After a strong debut from Eagle Point Golf Club, the TOUR will now head back to headquarters for this week’s PLAYERS.
The course needs no introduction, it’s TPC Sawgrass, a mid-length Pete Dye design built in the swamps of Florida. The layout has received some renovations since last year, most notably the shortening of the already-short par-4 12th hole. Previoulsy a par 4 in the mid-300s range in terms of yardage, it will now play right around 300 yards, giving golfers a nice risk-reward hole instead of a layup-wedge.
That 12th hole was previously one (of 4) holes where the golfers averaged less than 270 yards off the tee. Now that golfers can pull driver on this hole, the less-than-driver element will be weakened just a bit, but it’s still a course that you need to plot your way around.
The reason you need to be cautious off the tee, is the penalty for errant shots. The field-average GIR rate from the fairway is generally around 76% versus just 45% when missing the fairway. That is the largest GIR differentialy in terms of being penal, with close competitors being the WGC-HSBC Champions, TOUR Championship, Greenbrier, Wyndham, and Colonial.
Other renovations since last year include the resurfacing of the greens, changing from Mini Verde to Tifeagle Bermuda. In the past we’ve seen fresh greens lead to firm/bouncy conditions, putting an empahsis on scrambling perhaps. Overall, the course shouldn’t play dramatically different from years past. Not that last year played like year’s past. In 2016, the greens during the opening two rounds were way softer than usual, leading to some pretty low scores. The tournament officials tried to fix that problem and instead lost the greens, with golfers saying the greens during R3 last year were some of the fastest they’ve EVER seen. It was nearly unplayable.
For stats I will be targeting accuracy (distance from edge of fairway), scrambling, and birdie-or-better percentage. Golfers that REALLY check two of those three boxes for me are Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, and Jordan Spieth.
Of course there is more to look at beyond just stats. Looking for a top 5 list of correlated courses I came up with Augusta National Golf Club, Sheshan International GC, TPC Boston, Colonial CC, and East Lake GC..
For more course angles and golfer quotes check out the Fantasy Golfanac.
Players to Watch
Rory McIlroy… It wasn’t love at first site, missing the cut in his first three trips here. Since then, he’s rattled off four finishes of T12 or better. The new layout of the 12th hole should suit a player like Rory who couldn’t reach the green on the old 350+ layout but now he could be hitting iron into the green (with the proper wind direction) or a smooth 3-wood. Wedding Swag has proven to be mostly ineffective in the past, but in this case, I think McRib is just overdue for a win.
Dustin Johnson… What to do, what to do? He enters the week EN FUEGO but he’s never finished inside the top 25 at TPC Sawgrass (8 starts). Having stellar form ahead of THE PLAYERS is a big plus, since all facets of the game will get tested, but the lack of course history drops him down my ratings just a bit (all the way to 3rd).
Sergio Garcia… The Spaniard hasn’t teed it up since his huge Masters victory. That is the only concern for him this week (rust) as he comes off a four-week layoff. His track record at TPC Sawgrass certainly isn’t holding him back, boasting eight top 15s in 17 tries. The only other time he’s played here after four weeks of rest was back in 2012, he finished T56 that week. Certainly something to think about this week.
Hideki Matsuyama… Still learning the courses on TOUR, but he’s had no trouble with Sawgrass (T23, T17, T7). He’s also won twice on another stadium-style TPC course (Scottsdale) which just missed the cut for my correlated courses.
Justin Thomas… It’s never good to bank your picks solely on “golfer speak” but JT calls this his favorite event of the year. He absolutely loves the course. Looking a little deeper, both of his wins at the CIMB Classic came on weeks where the temps were around 90 degrees. That is what the current forecast calls for in rounds 1 and 2 this week. Perhaps he rockets out to a hot start and the coasts home to a top 10. Other golfers in the field with 2+ wins in hot weather since 2014: Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, and Russell Henley. Henley is definitely the surprising name of that bunch, and could be worth a look this week as he also arrives with some great recent results.
Daniel Berger … Playing in his home state, Berger missed the cut in his 2015 debut but returned with a T9. I think we see closer to the T9 this week.
Russell Knox… Was cruising here last year before a blowup at the infmaous par-3 17th. He recently told John Swantek on Talk of the TOUR that he’d never hit it into the drink at 17 before that week. Knox said he actually hit one in the water on purpose during a practice round just to get it out of his system. Goes to show that past results on a hole don’t always lead to future results. Knox also went on to say he got fatigued at the end of 2016 and struggled to find form after resting. He showed up at the Heritage with a T11 if you want to hop on the train. Personally, I will continue to wait to make sure this form has actually returned. A great course fit and lives in the area.
Matt Kuchar… IF you’re looking for that reliable top 30, Kooch is your man this week on a course that fits him perfectly. He’s won here in the past and has six total top 20s in his last 10 trips to TPC Sawgrass. I like him better on FanDuel, since he rarely racks up birdies in bunches. His consistent play style will be rewarded slightly more in FanDuel’s scoring system.
Francesco Molinari… Had shockingly never led after ANY round on the PGA TOUR until last week. Could be the confidence booster he needed to finally pull off his first TOUR win. Has thre top 10s here (and 3 MCs) in six starts.
My Top 25 for the 2017 PLAYERS
1. Rory Mcilroy
2. Rickie Fowler
3. Dustin Johnson
4. Jordan Spieth
5. Justin Rose
6. Francesco Molinari
7. Sergio Garcia
8. Martin Kaymer
9. Justin Thomas
10. Hideki Matsuyama
11. Jason Day
12. Adam Scott
13. Matt Kuchar
14. Daniel Berger
15. Russell Henley
16. Jon Rahm
17. Marc Leishman
18. Phil Mickelson
19. Brooks Koepka
20. Branden Grace
21. Charl Schwartzel
22. Tyrrell Hatton
23. Paul Casey
24. Ryan Palmer
25. Shane Lowry