The tour heads back to Florida this week for its biggest “non-major” event of the year, the Players Championship. The Players may not get the major recognition it craves so deeply, but field-wise it is perhaps the strongest one we see every year as there are no amateur invites, or over-the-hill past champions in the field either. The Players is made up of PGA Tour card-carrying golfers and the top international players in the world and also played at one of the toughest, most volatile venues on tour as well in TPC Sawgrass. With smaller than normal greens, a stadium style setup and water everywhere, TPC Sawgrass brings big numbers into play on several holes and requires pinpoint iron-play from participants hoping to conquer it. As such many of the top players generally have a few MC’s on their resume from this event and it won’t be shocking if some big names miss the cut this week as well.
Course History: Since this event has taken place at TPC Sawgrass ever since its inception back in the early 1980’s we have a ton of course history and data to work off this week. While players who are new to TPC Sawgrass can be bet or played this week in DFS, do know that debutants don’t fare exceedingly well in this event; and the last one to win was Craig Perks back in 2002 (also known as the biggest upset in golf). For DraftKings purposes, if you’re paying up for a player you’ll generally want to see some kind of previous high finishes at this event on their resume, although there will be some who are worth taking a risk on (see my player notes below).
2017 Renovations: With all that being said, do know that TPC Sawgrass underwent some renovations this winter, the most notable of which are the remodelling of the 12th hole and the replacement of all the greens with TifEagle Bermuda. The 12th is now a drivable, risk-reward par 4 which should really benefit aggressive players in the long run, and should also add some excitement down the stretch. The greens may be the bigger story overall as players who previously struggled on the greens at TPC Sawgrass may welcome the change (and vice versa). It’s hard to know exactly how a large change like this will actually play out, but nevertheless it’s something to keep in mind.
Jordan Spieth ($10,800): There will be a lot of talk about Dustin Johnson’s amazing recent form and Rory McIlory’s improving record at TPC Sawgrass, but for me Spieth is the player I want to target this week. Yes, he has missed the cut at this event the past two years, but he also has a higher finish to his name at TPC Sawgrass (4th at 2014 Players) than either of the two aforementioned players. Spieth also currently leads the tour in Strokes Gained: Approach—a stat I would emphasize this week—and looked very in-form at his only tournament play after the Masters (the team event in New Orleans). He’s the player I don’t want to fade this week.
Hideki Matsuyama ($9,700): Right behind Spieth for me is Hideki Matsuyama. Even though Hideki’s approach stats are a little behind where he normally is (39th in SG: Approaches coming in), his form has looked better the last few times we’ve seen him, as he finished with a 67 at the Masters and looked better than his team finish dictated at the Zurich Classic. Hideki has gone 23-17-7 at TPC Sawgrass in three appearances, suggesting he’s somewhat figured out this venue, and for that I like him nearly as much as Spieth this week on DraftKings.
Jon Rahm ($9,600): Rahm has conquered any and all obstacles this year and so thinking it will be any different this week seems foolhardy. The Spaniard will be seeing TPC Sawgrass for the first time this week in competition but given his recent play (T4 last week), and ability to handle challenges like Torrey Pines and Augusta like an old vet, I doubt this will be an issue. He’s top five in par 4 scoring, 10th in approaches and 4th in birdie or better… take the sub-10k price tag and feel good about it.
Paul Casey ($8,300): Casey has had a consistent season and there’s every reason to think he’s about to pop with a big week. Coming off his third straight top six finish at the Masters he took a three week break and returned with a T12 last week where he finished in six under on the weekend (including a bogey free final round). The Englishman is a player who hasn’t fared great on the greens at TPC Sawgrass in the past and so he could benefit from the change as well. Top twenty in SG: Tee to Green and Approaches for the year; the game to win on this course is definitely there.
Others: Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka
Jason Dufner ($7,800): The $7,000 range is loaded on DraftKings so picking and choosing will be difficult, but I do prefer Dufner slightly over a few other players in his range. The American has made a habit of destroying Pete Dye courses over his career with wins at both the Zurich Classic and the Career Builder, and his recent play suggests a big week at a big event might be incoming. He had his best finish at the Players back in 2011 (6th) and was coming off T14 and T3 finishes at the Zurich and RBC Heritage that year. This year he comes in off of T11 and T5 finishes at the same events/courses. I expect him to challenge this week.
Martin Kaymer ($7,300): No missed cuts on his resume for well over a year now and eight straight cuts made at the Players—including a win from back in 2014. Kaymer almost seems like a free square this week on DraftKings for cash games and probably is. Also had his best ever finish at Augusta this season with a T16 which should also bolster his confidence. Not much else to say here, too cheap to pass up.
Zach Johnson ($7,200): I narrowly missed out on having Zach Johnson on my list of plays from last week and regretted it as he showed up with a solid week to finish T18. Johnson hasn’t missed a cut at this event in his last eight appearances, a span which has seen him rack up six finishes of T26 or better (including a T2 from back in 2012). My only quibble might be that the new greens could cause veterans like him—who did well on the old greens—some issues, but I’d still back him based on recent form he showed last week.
Branden Grace (6,800): Grace has been trending over his last few starts. After a strong T11 at the Heritage, Grace held or was near the lead at the Valero for the first couple of rounds but could not sink enough putts on the weekend to overtake the leaders there. He’s made three of three cuts at this event, although he still hasn’t quite figured out the course as his best finish is a T42. Given his tee to green game is in such good form however I’d reckon we see an improvement in that this week and wouldn’t put anyone off rostering him. He’s the best value on the board to me in a sea of good value plays.
Others: Kevin Kisner, Francesco Molinari
High-upside GPP Picks
Russell Henley ($8,200): Price may put some people off Henley but that will only make him a stronger play in big field gpps in my eyes, where sub-10% ownership may be available. Henley’s biggest improvement this year has been in his approach game where he now ranks inside the top 40 on tour in strokes gained. He shot a 65 and 66 on this course back in 2014 and has a win in Florida already on tour. Don’t overlook just because of price.
Ryan Palmer ($7,600): Palmer has been on a semi-tear of late and shouldn’t be overlooked this week. The Texan hasn’t always got along with TPC Sawgrass, but he has made three of his last four cuts at the event, which includes a T5 from back in 2013. Palmer also owns a runner-up finish at the Honda Classic from a few years back, at the similar styled PGA National venue in Florida. He’s currently 8th in strokes gained approaches and at his price-point I expect pretty low ownership in big gpps due to strength of field.
Bubba Watson ($7,300): Bubba is a pure price/ownership play for me, but one I definitely like for gpps. Even though he’s never finished inside the top 30 at TPC Sawgrass, Bubba has made the cut here each of the past four years which shows he’s at least found some consistency. While the recent form argument could be made, he played well over in China in his last solo start and actually semi-carried his team at the Zurich Classic to a T5 finish. Bubba has actually done very well at Pete Dye venues over his career too so a better finish this year wouldn’t shock me. The change at 12 to a drivable par 4 should be to his advantage as well since aggressive play can be rewarded there now.
Ian Poulter ($6,600): Poulter may not be your favorite golfer but he’s a great gpp play this week for DraftKings. The Englishman has been playing well of late and had a great ball-striking week at the RBC Heritage just a month or so ago, where he was second in the field in SG: Tee to Green. He’s also made nine of 11 cuts at this event and has a runner-up finish here too from back in 2009. With his playing privileges reinstated for the year, I think a free-swinging Poulter could surprise here and at only $6,600 he’s a perfect stars and scrubs play.
Other: Adam Scott, Tommy Fleetwood, Graeme McDowell
Players to Consider (in no order)
– Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Jason Dufner, Martin Kaymer, Zach Johnson, Branden Grace
– Ryan Palmer, Russell Henley, Ian Poulter, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Tommy Fleetwood, Graeme McDowell, Kevin Kisner, Molinari
Jordan Spieth 16-1 (opened at 14-1)
Paul Casey 45-1 ew
Jason Dufner 80-1 ew
Russell Henley 80-1 ew
Graeme McDowell 140-1 ew