or the risk of beginning to sound like a stuck record it was yet again a frustrating week for us at Bay Hill.
Two of our players Kokrak and Glover finished in tenth place, one shout out of the e/w return.
Regular readers and followers of my twitter feed will know that I was in Orlando last week and whilst it was a really enjoyable week I felt like I spent a vast chunk of it watching various members of our team miss putt after putt from 10-15ft and that was certainly true of Kokrak who I followed around on Sunday.
Tee to green his game was exceptional and this was reflected in his numbers for the week however he holed nothing and when I saw some highlights of Molinari’s round afterwards It’s clear to see where the event was won and lost on Sunday.
If Kokrak continues to hit the ball the way he is his day must surely come soon.
So, anyway me and the Tour now move on about 180 miles North East 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 I can’t wait to get back there.
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, DJ, Rory, JT, Rickie etc and at the time of writing Rory and DJ 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 course designs.
The course is a Par 72 and measures just under 7200 yards.
After the 2016 edition the greens were changed from Miniverde Bermuda to TiffEagle Bermuda.
This year there has been further change as they have been over seeded with Velvet Bent/Poa Trivialis.
After the 2016 edition 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 its 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 to the PGA Tour Calendar, 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 2017 winner Si Woo Kim won the event on only his second start, something unheard of over the previous decade plus. All though it should be noted that he did finish 23rd on his debut the previous year so we can at least say he had taken to the course.
In 2018 however the formula pretty much returned with Webb Simpson’s victory.
Webb had, like many winners before him, made multiple starts in the event and he had posted his best finishes of 15th and 16th in the event over his previous four visits, the latter of, which had come the year before in 2017.
There is also one other thing that connects some of the historical 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.
It remains to be seen how the return to March will effect this ‘formula’ if at all. My gut feeling though is that with the wind set to play its part experience will be as key as ever and I expect a similar style of player to triumph this week.
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 -18 [Webb Simpson last year] to -10 [Si Woo Kim last year] with the average being around -13.
The main issue with TPC weather wise to always look out for is the wind and the forecast for this appears to be changing daily with initial gust predictions of 20mph+ now abating slightly to 15mph+.
To be honest though this could fluctuate further as the week progresses and even when the wind forecast is not too strong it seems to pick up in the afternoon.
There is no rain due for the early week through to Friday, however there is the possibility of a storm on Saturday. In addition as I always say in Florida you cant rule out a storm popping up at any time.
Temperature wise we are due for a very warm start to the week with 80 degrees plus forecast for Thursday and Friday. Things are then set to cool down over the weekend though with temperatures dropping to the mid 60s.
I always feel TPC gives an opportunity to find some good e/w value as it is easy to oppose certain fancied bigger names based on their lack of course form. In addition we find two leading firms offering ten places on e/w terms this week.
I have therefore gone with six players this week as follows;
SERGIO GARCIA – 30-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 FINISHED 22nd
I have to be honest unless there is some kind of health issue I have not picked up on I am struggling to understand Sergio’s price this week.
Here we have a former major champion, a player who cites TPC Sawgrass as arguably his favourite track on tour, has won here and finished in the top 10 on four further occasions and arrives here on the back of consecutive top 10 finishes.
The latter of these top 10s came on a similar tough, windy, Florida test at the Honda, yet he is available at a bigger price than Rahm and Dechambeau to name but two who are yet to do anything around here.
Sergio of course has not been without his problems so far this year and there are many who think he shouldn’t be getting the opportunity to tee it up this week at all after his antics on the greens in Saudi Arabia, and that instead he should be serving out a ban.
There is no doubt Sergio’s behaviour in Saudi was totally unacceptable, however it does seem to have knuckled him down and those last two starts on two completely different golf courses have offered huge encouragement.
As we know Sergio’s ball striking is his strength and if the wind does pick up this week this will stand him in good stead.
Furthermore Sergio is one of only 20 or so players in the field who have experience of playing the event in March and this should also be of benefit.
In a week where there are question marks about many of the leading players I am looking to have quality ball strikers with experience here on side and Sergio fits that profile to the tee and there is no doubt in my mind he is the e/w value of the week.
TOMMY FLEETWOOD – 28-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 FINISHED T5th
Next up for me this week is Englishman Tommy Fleetwood.
Now lets get the negative out of the way first of all with Tommy and that of course is despite numerous opportunities, his inability to date to close out a win on the PGA Tour, and there is no doubt that if Tommy is right up at the top of the leaderboard come Saturday I will be slightly edgy.
Like a certain Northern Irishman who has his own Sunday issues at the moment though you have to believe that it is only a matter of time before Tommy breaks his Saturday hoodoo, he is too good a player not to.
So I shall move on from this point and instead focus on the fact that to me Tommy’s game looks a tailor-made fit for TPC Sawgrass.
As we know like our first pick Garcia, the strength of Fleetwood’s game is his ball striking tee to green and as already noted this is what I am looking for this week.
After a slightly sluggish start to the campaign compared to recent years Tommy sprung to life at Bay Hill last week finishing 3rd and he ranked 2nd for the week SGTTG and 3rd SGATG so his long game is clearly in good shape.
This will be Tommy’s third start at TPC Sawgrass which I will admit is one or two less than I am ideally looking for, however last year he played excellently to finish 7th here on the back of a missed cut at the Wells Fargo so I am not overly concerned about this.
It is only a matter of time until Tommy puts it all together on the PGA Tour and I am optimistic that on a course that is ideal for him this could be the week that happens.
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA – 35-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 FINISHED T8th
Another player who I believe is due a really big week is Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama.
After returning from Injury last year it took Hideki a couple of months to get back in the swing of things, however since the start of the 18/19 campaign he has missed no cuts and has finished in the top 20 in six of his eight starts.
Last week at Bay Hill Hideki was reportedly under the weather in the first part of the week and his participation was in doubt after he withdrew from the Pro Am.
In the end the 27yr old tee’d it up and never really threatened before finishing 33rd.
Whether whatever ailment was afflicting him was responsible for this slightly poorer week compared to his recent efforts I am not sure, however as we know there are fine margins between a 33rd place finish and everything clicking in to place for a winning week, so I am not overly concerned about this.
Instead like our other picks I shall instead focus on the Japanese star’s profile and past performances at Sawgrass and on that front he strikes me as an archetypal winner of this event.
Firstly he has made five previous starts here, posting one top ten, 7th place three years ago, whilst in three of his other four starts here he has finished on the top 25.
He also fits that profile of a player in the upper echelons of the game who has played Presidents Cup/Ryder Cup but is yet to win a major [as of course does Tommy].
The one negative is his missed cut last year, however this came right after his return from injury when his game was in no shape at all, so I am willing to overlook this.
All of Hideki’s long game stats are superb this season and the only thing letting him down is the putter [he currently ranks 197th on tour in SGP!]
Basically Hideki is one good putting week away from a win and I am hopeful that this will come this week.
RAFA CABRERA-BELLO – 50-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 FINISHED MC
Next up for us this week is Spaniard Rafa Cabrero-Bello.
By now you will probably have worked out where I am heading with my selections this week. Steady players who have good course form and come here on the back of some solid play. Basically I am not looking to go too left field this week and reinvent the wheel.
On this basis RCB is another who ticks the boxes this week perfectly. Four consecutive top 25 starts on the PGA Tour culminating in his third place at the API last week and 17th and 4th in this the last two years.
Now of course there are two ways of looking at Rafa, one is that he just doesn’t win enough and will potentially just post another solid week or, that he, similarly to Tommy, is due a really big week when it all will come together.
Well once again I will refer you back to historical winners of this event such as Tim Clark, KJ Choi and Matt Kuchar at the time, and I again see big similarities.
With a couple of firms paying 10 places e/w this week Rafa looks a cracking e/w bet to me and with his form trending as it is, it is quite possible this is the week where it all comes together for him.
LUCAS GLOVER – 66-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 FINISHED MC
Another in form player I can’t ignore this week is Lucas Glover.
Eagled eyed readers will have noted that so far all of my selections have been international players and there is definitely a deliberate thought line from me in this with international players having a great record here.
The American I do like most this week though is the one who is arguably in the best form of them on tour of late, Lucas Glover.
The former US Open Champion arrives here on the back of three consecutive top 10 finishes and having finished in the top 17 on eight of his nine starts this season. Basically he is on fire at the moment.
In addition the club that has always held the former US Open Champion back, the putter, is now working for him and he currently ranks 37th for the season in SGP.
Lucas’ TPC Sawgrass record is somewhat feast or famine as in amongst several missed cuts he does have two top 10 finishes to his name including 6th place a couple of years ago, so again like all our other selections he has the experience and requisite previous high finishes.
It’s been nearly 8yrs since Lucas last graced the winners enclosure so another win is certainly long overdue and with his form as it is of late there is a great chance that next win could come this week.
CHARL SCHWARTZEL – 150-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED MC
For my final selection this week I am going with yet another international player who again fits the winners profile very well and that is South African Charl Schwartzel.
Until a couple of weeks ago Charl was floundering for form however a last minute trip to Puerto Rico seemed to do the trick as he finished 5th there, before following that up with a 16th place at the Honda.
Charl has played his most consistent golf on the PGA Tour in the Sunshine State over recent years and having finished 2nd here last year it is somewhat baffling to see the former Masters Champion quoted at 150-1 in a place.
As we know Charl is more than capable of winning an event of this stature and at the prices on offer I am delighted to include him to complete our team.
UPDATED 13th MARCH
TOP USA PLAYER - LUCAS GLOVER 1pt E/W 33-1 1/5 odds 1st 6 & JASON KOKRAK 1pt e/w 50--1 1/5 odds 1st 6 FINISHED MC & 47th
With all of our team bar one being international players this week I felt there was some opportunity to be had in the Top USA market and I have gone with two players ihere in the form of Lucas Glover & Jason Kokrak.
I have included Glover of course as the one USA player in my main team so there is no need for me to make the case for him again.
As for Kokrak, as his stats at Bay Hill showed he is absolutely striping it from tee to green at the moment and only the putter let him down in Orlando.
Along with Glover he is arguably in as consistent a patch of form as any of the American players at the moment and I was keen to have him on side in some form this week.
An outright tournament win for Jason this week would of course be a big stretch, however with so many international players fancied to go well this is a market he could reward us in.
FIRST ROUND LEADER - JUSTIN THOMAS - 33-1 - 1pt E/W 1/5 odds 1st 7 & KEITH MITCHELL 95-1 1/2pt E/W 1/5 odds 1st 8. FINISHED - NO RETURN
Of all the leading elite players in the market this week the one I fancy to perform the best is Justin Thomas.
I was close to actually including JT in our main team however allowing for the strength in the field I ultimately couldn't bring myself to pull the trigger at the prices on offer.
When I saw however JT was available at 33s in the FRL market I couldn't resist a nibble. He has started slowly in his last two events and my hunch is that after the week off he will be raring to go and will come out of the blocks strongly.
With JT off in the afternoon I was keen to have a morning starter onside for FRL and the one who caught my eye is 'man of the moment' Keith Mitchell.
Mitchell backed up his win at the Honda two weeks ago with a final round charge in Orlando in Sunday, which resulted in him bagging a place at July's Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
Needless to say Keith will arrive here on an absolute high and I can see him keeping that roll going on Thursday morning.
Mitchell opened up here with a 67 last year and I see a another fast start from him this week.
TRADER - ARON BADDELEY. - CURRENTLY TRADING @ 420 - FINISHED MC - LOWEST PRICE TRADED 210
Aussie Baddeley has been going through something of a resurgence in form this season.
With a 4th place finish at the Safeway Open last fall and a 2nd place at Puerto Rico a couple of weeks ago Badds has pretty much secured his full card for next season already.
His customary putter is back working well for him and he also currently sits at 5th in Strokes Gained Around The Green for the season, which is sure to serve him well this week.
In the hunt at Bay Hill last week before fading slightly to 17th on Sunday Aaron should arrive at TPC Sawgrass in good heart.
Badds has two previous top 10s at TPC Sawgrass and has also been victorious at Hilton Head so he clearly knows his way around a Pete Dye course and I expect another strong performance from him this week.