Back the bounce back from Rory McIlroy at TPC Sawgrass
2 Min Read
Written by Rob Bolton @RobBoltonGolf
Rory McIlroy opened THE PLAYERS Championship with a 4-over 76. When darkness stranded 21 on Thursday night, he sat T118 and 12 strokes back of clubhouse leader Chad Ramey.
McIlroy’s tee-to-green play was fine, but he gave away 2.5 strokes on the greens alone. He played the four par 5s in even par. Far from vintage, of course, but more of a retro Rory in the context of a slow start. It’s a badge that he shed in 2022, but one that never truly breaks free.
As a result of that big number, McIlroy didn’t do any favors to those of us having targeted him to win – he was atop my Power Rankings – but it doesn’t mean that he can’t be of value. What’s more, there’s precedent to the possibilities.
Forget about the outright, the top five and the top 10. If you’re going to be aggressive – because we’re still considering Rory McIlroy, the 2019 PLAYERS champion – push a unit into a top 20. DraftKings lists the dynamic performer at +400 for the finish.
In the last five editions of THE PLAYERS, at least one player has opened with a 76 or higher and made the cut in four of them. It didn’t happen in 2022 when weather was the headliner. The best of the subset was Jamie Lovemark in 2018. After a first-round 76, he shot 67-68-67 for a 10-under 278 to finish T17.
The best of each of the other editions also opened with 76. They were J.T. Poston (T22, 2021), Tyrrell Hatton (T41, 2017) and Brian Gay (T56, 2019). Even if you wanted to frame a comparison to McIlroy in a head-to-head market with each of those success stories, you’re probably going to circle the Ulsterman every time, regardless of how the values might otherwise influence you.
TPC Sawgrass caters to extremes, which favors McIlroy not only making the cut, which should land no lower than even-par 144, and then surging up the leaderboard on the weekend. After his first round, he acknowledged how gettable the par 5s always are, as well as par-4 fourth and 12th holes, so he knows what he needs to target at the very least. And he can’t possibly putt as poorly as he did in a classic opener.
Rob Bolton is a Golfbet columnist for the PGA TOUR. The Chicagoland native has been playing fantasy golf since 1994, so he was just waiting for the Internet to catch up with him. Follow Rob Bolton on Twitter.