Gdula's Golf Simulations: THE PLAYERS Championship

Volatility is the name of the game in golf, and picking winners isn't easy. With fields of 150-plus golfers sometimes being separated by how a putt or two falls each week, predicting golf can be absurdly tough.

We'll never be able to capture everything that goes into a golfer's expectations for a week, but we can try to account for that by simulating out the weekend and seeing what happens.

The Process

Over the years, I have made plenty of tweaks to my original golf model, which uses a combination of the OWGR's field strength numbers and datagolf's field strength numbers to adjust each golfer's score relative to the field (on the PGA Tour, the European Tour, and the Korn Ferry Tour).

The ultimate goal is to place a score from the Waste Management Open, the BMW International Open, and the Knoxville Open on level playing fields. This adjusted strokes metric lets me see how golfers are performing across all tours. From there, a golfer's adjusted stroke data is combined with their round-to-round variance to see how the field is likely to perform when playing out the event thousands of times.

In addition to that long-term adjusted form, I factor in course-level adjustments for course fit.

I run a second model that uses more granular strokes gained data, which allows me to adjust for course fit very easily. The results are averaged out.

I let the data do the talking and don't make many tweaks -- if any. Golfers with a small sample get regressed to a low-end PGA Tour player to round out their samples. Data points are weighted more heavily toward recent performance.

Here are the most likely winners for THE PLAYERS Championship, according to the models.

Golfer Simulated
Made Cut%
Win Odds
Dustin Johnson5.9%31.9%77.2%+1200
Bryson DeChambeau4.5%23.4%70.2%+1700
Jon Rahm4.4%27.2%73.7%+1700
Xander Schauffele4.2%27.0%73.8%+2400
Justin Thomas3.8%24.8%72.0%+1900
Webb Simpson3.1%23.2%71.0%+2200
Collin Morikawa3.1%19.8%67.6%+2200
Patrick Cantlay3.0%20.5%68.2%+2500
Rory McIlroy2.9%17.1%64.4%+1600
Daniel Berger2.7%22.4%70.0%+4400
Viktor Hovland2.5%19.1%67.3%+2500
Tony Finau2.4%17.7%66.0%+3200
Tyrrell Hatton2.3%20.1%67.8%+3300
Matthew Fitzpatrick2.2%19.1%67.2%+5000
Russell Henley2.0%19.0%67.3%+14000
Patrick Reed1.9%15.7%64.2%+4000
Will Zalatoris1.6%12.6%59.7%+7500
Scottie Scheffler1.5%14.6%61.4%+4000
Joaquin Niemann1.4%12.2%59.6%+7500
Harris English1.4%14.5%61.7%+10000
Hideki Matsuyama1.2%10.5%56.8%+4000
Sam Burns1.1%10.0%54.8%+16000
Jason Kokrak1.1%10.7%57.2%+9500
Paul Casey1.1%11.9%58.4%+5000
Corey Conners1.1%13.7%60.7%+9000
Sergio Garcia1.0%9.8%55.3%+9500
Christiaan Bezuidenhout1.0%9.6%55.4%+8500
Jason Day0.9%8.9%53.3%+5000
Louis Oosthuizen0.9%10.4%57.0%+9000
Billy Horschel0.8%10.2%55.4%+9500
Sungjae Im0.8%11.5%58.4%+5000
Abraham Ancer0.8%11.8%58.2%+8000
Ryan Palmer0.8%9.9%55.8%+18000
Cameron Tringale0.8%8.5%53.2%+18000
Kevin Kisner0.7%10.7%57.1%+18000
Jordan Spieth0.7%6.4%48.9%+3000
Cameron Smith0.7%9.0%54.3%+7500
Kevin Na0.7%8.8%53.9%+14000
Bubba Watson0.7%7.3%49.9%+18000
Brendon Todd0.6%10.3%56.2%+20000
Lanto Griffin0.6%8.0%52.5%+13000
Henrik Norlander0.6%6.9%49.8%+24000
Zach Johnson0.6%7.0%49.8%+25000
Chris Kirk0.6%6.6%48.9%+15000
Cameron Davis0.6%6.3%48.5%+18000
Brian Harman0.6%8.3%52.9%+21000
Charley Hoffman0.6%6.6%49.3%+23000
Max Homa0.5%6.4%49.6%+9500
Adam Scott0.5%5.1%45.0%+8000
Talor Gooch0.5%6.6%48.9%+20000
Si Woo Kim0.5%6.1%48.2%+15000
Harold Varner III0.5%6.1%47.5%+25000
Tommy Fleetwood0.5%5.6%46.8%+4100
Rickie Fowler0.5%5.3%45.6%+16000
Kevin Streelman0.5%8.0%51.9%+24000
Ian Poulter0.5%6.3%48.4%+18000
Keegan Bradley0.5%5.7%47.1%+18000

These are pretty low simulation odds at the top, simply due to the competition involved. Dustin Johnson rates out as the most likely winner but isn't a positive expected value. In fact, the first positive value I see at opening odds is my guy Xander Schauffele, whose data is every bit as good as the other elites and who is +2400 on FanDuel Sportsbook.

It's just so tight this week. The deep and difficult field makes it hard to emerge here, and there's the added variable of TPC Sawgrass's volatility from water.

There is value more in the mid-range, per the simulations, with Daniel Berger (+4400), Matthew Fitzpatrick (+5000), Will Zalatoris (+7500), and Joaquin Niemann (+7500). We can see some long shot winners, though the past five have been pretty chalky overall: Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Si Woo Kim, Jason Day, and Rickie Fowler.

The one massive standout, per the simulations, is Russell Henley (+14000). He's an elite iron player and putts best when on Bermuda greens, via FantasyNational. It's too long a number, but be open to a top-five or top-10 rather than an outright.

I've landed on outrights on Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Schauffele, and Berger with top-10s on Abraham Ancer, Talor Gooch, and Russell Henley thus far.