This past week on the PGA Tour, we saw a lot of big names in the mix on the weekend, but Kurt Kitayama was able to fend them all off and win the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
This week, the field is even better.
THE PLAYERS brings with it one of the best fields of the year each and every year at a course where chaos can reign.
With that in mind, let’s dig into the course, the key stats, the win simulations, and the best bets of the week.
You can jump ahead to any specific section of the piece you would like.
TPC Sawgrass (Stadium) Course Info & Key Stats
Distance: 7,275 (about 125 yards shorter than the average par 72)
Fairway Width: 30.7 yards (23rd-narrowest of 80 qualified courses)
Average Green Size: 5,500 square feet (a bit small: ~92% of the PGA average)
Green Type: Poa overseed
Past 5 Winning Scores: -13, -14, -16, -18, -10
Past 5 Cut Lines: +2, Even, -1, -1, +2
Key Stats: Strokes Gained: Approach, Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, Strokes Gained: Around the Green, Birdie or Better Rate, Course History, Adjusted Strokes Gained
A heads up that three years ago, THE PLAYERS was postponed mid-tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we’ve got just four events over the past five calendar years at TPC Sawgrass.
The past three finishes were all one-stroke wins; the three before that were at least three-stroke winners, thus inflating some of the wining scores listed above. Typically, we’re looking at an -11 to -14 winner.
As for the length, it’s a bit short for a par 72 but is a difficult test. Last week at Bay Hill, we saw some of the longest cumulative par 3s (209 yards, on average) we get on Tour. This week, it’s about as short as it gets (178 yards, on average).
Those par 3s are still tough, though, and the par 4s aren’t gimmes. That leaves par 5 scoring at a bit of a premium. Converting those chances tends to elevate the top of the leaderboard.
Speaking of tough, TPC Sawgrass is an unrelenting test. datagolf’s course table lists this course inside the top 18 in difficulty gaining strokes across all four strokes gained categories.
We’ve got pretty narrow fairways to deal with — and missing fairways causes problems (13th-most penalizing course among 80 qualified courses in missed fairway penalties). That doesn’t mean accuracy is the most important stat. You need to pick up distance when you can, and as usual, strokes gained: off the tee is more important than distance or accuracy alone.
It’s a demanding, all-around test with virtually every top golfer on the planet in the field. In those cases, we can and should be able to let long-term skill win out a lot of the time.
Golfers With Great Course/Event History
The best strokes gained averages among golfers who have played at least twice here over the past five years (a “-” indicates a did-not-play situation); results are listed from most recent to least recent:
For this week, note that the 2020 event was canceled, so the results will read as 2022, 2021, 2019, and 2018 below.
– Keegan Bradley (+1.99): 5th, 29th, 16th, 7th
– Tommy Fleetwood (+1.88): 22nd, MC, 5th, 7th
– Justin Thomas (+1.87): 33rd, 1st, 35th, 11th
– Doug Ghim (+1.74): 6th, 29th, -, –
– Webb Simpson (+1.69): MC, MC, 16th, 1st
– Jason Day (+1.64): MC, 35th, 8th, 5th
– Will Zalatoris (+1.49): 26th, 21st, -, –
– Corey Conners (+1.48): 26th, 7th, 41st, –
– Justin Rose (+1.44): MC, -, 8th, 23rd
– Viktor Hovland (+1.37): 9th, MC, -, –
– Joel Dahmen (+1.32): 33rd, MC, 12th, –
– Adam Scott (+1.21): MC, 48th, 12th, 11th
– Max Homa (+1.21): 13th, MC, -, –
– Shane Lowry (+1.08): 13th, 8th, MC, 46th
– Jon Rahm (+1.06): 55th, 9th, 12th, 63rd
Win Simulations for THE PLAYERS
Here are the most likely winners this week, according to my win simulation model, as well as their golf betting odds at FanDuel Sportsbook.
Win Simulation Analysis and Best Bets for THE PLAYERS
Because of the field strength and high-variance nature of TPC Sawgrass, win odds are a lot flatter at the top than usual, and that makes it very hard to recommend the top three — Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, and Scottie Scheffler — at +1000 or shorter.
Unfortunately, that isn’t leading to a lot of value down the card, either.
Daily Fantasy Golfer Picks for THE PLAYERS
All stats cited below originate at datagolf and reference ranks relative to the field over the past 50 rounds. Putting surface splits also come from FantasyNational and include the past 50 rounds when possible — unless noted. References to my combo model refer to a combination of long-term, field-adjusted form, key stat performance, and hole-by-hole-level strokes gained data.
Best of the Best
Patrick Cantlay (FanDuel Salary: $11,100 | Golf betting odds: +1700) – It’s a high-variance week, and while the top three (Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, and Scottie Scheffler) are all great plays, saving salary is a very welcomed approach so that we get more swipes at guys with true win juice and higher made cut odds than we would when we dig down into the value range. That means starting lineups in the low $11,000 range is very appealing. Cantlay was in the mix late down the stretch on Sunday at Bay Hill. He now has two straight top-five finishes. The main concern is three straight missed cuts at TPC Sawgrass. However, he started his career with two top-25 results here, and in the single round in 2020, he shot an opening-round 67.
Max Homa ($10,600 | +1900) – Max Homa is lingering in virtually every event he’s in. After a solo second at the Genesis, he was T14 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, thanks to incredible ball striking. His short game let him down there but is usually pretty reliable. Homa’s TPC Sawgrass history includes a T13 last year and a missed cut in 2021 after a 2-under start in 2020. He rates out 25th in accuracy and 10th in approach, a pretty lethal combo for the Stadium course.
Others to Consider:
Scottie Scheffler ($11,800 | +1000) – 33rd in accuracy despite a big-hitter (20th) and 4th in approach; recent putting is spikey in a good way.
Tony Finau ($11,000 | +2800) – Above-average accuracy and long off the tee; 5th in approach; 9th in putting.
Tom Kim ($10,100 | +4100) – Hyper accurate off the tee (5th) and 2nd in approach; no course history but a good salary.
Jason Day ($9,600 | +3600) – There are three big names in the $9,000 range who are standing out as top plays for me. And of the three, only Day has a salary higher than $9,200. That really helps us get to one of the top three — or to build a completely balanced lineup. Day is entering with four straight top-10s albeit on the back of some great putting. He’s gained fairways in all four of them and is generally gaining with the irons. A former winner at TPC Sawgrass and undergoing a renaissance, Day is a core-level play this week.
Keith Mitchell ($9,200 | +5500) – Mitchell ranks third in the field in strokes gained: off the tee because he’s so good with both distance (15th) and accuracy (15th). Things get a bit iffy from there — if we use “iffy” to mean around field average. Mitchell is using the driver to have a high floor, and when he pops with the irons, the wedges, or the putter, he shows top-25 upside, which he has returned four times in his past five starts. He also has two top-fives in that stretch. He was T13 here last year.
Keegan Bradley ($9,200 | +5000) – Bradley’s tee-to-green game is on point, and he is using that — plus a revived putter — to finish well lately. He has three top-20 results over his past four starts, including a T10 last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a great bounce-back after a missed cut at The Genesis Invitational due to bad putting. Bradley ranks 26th in the field in ball-striking and has some of the best recent form at TPC Sawgrass — if not the best — in the field.
Others to Consider:
Tyrrell Hatton ($9,900 | +3400) – Name all over the top of leaderboards lately; top-40 in both distance and accuracy and 13th in putting.
Corey Conners ($9,700 | +6500) – Is 16th in accuracy and top-11 in both ball-striking stats overall; just needs the short game to be there.
Chris Kirk ($8,700 | +7500) – Kirk will be a buzzy name after his win two weeks ago and a T39 last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. His win odds stand out at the salary, so we shouldn’t expect him to be a contrarian pick by any means. That being said, his main drawback is distance (111th), which isn’t vital this week. He’s top-50 in accuracy, approach, around-the-green, and putting, and that’s got value at the low salary. He’s played TPC Sawgrass a lot in his career and virtually always gains strokes from ball-striking at the setup. That plus the recent form makes him a standout value play.
Matt Kuchar ($8,300 | +19000) – The win odds are low for everyone in the $8,000 range, so we may as well be open to extra salary if we’re down here. Kuchar is a top-tier value play in the field, someone with upside based on the course he’s at for the week. Kuchar has a 2012 win here and a lot of good results; lately, he’s been a bit worse with consecutive missed cuts at TPC Sawgrass. But Kuchar ranks 36th in accuracy and 57th in strokes gained: tee to green, which we’ll take for someone at a salary of $8,300.
Others to Consider:
Brian Harman ($8,800 | +15000) – Is missing cuts but plays TPC Sawgrass well and has the recent stats to get it fixed this week.
Adam Hadwin ($8,400 | +19000) – 26th in accuracy and 36th in approach — plus 41st in putting; good value profile.
Aaron Rai ($7,500 | +34000) – Probably the best play under $8,000: 3rd in accuracy and 36th in T2G; just needs to putt well.