THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
THE PLAYERS Stadium Course
Par: 72 (36-36)
Greens: Miniverde Bermudagrass; 4,500 square feet on average.
Rough: Bermudagrass with rye grass at 2.5”
Water Hazards: 24
Course Architect: Pete Dye (1980);
Winner’s Share: $1,800,000
FexExCup Points: 600 to the winner
Dates: May 8-11
Notes: 144 players will be cut to the low 70 and ties after two rounds; stroke play.
Recent History Lessons
After winning 31 of 40 tournaments in 2013, the USA has now won 20 of 25 events of 2013-14. Harris English, Jimmy Walker (THREE), Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed (TWO), Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler, Bubba Watson (TWO), Russell Henley, Chesson Hadley, Matt Every, Matt Kuchar and J.B. Holmes have cashed for the red, white and blue. Australians Matt Jones, Steven Bowditch, John Senden and Jason Day along with South Korean Seung-yul Noh are the other five winners. It’s interesting to see Europe shut out past the half-way mark, especially in a Ryder Cup year.
With his victory at Zurich, S.Y. Noh joined Steven Bowditch, Matt Every, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Stadler, Chesson Hadley and Matt Jones as the first-time winners this season. There were 12, first-timers in 40 events last year and we’ve had seven in 25 events in 2014. Martin Flores just missed out on joining this club last week at Wells Fargo.
Young Guns versus Prime Time versus Old Guys
Jimmy Walker (34) started the season out on the right foot for the Prime Time guys and has since added two more wins to lead the FedExCup standings. He has been joined by Ryan Moore (30) in Malaysia, Zach Johnson (37) at Kapalua, Kevin Stadler (33), at WMPO and Bubba Watson (35), joined them at Riviera. Matt Every (30), Steven Bowditch (30) and Matt Jones (33), all first-timers, won a three-week stretch before Watson chalked up win No. 2 of the season at the Masters. Matt Kuchar, 35, and J.B. Holmes, 32, have won two of the last three events on TOUR.
Scott Stallings (28), Patrick Reed TWICE (23), Chris Kirk (28), Webb Simpson (28), Dustin Johnson (29), Harris English (24), Jason Day (26) and Russell Henley (24) and Noh, 22, are the twenty-somethings on the board.
Pay Attention: It’s FREE!
This is the 41st edition of THE PLAYERS. This will be the 33rd edition at THE PLAYERS Stadium Club.
The only two winners to hoist the trophy in their first event were Hal Sutton in 1983 and Perks.
The last 10 winners have been from America (4), South Korea (1), South Africa (1), Sweden (1), Spain (1), Canada (1) and Australia (1). #multinational
Adam Scott, 23 in 2004, is the youngest winner.
Fred Funk, 48 in 2005, is the oldest winner.
No player has ever defended their title at THE PLAYERS. This streak will continue again this year as defending champion Tiger Woods is sidelined with a bad back and is not entered. You knew this.
Only five players have multiple victories at TPC Sawgrass:
Steve Elkington 1991, 1997
Hal Sutton 1983, 2000
Fred Couples 1984, 1996
Davis Love III 1992, 2003
Tiger Woods 2001, 2013
Rookies don’t fare well here as related to top 10 finishes. There have only been four of them in history to contend.
David Lingmerth T2, 2013
Jeff Quinney T6, 2007
Camilo Villegas T3, 2006
Fulton Allem T3, 1988
The course record is 63, last set by Roberto Castro in 2013 on Thursday en route to a T19 finish.
Greg Norman set the tournament record, 24-under-par 264 in 1994. He made one bogey. Don’t forget how good he was in his prime!
David Duval posted the highest winning score with three-under 285 in 1999. Don’t forget how good he was in his prime!
As of Monday evening 46 of the top 50 players in the OWGR are scheduled to tee it up this week.
Tiger Woods (No. 1) is out injured (back).
Jason Day (No. 6) is out injured (thumb).
Victor Dubuisson (No. 23) is out injured (shoulder).
Miguel Angel Jimenez (No. 33) just was married last weekend. Yep.
This Will Win You a Bar Bet
Scott Gump finished second to Duval in 1999. Give your mates 1,394,499 guesses to see if they can get that right!
Past Champions in the Field
2012 Matt Kuchar -13
2011 K.J. Choi -13
2010 Tim Clark -16
2009 Henrik Stenson -12
2008 Sergio Garcia -5
2007 Phil Mickelson -11
1998 Justin Leonard -10
Inside the Ropes
THE PLAYERS Stadium Course was designed by Pete Dye in 1980 with the idea of creating a fantastic track for both players and spectators to enjoy. In 1982 it started its run as host for the THE PLAYERS as Jerry Pate won the first title. Over the years, the Dye design has held up as his myriad of bunkers, water, mounding and small greens test every facet of the games of the very best on TOUR. At one point in history the 7,215 yards were considered one of the longest, most difficult tasks on TOUR. These days, the set-up requires more finesse, shot-shaping and quality decision making.
Over the years Justin Leonard, Stephen Ames, Fred Funk and Tim Clark have combined those facets to ultimately overcome the course and the field. So have Adam Scott, Davis Love III, Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Anytime a Pete Dye course is in play, a multitude of styles will have a chance to contend. Short game wizards and short hitters and bomb-and-gougers alike will have to navigate plenty of blind shots, multiple doglegs that require the golf ball to move both right-to-left and left-to-right. There holes that require target golf. There are holes that provide plenty of risk-reward shots; there are plenty of holes where risk is out of the question. With one of the best fields in golf on one of the classic courses, it’s really no surprise that there has not been a repeat winner. There are too many moving parts AGAINST repeating!
THE PLAYERS changed their playoff structure this year to incorporate the final three holes in stroke play as opposed to sudden-victory beginning on the island green at No. 17. Assuming they’ll have enough daylight to get this accomplished, I’m totally stoked to see whoever is left standing on Sunday to have to navigate this stretch TWICE. That, my friends, is awesome stadium-theatre golf!
As for the course itself, it will yield its fair share of birdies and bogeys. Since 2000 only TWO champions have outside of the top 20 in GIR (Mickelson, T24, 2007; Choi, T21, 2011). Of those champions, eight finished fourth or better so this will definitely qualify as a second-shot course.
With a prize pool of $10 million riding it will also test the nerves of the games’ best. Over the last seven years, we’ve seen the pressure of Sunday and the closing holes wipe out players’ hopes. In 2007 54-hole leader Sean O’Hair finished 11th. In 2008 Paul Goydos fell in a playoff. 2009 saw Alex Cejka finish T9. Lee Westwood found T4 in 2010. Graeme McDowell, who had won the U.S. Open the summer before, finished T33. Kevin Na had problems even drawing the club back in 2012 and could only manage T7. Nobody will forget that Sergio Garcia, tied with Woods at the time last year, put back-to-back balls in the water on No. 17 on Sunday. Just for good measure he made double on No. 18 to finish T8.
That’s brutal any way it’s analyzed.
This year, another angle will come into play and not by design. After a cold, wet winter in north Florida, not all of the greens at the Stadium Course are 100%. A “too-aggressive” chemical treatment didn’t work out the way that was desired has retarded the growth and rebound of five of 18 greens. The course, according multiple reports, was not allowed to play practice rounds last weekend which is usually standard operating procedure. As practice rounds began on Monday, the course still had Nos. 4, 11 and 12 completely closed off to the players in order to get them in the best shape possible for tournament play on Thursday. Parts of Nos. 9 and 14 were also having trouble but were up and running on Monday. Garry Smits suggested on Twitter (@gsmitter) that he was told that the greens will be surprisingly good come the tournament. This will be the story of the tournament if they are not ready for the biggest cash prize in golf!
Come Sunday, I believe a premium TOUR veteran will be holding the lead late and will hold his nerves with pars on the final two holes. No. 17 is just a wedge; No. 18 is a beast of a driving hole with water down the right and trees down the left. The second is no picnic either so I’m guessing we won’t see any youngsters not named Jordan Spieth bisecting that fairway and green. Experience around here also matters as the smallish greens suggest that there are only a finite amount of pin placements and those who have been around the block should be aware of the idiosyncrasies involved when they burn out Sunday. If a handful of greens continue to be an issue the premium putters will have a strike against them. It should be another great ride!
Call to Order
Yahoo! group in ( )
1.) Rory McIlroy (B): He finally broke through to the weekend last year for the first time in four starts but the newly-turned 25-year old is hardly struggling for form this season. He’s seen the weekend in 12 straight and is currently fourth in adjusted scoring. He’s long and finds plenty of greens that usually lead to plenty of birdies. He opened with 66 here last year en route to a T8 finish. His last three outings have been T7, T8 and T8 and he’s made nothing on the greens. Don’t forget McIlroy last won on TOUR at Pete Dye’s Crooked Stick at the 2012 BMW.
2.) Jim Furyk (B): Yep, it’s the same top two from last week and should be based on the current form. Furyk will have the course history advantage as the Ponte Vedra Beach resident has played this course more times than he can count and arrives at THE PLAYERS on fire after closing with 65 last Sunday at Quail Hollow. This will be the 19th time that Furyk tees it up here and he’ll look to build on his recent run of form that’s seen him hit the top seven in three of his last four. If a 40-something is going to win for only the fifth time in 33 starts at the Stadium Course, my money is on the local.
3.) Adam Scott (A): With 10 cuts made from 12 starts at Sawgrass, Scott just reinforces that ball-strikers should be the order of the week. In seven of the 10 weekends Scott has finished inside the top 26 and that includes his victory plus two other top 10s. Similarly to McIlroy, the Aussie is lightly raced but every time he tees it up he seems to be in contention. With this purse and payday on the line, Scott is an easy lineup addition this week.
4.) Sergio Garcia (C): After MC in half of his first four starts at Sawgrass, the Spaniard has played 10 weekends in a row and seems to be in the hunt in most of them. His recent final rounds have been boom or bust. He caught Goydos and beat him in 2008. He shot 78 to disappear in 2010. He blazed 65 the following year to catch T12. He needed 79 of them in 2012 before finishing quad-double last year when tied with Woods. With four top 10s and a top 15 stroke average on this ground, I have no problem hopping on board even though he’s only played five times in the US in 2014.
5.) Luke Donald (A): The one trend that played out this season for Donald is that he’s been cashing for gamers on tracks (Honda, Innisbrook, Harbour Town) where he’s had past successes. This week qualifies in that category as the Englishman has finessed his way to T4, sixth and T19 in his last three and has made seven weekends in a row. He was also T2 in 2005 after a final round 76. The last two years he’s closed with 66 and 69.
6.) Matt Kuchar (A): The 2012 champion is the hottest player on the planet with T4, P2, T5 and WIN in his last four on TOUR. He’s owns the 10th-best scoring average on this track as well and lives up the street. What could possibly go wrong this week?!?!? He was off to a great start to repeating last year, seven-under heading into the weekend, but fired 75-76 on the weekend to fade. Those were his first two over-par rounds in nine. #comfortable
7.) Zach Johnson (B): After finishes of T6 at Valero and T14 at Quail Hollow, Johnson has proved that course length has no effect on him at all. It also proves he enjoys a grind. Johnson ranks eighth in the all-around and has no problems finding fairways and greens and can really scramble. He’s played eight weekends from nine at THE PLAYERS and six of those finishes are T22 or better.
8.) Bubba Watson (A): The good news is he’s absolutely killing it in stroke-play in 2014. The bad news is that he hasn’t played since winning his second green jacket and his Bubba World Tour. I’m rating him instead of fading him this week because he’s already been ran through the ringer with a major before. He should be excited to get back on the course and with the way he’s been hitting it, I can’t leave him out.
9.) Jordan Spieth (B): The last time he teed it up he was T2 at the Masters in his first-ever appearance. This will be his first-ever PLAYERS appearance. I see no reason to stop endorsing him. His inexperience on these TOUR tracks has been a zero factor is his performances over the last nine months. It’s been quite an incredible ride.
10.) J.B. Holmes (C): After his first win since 2008 last week, Holmes current form is impossible to ignore again this week. It doesn’t hurt that he has two top 10s and another two top 16s in seven starts here. In his last six events he’s hit the top 18 five times. I usually don’t like backing a guy after a win but there are exceptions to every rule, especially with former winners.
11.) Lee Westwood (A): I thought about putting him in the penalty box this week after his MC last week blew up gamers OAD, Yahoo! and GolfChannel.com games. I can’t let one bad stretch of holes take away from the fact that he had put together a great month of golf across the world. He’s played this event in three of the last four years and has T4, T61 and T8 to show for it. Gamers, he usually gets off to great starts and fades on the weekend so remember that if he’s in your Yahoo! game. He has two top 10s with weekends of 70-74 in 2010 and 74-72 last year. His T61 finish wasn’t any better as he posted 74-77. It’s not a major but Westwood would fit the “world player” that does well and finally wins here similar to Stenson, Clark, Garcia, etc.
12.) Graeme McDowell (C): My gut is screaming “fade, fade and fade” but a look at GMACs numbers just don’t support that angle. I guess my indigestion is acting up again. Since his Sunday 79 meltdown three years ago, McDowell has MC the last two but did have a round under par each time. This season he’s in the top 15 in fairways, top 30 in GIR and is second in strokes gained-putting. With five finishes in the top 10 on TOUR, I can’t leave him out.
13.) Keegan Bradley (B): The last time he was in Florida he was second at API in late March. The last time he was on the course he had one bad hole at Zurich on Sunday and finished T8. The three rounds before that in New Orleans were 69-66-65 so it’s not like he’s chopping it around. He has chopped it around Sawgrass though as his best finish is T35 two years ago. In his fourth trip he should be comfortable with the lay out and have a plan of attack to match his superb talent.
14.) Henrik Stenson (A): The 2009 champ is still racking up fairways and greens but not nearly to the unmatchable pace of 2013. His short game has been stuttering yet he’s still T5 at API and T14 at Augusta in his last three starts. He’s in my top 16 because he’s hit the top 10 four times in six weekends over the last eight years.
15.) Jason Dufner (B): The PGA champ from last year has been running all over the world with the Wannamaker trophy and has been lightly raced. Before MC at Augusta he was T9 in WGC-Match Play, T9 WGC-CC and T14 at Valspar. I think he flies under the radar his week in this deep of a field but his tools set up great for a track like this.
16.) Graham DeLaet (B): Currently winning the McIlroy “hit every green, making nothing” B flight, the Canadian made four bogeys and a double at Zurich and could only manage T29. He’s currently numero uno on TOUR in GIR and that will come in handy with the tiny greens in play this week. He’s 2-for-2 at Sawgrass and closed with 69 last year to hit the top 26 after T70 in 2012.
Charley Hoffman: Sitting inside the top 25 in GIR and a birdie-making machine, Hoffman has made six weekends in a row including T5 his last time out at Zurich. This will be his eighth consecutive PLAYERS yet his best finish is only T22. His excellent season continues this week.
Ryan Moore: He has the pedigree to hang with the big boys in events like this and this would be a natural progression on his continued arc upwards. If he’s going to be considered a premium player he needs to start performing in the big money events. He showed excellent signs of life last week with an opening round, bogey-free 70 and closed with a very tidy 66. I prefer playing a player on form than a “big name” in an event of this magnitude as there are not too many players who dominate here year in and out.
Jimmy Walker: After MC last week for the first time in quite a while, it’s natural that gamers will sweep him under the rug this week. Even though he hits less than 50% of fairways he still ranks 35 in GIR. He leads the TOUR in birdie average and is fifth in SGP. He’s played 11 of 14 rounds at par or better here.
Matt Every: With a win under his belt already this season, Every’s confidence should be off the charts this week as he performs in front of the home crowd. His putter leads the TOUR in strokes gained and will keep him hanging about. His T26 last year included all four rounds at par or better. Keep on keepin’ on.
Kevin Na: He’s three for his last five and that includes T7 in 2012, his last appearance, and T3 in 2009. Na has been excellent in 2014 with eight cuts from 10 events that include seven top 25s and three top 10s. His scar tissue from 2012 should be a positive if he gets in that situation again this year.
Harris English: He’s third in GIR, fifth in scoring average and leads the TOUR in par four performances. In his first appearance in 2012 he was seven-under heading into the weekend before 79-77 wiped him out. Last year, he played three of four rounds under par to finish T33. #trendingintherightdirection
Freddie Jacobson: After his T29 at New Orleans the Swede has posted six straight starts inside the top 30. This will be his 11th start at Sawgrass and he’s made five of the last six cuts here.
Rory Sabbatini: He was one of the last ones out from the big list above as he’s returned from injury in late March to post T9, T17 and T8 in his last three. That’s his best stretch of golf since last July-August. #strikewhiletheironishot
Gary Woodland: He’s made 11 cuts on the bounce and all of those finishes are T38 or better. He’s 0-2 at Sawgrass.
Ryan Palmer: Gamers, remember his MC at Zurich was one-under 143 so it’s not like he all of a sudden forgot how to play! After a horrid seven tournament streak at THE PLAYERS that consisted of six MCs and a T75, Palmer was T5 last year at 10-under. He hits it a mile and is ninth in GIR. Shhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Jason Kokrak: He’s had successes in Florida (4th at API; T14 at Honda) and was T12 at Harbour Town so don’t get lost in the GIR and fairways hit numbers. Kokrak has hit the top 25 in nine of the 11 weekends that he’s played this season.
Erik Compton: The breakout year continues for the Florida native as he’s posted T5 twice in his last five starts including last time out at Zurich, a Pete Dye course. Last year he teed it up at Sawgrass for the first time at fired 80-70. Think he figured something out on Friday? Me too!
Horses for Courses/Long Shots
Chris Stroud: He’s the all-time stroke leader at Sawgrass (70.79 in 14 rounds) so he has that going for him, which is nice. His splits are off the charts this season, especially around and on the greens. On the back of T48, MC and MC he falls into this group.
Ben Crane: On the back of three consecutive MCs he could be a stretch this week but there is no denying his record around here. In his last six tries he’s hit the top eight in FOUR of them. In 22 rounds, only three of them have been over par. Even with a MC in that streak he shot 67-78. There’s something here for deep, deep formats or people who need a dog to bark.
Martin Laird: Here’s another player that showed some life last week after a hideous run of events where T65 was his best finish in five starts. His T30 last week in his current hometown of Charlotte might just be the tonic he needs to get him going for a track that he loves at Sawgrass. In his last eight rounds here the last two years he has fired 65 and three 67s. Of those three, two have been on Sunday afternoon. #backdoorman
Hunter Mahan: Ever since injuring his back and WD at API, Mahan has three rounds of 14 under 71, including 69 for the low. I’m not in the business of breaking a guy out of a slump, especially in a field like this, but he has fared well here with T17, T6, MC and T19 last year in his last four. If you need to zag instead of zig, this may be a decent shout because we all know what a healthy Mahan can produce.
Brendon de Jonge: Another Charlotte kickstarter last week as de Jonge’s T6 was his best result by a mile this calendar year. He went SIX events with zero rounds in the 60s after his meltdown on the weekend at Honda but is T15 the last two seasons at THE PLAYERS.
Brandt Snedeker: With one top 10 in his last 12 events I can’t put him anywhere else this week. In six events here he’s bookended T12 with T6 last year with four MC in between. Based on his recent play, there’s no chance I’m paying over the odds but I would take a flier on him in later rounds. He and Mahan have been disappointing to say the least this spring.
Kevin Chappell: He was nine-under here last year before 78-79 on the weekend wiped him out. He shot 80-68 here in 2011. Once he gets four rounds together…
Morgan Hoffmann: He won the 2007 Junior PLAYERS here. Everyone loves to connect dots like this!
Phil Mickelson: So close, yet so far away again last week. I have no confidence as a gamer sticking him back into the lineup on a course where he’s not finished better than T17 since winning here in 2007. He has two rounds in the 60s of 22 played since that win. This field is too deep and strong. I’ll save my Mickelson starts for courses he dominates. This is a recording.
K.J. Choi: His last finish inside the top 30 was seven events ago for him at the NTO. The 2011 champ only has three top 25s in 12 starts here.
Nick Watney: Usually when I find that ball-striking is the order of the week, Watney gets a look. His best finish is T24 in 12 events in 2013-14. I can’t dig this deep THIS week!
Charles Howell III: In 12 events at Sawgrass he’s MC a whopping SEVEN times, including five straight before T66 last year. #kryptonite
Lucas Glover: He’s missed six of eight so don’t bite too hard on that solo third from 2010. He’s also missed 12 of 18 this season.
Webb Simpson: He made sense to take a flier on last week at his home club. I don’t think anyone can make that stretch this week.
The Man with his Own Section
Dustin Johnson: I like that he tore it up early in the season but after his almost-month layoff, he returned with 80/WD at Houston and 77-74 at the Masters. He’s taken another hiatus, which is cool, but he hasn’t shot a round under par since early March in only three events. I get that guys own their schedule but Johnson has ZERO history on this course that makes me want to hurry up and insert him into my lineup after another layoff. He’s in the top 3 in GIR and No. 1 in the all-around ranking which makes this decision even harder to figure out. His best finish is T34 and he has zero rounds in the 60s in 14 rounds. #gulp
Jordan Spieth of the Week Last Week
The column was taken over and thrashed by the kid from Texas last year. Out of respect, I’m not changing the title of it for 2013-14. It will remind me just how good Spieth was in the last three months of the season. This year, we’ll still identify an up-and-coming player and/or rookie that fantasy players should have on their radar.
CIMB: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 24, might have enough money after this week to earn Special Temporary Membership. Pay attention!
McGladrey: Scott Langley turned 24 last April and is in his second season on TOUR. He finished T22 last week and No. 124 last season. #slimpickinngsthisweek
OHL Mayakoba: Harris English turned 24 last July. He won.
HTOC: Er, Jordan Spieth, solo second.
Humana: Patrick Reed won. He’s 23. You need to pay attention.
FIO: Ryo Ishikawa, 22, bagged another top 10 finish. That’s his sixth in his last 10 events on TOUR or the Web.com Tour. He’s an alternate this week as of Monday afternoon.
WMPO: Hideki Matsuyama is 21. In 11 events the last two years, he’s hit the top 25 in NINE of them, including T4 last week. #ALLRIGHTYTHEN
Riviera: Harris English won’t be 25 until July. He was T10; Spieth was T12.
WGC-CC: Patrick Reed is 23. He’s now won three times in eight months on TOUR.
Puerto Rico Open: Rookie Chesson Hadley, 26, took home his first title on the big boy circuit.
API: The young Japanese lad Ishikawa racked up another top 10 (T8) this week. Yep, he’s still just 22.
Valero: He’ll be remembered for all of the wrong reasons but Andrew Loupe, 25, finished T4 in only his eighth start on TOUR. #slowgolfclap
Shell Houston: Russell Henley’s T7 shows him heating up before heading back for another crack at Augusta.
Masters: That Jordan Spieth guy was T2.
RBC Heritage: John Huh, T3, is a TOUR winner but is only 23 years old. Remember?
Zurich: The winner was 22-year old Seung-Yul Noh. He fits this column to a T.
Wells Fargo: Defending champ Derek Ernst was T30. He’ll turn 24 on May 15.
Coming Later TUESDAY Afternoon
Playing the Tips will be up and running this and every Tuesday afternoon and will list all of the Rotoworld experts picks in the GolfChannel.com game, the Yahoo! Fantasy Golf game and my One-and-Done feature. Look for it around 5 ET every Tuesday for the rest of the season.
And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat Wednesday at NOON p.m. ET. We will be breaking down the field at the THE PLAYERS and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.