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Culp's Corner

THE PLAYERS Championship Preview

by Josh Culp
Updated On: March 9, 2020, 3:15 pm ET

The scoring-condition carnage continued last week as the winds whipped for a second week in a row. We are only halfway through the Sunshine State Swing. 

Next on the docket is a duel with the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. Similar to PGA National and Bay Hill, this is another venue with water and big numbers lurking around every corner. 

THE PLAYERS will showcase a field of 144 golfers with 110 of them already having a PGA TOUR win on their resume. There is only one notable omission at the top. That would be Tiger Woods who remains sidelined due to back concerns. It's possible that Jason Day will also join that list for similar reasons after he withdrew from last week's API but he's still in the published PLAYERS field at press time. 

After 36 holes, the top 65 and ties will make it through the cutline to play the weekend. 

Rory McIlroy will play the role of defending champion. He remains undefeated (1-for-1) when playing this event in March. 

The Course

TPC Sawgrass is the host this week. It's been around since Pete Dye cut the ribbon in 1980 and it has hosted THE PLAYERS since 1982. 

The course is a par 72 that plays just under 7,200 yards. It brings a good mix of hole lengths to force golfers to sift through their entire bag instead of just pulling driver and wedge on every other hole.

There are three par 3s under 185 yards including the iconic island green (17th). The other par 3 stretches out to 237 yards. 

There are three par 4s under 400 yards but also four par 4s over 460 yards. As you can probably guess, those lengthy par 4s are where a lot of the bogeys and doubles come into play. The five toughest par 4s on the course are also the five longest. The closing, par-4 18th is the toughest of the bunch and it surrenders double bogeys or worse to roughly 8% of the golfers that swing through.  

As a stock par 72, there are four par 5s on the layout with three of them coming in under 560 yards and the last one (par-5 ninth) stretching out past 580 yards. The three shorter par 5s yield birdie-or-better rates over 40 percent while the ninth is a bit more stingy, around 33 percent. 

The talk of the town last year was the move back to March, for the first time since 2006. Playing the event in March meant that golfers saw different grass types. Instead of pure Bermuda, they are now greeted with overseeded ryegrass. Did it make an impact on how the course played? Yes. 

Historically known as a course that you can't overpower, as we'll see in the quotes section below, golfers talked about hitting more drivers than usual last year due to the overseeded conditions. With overseeded rye, the fairways are more defined and have less roll when comparing to the firm-and-fast May conditions.

Even when missing fairways, it wasn't as punishing with the overseeded rough compared to the May bermuda. The field was able to hit 52.25 percent of greens in regulation when missing fairways last year. That is the highest percentage of any year when looking at the last 10 years at TPC Sawgrass. The field average for the previous nine years was just 45.45 percent. Sure they got rain before the event, but it wasn't due to the softness of the greens, because the GIR Percentage from the Fairway fell right in line with historical averages. 

Speaking of history, the wind has been tougher here in March versus May but if the wind is down this week then TPC Sawgrass likely play as the easiest of the four Florida courses this year. 

As for the greens, golfers will see TifEagle Bermuda greens that have been overseeded with Poa Triv and Velvet Bent. This is similar to what they see at TPC Scottsdale. They prepped them at 12.6 feet on the stimp last year and we should expect fast greens again this week. 

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Rory McIlroy: "even just that simple fact of the overseeding and having that darker green grass in the rough and the lighter green grass in the fairway definitely helped, and it — I think around the greens it just makes it — I was saying to Jason out there, we were saying like when you get into this Bermuda in May, it takes a lot of skill out of it. It’s sort of hit and hope and you have to be lucky and you’re guessing half the time, where the way the overseed is around the greens now, you can actually showcase some of your skills and you can play shots with pretty certain knowing what it’s going to do, how it’s going to react." 

Webb Simpson: "I felt like some areas were bouncing, some areas were stopping, whereas in May everything’s really firm and fast. "

Tiger Woods: "It’s just so much slower, it’s not as warm. The ball doesn’t fly as far and the golf course just plays slower... It’s just the golf course plays so much shorter in May than it does in March. That’s probably the biggest difference. We’re going to have to hit more clubs off the tees, have a little bit longer clubs into the greens, but the difference is the greens are much slower and much more receptive. "

Justin Rose"I think it’s more target golf, and for me that’s how this golf course was designed. It’s a stadium-style course, a target-style golf course. I don’t think it was designed to be firm and fast and running and bouncy and out of control. I think the targets are there to be hit. And if you do, you get rewarded."

Jason Day: "When I won here, I just hit 2-iron everywhere because it was firm. But now when you’re hitting a lot more drivers and 3-woods off tees, the greens are a little softer, but obviously they’re trying to firm them out. But yeah, it’s definitely going to play a little bit different. It’s going to play longer, but it’s going to be easier around the greens with regards to chipping and bunker work and all that stuff. The greens are running nice. "

Overview: I picked a lot of quotes that talked about the switch to March because that was the main talking point last year. It will be interesting to see if that was largely influenced by the pre-tourney rain last year or if it's the new norm that the course will play softer and slower. 

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week: 

Bay Hill Club & Lodge (API)
PGA National (The Honda Classic)
Quail Hollow Club (Wells Fargo)
Riviera CC (Genesis)
Muirfield Village (Memorial)
TPC Boston (Playoffs)

There are some obvious connections with the Florida Swing courses but other key themes are courses that require shot-shaping and courses with fast greens. 


The Weather

Thursday: Partly Sunny with a high of 75 degrees. Winds at 4 to 10 MPH. 

Friday: Partly Sunny with a high of 81 degrees. Winds at 4 to 10 MPH. 

It looks much calmer than last week in terms of wind in the forecast. This is still Florida so keep an eye on the forecast leading up to the event to make sure that doesn't change. 

Josh Culp
Josh Culp joined Rotoworld in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.