The Players Championship
It was a frustrating week for us with our main team at Quail Hollow with most of them performing poorly based on our expectations. The one exception was Grillo who looked like snatching a full place for us with a strong final round until he finished bogey, bogey to end up in 9th place.
What wasn’t frustrating however was the performance of our trader Nick Watney who had a cracking week to show that he is really on the way back and he is certainly a man to watch now in forthcoming weeks.
His great showing resulted in him trading as low as 5 so an excellent profit was secured their which hopefully some of you got.
So we move on about 380 miles south to Ponte Vedre Beach, Jacksonville and to what is arguably my favourite week of the year on the PGA Tour.
TPC Sawgrass opened in 1980 and the stadium course has been host to the Players Championship since 1982.
I’ve been lucky enough to go to the Players Championship in the past and my advice is if you get a chance to visit one PGA Tour event in the future choose TPC at Sawgrass.
Sawgrass really is a fantastic place to watch golf and there really is no better place than the amphitheatre around the 16th green and 17th tee.
One of the other great things about TPC is arguably you get the best field that assembles on golf world’s stage every year and this year is no exception.
All the big names are there, JT, DJ, Rory, Day, Rahm,Tiger, Phil etc and at the time of writing Rory and Day are vying for favouritism.
As I am sure most of us know The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is a Pete Dye design and it is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of his many designs.
The course is a Par 72 and measures just under 7200 yards.
The greens are TiffEagle Bermuda, however for those who like to get in to the minutiae of this stuff it’s worth noting that up until the end of the 2016 edition the greens were Miniverde Bermuda.
After the 2016 edition though a course redesign took place, which as well as seeing the greens being re planted saw the 5th, 6th & 12th holes undergo changes.
The most noticeable of these was the changes made on the 12th which saw it become a driveable par 4.
One hole that wasn’t changed though was the Par 3 17th which is one of the most iconic holes in world golf.
Measuring 137 yards this hole really should be no more than a pitch and putt hole for the players and if it wasn’t surrounded by water it surely would be.
However when the players arrive on the tee to the sight of the big blue lake and the huge galleries their minds start to play all sorts of tricks on them and even on the calmest of days you’ll see balls going in the water.
When the wind does blow it becomes a real monster [as does the whole course] and all sorts of havoc occurs!
The Par 3 17th is part of a fantastic overall finish to the course with eagles being possible on the Par 5 16th, huge numbers being possible on the 17th, and finally the 18th, the toughest hole on the course to finish.
With this finish no lead is too big on Sunday afternoon coming in to this stretch and you can see big comebacks [Rickie of course] and real disasters [remember Sean O’Hair.]
As mentioned above the event has been held at the Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass since 1982.
For the majority of this time the event was held in mid to late March, however in 2007 the event date was changed to the second weekend in May.
The main reasons behind this at the time were twofold, firstly to give the PGA Tour’s flagship event more of it’s own identity, rather than it being seen as a warm up to the Masters and secondly to move the event to a statistically dryer time of year so that they could get the course playing firmer and faster as the design had intended.
Moving on ten years though and it has now been decided that as part of a reshuffle of the PGA Tour Calendar, which will see the fourth major of the year the PGA move from August to May, TPC will revert back to its historical slot in March from 2019.
The logic to this thinking [along with needs must] is that A, the event now has got enough of it’s own identity that it wont suffer in the lead up to the Masters and B, the course now has a sub air system, which allows them to dry the greens out in a way that they could not do when the event was previously held in March.
This means they can now control the green speeds more regardless of the weather.
Over the years of the event it is also fair to say that a very clear pattern had emerged of an identikit winner and if I had been writing this preview in the lead up to the 2015 edition I would have been pretty bullish of the credentials of player we should be looking for.
To outline this lets look at the ten winners from 2005 to 2014. These were as follows;
F Funk, S Ames, P Mickelson, S Garcia, H Stenson, T Clark, KJ Choi, M Kuchar, T Woods & M Kaymer.
So what do these players have in common? Not a lot you’d think on first glance however in relation to Sawgrass form it is quite striking.
Firstly they had all played in the event on multiple occasions building up a bank of course experience.
Secondly they had all notched previous high finishes in the event with KJ Choi’s 16th place being the worst ‘previous high finish’ any of these players had. [All bar Kaymer, Kuchar & KJ had a previous top 10.
Thirdly all bar Ames had made the cut the previous year at the event
However, since 2014 these stats have been diluted slightly in that both the 2015 & 2016 winners Fowler & Day had missed the cut the previous year, however both had made five starts in the event and both had a previous top 10 finish.
Finally last year winner Si Woo Kim won the event on only his second start, something unheard of over the previous decade plus. It should be noted though that he did finish 23rd on his debut the previous year so we can at least say he had taken to the course.
Even with Si Woo Kim’s shock victory I am reluctant though to throw out many year’s worth of ‘formula’ based on one year’s result.
There is also one other thing that connects some of these winners and that’s as follows….
As we know TPC is sometimes referred to as the ‘fifth major’ and it has certainly caught my eye over the years that the winners have often been players who were/are pedigree players on the world stage, had played Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, were considered potential major winners/had come close in majors on occasions, but at the time of winning TPC they hadn’t quite been able to get over the line [or indeed still haven’t.]
This list includes KJ Choi, Clark, Sergio, Stenson, Kuchar and Fowler.
So in summary what [or who] are we looking for, well if we draw a line through Si Woo we are looking for an experienced player with on average 5 starts at Sawgrass, a previous top 16 finish, [preferably top 10] who is a big time player with Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup experience.
Finally, over the last ten years the winning score has ranged from -16 [Tim Clark] to -10 [Si Woo Kim last year] with the average being around -13.
I’m pleased to say that it looks like we’re in for a great weeks weather with wall to wall sunshine currently in the forecast.
The wind looks like it will hover around the 10-15 mph mark for most of the week with Sunday showing the potential for 20mph gusts.
Historically the wind always tends to pick up in the afternoon on the Stadium Course and this is something to note when considering a bet on First Round Leader.
I always feel TPC gives an opportunity to find some good e/w value as it is easy to oppose certain fancied names based on their lack of course form. In addition we find one leading bookmaker offering ten places on e/w terms this week.
I have therefore gone with six players this week as follows;
BILLY HORSCHEL – 66-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 FINISHED 37th
I was disappointed to miss out on Horschel’s win in the pairs event in New Orleans the other week however we get another chance to back Billy this week and I am very keen to have him onside.
As I stated when I put the Floridian in our team in Texas a few weeks back Billy is really a man to keep on side when he finds his game and he duly delivered with his partner Scott Piercy in New Orleans.
So we arrive at Sawgrass and Billy has that pairs win under his belt, however my gut feeling is that the win in New Orleans is not the end of his run by any means.
As I am sure no one needs reminding at the end of 2014 Horschel went 2nd, 1st & 1st at three consecutive Play Off events culminating in a win at the Tour Championship so he is not afraid to win and win big when he is on a roll.
So we’ve established that Billy is on a roll but what of his Sawgrass record?
Well, whilst I believe an inform, confident Horschel could be a threat on most tracks it is encouraging to note that in his five starts at the event he has the requisite high finish with a 13th place to his name in 2015.
In addition off course we need look no further than Billy’s wins at New Orleans both a few weeks ago and back when the event was in it’s previous format, to know that he can perform on a Pete Dye track.
To rubber stamp this Pete Dye form even further we have Horschel’s 5th place finish at Hilton Head only a few weeks back.
Billy is a Florida man through and through and is a resident of Ponte Vedre beach so this week basically represents a home game for him.
I am sure therefore Billy will be focused, confident and 100% motivated this week and I can see a big result for him ahead.
ZACH JOHNSON – 80-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 FINISHED MDF
Next up this week is another player who has been rounding in to form lately in the shape of former Masters and Open champion Zach Johnson.
To me Zach fits the profile of a Sawgrass winner very nicely. Bags of course experience, a second place finish to his name in the past, and running in to really solid form recently.
As we know it’s been a long time since Zach’s last win on tour [The 2015 Open Championship] however he is yet to miss a cut this season and he is most definitely looking like a ‘winner waiting to happen’ of late.
Last time out [not including the pairs event] Zach was in pole position going in to the final round in Texas however he was disappointing that day thus opening the door for Andrew Landry.
It had been a while though since Zach had been in serious contention on Sunday so I am sure this will have helped shake of the contention rust and I am certainly not going to get too hung up on one poor Sunday from a two time Major winner and multiple tour winner.
Indeed one other interesting point of note about some recent Sawgrass winners is that they have often been players who were ending fairly long winless droughts.
Consider this, Kuchar won here after nearly two years without a win, KJ Choi over 3yrs, Sergio was winless on the PGA Tour in nearly 3ys, Kaymer hadn’t won on the PGA tour in 4yrs and Tim Clark of course was winless on the PGA Tour full stop!
Zach therefore fits this profile very nicely and I would not be at all surprised to see him end his winless streak in Florida this week.
IAN POULTER – 60-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 FINISHED 11th
Next up for me this week is the inform Englishman Ian Poulter.
The idea of Poults landing the ‘5th major’ at one time might have looked a bit of a stretch however following his recent resurgence and win in Houston he is another player who fits the identikit Sawgrass winner in spades.
Let’s look at the facts…Poults has two 2nd place finishes to his name at Sawgrass so he ticks the course experience and high finish boxes.
He is off course a Ryder Cup player who has won a WGC and come close in Major Championships, and for years he has sat in the 2nd tier of players in the higher echelons of the game without landing one of the really big prizes.
In essence he is in the mould of a Kuchar, a KJ, a Sergio or Henrik [at their time of winning] or even a Tim Clark.
Since his win in Houston Ian has kept his form going and was in the hunt for another win at Hilton Head the week after Augusta.
He was disappointing on Sunday that week, however he must have been running on empty by then so it wasn’t surprising to see him run out of steam.
I am confident now that after a bit of time to recharge the batteries Poults will turn up at a course he clearly loves, and where he performed fantastically last year, and put in another great showing.
FRANCESCO MOLINARI – 50-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 FINISHED MC
Next up is a player that I honestly cannot remember backing in recent years at all in the form of Francesco Molinari.
It may not have escaped readers attention that I am not looking to reinvent the well in the lines of logic leading to my picks this week.
In essence I am going for players, who have course form, fit the past winners profile and are in good solid form of late. Yup, basically sticking to the time honoured course form meets current form mantra.
On that basis [whilst off course they are good enough to surprise] you won’t find me touching the likes of Rahm or Bubba this week, however also on that basis you can’t leave out the Italian Molinari.
The two simple facts are as follows. Firstly Molinari has finished 6th, 7th & 6th in his last three starts at Sawgrass and secondly he topped pretty much every stat for the week other than putting on route to his 16th place at Quail Hollow.
To sum up we know Francesco will hit the ball well at Sawgrass and if he holes even half of his fair share of putts he will contend come Sunday. Enough said, lets move on!
EMILLIANO GRILLO – 70-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 FINISHED 37th
Another in form player I can’t ignore this week is Emiliano Grillo.
I type this less than 24hrs since Grillo frustrated us on Sunday evening at Quail Hollow with his bogey, bogey finish to cost us a place.
There is no denying however that it was another strong week in a season of strong performances from the Argentine.
Grillo has now notched four top tens in his last seven individual stroke play starts and whilst he has proven frustrating in contention of late it is surely only a only a matter of time until it all clicks together for him again.
My slight concern over Emiliano is of course whether I can really see him winning an event this big at this stage of his career, however you could have certainly said the same thing about Si Woo Kim last year and we all saw how that ended.
I also feel that this is a that should suit Grillo’s tee to green game and this is backed up by his 11th place finish here last year.
Again no real rocket science in this pick just another in form player who it’s hard to see not playing well.
CHRIS KIRK – 125-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 FINISHED 46th
For my final selection this week I am going with yet another player who I feel fits the profile of a potential winner in the form of Chris Kirk.
The Georgia resident has somewhat lost his way over the last couple of years however he is a four time PGA Tour winner with his last win coming in 2015.
The 2015/16 & 16/17 seasons were pretty inconsistent from Kirk however this year, whilst still throwing on the odd missed cut, the higher finishes have been more noticeable, culminating in an 8th place finish in his last individual stroke play event in Texas.
Kirk’s Sawgrass record has been pretty impressive of late as well with three consecutive top 13 finishes only punctuated by a withdrawal in 2016.
It is clear therefore that Sawgrass is a course that Kirk has grown to like.
Kirk’s stats are solid if unspectacular this, however the club that has been holding him back has been the putter, which historically was a great ally for him.
When he finished 8th in Texas last time out Chris finished the week 2nd in Strokes Gained Tee to Green however he was 57th in putting.
It is clear therefore that his long game is in reasonable shape and if he can find something on the greens this week I can see Chris giving us a good run for our money at a juicy three figure price.
UPDATED 8th MAY
TRADER - JONAS BLIXT FINISHED MC
Those who have read my blog showing my FRL picks will know that I have plumped for Blixt in that market at 250-1 and for basically the same reasons given there I am running with him as my trader pick this week.
To recap Blixt is a local Ponte Vedre resident who played well here in 2016 to finish19th.
He started particularly well that year with two opening rounds of 67 and anything close to a repeat of that performance would see him right in the hunt halfway.
His form has been poor over the last couple of yrs but his last two individual starts have shown signs of promise, which leads me to believe he may be turning a corner.
He is a proven two time tour winner who has also been right in the mix in major championships so he wont be afraid to stick around if he gets it going
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 620+