By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Fantasy Insider
If you've realized that circling contenders for THE PLAYERS Championship is a lost cause, join the club. They exist, but they're hiding in plain sight. This tournament is like huddling together the greatest sluggers in baseball for Home Run Derby, and then moving the fence to 400 feet from pole to pole. The stadium will win, as will the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass this week.
THE PLAYERS has been a cornerstone on the schedule in May since the dawning of the FedExCup era in 2007. Connecting similar factors that led to victory for the last six winners of this event is a project without a firm direction.
Sure, each of the last three winners ranked first or second in strokes gained-putting, but the best among the three previous champs placed no better than Henrik Stenson's 19th in 2009. Meanwhile, all of the six winners since 2007 finished inside the top five in par-4 scoring average en route to their victories. After Phil Mickelson ranked T5 in 2007, each of the ensuing victors ranked first, second or T2. So, if the 2013 champion has plans on following in the footsteps of success, he would serve himself well by converting on his opportunities on these 10 holes. (By comparison, only two winners cracked the top 10 in par-3 scoring; three ranked inside the top 20 in par-5 scoring.)
Critics that either don't embrace numbers or choose only to look at scorecards won't find value in the fact that all six champions also finished inside the top four in bogey avoidance the same week. Contrary to a common assumption, it's not often that the gamut of guys in the sample size share that specific supporting factor. This is to say that avoiding bogeys always enhances scoring, of course, but it also underscores the fact that TPC Sawgrass won't surrender enough par-breaker opportunities to offset the high numbers. To that end, boring golf goes a long way at TPC Sawgrass.
Then there's the matter of recent form. On one end of the spectrum sits Phil Mickelson and K.J. Choi. The lefty linked a pair of T3s immediately prior to his title in 2007 while Choi went T6-T8-T3 before his playoff victory in 2011. On the other end are Sergio Garcia and Tim Clark. The Spaniard hadn't recorded a top 10 in his first nine PGA TOUR starts in 2008 prior to outlasting Paul Goydos in a playoff. Clark hadn't logged a top 20 among three cuts made in his most recent five starts before emerging here in 2010.
Indeed, the only surprise will be if this week's champion follows a familiar path.