Out of the Rough: THE PLAYERS (2023)
What was once a premier event on the PGA Tour schedule has lost a bit of its importance.
THE PLAYERS, known as the “fifth major,” used to be the first premier event of the calendar year. This is the week we would typically see the best field outside of the majors.
With the new elevated events, this event just doesn’t feel the same. We’ll see the same field, for the most part, for the fourth time in five weeks.
The $25 million purse is the most of any tournament on Tour but even that doesn’t seem that important with multiple elevated events seeing purses of $20 million.
Either way, THE PLAYERS is still a premier event that carries importance no matter what the rest of the schedule looks like.
Held annually at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, the biggest names in the sport will be in attendance in pursuit of a victory.
Last year’s winner, Cameron Smith, will not be in attendance however as he has since joined the LIV Tour and therefore has been disqualified from the event. That also takes away from the former “fifth major” title.
Other past champions of THE PLAYERS that have since joined the LIV Tour include Martin Kaymer, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson. Again, all of which will not be in attendance this week.
As already noted, the field will be much like what we’ve seen at the WM Phoenix Open, Genesis Invitational and last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Headlined by the big three of Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler, the field too includes elite talents such as Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Max Homa in the 144 golfer pool.
Although we will be missing last year’s champion and three other former winners of the event, there will be a handful of past champions playing. Those names include Thomas, McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Si Woo Kim, Jason Day, Matt Kuchar and Adam Scott.
TPC Sawgrass is a very volatile course that offers a lot of variables year-in-and-year-out. For example, Shane Lowry is the only player in this week’s field who has finished top 20 in each of the last two years, with finishes of T13 and eighth.
To also put the volatility of this course and event into perspective, there’s only been two repeat champions of the event in the last 30 years. They were Tiger Woods and Davis Love III.
Even some of the elite talents on tour struggle here at TPC Sawgrass as names such as Cantlay and Schauffele have missed the cut here in each of the last two years.
Additionally, Rahm, McIlroy and Scheffler combine for just three finishes inside the top 30 over the last five years.
Expect a leaderboard heading into Sunday with names you would not expect to be there.
The winning score of the event will hover around the mid-teens under par as the average score of the event since its move to March has been -14.
TPC Sawgrass plays as a par 72 at just under 7,200 yards and requires a well rounded golf game to be in contention.
The course is one of, if not the biggest, risk-reward type tracks on Tour as the constant hazard threat makes for a very volatile leaderboard.
There is water in play on 17 of the 18 holes at TPC Sawgrass. Quirky greenside bunkers that don’t allow for a smooth up-and-down too are included in the list of hazards.
TPC Sawgrass mitigates the advantage of longer hitters off the tee with the hazards and a plethora of doglegs going both left and right.
It however does reward those with elite approach and short games.
The par fives are arguably the most important holes on the course in terms of scoring and any hopeful winner must take advantage of them.
Along with the par fives, the short par four 12th hole too much be taken advantage of.
This is Pete Dye’s most famous design and like the majority of his designs, the course baits golfers into facing the extensive list of hazards head on.
The course was built simply to be a state-of-the-art tournament golf course to host THE PLAYERS Championship.
What we got from the 1970’s construction of this course is a modern marvel and the quintessential tournament stadium course that features some of the most pristine manicuring in golf.
TPC Sawgrass is most notably known for its par three island green that may be the most recognizable hole in all of golf.
Included in the final three holes is the island green, but the final three hole stretch is simply one of the best closing stretches on Tour.
Weather will almost certainly be a factor as we saw a year ago. The weather made the event nearly unplayable for half the field.
Wind is often up and can play a big part in the event. However, since the events move to March, the greens play much softer, making controlling approach shots and of course putting, much easier.
As for weather this week, there is a threat of rain on Friday with a 40-percent chance of precipitation. Saturday and Sunday too feature a 20-percent chance. Temperatures are set to range from 71 degrees on Thursday to 78 degrees on Friday with Saturday and Sunday set to be in the mid-70’s. Wind is set to range from 11 miles-per-hour to 13 miles-per-hour across the four days.
Important statistics to consider this week include:
Strokes Gained: Approach (SG: APP)
Average Par 5 Scoring
Strokes Gained: Around the Green (SG: ATG)
Strokes Gained: Putting on Bermuda (SG: PUTT Bermuda)
Strokes Gained: Ball Strikes (SG: BS)
Birdie or Better Percentage
Sand Saves Percentage
For the first time all season when Rahm has been playing, he isn’t my top suggestion in this price range or even overall. He struggled last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and therefore his stats have taken a hit. Instead, my top suggestion in this price range is Scottie Scheffler ($10,600.) Scheffler is currently tops on Tour when it comes to both bogey avoidance and SG: BS. He’s also eighth in birdie or better percentage, 10th in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 12th in both SG: APP and SG: ATG, 13th in average par five scoring, 14th in scrambling and 50th in driving accuracy. His score is a bit hindered by his well below average placing in sand saves percentage. I won’t penalize him too much for the sand saves. In five events on the calendar year, Scheffler has not placed worse than T12th. He of course won the WM Phoenix Open in early February and is fresh off a T4th at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. He’s played this event the last two years without any success however. He placed T55th last year and missed the cut two years ago. However, as the best golfer on Tour in avoiding bogey as well as being the best ball striker and an elite approach player, I fancy his chances this week. Of course I still couldn’t go a week without suggesting Jon Rahm ($11,800.) Despite his struggles last week, he’s still the best golfer on the planet and still the World #1. He’s currently tops on Tour when it comes to birdie or better percentage. He’s also second in average par five scoring, fourth in SG: PUTT Bermuda, fifth in both SG: ATG and SG: APP, seventh in SG: BS, 18th in bogey avoidance, 60th in scrambling and 106th in sand saves percentage. If there’s a knock to Rahm’s game it's his driver as he ranks 119th in driving accuracy. Outside of last week’s meltdown after his impressive opening round of 65 at Bay Hill, his worst finish in five events on the calendar year was T7th. He has won three events (Sentry Tournament of Champions, The American Express and the Genesis Invitational.) Rahm has played this event the last five years it was held (event was canceled in 2020) and has never missed the cut. His success at TPC Sawgrass is highlighted by a T9th in 2021 and T12 in 2019. He’s still Jon Rahm and still has a chance to win in any tournament he plays.
When it comes to a course that rewards elite approach and ball strikers, we have to include Collin Morikawa ($9,500.) Morikawa has been a bit volatile as of late, sandwiching a T6th at the Genesis Invitational with missed cuts at the WM Phoenix Open and Arnold Palmer Invitational. Additionally, he’s gone second at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and third at the Farmers Insurance Open on the calendar year. Morikawa missed the cut at this event last year and went T41st at the event in 2021. He’s currently third on tour in driving accuracy, eighth in both average par five scoring and SG: PUTT Bermuda, ninth in both SG: APP and SG: ATG, 13th in SG: BS, 14th in birdie or better percentage, 43rd in bogey avoidance, 52nd in scrambling and 79th in sand saves percentage. He’s the first golfer we’ve hightlighted this far that's above average in each of the statistical categories we’re taking into consideration. Also consider Tony Finau ($9,200.) Finau is one of those statistical golfers that routinely finds himself in this series. Finau has not missed a cut on the calendar year with two top tens, three top 15’s and his worst finish actually came last week with a T24th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Finau has not had success at this event in the past, missing four cuts in six consecutive events. His best finish at THE PLAYERS has been a T22nd in 2019. He’s currently third on tour in all three of SG: APP, SG: ATG and SG: PUTT Bermuda. He’s also fifth in birdie or better percentage, eighth in average par five scoring, ninth in bogey avoidance, 11th in scrambling, 20th in SG: BS, 29th in sand saves percentage and 98th in average driving distance. Like Morikawa, he’s above average in each of the statistical categories we’re taking into consideration this week. Per our model this week, Morikawa and Finau are two and three.
Per my model this week, Tom Kim ($8,100) is actually my favorite. Kim of course has not played this event before but with the volatility of this course, that means next to nothing. He has made five consecutive cuts on the calendar year and has made the cut in eight of nine events he’s played this season. He won the Shriners Children’s Open back in October as well as placing T5th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in early January and T6th at the American Express in late January. He is currently fourth on tour in both driving accuracy and bogey avoidance, tenth in both scrambling and SG: BS, 11th in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 13th in both SG: APP and SG: ATG, 18th in birdie or better percentage, 21st in sand saves percentage and 41st in average par five scoring. If he can find some success on the par fives this week, I believe Kim has the tools to compete for a THE PLAYERS title. Also consider Jason Day ($8,000.) If you’ve been following this series as of late, you’ve seen a heavy dosage of Day. Day is one of the players in this field with repeat success at TPC Sawgrass. He won the event back in 2016 and placed T5th in 2018 and T8th in 2019. Day has also been one of the hottest golfers on all of the Tour on the calendar year. His worst finish on the year was a T18th at the American Express back in late January. Since then he’s gone T7th at the Farmers Insurance Open, fifth at the WM Phoenix Open, T9th at the Genesis Invitational and T10th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He’s currently second on Tour in scrambling, third in bogey avoidance, 11th in SG: BS, 22nd in both SG: PUTT Bermuda and birdie or better percentage, T25th in both SG: APP and SG: ATG, 29th in driving accuracy, 41st in average par five scoring and 48th in sand saves percentage. Sooner or later, Day will have to find himself competing late on Sunday with the way he’s been playing.
If we’re going to highlight elite approach golfers, it’s only fitting we have Tom Hoge ($7,400) in our suggestions this week. He’s currently second on Tour in all three of SG: APP, SG: ATG and SG: PUTT Bermuda, 11th in birdie or better percentage, 24th in bogey avoidance, 26th in SG: BS, 41st in driving accuracy, 55th in average par five scoring, 75th in scrambling and 90th in sand saves percentage. Hoge has sandwiched a T14th at the very challenging Genesis Invitational with missed cuts at the WM Phoenix Open and Arnold Palmer Invitational. Hoge has actually had some pretty solid success in the past at THE PLAYERS. He’s played this event for four consecutive events, making the cut in all of them. He went T30th in 2019, T22nd in 2021 and T33rd last year. Also consider Si Woo Kim ($7,600.) Kim is currently 15th on Tour in both driving accuracy and scrambling, 16th in bogey avoidance, 19th in sand saves percentage, 21st in SG: BS, 31st in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 36th in both SG: APP and SG: ATG and 89th in birdie or better percentage. His score is brought down by a 148th finish in average par five scoring. He’ll need to play better on the par fives this week if he wants a chance but the rest of his game lines up well with this course. Kim has missed just one cut on the calendar year and scoring year. He placed T39th at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. He won the Sony Open in Hawaii back in mid January and went on to place in the top 25 at The American Express, Farmers Insurance Open and WM Phoenix Open. Kim won this event back in 2017 and is one of the golfers in this field that has had repeated success here at TPC sawgrass. He has never missed the cut here in five events and outside of the victory has a T9th in 2021.
Leading off this price range is Brendon Todd ($6,900.) Todd placed T39th at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational and placed T2nd at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in early February. Todd has played this event the last two years where he missed the cut last year but placed T35th in 2021. He’s currently 6th on Tour in driving accuracy, 13th in scrambling, 15th in bogey avoidance, 24th in sand saves percentage, 55th in average par five scoring, 56th in birdie or better percentage, 58th in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 67th in both SG: APP and SG: ATG and 105th in SG: BS. He’s actually just one place shy in SG: BS in being above average in all of the statistical categories we’re taking into consideration this week. Also consider Joel Dahmen ($6,800.) Dahmen has made two of four cuts on the calendar year. He played some great golf at the turn of the year placing T3rd at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, T9th at the Cadence Bank Houston Open and T5th at the RSM Classic. In the past three events at THE PLAYERS, Dahmen has made the cut in two of them. He placed T12th in 2019 and T33rd a year ago. He’s currently tenth on Tour in driving accuracy, 32nd in scrambling, 41st in average par five scoring, 43rd in SG: BS, 44th in bogey avoidance, 46th in sand saves percentage, 64th in birdie or better percentage, 73rd in SG: PUTT Bermuda and 84th in both SG: APP and SG: ATG. In other words, he’s above average in each statistical category we’re taking into consideration this week. At just $6,800, you’re getting all of that.