Horses for Courses: THE PLAYERS Championship
March 12, 2019
By Mike Glasscott, PGATOUR.COM
- March 12, 2019
Inside the PGA TOUR
Fantasy Outlook: THE PLAYERS Championship
The hot, humid days of May have shifted to the relatively cool, damp days of March in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, as the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass hosts the top 50 players in both the FedExCup standings and the OWGR for the 46th edition.
Pete Dye's masterpiece (Par 72, 7,189) has stood the test of time and was originally designed for play in March. With multiple different doglegs, visual tricks and no two consecutive holes playing the same direction, multiple decisions and multiple shot shapes will be on display.
The major differences will be not navigating Bermuda rough and greens that are not crispy from the lack of heat this time of year. Manageable rough and softer conditions this week might make March more palatable, but the winner ($2.25 million; 600 FedExCup points) of the $12.5 million purse will need every club in their bag plus the six inches between their ears to lift the new trophy.
Webb Simpson (2018). Justin Thomas remarked that we would never see TPC Sawgrass play as easy as it did on Sunday (70.014) of last year. Simpson destroyed too many records to list as he led the field in fairways, Strokes-Gained: Putting and Par-4 and Par-5 scoring while winning comfortably (73 on Sunday) by four shots.
Notables: Brooks Koepka closed with 63, the lowest final round in history to cash T11; Xander Schauffele continued his role a quick study as he cashed T2 in his first appearance; Simpson was last in driving distance and went co-wire-to-wire as he shared only the first round lead.
Si Woo Kim (2017): The youngest winner ever at 21, the South Korean debuted in 2016 (T23) and spent his weekend scrambling for pars (T1) and avoiding bogeys (T1). He posted 10-under, including 69 in Round 4, to win by three in hot, blustery conditions. There were just seven rounds in the 60's on Sunday.
Notables: 54-hole leaders J.B. Holmes (84) and Kyle Stanley (75) never factored; Kim was bogey-free in the final round as he beat Louis Oosthuizen (T2) heads-up by three; Like Kim, Rafa Cabrera Bello made his second start and cashed T4.
Jason Day (2016): Picked up his second win of the season in wire-to-wire fashion (API) to go along with his WGC-Dell Match Play victory. Gamers will remember his victory at Match Play as he injured his back and couldn't pick the ball out of the hole. Day opened with 63 and never looked back as he won by four.
Notables: Thomas fired 65 in the final round (T3) in his second start; Colt Knost posted 63 in Round 2 and shared T3 with Thomas and Ken Duke proving this course can be played by short, straight hitters. Day led the field in scrambling, bogey avoidance and Par-4 scoring while finishing T51 in fairways hit.
Key stat leaders
Golfers inside the top 25-ish in each statistic on the 2018-19 PGA TOUR are listed only if they are scheduled to compete this week. This is the 20th event of the season.
* - Finished inside the top 10 since 2010
Strokes-Gained: Tee to Green
1 *Rory McIlroy
2 *Justin Thomas
3 *Hideki Matsuyama (20 under par in four starts before MC last year)
4 Byeong-Hun An
5 Dustin Johnson
6 Gary Woodland (best T11, 2014)
7 Patrick Cantlay
8 Jason Kokrak (6 trips, 1 weekend)
9 *Tommy Fleetwood (T7 '18, T41 '17)
10 Matthew Fitzpatrick
11 Luke List
12 *Paul Casey (first time, 2004, none in 10 other trips)
13 *Xander Schauffele
15 Keith Mitchell (coming in HOT)
16 Lucas Glover (T6 '17, 3 2010)
18 Sungjae Im (maiden; rookie)
19 Corey Conners (maiden)
20 Talor Gooch (maiden)
21 Jon Rahm (T63, T72)
22 *Webb Simpson
22 *Ian Poulter (T2, 2017)
24 *Matt Kuchar (2012 winner)
25 Bubba Watson (T37 best in 11 trips)
1 Dominic Bozzelli
2 Brian Gay
4 Andrew Putnam
6 *Rafa Cabrera Bello (T4 '18, T17 '17)
7 Scott Langley
8 *Rickie Fowler
9 Dustin Johnson
10 Patton Kizzire
11 *Jason Day
12 *Brandt Snedeker
13 *Xander Schauffele
14 Patrick Reed
16 Wyndham Clark (maiden)
17 Charles Howell III (16 events, T17 '18 is his best)
18 *Adam Scott
19 *Francesco Molinari
20 Billy Horschel
21 Cameron Smith (MC, MC)
22 Denny McCarthy (maiden)
23 Vaughn Taylor
24 *Si Woo Kim
26 Kiradech Aphibarnrat
1 *Lucas Glover
2 Charles Howell III
3 Dustin Johnson
4 Patrick Cantlay
5 *Matt Kuchar (2012 winner)
6 *Webb Simpson
7 *Xander Schauffele
7 Kevin Tway
9 *Jim Furyk
10 *Aaron Baddeley
13 *Marc Leishman (one top 10 in 9 starts)
15 *Harold Varner III
16 *Kevin Kisner (P2 on debut in '15 is only top 50 result)
17 Talor Gooch
18 *Justin Rose
20 Troy Merritt
21 *Justin Thomas
21 Andrew Putnam
23 Abraham Ancer (maiden)
24 *Rory McIlroy
25 *Jhonattan Vegas
Levels of Confidence
Tiger Woods is the only player to win in March (2001) and May (2013) and has only missed once in 18 tries. He's also the only multiple winner in the field. Rested and raring to go, he'll look to improve his T11 from last year, his first start since 2015.
Another veteran who has played both sides is Sergio Garcia. The 2008 champ was second in 2007, T4 in 2002 and has cashed in 17 of 19 appearances. He's quietly racked up T9 and T6 in his last two on TOUR.
At age 23 in 2004 Adam Scott became the youngest winner after Fred Funk became the oldest winner in 48 the year before. He backed up his win with T8 and added T6 in the first May edition. Since 2012 he's played the event under-par and has finished outside T19 exactly once.
Last week's winner Francesco Molinari will look to join Woods (2001) as the only players this century to win THE PLAYERS the week after winning on TOUR. Woods also used the Arnold Palmer Invitation as his springboard that season and interestingly enough, Day won his trophy after claiming the API earlier in the year in 2016.
Form Over Function
The foot of Rory McIlroy has to be sore from trying to kick open the door to victory this year as his streak of top-10 finishes is now at five. His run of T8, T6, T8 and T12 from 2013-16 cooled with T35 in '17 and MC last year.
It's shocking that Dustin Johnson has never hit the top 10 here in 10 trips. It's also not shocking he's won twice worldwide in 2019 including his last time out at WGC-Mexico Championships. His two best paydays are the last two years (T17 '18, T12 '17).
With three top-25 cashes, including T3 and T11, I'll suggest Justin Thomas is comfortable around these parts. I'm trying to think where he's not comfortable ...
The last time Brooks Koepka was at TPC Sawgrass he set the Sunday scoring record (63) that included an albatross. His check for T11 was his third-consecutive pay INCREASE at THE PLAYERS.
The last time we saw Jason Day he WD after six holes on Thursday at Bay Hill. He claims his injury has been blown out of proportion. His three top-10 paydays in the last eight years will gather eyeballs again this week.
Justin Rose has only one top-10 payday from 15 tries but he's also won this season at a difficult Torrey Pines.
After finishing T2 in 2012 and winning in 2015, Rickie Fowler looked like an annual "save" for this event. Since his win he's left early twice and cashed T60.
With only two cuts made in five trips I'm not sure if I'm running Jordan Spieth to the front of the line this week. I don't believe this is the track or event to get healthy or bust a slump.
The mystery that is Phil Mickelson continues to taunt gamers as he's done nothing since his win at Pebble Beach. He's MC in six of his last seven here with the best result being T41.