THE PLAYERS Championship: Course Notes, Daily Fantasy Golf Picks, Win Simulations, and Best Bets
The PGA Tour season started back in September, sure, and we've had some big fields already in 2022, but with this week, we officially enter the big-time.
That starts with THE PLAYERS Championship, and then after that, we've got a major each month through July.
There's a lot to dig into when it comes to TPC Sawgrass, so let's jump right in.
You can jump ahead to any specific section of the piece you would like.
Course Information and Key Stats
Golfers With Great Course History
Daily Fantasy Picks
TPC Sawgrass Course Info & Key Stats
Distance: 7,256 (short: ~120 yards shorter than the average par 72)
Average Green Size: 5,500 square feet (small: ~92% of the PGA average)
Green Type: Bermuda
Past 5 Winning Scores: -14, -16, -18, -10, -15
Past 5 Cut Lines: Even, -1, -1, +2, -2
Key Stats: Strokes Gained: Approach, Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, Strokes Gained: Around the Green, Birdie or Better Rate, Course History
First things first: TPC Sawgrass is a bit short for a par 72, yet it's not easy. The winners can and do flirt with 15-under, but we see plenty of big numbers here, so it'll never really be a runaway.
Notably, we're going from a course with super long par 3s to one with short par 3s overall -- yet they play rather tough. That, of course, includes the iconic island green 17th. The par 4s are difficult, as well, ranking 16th-toughest among 74 courses on datagolf's course stats table. Making hay on the average par 5s will be vital toward picking up strokes.
It's statistically tough to putt at TPC Sawgrass, though you may not realize that based on some of the past winners (looking at you, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, and Si Woo Kim). However, some of the other winners -- Webb Simpson, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar -- definitely fit that mold.
Why? It's just tough all-around. Datagolf ranks TPC Sawgrass inside the top-15 in most difficult places to gain strokes off the tee, with approach, around the green, and with the putter. That's all four strokes gained stats!
You don't want to miss fairways here because they're penal, but driving accuracy alone isn't enough to get you where you're going necessarily, so strokes gained: off the tee is a key stat.
Cut-makers last year averaged a rank of 28.6 in driving distance and 35.1 in fairways gained, via FantasyNational. The average rank of the top-10 in strokes gained: off the tee was 28.4. You can go with accuracy; I'm prioritizing overall off-the-tee play.
Though greens in regulation rates are about as average as could be, this course is seventh in difficulty in terms of picking up approach shots. That's because there are big misses lurking. Water is in play on 17 holes; only Harbour Town bests TPC Sawgrass in that regard.
What does it all mean? You have to be good at everything here -- at least for four rounds.
TPC Sawgrass is also one of the courses where past results are most predictive. Course history can be factored in. That said...
Golfers With Great Course/Event History
Past winners in the field include Justin Thomas (2021), Rory McIlroy (2019), Webb Simpson (2018), Si Woo Kim (2017), Jason Day (2016), Sergio Garcia (2008), and Adam Scott (2004).
The following golfers have at least 8 rounds at TPC Sawgrass with an adjusted strokes gained average of at least 1.5, via DataGolf: Si Woo Kim (+2.26), Corey Conners (+2.25), Hideki Matsuyama (+2.18), Justin Thomas (+2.16), Sergio Garcia (+2.02), Adam Scott (+1.99), Abraham Ancer (+1.80), Lee Westwood (+1.74), Jason Day (+1.67), Jon Rahm (+1.64), Tommy Fleetwood (+1.58), Brooks Koepka (+1.54), and Xander Schauffele (+1.54).
Here are the most likely winners this week, according to my win simulation model, as well as their Golf odds win odds.
Win Simulation Analysis and Best Bets
Patrick Cantlay remains elite, and I'm not going to pretend like he's not. The model likes him to be +1800, but he's +2400.
We also see some value on Cameron Smith (+3400) and Daniel Berger (+3400) near the top of the odds board. I'd be willing to bet that we see some of the odds lengthen among the favorites who don't draw early-week betting action. As it stands, Cantlay, Smith, and Berger are the first places I'm looking.
Sam Burns (+4800) and Louis Oosthuizen (+5500) are solid here, too, which won't surprise anyone who follows these simulations. There's also a massive discrepancy between Russell Henley's sportsbook odds (+12000) and his expected odds (+7500).
Again, Cantlay, Smith, and Berger are my early interests, and I'll add more once we get more markets.
Update: Some top 10s that I'm into: Cantlay (+250), Sungjae Im (+490), Henley (+600), Sergio Garcia (+700), Seamus Power (+1000).
Daily Fantasy Golfer Picks for THE PLAYERS Championship
All stats cited below originate at FantasyNational. Strokes gained data includes stats from the past calendar year and is adjusted based on my field strength and recency tweaks. Putting surface splits also come from FantasyNational and include the past 50 rounds when possible -- unless noted. All ranks and percentile ranks are among the field. References to my combo model refer to a combination of long-term, field-adjusted form, key stat performance, and hole-by-hole-level strokes gained data.
Best of the Best
Collin Morikawa (FanDuel Salary: $11,800 | Golf odds Win Odds: +1100) - There's a reason that Morikawa is the betting favorite this week (which might be a little overeager, but still). TPC Sawgrass sets ups as what should be an elite course for the straight-hitting, iron-striping Morikawa. He picked up strokes from ball-striking last year here but lost in both areas of the short game. In 2022, Morikawa has finished T5 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, T62 in Abu Dhabi, T18 in Dubai, and T2 at the Genesis.
Daniel Berger ($10,500 | +3400) - When we get loaded fields, certain golfers have their salaries dip out of necessity. Berger is shaping up as one of the golfers on whom we should take note. Berger is accurate off the tee (90th percentile) and rates in the 99th percentile in strokes gained: fairway through green (if we remove strokes gained: off the tee from the equation). He was T9 at TPC Sawgrass last year as well. He'll also act as a pivot away from Scottie Scheffler ($10,700), who is coming off of a second win in the past month.
Others to Consider:
Jon Rahm ($12,100 | +1300) - His worst game is still incredibly good; he's got three straight top-21s while losing with his short game in all three.
Viktor Hovland ($11,400 | +1700) - Similar to Morikawa with his accuracy paired with iron play; 99th-percentile ball-striker.
Cameron Smith ($10,600 | +3400) - T17 here last year; field leader in strokes gained: fairway through green.
Sungjae Im ($9,900 | +4800) - Im faded at Bay Hill last week and really rode the putter to his T20, but he's a good bermuda putter (83rd percentile), so I'm not very concerned about that. Sungjae is accurate (80th percentile) and has a good short game overall (85th percentile). We've seen him find success here last year with a T17.
Talor Gooch ($9,100 | +5500) - Gooch is really lingering lately. He has five top-27 finishes in seven starts in 2022, and his two missed cuts were categorized by poor putting. Gooch is an above-baseline bermuda putter (57th percentile) and a positive in virtually every category without dominating in any particular area. He finished T5 at Sawgrass last year, and in 2019, he was cut despite ranking 11th in strokes gained: approach (in two rounds compared to everyone else's four). Perhaps he likes the course.
Others to Consider:
Matt Fitzpatrick ($9,700 | +3600) - A fan of tougher setups, Fitzpatrick is boosted here with his accuracy and newfound iron play; 9th here last year and four-straight top-12s overall.
Shane Lowry ($9,600 | +3600) - Was 8th here last year with otherwise up-and-down Sawgrass form; 95th-percentile iron play.
Corey Conners ($9,300 | +5500) - Accuracy and irons fit Conners well; 41st and 7th in two tries at TPC Sawgrass.
Russell Henley ($9,000 | +12000) - Henley is one of five golfers in the field to rank in the 85th percentile or better in adjusted iron play and in fairways gained. The others? Berger, Morikawa, Hovland, and Conners. That's great company. Henley hasn't missed a cut since The Open in July. He's largely struggled at TPC Sawgrass (five missed cuts in eight starts) but has posted three top-35 finishes here, as well. His form now isn't exactly comparable to past years.
Billy Horschel ($8,800 | +4800) - Horschel is all over the top of the leaderboard during the Florida swing (16th and 2nd) while flushing the irons, and the form was good before that, too (11th at Farmers and 6th at WM Phoenix Open). Horschel is six of eight with making cuts at TPC Sawgrass, and he is in the 88th percentile in fairways gained over the past 50 rounds on tour.
Others to Consider:
Max Homa ($8,800 | +5500) - A top-five ball-striker and long-term player below $9,000; gained with approach here last year but had a cold putter.
Alexander Noren ($8,400 | +12000) - Great overall for the salary with average irons; has two top-20s and two missed cuts at TPC Sawgrass.
Chris Kirk ($7,800 | +7500) - Salary could open up a ton this week; three straight top-15 finishes with nine starts at TPC Sawgrass.