The First Tee – The Players Championship

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly March 9, 2020 21:48

The First Tee – The Players Championship

This Week

The first ‘major’ of the season is here, at least in terms of pricing, as DraftKings has a millionaire maker this week which means very soft pricing overall. The field is stacked, so there are a ton of ways to go this week in terms of builds (stars/scrubs, staying fully in the middle range, etc.)

THE COURSE

The PLAYERS is played at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, which is a relatively-easy course, especially compared to the rest of this year’s Florida swing: the winning score is usually in the mid-teens, and the cut usually comes around even par. It sees a lot of birdies most years (3.9/rd last year) and the overall scoring average sits around par.

Sawgrass is a par-72 that’s played at 7189 yards which would qualify as a shorter course, with short and easy par-5s (48 combined eagles last year, between 523-583 yards) where golfers will need to pile up birdie or better. There’s also the driveable risk/reward 12th hole, a 302-yard par-4 that’s the easiest on the course since getting re-shaped a few years ago. Beyond that, there are only five par-4s that play longer than 450 yards (all of which play above par), and the three ‘regular’ par-3s that sit at 177, 181 and 237 yards; there’s also the famous island green 17th. Because it’s a par-72, par-4 scoring isn’t usually something that gets looked at, but given eight of the ten par-4s played above par, it’s something to consider.

When looking at the history of the event, it’s important to remember that last year’s event was the first time the PLAYERS was played in March since 2006, as it was played in May from 2007-2018. The change in season should impact distance (humidity = distance, hotter = firmer fairways) and holding greens (hotter = firmer greens); last year’s event had a driving distance rank of 16th-shortest compared to an average of 20th over the previous five events, and it saw a slight increase in GIR% (66.74% compared to an avg. of 64.4% over the previous five).

This is a regular Pete Dye design: lots of water in play, fairways with lots of undulation, trees and pine straw closing off the fairways, and tricky bunkers. Off the tee, keeping it in the fairway should be pretty easy as the average width is on the wider side of average (~35 yards across at the 300-yard marker), but historically they only get hit around 61-62% of the time. The rough can be brutal here, so staying in the fairways is important – the difference in proximity on approach shots from the rough vs. from the fairway is massive, about 18-25’ worse from the rough.

Approach shots will normally be in the 175-200-yard range, and will be hitting into over-watered Bermuda greens with tons of speed and undulation. There’s also tiering on most greens, which explains why the average proximity to the hole is so tough here (normally a bottom-5 course in prox.); missing the greens can be very punitive, as the greenside bunkers can be deep and very hard to place balls from – the prox. from the sand last year was 19th-hardest on tour, but in the previous years was the ninth-, sixth- and second-hardest.

For pure Bermuda greens, putting here is very tough, especially inside 10’ (86.7% conversion last year, seventh-hardest). 31% of birdie putts were converted, but there were plenty of three-putts (3.34%) and because of all the tiering and undulation in the greens, putts outside 15’ were damned-near impossible.

Comparable courses/events:

Harbour Town (RBC Heritage) – Another Pete Dye design with low GIR% numbers, fairways hit just over 60%, and Bermuda greens. Harbour Town is short but plays longer than it actually is, and has tough greenside bunkers and all the regular Dye features.

Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational) – Common threads between the two courses are water, Bermuda greens, a par-72 course where par-5 BoB% is key to finding success, and fairly wide fairways where misses are absolutely costly. They’re also both Florida tracks and are now in the same season again.

 

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:

  • Approach Shots : 175-200 Yards, 200+ Yards
  • Par-5 Birdie or Better %
  • Proximity to the Hole
  • Driving Accuracy
  • Par-4 Scoring

 

Top-Tier Golfers

Rory McIlroy ($11700)

Form: Even though some Golf Channel writer graded Rory’s form a “B”, he’s more like an A+: his worst finish in 2020 is T5 at Bay Hill last week, he has eight rounds in the 70s out of his last 28, and he won the WGC HSBC in November. Nothing to be concerned about from the world number one.

History & Comp. History: Last year’s winner has four missed cuts to his name over his career, but three of those came when Rory was just a young pup (2009, 2010, 2012), with the last missed cut coming the year before he won. He’s finished in the top-12 five times out of the ten total and has shot below par in 18 of 32 rounds.  Rory’s only played Harbour Town once (2009) so his T58 is no concern, and obviously his history at Bay Hill is fantastic – worst finish a T27, he’s picked up a win there, and four top-10s overall.

L16 Rounds: Rory’s obviously been dominant over his last 16, given his form, as he’s the third-best, 22nd-best and second-best in eagles/rd, birdies/rd, and bogeys/rd respectively. He’s hitting 70.4% of greens in regulation and barrelling the ball off the tee (second-longest); from a Strokes Gained perspective, he ranks first in SG: T2G and ranks no worse than 15th in any category outside of putting (45th).

 

 

Patrick Reed ($8500)

Form: Reed’s only missed two cuts in 2020, but one came at the Saudi International and the first came back in January at the Sony Open; he’s finished T2-T6-T51-1-T15 in the other five events he’s played, with his most recent being the T15 at Bay Hill last week which came after his win in Mexico.

History & Comp. History: A fairly mixed bag at TPC Sawgrass for Patrick Reed, as he’s missed two cuts in six tries and his other finishes are T47, T41, T22 and T24. That may keep his ownership muted this week, especially given the golfers around his price point. His history at Harbour Town isn’t much better (one MC, T48, T71), but to be fair to Reed he hasn’t played it since 2015; his history at Bay Hill is better, with a T7 and a T15 and four made cuts to just one miss.

L16 Rounds: Reed’s been a dominant putter (sixth in SG: Putting) over his last 16 which is both a good sign (four rounds came on Bermuda) and a bad sign (putting is more likely to regress), but he’s also 34th in SG: Approach and 32nd overall from tee to green. Reed’s fairway/green numbers haven’t been great, but he’s making birdies at a tremendous rate (4.75/rd, first in the field).

Honourable mention: Dustin Johnson ($10000)

 

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Collin Morikawa ($7900)

Form: Fresh off a T9 at Bay Hill last week, Morikawa added his fifth top-25 finish this year in seven events, and has yet to miss a cut in 2020. His weekend at Bay Hill wasn’t ideal, but in tough conditions he stayed near the top of the leaderboard.

History & Comp. History: Morikawa was still in college last year during the PLAYERS, so he’s yet to officially play at TPC Sawgrass. He’s ALSO yet to play at Harbour Town, but Morikawa managed the T9 last week at Bay Hill which is a fine comp. course – that’s the only history to go off of for the youngster.

L16 Rounds: Over his past 16 rounds, Morikawa leads this week’s field in SG: Ball-Striking and sits fourth in SG: Tee to Green, thanks to dominant play with his irons (first, 1.495/rd). He’s struggled on the greens which isn’t ideal given half of those rounds come on Bermuda, but he’s been relatively accurate (63rd) off the tee, hits greens at a great rate (69.4%, eighth-best) and leads the field in eagles.

 

Jim Furyk ($6800)

Form: His form is atrocious at the moment – three straight missed cuts in 2020, at the Honda, Genesis and Pebble Beach. Going back into 2019 though, Furyk went eleven straight made cuts (12 if you count the PNC Father Son Challenge!) since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

History & Comp. History: Not only does Furyk live right beside TPC Sawgrass, but he also has strong history here: five top-10 finishes (including two seconds and a third, one of the seconds which came last year) and only five missed cuts in 23(!) tries. At Harbour Town he’s picked up two wins and only five missed cuts (20 tries), and his make-to-miss at Bay Hill is a strong 9-2, with four finishes of T11 or better.

L16 Rounds: Furyk’s been his regular deadly-accurate-self off the tee recently, hitting 81% of fairways (first) although his major issue with distance continues to be a major issue, but he’s also been deadly with his irons – 75.69% GIR%, first in the field. From SG data, he ranks 12th on approach and 26th from tee to green, but his putting has held him back from scoring as much as he should be. Even then, Furyk is 39th in birdies made/rd (3.813) and 67th in eagles made, and he avoids bogeys with the best of them.

Honourable mention: Joel Dahmen ($6600)

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

 

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly March 9, 2020 21:48

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