05/09/2016

Boasting the deepest field in golf, the PLAYERS Championship is golf’s second “major” of the calendar season.

It’s been called the fifth major, and for good reason. The Players Championship, which will be played May 12-15 at the challenging stadium course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Verdra Beach, Florida, includes not only the deepest, but the strongest field of the year.

Played just one month after the Masters, at a time when most of us duffers and hacker in problematic climates are hitting the links in earnest following prolonged winter, it’s got our attention. Warm green grass and the flowers from the PGA Tour headquarters are enough to make any avid golfer perk their attention. 

The top five players in the world will be competing at this event, including defending champion Rickie Fowler and FedEx Cup champion Jordan Spieth. Fowler, a fan favorite, pulled off the incredible finish in last year’s tourney, playing the final four holes in 11 strokes and then defeating Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner in three-way playoff.

A snippet on the history here at the PLAYERS:

“This majestic course wasn’t meant to favor any certain type of player when it first hosted the Players Championship in 1982, and it was not well-received by the players to say the least.  Jack Nicklaus said he’s “never been very good at stopping a 5-iron on the hood of a car,” while Ben Crenshaw called it “Star Wars golf” and compared Dye to Darth Vader.  J.C. Snead pulled no punches and proclaimed the course “90 percent horse manure and 10 percent luck.”  Even the winner that year, Jerry Pate, tossed Beman and Dye into the lake off the 18th green before jumping in himself.”

Full Field

Click here for a link to the entire 2016 PLAYERS field via PGATour.com.


Last 5 Champs

Course Overview: TPC Sawgrass, A Stadium-Stacked Venue

The TPC Sawgrass is the first true “stadium course” and a fan favorite because, after all, it was designed to make top-notch golf even more enjoyable for fans through a drama-filled golf course with vantage points throughout.

The course, designed in 1982 by former PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman and acclaimed course architect Pete Dye, does not favor any specific style of play. There’s an array of short, medium and long holes, left and right doglegs, and a layout with no two consecutive holes playing in the same direction.

It’s got a signature island green on the par 3, 17th hole, which has now attained iconic status, and a finishing hole — a 462-yard, par 4 guarded by water down the left side — that’s particularly challenging. The course is 7,215 yards in length.

There’s been some criticism of the greens at Sawgrass. So Tom Vlach, director of golf course operations, closed the course to regular play April 18 for final preparations, including circle-brooming and moving greens and cup plug repair.

“The MiniVerde bermudagrass greens are rolling fast, smooth and firm at a .100-inch height,” Vlach noted on this blog. In addition, he said, the bermudagrass rough is dense and 3 inches tall. He installed heaters on six greens (Nos. 1, 4, 9, 10, 17 and the practice green) last winter that pipe in warm air up through the drainage tiles beneath the greens, “raising the soil temperatures and improving the health of the turfgrass during the colder months,” Vlach blogged.

Golf Digest ranked the course it 47th among America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses for 2015-2016.

Tour the Course Here

This Week’s Picks

Three From the Fairway

Sergio Garcia

sergio garcia

When talking about getting a horse for the course, Sergio Garcia is the player to hone your attention. This venue fits his game perfectly, as Sergio possesses no true weakness in his game (aside from a sometime debilitating self-doubt). A demanding course tee-to-green, the TPC Sawgrass favors Sergio’s lethal iron play and his consistent play off the tee. The greens are a place where he’s comfortable enough, that he lets his ball striking take over.

In Garcia’s last 9 starts here, 5 of them have yielded top-10 finishes and he’s never missed the cut at the TPC Sawgrass.

Recently, Garcia’s been playing either average, or sub-par for his standards, but with a busy summer/fall coming up, it’s no doubt he was eager for the TPC Sawgrass to appear on his schedule.

He’ll be a player I liken to many each week that would be a total surprise if he’s outside the top-25. I’ll peg him for a T13 finish this year.


John Senden

john senden

A man who can strike the ball is Mr. Senden. Having just creeped inside the top-100 players in the world (99), Senden is a player this week that I like for a solid finish on the TPC Sawgrass.

Last year, Senden finished 8th here and has made the weekend in three straight appearances. Heading into the event he’s been in the top-25 in three of his past 4 starts.

There’s a lot to like about Senden this week and it mostly lies in his putting. Something has happened to the man over the past 3 weeks and he’s been an absolute monster on the flat surfaces. For the past three starts, his Strokes Gained Total averages have been as follows:

  • +2.111
  • +1.256
  • +1.616

He hasn’t lost strokes with his putting since the Valspar in March, ironically a tournament he’d one before.

I like Senden a lot a lot a lot this week, but shh…don’t tell your friends. His top-15 finish will make you smile.


Francesco Molinari

Francesco Molinari

Is this a weird pick? Maybe, but he’s a guy I like this week a lot at the PLAYERS.

His three missed cuts from 2011-2013 were bookened with top-10s here, so he’s a difficult guy to pinpoint. Most recently, he was a T6 in 2014 and hasn’t missed a cut in over two months. Statisically, Molinari is a weak putter of the ball, but the PLAYERS is a course where ball striking is the dominant trait needed to play well. Molinari is a top-50 ball striker on the PGA Tour and his play fits the style of play needed to do well at this course.

Nothing amazing from FM this week, but I do see a tidy week, finishing under par and inside the top-25 on the leaderboard.


Bonus players to Watch:

  • Kevin Na: Dude grinds and plays well here almost every time out.
  • Henrik Stenson: A no-brainer for a guy who loves this course
  • Justin Rose: Obviously a player playing well now (just missed playoff at WF) T4 here in 2014
  • Rory McIlroy: Three straight top-10s here and a T4 last week

One From the Rough

Chesson Hadley

chesson hadley

Back-to-back top-20 finishes after a few missed cuts in a row, I’ve got Hadley this week as my sleeper player to watch.

In Hadley’s two starts here, he’s been a bit Jekyl and a bit Hyde. A missed cut in 2014 was followed with a top-25 last year. Statistically this year, Hadley has been a wash in the amount of strokes he’s lost with his ball striking (-.250) and what he’s gained with us putting (-.200). I think this is a week where Hadley’s play the last few weeks will parlay into some nice success at the TPC Sawgrass.

He played maybe the best round of his career and last week’s Wells Fargo and the gangly, Bojangles loving southern boy will be ready and primed for success this week at the PLAYERS.

BONUS SLEEPER

Jordan Spieth

Ignore the fact that he horribly missed the cut here last year or that he had a collapse at the Masters. Spieth was a top-5 player his first time around in 2014 and will be motivated to get back into contention and erase the memories. He’s one of the most mentally strong players on the PGA Tour.

The Man with the Trophy

Zach Johnson

Zach-Johnson-fires-64-to-lead-at-Colonial-6Q1HU9RV-x-large

He won’t play bad this week, he just won’t. Why? Easy, the guy doesn’t play bad here. Since 2009, his worst finish is a T32. Other than that he’s had 5 top-25s and a near win in 2012. After a few weeks off, he’ll be mentally fresh for a course which mentally berates golfers.

Also, watching James Hahn’s week last week will motivate him this week to be the #2 PXG golfer in the winners circle.

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