Daily Fantasy Golf Course Primer: THE PLAYERS Championship
When we last arrived at THE PLAYERS Championship, only everything in the world was different. The announcement came down late Thursday that Friday's round would be played without fans. Before the evening was through, the event had been canceled entirely, and the Tour would ultimately decide to pause any and all events for the next three months.
And so as the golf world returns to TPC Sawgrass, it's fitting that the country is on the mend from this coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted our lives for the past year. A lot has changed on the PGA Tour since then, not the least of which is last week's winner at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Bryson DeChambeau. A new arms race is in full force on the Tour, and as DeChambeau picked up his third win, we can expect even more golfers to try their hand at maximizing club head speed and trying to overpower courses week in and week out.
So it is fortuitous that we arrive at Sawgrass, a 7,189-yard par 72 in the Jacksonville, Florida suburb of Ponte Verde Beach that will reliably not be bombed and gouged. As designed by legendary architect Pete Dye, this course requires a complete game and does not favor the longest hitters or shot shapers one way or the other. With tiny greens, 88 bunkers, and water in play on almost every hole, big numbers lurk everywhere, and keeping it in play off the tee to set up the all important approach is the way to go this week.
Just about any of the top golfers have a win and a missed cut in their range of outcomes this week, so relying on the most repeatable skills is the best way to make some sense of the chaos TPC Sawgrass causes. That being said, one or two bad holes can ruin a scorecard, and many golfers have seen their dreams dashed with a splash at the iconic No. 17 island green.
Conditions look sunny and windy this week, and those gusts will rear their ugly head at some point this week. Be sure to check back on the wind to see if either wave gets an advantage.
Let's dig into the courses and see what stats we can use to build our daily fantasy lineups this week.
Course and Tournament Info
Course: TPC Sawgrass
Distance: 7,189 yards
Fairways/Rough: Bermudagrass overseeded with ryegrass and fescue
Greens: Bermudagrass overseeded with poa trivialis and velvet bentgrass
Last year's shortened event was just the second time in recent history the course was played in March, with 2018 being the debut of overseeded greens. The greens still rate out as some of the fastest on Tour, but the pure bermuda from prior years was more naturally speedy.
Though Hideki Matsuyama fired a blistering nine-under in the first round last year, history suggests that pace would have stalled significantly as the week wore in. The winner has reached 15-under par or better in three of the past four editions, but in the past decade, just those three winners plus one runner-up -- Rory McIlroy and Jim Furyk in 2019, Webb Simpson in 2018, Jason Day in 2016 -- have reached that mark. Day, for example, shot a 63 on Thursday in his win and was just 6-under the rest of the way.
Fast greens, wind, and competitive scoring in Florida call to mind the courses bracketing THE PLAYERS this year, specifically Bay Hill Club & Lodge (Arnold Palmer Invitational) and PGA National (Honda Classic). Outside of Florida, we see winners overlap with East Lake Golf Club (TOUR Championship) and Sedgefield Country Club (Wyndham Championship). The key uniting characteristic is fast bermuda greens and a demand for elite iron play.
These stats have proven vital to success at THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
|Key Stats for the PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass|
|Strokes Gained: Approach|
|Birdies or Better Gained|
|Strokes Gained: Par 5s|
|Proximity Gained: 200+ yards|
We can disqualify just about any golfer who lacks a strong approach game. No doubt DeChambeau will try to buck that trend, but it's possible Bryson's long drives create statistical misrepresentations on his performance, and he demands to be taken seriously with the way he has reshaped the game.
As we saw last year, birdies are out there when the conditions are fine, and capitalizing on those opportunities is essential to create the cushion you'll need when the double bogey hits the card. The best opportunities to gain strokes are on the par 5s, and each of the last two winners were in the top six in strokes gained on par 5s. With the shape of most holes, approach shots into those birdie chances will still be from beyond 200 yards for most of the field. Proximity from that range will be key, as the greens average just about 5,500 square feet.
Saving strokes when you miss those tiny surfaces will also be a big separator this week, though we should always take scrambling and around the green stats with a grain of salt and look for outlier performances versus consistent ability to beat the field.
Course History Studs
McIlroy is still the defending champion after last season's cancellation, and like many with extended history here, he also has a few whiffs. Rory has as many missed cuts (four) as top-10s.
Adam Scott won at TPC Sawgrass in 2004 and has one of the best cut records in the field, making the weekend 15 of 18 years. He was T12 or better every year from 2016-2019.
Jason Day won in 2016 and finished T5 and T8 in the past two editions.
Matsuyama was the first-round leader last year and has two top-10s. In all, he has finished inside the top 25 in five of the past six years.