could he play 9 holes and WD? Yup. Tiger hasn’t always been forthcoming when it comes to the severity of his injuries, so the “neck strain” keeping him out of an event as important as the API is to him, leads me to believe it’s a real issue. This week feels like a “test it out” type of week. It’s just not worth the risk.