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Horses for Courses: Recent PLAYERS champs stand out at TPC Sawgrass

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Horses for Courses

Horses for Courses: Recent PLAYERS champs stand out at TPC Sawgrass

    Written by Mike Glasscott @MikeGlasscott

    TPC Sawgrass became the home for THE PLAYERS Championship in 1982 and has hosted every edition since. Pete Dye's annual test has not had any major overhauls since the renovations of 2016. This marks the fourth consecutive year the event will be played in March after moving from May, and it will be the third consecutive edition playing from a different length on the scorecard.

    The 2023 tally comes in at 7,275 yards (par 72), stemming largely from a new tee box on No. 9 that pushed the par-5 back to 602 yards. Otherwise, Dye’s memorable layout remains largely the same.

    Blind shots, mind tricks, bulkheads, mounds and the island green at No. 17 will all be on the menu this week! While this event has over 40 years of history on this layout, I'm going to lean on the last three editions for the exercise below. Days of firm and fast fairways and greens with hot temperatures are no longer at the ready in mid-March. For the second week in a row it's interesting to see how few horses for courses stand out, even with the best field in golf.

    But there are still some trends to discern, and players whose affinity for this week’s host course could help their title chances. The list starts, unsurprisingly, with a pair of recent champs.

    Justin Thomas (+1800) is the most recent winner in the field this week. The 2021 champ closed 64-68 in just the second March event since the move from May in 2019. In the 12 rounds (no event 2020 - COVID-19) during March, the Jupiter resident has never posted anything worse than 72. Making his eighth start, he's never had to pack up and head home early regardless of the tournament month. His scoring average of 70.48 is the best of those with more than three events played.

    Another Florida transplant who knows his way around here is 2019 winner Rory McIlroy (+900). His path has been an interesting one at TPC Sawgrass, with many ebbs and flows. It took him until his fourth event to make the cut and break 72 for a T8 finish. The streak of five straight paydays that followed included T12 or better in four. The title-winning campaign came after a missed cut in 2018, halting the streak. Since his victory he's missed the cut in his defense, albeit a year late, and finished T33 after closing with 66. Volatile just like TPC Sawgrass!

    A winner here in 2016, Jason Day (+2800) is one of just three players this week to have four career top-10 paydays at TPC Sawgrass. His most recent foray was a T8 in the first March edition in 2019. The Australian picked up three of his four top-10 finishes between his win and 2019. A streak of five consecutive paydays was halted with rounds of 69-78 in 2022.

    Only one player has hit the top 15 in the last two editions, and that's Florida resident Shane Lowry (+5000). Like many before him he needed a few reps to crack the code at TPC Sawgrass. His sixth visit in 2021 saw him post three rounds in the 60s and claim solo eighth, his best of the bunch. Returning in 2022 he added three more rounds at par or better and took home T13 money. He's 15 under in his last two visits.

    Jon Rahm (+900) loves the desert Pete Dye Stadium Course at PGA West, as he's won that event twice in five visits. Although he's never packed up and went home early from five tries on the Florida version, he only has one top 10 (T9, 2021) to show for his efforts. The average amount of attempts for a winner here is right around seven, so he should be ready.

    Oddsmaker's Extra

    (events/cuts made; odds)

    Keegan Bradley (8/11; +5000): The final May start in 2018 saw him snag his first top-30 finish with T7. The change to March has seen him kick on with T16-T29 and his career best T5 last year.

    Tommy Fleetwood (4/5; +8000): Similar to Bradley, he backed up his T7 in 2018 with T5 in 2019 before adding T22 last year. Opened with 65 in 2019 and 66 in 2022, both to co-lead the event.

    Brian Harman (7/10; +12500): One top 10 from seven tries before the move to March. In the three March events he's cashed T3 in 2021 and T8 in 2019 before T63 last year. His 20-under aggregate over the three editions is impossible to ignore.

    Corey Conners (3/3; +6600): The Canadian has the advantage of never playing this event in any other month besides March! Of his 12 rounds 10 are par or better (70.50 avg.) and seven are 70 or better. Solo seventh in 2021 is the highlight.

    Doug Ghim (2/2; +22500): In two visits he's been T3 after 54 holes each time. The first edition in 2021 he posted 78 to fall all the way to T29. Last year he signed for 72 to claim T6. Most guys need more than eight reps (70.50) to understand the Dye demands.

    Russell Knox (6/8; +25000): The local has called the area home since his college days at Jacksonville University. He’s never missed the cut in March and his T6 last year was his first top 10 in eight tries. But it was also his fifth finish of T35 or better from six paydays. He’ll look to follow in Fred Funk’s footsteps by winning a de facto home game.

    Kevin Kisner (4/7; +30000): The move to March has produced two of his best three finishes in seven trips, with solo fourth last year and T22 in 2019. Lost a playoff on debut here in 2015 and it's his preferred surface, Bermuda.

    Top 25 OWGR

    PlayerStarts/Cuts MadeTop 10Best FinishOdds
    1 Jon Rahm5/51T9 2021+900
    2 Scottie Scheffler1/20T55 2022 +1100
    3 Rory McIlroy7/124Win 2019 +900
    4 Patrick Cantlay2/50T22 2017 +1800
    6 Xander Schauffele1/41T2 2018 debut +2500
    7 Will Zalatoris2/2021st 2021 +2800
    8 Max Homa1/20T13 2022 +2000
    9 Justin Thomas7/72Win 2021 +1800
    10 Collin Morikawa1/20T41 2021 +2500
    11 Viktor Hovland1/21T9 2022 +2500
    12 Tony Finau2/60T22 2019 +2500
    13 Matt Fitzpatrick3/61T9 2021 +3300
    14 Sam Burns1/20T26 2022 +6600
    15 Tom Kim First appearance +4000
    16 Cameron Young0/10MC +3300
    17 Jordan Spieth3/81T4 2014 debut +3300
    18 Sungjae Im2/30T17 2021 +3300
    19 Shane Lowry4/718th 2021 +5000
    20 Billy Horschel7/90T13 2015 +12500
    21 Keegan Bradley8/1125th 2022 +5000
    22 Hideki Matsuyama5/72T7 2016 +8000
    24 Brian Harman7/103T3 2021 +12500
    25 Tommy Fleetwood4/52T5 2019 +8000

    -odds courtesy of

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