Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course
Yards: 7,215 as per the scorecard
Par: 72 (36-36)
Greens: Mini-verde Bermudagrass; 4,500 square feet on average
Rough: Bermudagrass at 2.5”
Water Hazards: 24
Course Architect: Pete Dye (1980)
Winner’s Share: $1,710,000
FexExCup Points: 600 to the winner
Defending Champion: Matt Kuchar held off Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson, Martin Laird and Ben Curtis by one shot to win his first PLAYERS.
Dates: May 9-12
Notes: 145 man field will NOT include Scott Langley after Derek Ernst’s win last week at Quail Hollow. He is now the first alternate.
THE PLAYERS began in 1974. This is the 32nd edition of THE PLAYERS at TPC Sawgrass.
There have been 28 different winners in 31 events heading into this season. The only multiple winners in this event are Hal Sutton (1983, 2000), Fred Couples (1984, 1996), Steve Elkington (1991, 1997) and Davis Love III (1992, 2003).
No player has ever defended their title.
Only Hal Sutton (1983) and Craig Perks (2002) have won THE PLAYERS in their first attempt.
Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, is the youngest winner at THE PLAYERS as he won the 2004 title at 23 years, 8 months and 12 days. It was only his 41St TOUR event, a record number of events by any PLAYERS champion.
Of the 31 champions, 15 have won a major championship.
There are 10 former champions in the field this week.
Matt Kuchar 2012
K.J. Choi 2011
Tim Clark 2010
Henrik Stenson 2009
Sergio Garcia 2008
Phil Mickelson 2007
Adam Scott 2004
Davis Love III 2003, 1992
Tiger Woods 2001
Justin Leonard 1998
Only K.J. Choi (T21) in 2011 and Phil Mickelson (T24) in 2007 are the only two players since 2000 to finish outside the top 16 in GIR. Strike your balls well this week, gents.
In 2013 10 of the 18 stroke-play events this season the 54-hole leader (or co-leader) have gone on to victory. This is the SIXTH week in a row where the 54-hole leader(s) have not held up their end of the bargain as Phil Mickelson faded to third and Nick Watney leaked to T10.
The winners on TOUR have been Johnson (28), Henley (24), Gay (41), Woods THRICE (37), Mickelson (42), Snedeker (32), Merrick (30) Kuchar (34),Thompson, M (27) Brown (29), Streelman (34), Points (36), Laird (30), Scott (32), G-Mac (33), Horschel (26) and Ernst (22). The young folks (30 and younger) now have eight victories; the 30-somethings have nine victories, and the “old folks” (40 and up) have their two wins. This week’s “great hope” for the Old folks was 54-hole leader Mickelson.
Rank and File
As of Monday morning, 46 of the top 50 in the OWGR are playing this week. All 30 of the top 30 OWGR and FedExCup leaders are playing this week. Based on the prize pool, they should be!
TPC Sawgrass was designed by renowned architect Pete Dye in 1980 and became the full-time home of THE PLAYERS in 1982 as Jerry Pate took home the trophy. Each year, this tournament boasts the best field and largest paycheck on TOUR and this year is no different. As I mentioned before, 45 of the top 50 players in the OWGR are here this week and they competing for prize purse of $9.5 million. That’s some coin and part of the reason it is described as the “fifth major”.
After ranking 19th out of 49 courses used last season on TOUR, TPC Sawgrass presents a very interesting challenge to players and caddies alike. Over the 30-plus years, only four players have won multiple championships and NOBODY has gone back-to-back. This is strange because the same course is used year in and year out. This is strange, yet interesting all at the same time because they use the same course each season. Take a look at the winners, for example. Woods, Mickelson, Scott and DL III are guys who are household names who hit it a mile. Tim Clark, K.J. Choi and Fred Funk, all winners in the last 10 years, always hit first. Kuchar and Garcia can compete anywhere with their short games. Any style, any year is possible at this course and that’s what makes this field, because of its depth, impossible to project and why multiple victories are rare around Ponte Vedra.
Here’s what’s going to be needed this week to have a chance to test your nerves on the final four holes come Sunday. Players will have to be able to work their golf ball both ways off the tee and from the fairway. Dye mixes in plenty of doglegs for tee shots and approach shots so neither a fade nor a draw is preferred this week. The greens aren’t very large on average so if players are not premium iron players, their short games must be on point. As we have seen on many Dye courses already this season, players must be comfortable pitching, chipping, putting or using hybrids from off the green into pin placements that make you think. Once on the greens, the Stimpmeter will be running over 12’ so those who struggle with the putter might struggle in general if they are not hitting it close.
The good news for the players is birdies are usually the order of the day here as the average winning score over the last 10 years has been just a tad over 13-under-par. The lowest score was 271 by DL III in 2003 and the highest score was Garcia’s 283 in the wind in 2008. Birdies on the first 16 holes will be necessary and avoidance of bogeys on Nos. 17 and 18 will secure steady rounds. Pete Dye’s courses tests the patience of veteran players and caddies, let alone young up-and-comers. He tricks your eye; he tests your accuracy and he provides plenty of risk-reward. This is one of my favorite tournaments on the season due to its unpredictability and usual decent theater on the weekend.
Let see who’s going to factor this week.
Top 10, Plus TWO
It’s quite a large event this week so we’ll swell it up a bit
Lee Westwood: For the second year in a row, he sits atop my rankings for THE PLAYERS. He now has 10 tournaments under his belt here and his game is peaking right now. After T10 at Houston, he hit the top 10 again at Augusta (T8) before staking his best finish of 2013 with T4 last week at Charlotte and that was with 72-72 weekend. Known as one of the premium ball-strikers going, his short-game has improved this season as well as he’s eighth in scrambling and 63rd in total putting. His best finishes here are T4 (2010), T5 (1998) and T6 (1999).
Luke Donald: He missed three of his first four cuts here but his one make was T2. Donald will be playing his 11th PLAYERS in a row and has finished sixth and T4 in his last two outings at Sawgrass. He’s made 37 of his last 40 cuts on TOUR and finished T3 at Pete Dye’s Harbour Town the week after the Masters. His short game and accuracy off the tee have paid the bills here over the years.
Jim Furyk: The Ponte Vedra Beach resident has played this course once or twice so he knows every bounce, hop and bobble that is out there. He’s also one of the most accurate drivers of the golf ball around and that doesn’t hurt either. He’s made 13 cuts in a row and 14 of 17 lifetime at Sawgrass. Ten of those 14 made cuts have resulted in T30 or better.
Tiger Woods: He only has one top 10 in last 10 appearances after his 2001 victory but he does have three wins in 2013 and has been striking the ball awfully well. He’s leading the TOUR in strokes gained-putting and scoring. I’m going to stop typing now.
Justin Rose: In five stroke-play events this season his worst finish is T25. His worst rounds were 74 and 75 on the weekend at Augusta that led to said T25. He’s first in sand save percentage, second in total driving and sixth in GIR. It’s shocking that he hasn’t had better success at Sawgrass as he’s looking for his first top 10 in his 10th start.
Graeme McDowell: Another great player who has struggled to crack the code at Sawgrass, GMAC learned a valuable lesson in 2011 when he led after 54 holes only to fall apart with 79 on Sunday. His accurate tee ball will put him in plenty of A positions to attack pins and if he misses greens, he’s No. 1 on TOUR in scrambling and No. 6 in strokes gained-putting. He’s coming off a win at Harbour Town his last time out.
Rory McIlroy: He led the field in GIR last week in Charlotte but was almost dead last in putting. He’ll be excited to see hot, fast greens this week and should enjoy the challenge of a course that has eaten his lunch. He’s never broken par in three attempts and hasn’t made the cut in those three attempts either. If his ball-striking was that good in those conditions last week, I’ll be anxious to see how well he hits it in perfect weather.
Phil Mickelson: Howdy, Phil! You can’t possibly play great two weeks in a row, can you? ANSWER ME! Since he won here in 2007 his best finish is just T17. He hit it so well last week it was almost criminal that he lost. I have no idea what he’ll do this week as per usual but I am just as curious as you are. #phrakenconfused
Sergio Garcia: He’s coming off his worst stroke-play event of the season, T16 at Wells Fargo, in six events. The 2008 champ is making his 14th start and has three top 10s in those events. He’s 50th in GIR and 10th in strokes gained-putting. I would have bet those numbers were reversed but it has led him to third-best on TOUR in scoring.
Matt Kuchar: The defending champion has banged out 10-for-10 this season and has six top 25s on top of his victory at the WGC-Match Play. His ball-striking numbers are off this year but his scrambling and putting have picked up the slack to grind out four top 10s.
Adam Scott: Some of you will feel that’s he’s too low here but all he did the last time out was win the Masters. He did the full media circuit and bent an elbow or two (who could blame him? Not me!) so I’m not sure where he is on the golf course. The 2004 champ has too much talent to omit but I doubt his feet have touched the ground since the playoff at Augusta. He leads the TOUR in scoring and par five scoring so he also has that going for him, which is nice.
Keegan Bradley: The only blemish on his season was his third round 82 at the Masters. He also has five top 10 finishes and 7 total in the top 25 in 10 weekends this year. He’s the complete player as he rates favorably in most categories to check in at 15th in the all-around. I like the fact that he’s been at par or better in five of eight career rounds here (two events only).
These guys just missed out above
Billy Horschel: Well, I mentioned above that players teeing it up here for the first time in competition don’t have a chance. That is the rule. There is an exception for every rule, right? Horschel is the exception. His ball-striking and putting have been unbelievable for a month now so I don’t see why it would let up. The Jacksonville Beach resident has probably knocked a few around here in a non-tournament setting so it’s not like he’s just seeing the course for the first time this week. He’s seventh in total putting and 24th in GIR. Oh, he leads the TOUR with 23 cuts made in a row.
Kevin Streelman: He was having himself a steady tournament here last year before a final round 78 dropped him to T51. In 2011 he was T19 and he’s finished T6 and T3 in his last two outings of 2013. He also won in March in Tampa on a ball-strikers course. He’s 15th in ball-striking, 13th in total driving and 25th in total putting and is in the middle of the best run of golf in his career. What am I missing?
Jimmy Walker: I can’t get enough of him and I’m not getting off this week and here’s why. In 10 rounds in the last three years here, Walker has played seven of them UNDER par. That’s the good news. The bad news is the three bad rounds have been the “final” round of the week. His 74 on Sunday last year saw him finish T35. His 77 in 2011 saw him MC after an opening round 69. His 75 in 2010 on Sunday took him to T26. And he’s having a career-type year this year. Sold, again.
Brandt Snedeker: After WD before WGC-Cadillac at Doral, Snedeker has only his Masters performance to show for his four starts. His T6 at Augusta was another near miss but his two MC leading into that event and his T59 the week after has me concerned. Also, since his T12 finish at TPC Sawgrass in 2007, he’s only posted one round under par in four events that all resulted in MC. His overall body of work for the last 18 months gives him the benefit of the doubt here.
Nick Watney: Forget it and move on should be Watney’s theory arriving at TPC Sawgrass this week. Forget SUNDAY, that is. He played excellent golf is tough conditions for 52 holes last weekend to create a two shot lead over Mickelson heading into Sunday. If he focuses, and he should, on that, he’ll be fine this week. His T17 in 2010 and his T4 in 2011 back that up. He’s now hit eight weekends in a row and his last three have been T10, T15 and T13. He’s 27th in total driving, 12th in ball-striking and 11th in GIR.
Webb Simpson: I’m always impressed when a guy ranks 150th in total driving yet is in the top 50 in GIR (44th). Imagine if Simpson found a fairway or two this week? He’s also 22nd in scrambling and 37th in total putting so he has the full package to contend this week after an off-week on his home course. He would be ranked higher but only has been under par in two rounds of 10 in his career.
Bill Haas: He left me hanging in Group A last week but thankfully I have a short memory. He’s three of six here including T25 last year after a posting a first round 68. That’s 11 shots lower than his opening round last week. Maybe my memory isn’t so short. Haas will hit plenty of GIR to make be a nuisance again this week. He has hit the top 25 in eight of 10 weekends this year.
Dustin Johnson: A wonderful wild card this week as Johnson is coming off a wrist injury that forced him to miss the festivities at Quail Hollow last week. His last three stroke play events have been T13 at Augusta, T4 at Houston and T12 at Doral. After MC with 73-80 in 2008, DJ has rebounded with three weekends in a row. He missed last year with a bad back. Johnson game travels and if he’s healthy, he could be a major factor. He’s down here because of the injury concern. He remarked via his Twitter account that it was nothing serious, just precautionary.
Charl Schwartzel: He’s made 13 cuts on the bounce but it never seems like he’s playing unless it’s a loaded field. This week, he fits right in. In six events on TOUR, he’s worst stroke play finish was T25 at Augusta. He hits it a mile and can absolutely putt it. This will be only his fourth time (1 of 3; T25) at THE PLAYERS (2011, 2010 and 2007) and he hasn’t played since the Masters so that gives me pause in a field this loaded.
Tim Clark: Here’s what I really like about Clark. He’s fired 76 in his last two tournaments and has finished T11 (Masters) and T24 (RBC Heritage). The 2010 champion will have no problem grinding it around Sawgrass if necessary. His driver and short game have proven to be the answer here before and his form entering the tournament should only reinforce that theory.
Bo Van Pelt: In his last 12 rounds around Sawgrass, BVP has been over par exactly twice. The strange part is he’s only made the weekend in two of those four years. Needless to say he’s comfortable around here and he’s coming off his best finish of 2013 with T6 last week at Quail Hollow. His well-rounded game has and should flourish here again.
Off the Beaten Path
Either “horse-for-course” or guys off the radar
D.A. Points: With a massive field lined up, don’t forget the man who has absolutely torn it up in recent weeks. Guys will pass on him for “sexier” names but you should be ready to pounce because hot golf is hot golf, period.
Kyle Stanley: After back-to-back weeks inside the top six it’s time to take a look to see if Stanley has rediscovered the form that made him so successful early doors of 2012. He’s moved back to the Washington-state area from where is he is originally from and he looks to be settling down on the course as well. I don’t like that he’s only been around here twice in one tournament but I do like hot golf and hot ball-strikers this week.
Ben Crane: Horse-for-course has three rounds over par in the last five years at Sawgrass and finished T4, T5 and T6 from 2010-2008.
Peter Hanson: He’s played this event twice, both in the last two years, and has seven rounds of par or better in finishes of T15 and T19. He hits it a mile but his strength is on the greens where he finds himself ranked 20th in total putting. He’s WD twice this season, once at Bay Hill and his last time out at Harbour Town.
Zach Johnson: It just goes to show you what kind of “off year” that Zach Johnson is experiencing if the only place I can fit him in this week is the “Horses-for-Courses” section. As well has he usually drives, chips and putts, it has been frustrating for gamers waiting for him to fire in 2013. The next few weeks will tell us where his game is at because this is where he made his move last year. He’s almost automatic at Sawgrass but his season up to this point suggests ANYTHING can happen this week. At THE PLAYERS he’s seven of eight with six results being T32 or better. This year, his best full-field, stroke play result was in JANUARY, T23, at the Humana.
Martin Kaymer: Well, here’s a bit of a stretch based on current form but I cannot deny his play at Sawgrass. Kaymer, as you know, NEVER makes this column, but after finishes of T15, T19, T34 and T55 he has to, in some form, this week. He’s been better every year since his first and would be worth a punt this week at 100-1 or better.
Henrik Stenson: The 2009 champ has never finished worse than T23 in the five times he’s made the cut here in seven tries. Wow. Included in that is also a T3 in 2006 and T10 in 2008. His T18 at Augusta should do nothing to scare you away this week. Neither will his total driving numbers (first) nor his GIR numbers (first).
David Toms: In his last four tournaments here the wily veteran has finished T10, second, MC and T9. His only top 25 this season in eight events was T13 at the Masters, another quite large event. His driver and putter will be his tools of choice this (and every) week.
Aaron Baddeley: He’s made six of nine cuts here and hit the top 10 with T6 in 2011 and T9 in 2009. There are plenty of other guys out there who cannot claim two top 10s in four years. If he can find any fairways or greens this week, watch out.
John Rollins: He’s hit the top 25 seven times in nine weekends in 2013 and he’s 19th in ball-striking on TOUR. He’s playing for the 11th time in a row at THE PLAYERS and has T25 (2012) and T13 (2010) finishes in two of his last three.
Pat Perez: He’s quietly made seven weekends in a row and four of those have been T32 or better. He played well on a tight course in Tampa as he finished T7 there and he finished T25 here last year. He has the experience and the game.
Take It Deep
Bud Cauley: Jacksonville native has played this track quite a few times. Hey, the name of the column is sub-titled “long shots”.
Brendon de Jonge: He played all four rounds at par or better in his third try here last year for T15. This is a large step-up in class.
Russell Henley: Another pup who just might have enough game to make a run late on a Sunday. He’s closed one deal already this year but it’s his inexperience which finds him on this list.
Thorbjorn Olesen: He showed up at Bay Hill for the first time and was T7. He showed up at the Masters for the first time and was T6. He also played the quite easy TPC Louisiana and did not make the cut.
Robert Allenby: Whoa! He was T27 last week and has had plenty of experiences with decent finishes here so be on the look out! MAXIMUM risk, even HIGHER reward!
Charles Howell III: He’s tried 11 times and his best finish is T32 in 2003. His next best finish was T53 in 2006. He’s missed the cut in seven of 11 starts. I have now guaranteed him a top 25 for this week.
Hunter Mahan: I cannot endorse him, sorry. T73, MDF, MC and MC in his last four don’t get me going. If he falls into last round of my live weekly draft, I MIGHT take a look. He’ll be back but there are too many players this week to take a chance at him early. I’m not overpaying this week.
David Mathis: He was T15 here last year in his first start. I‘ll chalk it up to beginner’s luck as he hasn’t made a cut in his last eight events in 2013. His best finish of the year is T41 at Sony. Yikes.
S.Y. Noh: Just say Noh this week. And probably next. And probably the week after that. Sean Foley’s stuff takes time to grow.
Padraig Harrington: Belly putter or no belly putter? I mean, how can you possibly hitch your wagon to a guy who’s not sure what kind of putter he’s using? Not me.
Bubba Watson: He said via his Twitter that he has not been feeling good about his golf swing for the “last few tournaments”. He said he must “keep grinding and quit playing scared.” He made two cuts in five tries and his best finish is T37. This ain’t the place to sharpen up the game.
Ryan Palmer: He’s missed six of seven cuts. His best finish is T75. He has two rounds under par.
Rookie of the Week Last Week
I keep an eye on the youngin’s each week to see who is making the most noise.
Sony: Russell Henley WIN
Humana: David Lingmerth P2
Farmers: Brad Fritsch T9
WMPO: James Hahn T16
AT&T: James Hahn T3
NTO: Luke Guthrie T21
WGC-Match Play: Russell Henley 2nd round
Honda: Luke Guthrie 3rd
WGC-Cadillac: Russell Henley T28
Puerto Rico: Jordan Spieth 2nd
Tampa Bay: Jordan Spieth T7; Shawn Stefani T7; Ben Kohles T7
Arnold Palmer: Ben Kohles T14
Shell Houston Open: Robert Streb T22
Valero Texas Open: Ben Kohles T37
Masters: Russell Henley MC (not many to choose from last week!)
RBC Heritage: Russell Henley T6
Zurich Classic: D. H. Lee T8
Wells Fargo Championship: Derek Ernst WIN
SEASON TOTAL: $2,559,123
HTOC: Steve Stricker (2nd; $665,000)
Sony: Charles Howell III (T3; $324,800)
Humana: Tim Clark (MC)
Farmers: Rickie Fowler (T6; $204,350)
WMPO: Jason Dufner (MC)
AT&T Pebble: Hunter Mahan (T16; $94,250)
Northern Trust: Bill Haas (T3; $343,200)
WGC-Match Play: Charl Schwartzel (T33; $46,000)
Honda: Lee Westwood (T9; $156,000)
WGC-Cadillac Championship: Matt Kuchar (T35; $68,500)
Tampa Bay: Jim Furyk (T7; $148,892)
Bay Hill: Sergio Garcia (WD after three rounds)
Shell Houston: Jimmy Walker (T50; $14,838)
Valero: Cameron Tringale (MC)
Masters: Phil Mickelson (T54; $18,320)
RBC Heritage: Luke Donald (T3; $336,400)
Zurich Classic: Bubba Watson (T15; $102,500)
Wells Fargo: Webb Simpson (T32; $37,073)
THE PLAYERS: Nick Watney
GolfChannel.com Fantasy Challenge
Wells Fargo Classic
(I play as “Glass” for ALL fantasy games)
Mike Glasscott (Rank: 3,448; $10,649,797)
Group 1: Tiger Woods
Group 2: Jim Furyk
Group 3: Jimmy Walker
Group 4: Stewart Cink
Ryan O’Sullivan (Rank: 4,022; $10,443,851)
Group 1: Luke Donald
Group 2: Sergio Garcia
Group 3: David Toms
Group 4: Jonathan Byrd
Ned Brown (Rank: 3,612; $10,581,623) “Pure Spin”
Group 1: Tiger Woods
Group 2: Jim Furyk
Group 3: David Toms
Group 4: Lucas Glover
Rob Bolton (Rank: 6,713; $9,699,532)
Group 1: Luke Donald
Group 2: Jim Furyk
Group 3: Kevin Streelman
Group 4: Bryce Molder
Ned said, “…
Ned Brown is a long-time contributor for Rotoworld Golf. He’s had documented success in Yahoo!’s game for years. Even if you’re confident in your selections for that game, give his insight a read. Ned also provides us with his GolfChannel.com Fantasy Challenge selections as well!
Tiger Woods- One of the toughest questions this week is do you try and save a start on him? Seeing that he already a three-time winner this season, I think the way to go is to put him on the roster and then try to keep him on the bench.
Phil Mickelson-- He played well last week and led the tournament until a bogey at the 71st hole. His hot hand should carry over this week and I'll try to use him the entire tournament, unless it's clear that Woods is going to finish in the top 3.
Sergio Garcia, Brandt Snedeker, Tim Clark
Luke Donald-- After a bit of a slow start to the season, he is playing better of late with a T4 at Tampa and a T3 at the RBC Heritage. He has played well in the last couple of PLAYERS with a T4 in '11 and a sixth place last year.
Steve Stricker-- He is playing in only a handful of events this season, but in the five events he has played so far he has three top 5 finishes.
Bo Van Pelt-- Van Pelt has played well recently and he notched his first top 10 of the year last week at the Wells Fargo when he tied for sixth place. His recent record at THE PLAYERS is pretty good with a T4 in '10 and a T7 last year.
Jim Furyk-- Furyk recorded a T7 in Tampa and T3 at the VTO, then he added a T25 at the Masters. His T42 at the Heritage was a bit of a disappointment, but he had played a pretty heavy schedule going into the tournament, so I'm not going to give that showing much weight.
Matt Kuchar, Nick Watney, Peter Hanson, Zach Johnson, David Toms
Adam Scott-- He earned his first Major last time out and he hasn't played since then. Scott is a past champion at THE PLAYERS and I'm assuming that his form is somewhat like it was at Augusta.
Henrik Stenson-- I've used quite a few starts on Lee Westwood and Charl Schwartzel so I'm going to use Henrik Stenson instead. He has a very nice record of three top 10s in seven career starts at THE PLAYERS including a championship in '09.
Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, Ian Poulter, Jason Day
Points last week: 191
Points this year: 3,016
Overall Ranking: (319; 99th percentile)
And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat WEDNESDAY at NOON ET. We will be breaking down the field at the THE PLAYERS Championship and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter. Don’t forget to follow Rob (https://twitter.com/RobBoltonGolf) and Glass (https://twitter.com/GlassWGCL) on Twitter.