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Sully's Snapshot

THE PLAYERS: Preview and Ranks

by Ryan O'Sullivan
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The PGA TOUR returns to Florida for the Pete Dye jewel that is the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and THE PLAYERS Championship. Rickie Fowler is your defending champion. Here is a preview and power ranking to get you off and running with your research for the festivities.

 

TPC Sawgrass is arguably the second most recognizable layout on the PGA TOUR for the casual and avid golf fan, trailing only Augusta National. The U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship all rotate venues so, while they carry more prestige, they lack the familiarity of TPC Sawgrass and Augusta National.

 

The Course

 

THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is a par-72 layout of 7,215 yards. It has the expected number of par 3s, 4s and 5s, with three of the par 5s reachable by most of the field.

 

The comfort of knowing this course allows us some added insight apart from the stat sheet. After plenty of consideration and recollection of countless rounds witnessed at the Stadium Course, the formula for success is actually pretty simple. Instead of spending time on the normally valuable new metrics of strokes gained: whatever, and any or all other algorithms, let’s take it back to the basics.

 

We know the following to be true:

  • The fairways aren’t all that easy to hit, but one must hit them to score well.
  • Some of the greens feature odd shapes and offer more contour than many Florida courses often provide.
  • There’s Bermuda everywhere, which is not the easiest strain of grass to navigate on and around the greens.
  • Traditionally, length hasn’t mattered all that much.
  • This is a Pete Dye course.

 

There are some tight courses where wayward drivers tend to still thrive. The Sony Open has seen Jimmy Walker and Charles Howell III light of the leaderboard often. Those same two players have not performed well at TPC Sawgrass, suggesting that finding the fairways are even more important here than other somewhat similar courses.

 

The Stats Say

 

That leads me to conclude that the following three stats, oldies but goodies, are the metrics of choice. They are driving accuracy, GIR and scrambling.

 

In some ways, these stats can be contradictory. For instance, it’s not uncommon for great ball-strikers to be very poor scramblers and vice versa. That could be why so many elite players have a mixed history at TPC Sawgrass.

 

It’s worth mentioning that this is one of the few courses where driving distance and overall length tend to not matter. Because so many of the elite players in the world happen to be long, since that is usually rewarded, this makes TPC Sawgrass particularly challenging to handicap. This is not the place for Bubba or DJ.

 

We’ll take all of the course history, current form and statistical prowess into consideration as we spit out this week’s power ranking.

 

Here we go!

 

1.  Henrik Stenson – The Swede checks as many boxes as any player. He’s made eight of his 10 cuts at TPC Sawgrass. That includes a win, two other top 5s, even another top 10 and a total of seven top 25s. He already has a runner-up on TOUR in 2016 and ranks 11th in driving accuracy and 8th in GIR. His only sin is 162nd in scrambling. I suppose that only matters if he misses the green, right?

 

2.  Sergio Garcia – Another trusted European, the Spaniard has cashed in 14 of 16 attempts with five top-four finishes. That includes a win and two runner-up finishes. This has not been his best season to date, but it isn’t his worst either. Ranks 4th in GIR.

 

3.  Rickie Fowler – The trend is juicy, with a T20-T4 run entering this week tempting every gamer. The biggest question is how he will handle the pressure of defending. He’s been a bit feast-or-famine here; missing half of his six cuts while also scoring the 2015 win and 2012 T2.

 

4.  Russell Knox – This is not a typo. He tied for second in his last start, which happened to be at Pete Dye’s Harbour Town Golf Links. His stats are absolutely sick, ranking 3rd in GIR, 16th in driving accuracy and 20th in scrambling. His past history is trending in the right direction, posting a T34 in 2014 and a T17 last year. He’s almost too perfect.

 

5.  Justin Rose – Fresh off a third-place finish at Quail Hollow, Rose has a mixed record in THE PLAYERS. He’s only made half of his 12 cuts, with a T4 in 2014 easily the best. Ranks 9th in GIR, but the other numbers could be better.

 

6.  Jason Day – The first of several examples of elite players who aren’t necessarily the best fit for TPC Sawgrass. He’s two-for-five on the Stadium Course, with a T6 in 2011 and a T19 in 2013. Day struggles finding fairways, which could explain the inconsistencies. His power is also neutralized.

 

7.  Hideki Matsuyama – Slowly unlocking the keys to success on Dye’s masterpiece, going T23-T17 in his only two attempts. Current form is really good and cracks the top 100 in the major metrics, including 13th in GIR.

 

8.  Jordan Spieth – I was shocked when he followed up a T4 in 2014 with a MC in 2015 at TPC Sawgrass, especially considering he had just won the Masters and was on top of the world. The truth is, his stats don’t line up all that well for this layout. He must rely on solid form and class.

 

9.  Adam Scott – Minus the fact that he isn’t the best scrambler (110) or most accurate driver (163), most of the other factors look favorable. He’s 11-for-14 here, with a win, three total top 10s and six top 25s. Current form has slowed a bit, prompting the fade to the bottom of the top 10.

 

10.  Danny Willett – Missed the cut here in 2015, but we’ll see if his first outing since winning the Masters has him riding high.

 

11. Rory McIlroy – The third of our show ponies (Day and Spieth) that really doesn’t fit the bill at TPC Sawgrass. He’s made half of his six cuts, but the good news is that he’s cashed in the last three with all going for top 10s. He’s also gone 4-T10-T4 in his last three starts. He’s struggling to find fairways and is only an average scrambler.

 

12. Zach Johnson – If he’s on, this is a great spot for him. He’s made 10-of-11 cuts, with two top 10s including a T2. Seven of those starts resulted in top 25s.

 

13.  Bill Haas – His weakness is driving distance, which is not a big deal this week. Haas tied for fourth, a career best, in last year’s PLAYERS. Ranks 52nd or better in all three key metrics.

 

14.  Marc Leishman – Top 25s in his last three visits to TPC Sawgrass, the Aussie trends into this week with a MC-T30-T20 run in 2016. Stats check out, led by a 22nd in scrambling.

 

15.  Kevin Na – Returns to the location of his legendary driver yips, but does so with three top 10s, including a T3 in 2009, in tow. He’s a very accurate player and a solid scrambler.

 

16.  Matt Kuchar – He does hard well. Owns five top 20s in 11 trips to TPC Sawgrass.

 

17.  Matthew Fitzpatrick – Young Englishman doesn’t have any history here, but he’s showing a quick learning curve. Particularly tasty was his driving accuracy ranking (9th) coupled with ranking 41st in GIR.

 

18.  David Hearn – Great spot for the Canuck considering he’s entering off a pair of top 20s in his last three starts. He’s made all four of his cuts at TPC Sawgrass, including a T6 in 2014. While the putter is a question mark, everything else checks out.

 

19.  Russell Henley – Made two of his three cuts, both going for top 25s, and is very adept at negotiating Bermuda fairways and greens. Ranks inside the top 55 in driving accuracy, GIR and scrambling.

 

20.  Luke Donald – His T2 at Harbour Town, coupled with a great history at TPC Sawgrass in his prime, landed him the last spot. Ranks 85th in GIR and 8th in scrambling.

 

Worth a Mention

 

Jim Furyk – Came back from the DL to miss the cut at Quail Hollow last week. While TPC Sawgrass is traditionally a good fit for the veteran, it may be wise to watch him with interest before investing.

 

We will return tomorrow with our Yahoo! and Golf Channel picks in Playing the Tips. Until then, best of luck to