This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP
Winner's Share: $2.7M
FedEx Cup Points: 600 to the Winner
Location: Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Course: TPC Sawgrass, Stadium Course
2020 champion: None
In reviewing last year's DraftKings preview for this event, defending champion Rory McIlroy was the top-priced guy on the board at $11,700 and one of our picks. We also recommended Collin Morikawa and Daniel Berger at the now eye-popping prices of $7,900 and $7,200, respectively. But no one could have predicted what actually would happen: After one round, the tournament was halted, the PGA Tour was halted, sports were halted and, in large part, our lives were halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It would be three months before golf would return in early June – not a long delay, in retrospect – given what we know now a year later. Some tournaments were made up, but many were canceled altogether, notably two of the biggest in the world, THE PLAYERS and the Open Championship.
We can debate whether this is the fifth major, but in the eyes of the players, it clearly is the fifth biggest tournament of the year. To illustrate: Forty-eight of the top-50 in the world are on hand, and the only two missing are injured: No. 12 Brooks Koepka and No. 20 Matthew Wolff.
Remember, the tournament returned to March only two years ago, after having been played in May since 2007. It was actually played in March for the first 33 years, beginning with Jack Nicklaus winning that inaugural edition in 1974. Two players in this year's field have won THE PLAYERS in March – Adam Scott in 2004 and McIlroy in 2019. Technically, McIlroy will still be bidding to become the first player ever to win back-to-back PLAYERS Championships. It's a tough event to win twice, let alone two in a row. More on that in a minute.
One of the big questions in 2019 was how the course would play differently moving from the middle of spring to late winter. It turned out, there was a big change. The difference in the winning score – McIlroy at 16-under vs. Webb Simpson at 18-under the year before – was similar. And the track remained in the middle of the pack on the difficulty meter, 23rd in 2019 and 29th in 2018. But the golfers said the course played longer in the cooler weather. Information provided by the PGA Tour showed that from 1995 through 2018, scores were on average almost one shot lower in May as opposed to March – 72.48 vs. 73.40. There were far more rounds under par in May, which makes sense in the warmer climate; but we also have to consider that since they had last played the tournament in March in 2006, golf equipment and the golfers themselves have changed exponentially.
Even though all that sends some mixed messages, the most confounding issue at hand really is figuring out who will play well this week. Sure, that's the case every week, but since the tournament has been held at Sawgrass beginning in 1982, there have only been five multi-time winners. Tiger Woods is one of them, but he has only five top-10s in 19 tries. 2007 winner Phil Mickelson missed the cut in six of his past seven visits and owns only three top-10s in 26 starts. Since Rickie Fowler won in 2015, he has gone MC-T60-MC-T47. That's bizarre. This doesn't happen often, maybe nowhere else on Tour, but it's really hard to label anyone a true horse for the course. Scott, McIlroy and Jason Day may come closest. Scott, who won 17 years ago, has finished top-12 the past four times. McIlroy, with his win, has four top-10s in 10 tries. But he also missed the cut four times. Day won in 2016 and has three other top-10s, including the past two editions, has also missed three cuts. In other words, guys who have played well here have been awful other times. That's probably due at least in part to the consistent strength of the fields. The majors and WGCs all let in secondary- or even tertiary-level players, be they aging ex-champs, amateurs, players from lesser Tours or even club pros. Not at THE PLAYERS. In fact, 112 players in this year's field of 154 – up from the usual 144 this year – have a victory somewhere.
Okay, onto the course. Pete Dye-designed Sawgrass, despite having its quirks here and there, tends to be a pretty standard tee-to-green golf course. Putting traditionally has not been paramount – though as we always say, great putting can cure just about all ails. For the record, the greens are Bermudagrass and on the smaller side at an average of 5,500 square feet. There's water everywhere, but it truly comes into play on 14 of the 18 holes. No hole is more famous – perhaps anywhere in the world – than the 17th. It's a mere 137 yards, but it's all crystal blue water between the tee and green. Interestingly, it was rather tame in 2019, essentially playing to par at an average of 3.002 strokes. Still, there were 45 balls in the water leading to 29 double bogeys or worse. There were 54 water balls in 2018 and 69 in 2017. The two hardest holes in 2019 were on the front, the 471-yard 5th and the 237-yard 8th, exactly 100 yards longer than it's par-3 cousin. No. 18, always a bear, was the third-hardest hole.
Weather-wise, we are looking at mostly good conditions for the golfers, certainly for this time of year. High temperatures are forecast to be in the low 70s all four days, with a little chance of rain on the weekend and the wind picking up as the week progresses.
Fun PLAYERS factoids: The list of former champions reads like a wing in the Hall of Fame. Nicklaus, Woods, Mickelson, McIlroy, Norman, Trevino, Floyd, Couples, Price, Scott, Day, Love, Duval and Lyle. There have been only five two-time champions since the tournament moved to Sawgrass – Woods, Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Hal Sutton and Steve Elkington – and it has taken a long time to pick up win No. 2. Only Elkington – the 1991 and 1997 champion – won again within 10 years, and it took him six. Sutton's wins, 1983 and 2000, came 17 years apart.
Key Stats to Winning at TPC Sawgrass
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation
• Strokes Gained: Around the Green/Scrambling
• Bogey Avoidance/Bogey Average
There historically has been very little rough. But of course there is water almost everywhere, technically on 17 holes but in reality 14. There were 204 double bogeys or worse in 2019, fourth most on Tour that year. McIlroy played only six holes over par – five bogeys and one double. He played No. 17 in 2-under. Don't misunderstand – there are birdies to be had and this usually isn't a single-digit-tough track like next week's PGA National. In 2018, Simpson played it vanilla safe: He was dead-last in the field in driving distance but first in accuracy. And he won in a romp. The year before, Kim won at 10-under and had only six bogeys, none of them a double. That's asking a lot of anyone, but you get the picture. Simpson was also first in Strokes Gained: Putting, but more times than not, the winners have ranked far outside the top-10. McIlroy ranked 45th, Kim was 37th, Fowler was 20th, Kaymer was 19th and Woods was 38th.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Dustin Johnson - $11,200 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 12-1)
It was quite a shocker to see "T54" next to Johnson's name at the WGC-Workday Championship. But, hey, even the best golfer in the world can throw in a clunker once in a while. Johnson has never been great at Sawgrass, though his three best showings are his three most recent visits, including T5 in 2019. And now Johnson is a far more complete player, having really upped his iron and wedge play.
Jon Rahm - $10,900 (16-1)
Rahm is still looking for a signature win to help justify his No. 2 spot in the world rankings. It almost came here in 2019, when he led after three rounds only to implode with a final-round 76 to tumble into a tie for 12th. Ranked fourth on Tour in both SG: Off-the-Tee and Tee-to-Green, there's no reason that Rahm's First 'Big Win' can't come this week.
Xander Schauffele - $10,300 (20-1)
Schauffele had an incredible run of 16 straight top-25 finishes end last time out at the WGC-Workday. As it is, he's still had top-25 in 24 of his past 27 starts. He had a brilliant Sawgrass debut in 2018 with a runner-up to Webb Simpson, but then surprisingly missed the cut last year by one shot. Schauffele's wedge play is merely above average – he ranks 76th in scrambling – but the rest of his game is pretty much elite across the board.
Webb Simpson - $9,500 (25-1)
A great fit for Simpson, whose win here in 2018 was sandwiched between a pair of T16s. He even started off well again last year with a 4-under 68. He arrives with a pair of top-6s in his past three starts. His biggest weakness – driving distance – will be a non-factor this week.
Tier 2 Values
Collin Morikawa - $9,400 (20-1)
Morikawa got his first look at TPC Sawgrass last year and shot a 4-under 68 in the abbreviated tournament. He was delightfully priced at $7,900 back then, and you could argue he's still underpriced at $9,400. Ranked first on Tour in SG: Approach and third in SG: Tee-to-Green, the only thing that can slow Morikawa this week is if he is still basking in his WGC-Workday win two weeks ago.
Patrick Cantlay - $9,200 (20-1)
When we last saw Cantlay, he was withdrawing from the Workday because of what he later said was an upset stomach and dehydration. In his six most recent starts before that, he had a win, a runner-up, a third and three other top-20s. Cantlay's record at Sawgrass is good but not great: a pair of top-25s before a missed cut in 2019. He is far more accomplished now, ranking seventh in SG: Tee-to-Green and second in scrambling.
Tony Finau - $9,100 (30-1)
This really is a track where Finau should thrive. But he hasn't, missing the cut in his first two visits followed by a T57 and, last time out, a tie for 22nd. With that progression, maybe he finally started to figure things out. We all know that Finau already has three runners-up in 2021, plus another top-5. To say he's in form would be an understatement. He's also ranked top-20 on Tour in both SG: Off-the-Tee and Approach, and fifth in SG: Tee-to-Green. Wouldn't it be something if this were the week that Finau finally won?
Scottie Scheffler - $8,900 (50-1)
Scheffler shot a 4-under 68 in his first competitive round at Sawgrass last year before the tournament was canceled. And that makes sense for a guy with an elite game everywhere but on the green. Scheffler is in form coming in, with a solo fifth at the WGC-Workday, a tie for 20th at Riviera and a tie for seventh at Phoenix. We love to always point out that Scheffler may be the straightest long driver on Tour – he's ranked top-30 in both distance and accuracy.
Tier 3 Values
Adam Scott - $8,100 (60-1)
Scott is one of the more consistent performers at Sawgrass. His win was long ago in 2004 – in March! – but more recently he's run off top-12s the past four tournaments and hasn't missed a cut since 2011. For those of you wondering about Scott's putting, he ranks an impressive 41st on Tour in SG: Putting.
Will Zalatoris - $7,600 (60-1)
Sure, this will be Zalatoris' seventh straight week of tournament play. But if he wasn't tired after six – he tied for 10th at Bay Hill – what's one more? He's missed only one cut in 12 starts beginning with his top-10 at the U.S. Open, with six of them being top-10s along with nine top-25s. And for someone ranked sixth on Tour in SG: Tee-to-Green, Sawgrass sets up quite nicely.
Sergio Garcia - $7,500 (100-1)
This may be a little early, price-wise, to tout a guy simply because he's made 16 straight cuts in this tournament and is a good bet to make it 17. At 41, Garcia remains so good from tee-to-green, sitting 9th in SG: Off-the-Tee, 34th in greens in regulation and 42nd in scrambling. His putting is actually as bad as it's ever been, statistically, but poor putting has always been part of his equation, including when he won in 2008, finished T2 in 2015 and T22 in 2019.
Corey Conners - $7,400 (80-1)
Conners is coming off his best tournament of the season with a solo third at Bay Hill. But he's really been playing well for months. In his past 11 starts, he's made 10 cuts, with four top-10s and a whopping eight top-25s. He's always been an elite ball striker, but now his putting has improved to average after years of horridness. Conners tied for 41st at Sawgrass in 2019 and shot an opening 68 last year.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout - $7,100 (80-1)
When was the last time you saw someone in the long-shot category at 80-1? Answer: When the DraftKings prices come out before a long shot had his best finish ever on the PGA Tour the week before. The young South African tied for seventh at Bay Hill, where he ranked in the top-5 in both SG: Around-the-Green and Putting. Technically, this will be Bezuidenhout's Sawgrass debut. But he played one round last year and what a round it was. While many people remember Hideki Matsuyama's 9-under 63, Bezuidenhout wasn't far behind with a 65. Not bad for your first time playing the course. On that Thursday, he ranked top-6 in the field in every strokes-gained category but Off-the-Tee.
Chris Kirk - $7,000 (150-1)
We went with Kirk last week and he rewarded all his backers with a tie for eighth – his fourth top-16 already in 2021. This is a track where he has made seven of eight cuts – the lone miss was a WD – with three of them being top-15s. For the season, Kirk ranks 25th on Tour in SG: Tee-to-Green.
Brian Harman - $6,800 (200-1)
Harman has made the cut in 12 of 13 starts this season, and he's made four of his past five at Sawgrass. Two of those were top-10s, including a tie for eighth in 2019. Harman does not have a real weakness in any part of his game; he's at least average across the board, which goes a long way in explaining his recent success at THE PLAYERS.
Emiliano Grillo - $6,700 (200-1)
We hardly ever recommend Grillo, but way down here we are looking to make it to the weekend, and he has done so in the past three visits. Grillo ranks ninth on Tour in SG: Off-the-Tee and sixth in greens in regulation. His wedge/putter play is woeful, but you can get around Sawgrass without great putting.