The First Tee – The Players Championship

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly March 11, 2019 20:36

The First Tee – The Players Championship

This Week

The PLAYERS Championship is taking place in its rightful spot in the schedule again, moving from May to March for the first time since 2006. The course will play differently than it will in May, so don’t just rely on information from years past.

As always, the DraftKings pricing is extremely soft for the “fifth major” and the GPPs are stacked, as the field for this event is as strong as it usually is.

THE COURSE

TPC Sawgrass is the home of the PLAYERS as it always is, but the change in season will be an impactful one; the fairways have been overseeded to the nth degree to pop the bright greens that viewers are used to. That means overwatering to make sure it takes, which will make for very soft conditions on the course as a whole – a big change from the past two years where golfers had to deal with newly planted greens that played firm.

The course is a par-72 that sits at 7189 yards, with some very easy scoring holes: all four par-5s are short (between 523-582), easy, and necessary to do well on for success, but there are also four par-4s that play below 400 yards that see a good number of birdies. There were 53 eagles made on the par-5s last year, and 10 on the risk/reward driveable 12th, the 302-yard par-4.

Because this is a par-72, focus less on the par-4s than normal, but putting an emphasis on par-3 scoring and par-5 birdie or better will go a long way; historically, players that succeed on the par-3s have finished fairly well here, and par-5 BoB% is always important for DFS points.

Off the tee, there’s a ton of water to deal with which is typical of a Pete Dye design; the other key components of a Dye design are also here, with the fairways lined with trees and pine straw areas. The fairways are supposed to see lots of roll-out thanks to tons of undulation, but the soft conditions will decrease distance off the tee for most players. Expect the average driving distance to sit in the 275-285 range for the average golfer, as the tightness often demands leaving driver in the bag. With the shorter drives in mind, looking at approach shot dispersions sees a ton of iron shots in the 175+ yard range, so that’s the focus this week; strong players with long irons should find a lot of success.

The Bermuda greens should be very receptive even as the stimpmeter will get jacked to the moon – the stimpmeter will most likely be listed at 13’ but play faster. The greens themselves feature lots of undulation and tiering as is typical for a Dye design, and missing is a big mistake given all the tough greenside bunkers (also typical of a Dye design).

 

STATS

The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Approach
  • Off the Tee
  • Putting
  • Around the Green

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Par-5 Birdie or Better %
  • Par-3 Scoring
  • Approach Shots: 175+ Yards
  • Bogey Avoidance
  • Scrambling %

Top-Tier Golfers

Rickie Fowler ($9700): While his season to date to pretty ugly – 58th in SG:T2G balanced out by 8th in SG: Putting – Rickie has still managed a win and a T2 at WMPO and the Honda Classic respectively, and is five for five in made cuts. His course history here is pretty wild, as he’s missed five cuts and finished T60 and T77, but he’s also won and had a T2; he should see low ownership due to that mixed history, but his historical performances putting on Bermuda tracks make him a high-ceiling play this week.

Tommy Fleetwood ($8800): Finished T7 here last year and has three straight finishes of T28 or better in North America including last week’s T3, so his form is flashing. He’s been a horrible putter in his 14 rounds so far this season, ranking a dismal 122nd, but Fleetwood sits 9th in SG: T2G and has the 8th-best proximity from 200 yards out. His scoring has been bad due to the putting, but he was better last week (relatively) so maybe that’ll straighten out since he hasn’t played much Bermuda yet.

Brooks Koepka ($10,000): On a soft track where golfers can go flag hunting with long irons, there might not be anyone in the field better than Koepka; he’s got very strong history here with a T35, T16 and T11 in 2016, ’17 and ’18 after missing the cut in 2015, and although he missed the cut last week with back-to-back bogeys on 17 and 18 on Friday, he finished T2 at the Honda Classic the week before that so his recent form isn’t concerning. On the season he’s making birdie or better 25% of the time and he’s averaging 4.51 on par-5s, and he’s 29th in SG: T2G; like Fleetwood, his putting has suffered so far although he was fantastic on the greens at the Honda.

 

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Keith Mitchell ($6800): MASSIVE CHALK ALERT but for good reason: he’s coming off a T6 last week and a win the week prior at the Honda, and he’s averaging 4.16 birdies/round for sub-$7000. That’s value! Mitchell’s only played here officially once (last year) when he finished T77 with an MDF.

The killer in Mitchell’s game is usually his putter, but since the Tour has moved it over to Florida, Mitchell has ranked 38th in Honda (+.220) and 14th at API (+.950) on the greens which is absurd considering that even with those two events included, he ranks 183rd on the season while losing 0.471 strokes. Beyond that, Mitchell ranks 7th off the tee, 30th on approach, and 15th from tee to green, which are wildly good rankings at his price.

Cam Smith ($7600): Although he missed the cut at the Honda and took the API off, Smith has had a great year beyond that with four top-25s in six events and only the one missed cut two weeks ago. As a warning Smith has missed the cut here both times he’s played, but he’s having a phenomenal year so far statistically: 30th in SG: Approach, 13th Around the Greens, 21st in Putting, and 49th Tee to Green. The major factors to worry about with Smith beyond the course history are his putting on Bermuda and his accuracy off the tee, but hopefully he can restrain himself and hit longer irons off the tee. He’s been above-average from outside 175 yards, fantastic on par-4s, and ranks 23rd in overall BoB%.

You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey and good luck this week!

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly March 11, 2019 20:36

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