Up until 2007, the Players Championship was always held in March and this week it returns to that slot, due to a scheduling shake up.
With the Honda Classic and the Arnold Palmer Invitational now in the books, we can assess who has enjoyed the return to Florida and subsequently the Bermuda putting surfaces.
One player that clearly enjoyed himself last week is reigning Open Champion, Francesco Molinari. The Italian fired a bogey-free 64 on Sunday to finish two ahead of overnight leader, Matthew Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick himself did little wrong in the final-round, as he shot under-par for the fourth day in a row, but didn’t quite do enough to hold off the challenge Molinari presented. That victory was Molinari’s fourth since the start of 2018, and his second on American soil, and after breaking through in the majors for the first time last year, his career is clearly going in one direction.
Molinari will not be seen as the start attraction this week however, with all of the top-50 slated to start. It still remains to be seen whether Jason Day (Back) and Tiger Woods (Neck) will play this week, as Day withdrew after six holes last Thursday and Tiger pulled out before the off, but even if these two former Players Championship winners did skip the event, it will still be a stacked line-up.
Whilst many people object to this event being called “The Fifth Major” it is hard to argue with the strength of field here.
The Course and what it will take to win
TPC Sawgrass, 7,189 Yards Par 72
By now we are more than accustom to the challenges of TPC Sawgrass, particularly the 17th hole, which threatens to derail even the best of rounds. What we haven’t seen for a while though, 12 years in fact, is how it will play in March.
Par 4 Scoring and Scrambling have been the two key stats here in recent years and I expect that to be the same this week, despite the scheduling change.
Of the last six winners, only one ranked outside the top-10 for Scrambling and that was last year’s runaway winner, Simpson.
Par 4 Scoring is also one of the biggest formulas for success here, with Simpson tying with Chesson Hadley last year, with both shooting 8-under-par on the intermediate holes. No one played these holes better than 2017 and 2016 champions, Siwoo Kim and Jason Day and Martin Kaymer (13th) is the only winner of the last six to not rank inside the top-7.
What might be impacted this week is the importance of Bermuda Greens. Results on the greens may be a little be less predictable this week, as the course has been over seeded with Rye to prepare for any adverse weather they may encounter at this time of year, so getting caught up on how a player did or didn’t put at the last two events might be a mistake. The surface is still Bermuda though, so those that enjoy that surface long-term should still hold an advantage.
Xander Schauffele 25/1 (Betfair/PaddyPower 10 places 1/5 odds) 1.5 pts e/w:
Despite already winning twice this season, Schauffele still seems to go under the radar and this week is a great chance for him to get his third victory of the season, and another top trophy for his cabinet.
Already a winner of a WGC and the Tour Championship, many expect Schauffele to go on and win a major this season, and this would be the perfect warm up for just that.
Schauffele ranks 11th in Par 4 Scoring Average and 16thin Scrambling, so he suits this test statistically and his form in general has been rock solid since getting his win in China. He put a slow start at the CJ Cup/CIMB Classic double behind him to win his third event of the season at the WGC HSBC Champions, and added when emerging victorious at the Tournament of Champions to kick off 2019.
Four-straight top-25 finishes have followed, one of which came at Torrey Pines, a course he’s struggled at before this season (3 x MC’s). I still put a lot of stock into that week at Torrey, perhaps more than I should, but I think him cracking the top-25 when he previously couldn’t make the weekend shows another level of grind and a maturity, which only adds to the talent he has in abundance.
A second-round 73 cost him a chance of a top-5 finish at the WGC Mexico last time out, but he still finished a respectable T14 and that sets him up for another good run on this course, after a two-week break.
Schauffele finished T2 on debut here last season, shooting three rounds in the 60’s and breaking par in all four rounds, and he returns this season an even better player. At 25/1 I think it’s worth having Schauffele onside once again with 10 places on offer. If you want to lose the places, there is some 30/1 and 28/1 out there with less place on offer.
Patrick Cantlay 45/1 (Bet365 6 places 1/4 odds) 1pt e/w:
Patrick Cantlay has been typically solid this season, and has been in and around the top-10 for the majority of his starts, with a missed cut at the Farmers a rare blip.
The American came close to his second PGA Tour victory at the Shriners earlier in the season, finishing one stroke behind Bryson DeChambeau, and in addition to that, he’s also finished inside the top-10 in three of his five starts since.
T6 in Mexico last time out, Cantlay arrives at Sawgrass in good form, but also well rested, after skipping the first two legs of the Florida swing.
Cantlay ranks 1st in Par 4 Scoring Average and 8th in Scrambling and he can use this good form to build on his two decent showings here in the past. He finished T22 on debut in 2017, where a final-round 77 cost him a chance of a top-10 finish, and it was a similar case a year later as he finished 23rd, with a third-round 74 undoing his 66-68 start.
Considering he’s been one round away from finishing inside the top half-dozen in each of his last two starts, it doesn’t seem that farfetched to think he can contend third time around.
TPC Sawgrass is a Pete Dye design and this only adds to the expectation for Cantlay. In 2017, Cantlay finished T3 at the RBC Heritage and he backed that up with a T7 a year later. Add to that a T15 finish at the Travelers and it’s fair to suggest he enjoys Dye’s layouts.
A player who should win a bunch over the next few years, Cantlay looks decent value this week at 45/1.
Rafa Cabrera Bello 50/1 (Betfair/Paddpower 10 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Rafa Cabrera Bello continued his fine form on the PGA Tour this season, when posting his second T3 finish of the season at Bay Hill last week. Bello was flag hunting on the 18th knowing he needed to birdie to leapfrog Fitzpatrick in 2nd, but instead found water.
Even with that bogey on the 72nd hole he will be pleased with his work last week, and he returns to a course where he has fond memories.
After missing the cut on his debut in 2016, Cabrera Bello returned a year later to finish in a tie for 4th, largely thanks to making the first ever albatross at the Par 5, 16th. Last year, Bello played well here once again, breaking par in all four rounds, to finish in a tie for 17thand just two shots shy of another top-10.
When T22 at Pebble Beach earlier this year, only a final-round 74 cost him a chance of a top-10, and it was a similar story in Mexico where he finished T19, as he shot 69-66-68 to bounce back from an opening 76.
Bello ranks T3 in Par 4 Scoring Average and 35th in Scrambling, which prepares him nicely for the test ahead of him this week.
Given he has not finished outside the top-25 on the PGA Tour all season, and his only MC came at the Dubai Desert Classic, it’s fair to assume Bello will at least give you a chance of a payday, on a course has loved over the last couple of years.
Lucas Glover 60/1 (Betfair/Paddypower 10 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Lucas Glover is playing the most consistent golf of his career right now, and he will look to capitalise on that this week. He has missed just one cut in nine starts this season, and has finished inside the top-20 on each of the other eight occasions.
Three-straight top-10 finishes and four in total on the season suggests a long-awaited fourth PGA Tour victory may be right around the corner, and he can grab it amongst elite company here, just as he did at the U.S. Open a decade ago.
Stastically, Glover could hardly rate better for this event. He currently leads the Tour in Scrambling and ranks T6 in Par 4 Scoring Average, the two main indicators for success here. Add to this the fact he ranks; 4th in scoring Average, 16th in SG: Tee-to-Green, 17th in SG: Approach, and lastly and perhaps most importantly T37 in SG: Putting, it is difficult to look past him here.
His putting could still improve, but last week he ranked 7th in the field in SG: Putting and he’s now all the way up to 6th in Total Putting. That level of play on the greens is more than good enough to get it done at this course and considering how well he’s playing into and around the greens, he really should be expecting to contend once again.
T6 here in 2017 and T3 in 2010, Glover may just be my favourite bet of the week, especially with 10 places on offer. Again better odds (66/1) can be found elsewhere if you want to sacrifice a few places.
Chesson Hadley 175/1 (Betfair/Paddypower 10 places 1/5 odds) 0.5pt e/w:
At this price point there a couple of players I like, including Aaron Baddeley, but I am instead going to opt for the man who finished in a tie for 17th with him last week, Chesson Hadley.
Hadley has endured an up and down season so far, but it started off well with a T2 finish at the CIMB Classic, and it appears to be heading in the right direction again, with three top-20 finishes in his last four starts.
Three straight missed cuts from the RSM Classic to the Farmers Insurance Open allows some value to remain on this former Rookie of the Year, who has posted finishes of T2, T7, T20, T20 and T17 this season, and hopefully he continues his good form here, and gives us a handsome pay-out.
Hadley is 2/4 here, after missing the cut on debut in 2014 and again in 2016, but he’s also finished inside the top-25 twice, including when 11th last year.
He co-led after round one 12 months, thanks to an opening 66 and a second-round 69 was good enough to leave him one shot shy of the leaders at the end of the morning wave. A course-record 63 from Webb Simpson in the afternoon left Hadley six shots adrift, and after a third-round 75 his chances of winning had disappeared. A final-round 67 was enough to vault him back towards the top-10 and it was all in all another positive week here.
Hadley ranks inside the top-30 (T29) in Par 4 Scoring Average, and whilst his Scrambling (T98) needs some improving for him to contend here, a Pete Dye course may just have come at the best time for him. He co-led with Simpson in terms of Par 4 Performance 12 months ago, and also ranked 2nd in Scrambling in 2015 so he’s done the important things well at this course in the past.
He has gained 1.6 strokes on the field on Pete Dye designs since 2014, which exceeds his expected SG of 0.916, according to futureoffantasy.com. This is largely down to his T7 finish at the RBC Heritage last year, where he went into the final round with every chance of winning. A final-round 72 was not good enough however to keep pace with Satoshi Kodaira and Siwoo Kim who contested the playoff that the former eventually won.
At 175/1 with 10 places, I think it’s worth taking a punt on a talented player, on a course he’s proven himself at on two occasions. 200/1 is available also, if you want to sacrifice 3 places.
Total points staked this week: 10
Profit/Loss for 2019: -61.3