THE PLAYERS Tournament Preview

THE PLAYERS 2021 Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About TPC Sawgrass Before Tee Off

AN EVENT SO BIG WE COULDN’T SPARE A SINGLE LOWER CASE LETTER!

I’m excited! I don’t know if I’m ALL CAPS excited, because this is not a Major, but it is the 5th Major after all. I was also the fifth consideration for Mt. Rushmore. If you want my opinion, it’s either a Major, or it’s not, so this event is on a secondary tier for me. BUT, it’s reportedly going to have the same coverage as a Major event and Draft Kings is hanging a Milly Maker GPP, so it certainly has the feel of a Major Championship. For that reason, I’m giving THE PLAYERS the respect it deserves and upping my units between DFS and bets just a smidge below where I’d be vested for a Major.

We had the board peppered last week, and have a lot of positive momentum through the first couple months of the year to carry into this week. Unlike most weeks, the odds and DFS pricing are already up, so that will act as a handy resource as we go through all the need-to-know stats for TPC Sawgrass.

TPC Sawgrass Course Specs

  • Yards: 7,132
  • Par: 72 (4x 3’s / 10x 4’s / 4x 5’s)
  • Greens: Bermuda
  • Historic Cut Line: +1
  • Comp Courses: Stadium Course, Harbour Town, TPC River Highlands, Kiawah Island, Sherwood CC, Sea Island GC, TPC Twin Cities, Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead), Sedgefield CC
  • Past Winners: Rory McIlroy (19), Webb Simpson (18), Si Woo Kim (17), Jason Day (16), Rickie Fowler (15)
  • Other Past Winners In The Field: Matt Kuchar (12), Henrik Stenson (09), Sergio Garcia (08), Phil Mickelson (07), Adam Scott (04)

While we did not have a winner in 2020 with the event being suspended through 1 round of play, it’s important to acknowledge that Hideki Matsuyama was unconscious in the one round we did get to see last year, opening with a 9-under 63 thanks to an astronomical 4.2 Strokes Gained putting. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Harris English, Si Woo Kim, Patrick Cantlay, and Marc Leishman also rounded out last year’s R1 Top 5 with strong starts out the gate.

I left The American Express in January regretting not incorporating THE PLAYERS success into my models, as The Stadium Course was designed by Pete Dye to closely mimic the intricacies of TPC Sawgrass. Si Woo Kim went on to win The AmEx, his first win since THE PLAYERS in 2017, and I expect him to be on his game again this week. Patrick Cantlay and Cameron Davis also shined in that event and will be worth a look to replicate their recent success again at THE PLAYERS this week.

Overall, short (<7,200 yards) Pete Dye courses are distinct, and the same players seem to rise to the top when looking at recent history at other events held at Short Pete Dye tracks (The American Express, The Travelers, RBC Heritage). A short list of these short, Pete Dye specialists includes Patrick Cantlay, Paul Casey, Abraham Ancer, and Kevin Steelman.

The eclectic list of past winners here proves there is no single formula to win THE PLAYERS. Rory McIlroy won with an exceptional OTT game, Webb Simpson won entirely with his Short Game, actually losing a full stroke on APP. Course History? No problem for Si Woo Kim who won in just his second trip to TPC Sawgrass. And Jason Day and Rickie Fowler relied on their Ball Striking to rise to the top.

Appropriately named, if you’re a good player, any good player on Tour, you can win this event if you bring your A+ game. Now, with that said, your A+ game needs to be great, as Si Woo Kim aside, THE PLAYERS champions are a class list of names. At many courses, you need elite Distance, elite Approach, or and elite Short Game to win. But not here.

Key Stats

  • SG: ARG / SG: SG
  • Scrambling Gained / Sand Saves Gained
  • SG: OTT
  • SG: APP / SG: Ball Striking
  • Bogey Avoidance
  • Par 3 Scoring (200-225)
  • Par 4 Scoring (0-350, 400-450)
  • Par 5 Scoring (500-550)
  • SG: Putting (Bermuda)
  • Course History

Stats To Avoid

  • Nada

Although SG: ARG tends to be the most inconsequential Strokes Gained category relative to wins, it is the one constant across all recent winners that they were able to gain in this category, so I’ll be taking a close look at Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, and Jordan Spieth who excel around the green, as they vie for their first title here.

As mentioned with the list of past winners, you can be a middling player Off The Tee, on Approach, or in your Short Game and still win here, so I would really be stretching to call out any particular stat that doesn’t matter here. But, that doesn’t sit right with me, so I did something a little different this week to find an analytic angle to key stat selection beyond “every stat matters”.

Looking at the Top 20 players SG: TOT over the last 24 rounds and comparing with the Top 20 players SG: TOT over the last 24 rounds at TPC Sawgrass, I wanted to analyze the typical Top 10 stats corelated with SG: TOT and how that compares to the top stats historically at THE PLAYERS. As shown in the below, there’s a lot of expected similarity, however it’s clear that Birdies/Birdies or Better Gained, and Opportunities Gained are less important at THE PLAYERS than a usual Tour track. Conversely, SG: SG jumps to the 7th most important stat at THE PLAYERS, compared to its usual 16th rank in category importance, proving even further that a good Short Game is important to contend here.

Top 10 correlated stats with SG: TOT
Top 10 correlated stats with SG: TOT at THE PLAYERS

Though not crucial stats for this week, Drive Left Avoidance, Doubles Avoided, Fairways Gained, and Scrambling/Sand Saves Gained all rank significantly more important here than your typical course.

So, to summarize all of that in one sentence, I would say look for players who gain strokes in all categories, especially Short Game. There are three players in the field that rank better-than-average in SG: OTT, SG: APP, and SG: P, and Top-30 in SG: ARG. They are Webb Simpson, Patrick Cantlay, and Cameron Smith.

What To Look Out For at the THE PLAYERS 2021

2020 Players Championship leaderboard breakdown: Hideki Matsuyama goes low  in unique Round 1 - CBSSports.com

It’s exciting to see that 49 of the Top 50 players will be teeing it up this week, and honestly the way Matthew Wolff has been playing lately, it’s probably safe to say that the true 50 best players in the world right now are coming to TPC Sawgrass. It’s really hard to pin down a short list of players with so many of the game’s best coming into this week playing such great golf. Because of that, I’ll likely be peppering the 20-40 range this week and keeping my units away from the 75/1+ crowd.

While it’s an elite list of past winners here at THE PLAYERS, you may be surprised to hear the list of names who have finished T5 over the last few years. Jim Furyk, Jhonattan Vegas, Eddie Pepperell, Brandt Snedeker, Jimmy Walker, Jason Dufner, Kyle Stanley, Kevin Chappell, Colt Knost, and Ken Duke all have T5 finishes to their names at THE PLAYERS since 2016, so if you’ve got a guilty pleasure sitting as a 150/1+ outright, might be worth throwing a T5 finish bet on him.

Having the luxury of odds and DFS pricing already posted, the below short list of my considered players by tier are less a projection and more so my actual considered player pool for THE PLAYERS.

  • Tier 1 (<20/1, $10K+): Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Justin Thomas
  • Tier 2 (20-39/1, $9K): Patrick Cantlay, Tyrrel Hatton, Collin Morikawa, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Tony Finau
  • Tier 3 (40-69/1, $8K): Scottie Scheffler, Paul Casey, Cameron Smith, Adam Scott, Sungjae Im, Joaquin Niemann
  • Tier 4 (70-100/1, $7K): Abraham Ancer, Sam Burns, Max Homa, Si Woo Kim, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Corey Conners
  • Tier 5 (>100/1, $6K): Russel Knox, Jhonattan Vegas, Keegan Bradley, Brendon Todd, Peter Malnati

In my models, Patrick Cantlay ranks #1 this week, unsurprisingly followed by Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Xander Schauffele, and Jon Rahm. I’m also very high on Abraham Ancer this week given his recent strength on other Pete Dye comp courses and all around skill set fit here.