THE PLAYERS Championship
Defending Champ: Jason Day
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THE PLAYERS Championship Field
144 Players | Top 70 & After 36 Holes make the Cut
Brian Harman exits Wilmington with the win by jarring the dramatic 28-footer on 18 leaving poor Dustin Johnson and Pat Perez sitting in the clubhouse, more trout-faced than those unfortunate souls who attended the premiere of Springtime For Hitler. But that was last week. Now, it’s time for THE PLAYERS. And no, the CAPS LOCK is no error, THE PLAYERS feels so inadequate about itself it must CONSTANTLY BE YELLING ITS NAME AT ALL TIMES!!!!! Come to think of it, It’s very similar to my Twitter strategy. Still, at least I don’t claim to be the fourth Tenor or proclaim myself the NBA’s seventh man of the year like THE PLAYERS ridiculous boast of being the fifth Major. There are four Majors. If there are only four, how can any event be the fifth? Let’s just start calling the Puerto Rico Open the 46th Major. I hate it. It bothers me. And, one day, I’ll get my revenge on the PHONY PLAYERS. That’s for future me to figure out though. For now, with its dyed lakes, gimmick holes, and overly cinematic wide-screen TV lenses, THE PLAYERS will continue being the PGA equivalent of the photoshopped Tinder whore with fake lashes, four-inch thick makeup who uses that slightly-raised, looking-down camera angle in passing herself off as an undisputed, and classy, 10. It’s deceitful and reeks of faux prestige. Sad!™ Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not interest. I am. That’s not the point. Much like said Tinder date, I’ll show up, stick it out until the end, and a squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of it. Like most of you, I’m very comfortable compromising my morals on most issues.
How about the actual the players themselves? They don’t give a shit about semantics; they’re only concerned about the All Ighty Ollar. And, since THE PLAYERS offers the largest purse of the year, expect to the see world’s best at TPC Sawgrass. All of the world’s Top 10 will be in attendance, and 48 of the Top 50. Only Brandt Snedeker (Wrist) and Thomas Pieters (Doesn’t care?) will be absent in Ponte Vedra Beach. Jon Curran (Rib), Colt Knost (Wrist), John Senden (Family), and Tiger Woods (Back) are the other qualified players who will be skipping the 2017 event.
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There is a slew of first time players in the field this season. Wesley Bryan, Cody Gribble, Mackenzie Hughes, Jon Rahm, and Cameron Smith have already hoisted novelty checks this season. While Grayson Murray, Andrew Loupe, Patrick Cantlay, Blayne Barber, Mark Hubbard, Michael Kim, Brett Stegmaier, and Luke List join international debutants Alex Noren, Tyrrell Hatton, Tyrone Van Aswegen, Yuta Ikeda, and Tommy Fleetwood in search of a 2017 win and attempt to join Hal Sutton (1983) and Craig Perks (2002) as the only champions to claim victory in their Sawgrass debuts. Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom for first-timers. A few of the new faces in the field this year competed in the 2009 and 2010 Junior PLAYERS and some before that. Si Woo Kim led the 25 first-time participants with a T23 finish in 2016.
Additionally, international players have won 9 of the last 14 PLAYERS Championships, while no player has ever repeated as victor. Nick Price’s T5 in 1994 remains the best finish for a reigning champion. Tim Clark (2010) and Perks (2002) are the only two to make THE PLAYERS their first career PGA win. Many players actually live in the area too. Zurich champs Smith and Jonas Blixt both call Jacksonville home. Billy Horschel, Russell Knox, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, Matt Every, and David Lingmerth all have local ties as well.
THE PLAYERS Championship Key Stats
THE PLAYERS Championship Course
TPC Sawgrass | 7,189 Yards | Par 72
Since we last got a gaze of THE PLAYERS Championship there have been a few changes made to the course. The bunkers have been rebuilt and the Mini-Verde Bermuda greens have been switched to TifEagle hybrid Bermudas to better withstand the northern Florida winters. The barely-used spectator mound running between holes six and seven has been excavated and turned into the 25th water hazard on the layout. However, the most noticeable renovation is on No. 12. Formally a short dog-leg left, 12 will now be a drivable Par 4 playing anywhere between 285-320 yards, depending on the day. Water will be in play just eight yards from the left edge of the putting surface; this creates the potential for some massive leaderboard swings. The redesign was implemented by Steve Wenzloff with original architect Pete Dye’s blessing. Despite giving his approval, the 91-year-old doesn’t seem to be a fan, “It slows down play, and play is [already] too slow.”
But enough about that, I’m sure you’re here to read about 17. While not the most challenging hole on the course, it’s certainly the most memorable. Yes, the optics of a tee shot over water onto an island green looks fantastic on TV, and can get tough if wind starts to swirl, but essentially it’s just a simple 137-yard pitching wedge for most guys. Sure, nerves can come into play, but there are far more birdies generated at 17 than bogeys. Unless you’re Aaron Baddeley, who’s dunked a TOUR high 13 in the aqua since 2003. In that span, 553 balls have become submerged on the penultimate hole, but there are a select few who’ve stayed dry in their careers. In a minimum of eight attempts, Graham DeLaet (16/16), Daniel Summerhays (14/14), Scott Brown (12/12), David Lingmerth (8/8), and Chez Reavie (8/8) all have a 100% GIR rate on 17.
The glass Easter Island head trophy isn’t going to be won on 17 though. As with most Pete Dye designs, the event will be won by strategy off the tee, approach shots, and the ability to limit BIGGGGGGGGG numbers when mistakes occur. Just ask Russell Knox how not to do that. The course isn’t very long, it features a bevy of blind shots and—since most players will take less than driver off the tee—the approach shots will be key. Especially on Par 4s. Par 4 scoring is key this week. As with most Par 72s, the majority of scoring will be done on the Par 5s, but most of the field will feast on those holes, so unless you bungle them completely, it’s a wash. A look back at the winners from 2003-2015 reveals gaining strokes on the Par 4s is where the giant paycheck will be cashed, especially on the gruesome five Par 4s measuring between 450-500 yards. For corollary courses, the Dye designed Harbour Town Links used at The Heritage is the obvious one, but glancing at those who’ve achieved success at Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational) and East Lake (TOUR Championship) wouldn’t hurt either.
Pete Dye Courses on TOUR
TPC Sawgrass (The Players Championship)
Harbour Town Links (RBC Heritage)
TPC River Highlands (Travelers Championship)
TPC Louisiana (Zurich Classic)
Austin Country Club (2016/2017 Match Play)
TPC Stadium Course at La Quinta (2016/2017 Careerbuilder)
Crooked Stick (2012/2016 BMW Championship)
Whistling Straits (2015, 2010, 2005 PGA Championship)
Kiawah Island (2012 PGA Championship)
THE PLAYERS Championship Picks (Yahoo Game)
Jason Day & Rory McIlroy – While DEFINITELY not a Major, the tribune offered at THE PLAYERS does attract the game’s elite, and when you get this many great players in an event, one of them is likely to win. Sure, no one has ever defended their title at Sawgrass, but Day will prove to be the low owned alternative to DJ, and it’s about time Day leaped back into the No. 1 discussion, isn’t it? Plus, Dustin has never finished better than T28 in eight tries at Ponte Vedra Beach… Rory? Just take him. He enters in great stroke play form (7/7/7), with excellent course history (12/8/6/8), sitting fourth in strokes gained on Par 4s 450-500 yards over his past 24 rounds, with a shit load of wedding swag to boot. What else do you want? If you want to go off the board, fade an elite player, and grab a mid-tier guy, direct your eyes towards Marc Leishman.
Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, Kevin Kisner & Jimmy Walker – The best scoring average (Min. 8 Rounds) at TPC Sawgrass belongs to Thomas with 70.13. Second best? HIDEKI!!!!! The pair is a combined five-for-five in cuts made in the in careers, which shouldn’t be surprising, as they fit the approach/ball striking/BEASTIN on Par 4s mold perfectly… With the opportunity to pay off approximately 7% of my wedding if Kisner lost in the playoff two weeks ago at the Zurich, I made this proclamation. So, far everything has gone exactly to script. Kiz even opened at 60/1 for THE PLAYERS. He gains most of his strokes on approaches and appears to have the Pete Dye layouts completely figured out. Over the past three seasons, almost all of Kisner’s top finishes have come on Dye designs, including three playoff losses – one each at the Heritage (’15), Zurich (’17) and PLAYERS (’15). Is he going to win? Probably not. But he definitely should be in contention through Sunday… You could swerve on to Ryan Moore here, or eat the chalk with Matt Kuchar, but I’ll be rolling with Walker. A gamble? Most certainly. However, Walker has started to regain form his past few starts. He churned out a pair of T20s at The Masters and Valero by getting his game figured out on the tee box. When he’s not actively sabotaging his tournament off-the-tee, the rest of his skill set is exactly how you’d like it. Taking driver out of his hands on a lot of holes will only boost what he already does well too. Walker hasn’t lost strokes to the field on approach shots since last year’s TOUR Championship, and is sixth best in the field on P4s 450-500 yards over his past 24 rounds. Oh, FYI, Walker was recently diagnosed with Lyme Disease. Based on his latest results, it doesn’t seem to be affecting him all that much. And, who knows, maybe LYME SAWG is a thing.
Martin Kaymer & Jon Rahm – I’m going to look like an idiot passing on Sergio. I just know it. Meh, hopefully Kaymer can bail me out. The 2014 PLAYERS Champ has been the world’s most consistent golfer over the past year and a bit. Last time Zee German failed to make a cut? The 2016 Valspar. That’s a run of 29 events. And how’s he been doing it? Accuracy, approaches, and scoring on long Par 4s. He’s got the proper mix of tools, it’s just about whether or not he can string together four consecutive quality rounds on the greens. I’ve seen him do it in tough fields before… If you’re looking for sleepers, Michael Kim, Kyle Stanley, Patrick Cantlay, and Zac Blair all rate out really well, but for the Yahoo game, there’s absolutely no need to get that tricky. Just take Rahm. Now up to No. 12 in the world, the Spaniard has six T10s in his past eight starts, with no finish worse than T27. And that was in his Masters debut, and was much higher on the leaderboard until an disastrous Sunday. THE PLAYERS has been a stepping stone for some of the game’s top players to notch a second-tier win before triumphing at a Major: Scott (2003), Sergio (2008), Stenson (2009). Although it’s his first appearance at Sawgrass, Rahm will have no issues contending. The standard rules don’t apply to him.
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