PGA Core Plays – The Players Championship

PGA Core Plays
The Players

PGA Core Plays
The Players – March 12-15


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I hope you checked out the core plays article from last week and put the recommended players in your lineup. Last week there were several players recommended in the article that had great finishes. Here are their finishes and where they were listed.

1. Hatton (Other Mid-Tier to consider)
2. Marc Leishman (Best Mid-Tier Play)
3. Im (Other Mid-Tier I Like)
4. DeChambeau (Other Mid-Tier I like)
T5. McIlroy (Best Top-End Play)
9. English (Other Mid-Tier to Consider)
9. Fitzpatrick (Other Mid-Tier to Consider)

There were several other solid finishes, but those are the ones in the top 10 that I recommended. Let’s hope this week produces the same results.

For the second consecutive week, I feel like the golf course was the big winner. Bay Hill succeeded in producing a great test of golf that showcased the skill these golfers have while giving us an idea of how difficult things were for them. It pushed them to the limit without getting out of control. I thought it was some great golf. I have fallen in love with this stretch of golf and will look forward to it again next year. Fortunately, it isn’t over yet. While conditions at TPC Sawgrass appear like they will be a little easier, it definitely is a golf course that will bring the best golfers to the top.

The Players Championship is often referred to as the 5th Major. The main reason that it has earned this title is because of the strength of the field. It could very well end up being the most difficult field of the year. It will be a more difficult field than the Masters, the Open, and will be right on par with the PGA Championship and US Open. There are 144 of the best golfers in the world who are contending for the title this week. With that many great golfers, a phenomenal week of golf is far from a guarantee to get you the win. It is so difficult to win here and nearly impossible to win more than once. In the history of The Players Championship, there are just 5 golfers who have won twice, and 0 who have won 3x. Here are the players who have managed to win more than once at TPC Sawgrass.

1- Tiger Woods
2- Fred Couples
3- Davis Love III
4- Steve Elkington
5- Hal Sutton

This shows that unless you’re one of the best players in the world, sustained success here is pretty unlikely. A big reason for this is that there is such a fine line between success and failure at TPC Sawgrass. There is trouble everywhere. The course is full of water hazards and littered with trees and bunkers. It demands accuracy from the moment you step on the first tee. Angles are important to give yourself chances at birdie. Missing the fairway will be very penalizing this week as the rough will be overseeded and very thick. Unpredictable winds make already difficult shots completely nerve-wracking. You may hit the exact shot you have in mind and a swirling or misjudged wind can put your ball in the water. Experience on the course is very valuable to these players. Keep that in mind as your make your picks

Getting the ball on the green in regulation is tough, but the challenge doesn’t stop there as the greens will be rolling around 13 on the stimpmeter. The greens frequently have several tiers on them that can quickly lead to 3-putts. Great putters like Leishman and Reed will likely gain some strokes on the field this week on the greens.

Although the greens are demanding, TPC Sawgrass is a true test of golf which means that it doesn’t favor any one strength. Players will have to do it all. One of the coolest features is that it is designed to be fair to all golfers regardless of whether they start off the front or the back. #1 and #10 are dogleg par 4s going away from the clubhouse. #2 and #11 are reachable par 5s coming back toward the clubhouse. So, players on both sides will have similar wind situations making it as fair as possible.

One thing that can’t be overlooked is how good the finish is on this course. 17 and 18 are as good as, if not better than, any closing combo on tour. They deliver some pressure packed moments as these players are faced with daunting shots.

Once again, on courses like TPC Sawgrass that are true tests of golf, it is difficult to single out just a few statistical categories that will help us predict a winner. There are a few that I feel are more important this week. I will share those with you and will make a lot of my predictions based on them.

• Accuracy off the Tee
• SG: Off the Tee
• Proximity to hole
• Bogey Avoidance
• Ball Striking
• SG: Putting
• Sand Saves

If you are unsure of why I like a guy in the “others to consider” category, reach out to me on my new twitter handle @DerekHillGolf. I would love to share my thoughts.

You’ll see a lot of the same names this week that you saw last week. That is because these players are hot and are playing 3 courses in a row that are pretty similar. Success on one is a good sign of success on the others. These are the guys that I believe have the best chance at rising to the top of this stacked field:

Top-End Pick: Rory McIlroy

Expectations have been high for Rory lately as he has gone on a Top 5 barrage and regained the #1 ranking. He has lived up to every bit of those expectations. He has put himself in a position to win every week in each of the last 7 events. Like I said last week, I wouldn’t make a single lineup that didn’t start with Rory. In his last 7 starts he has gone T3, Win, 4th, T3, T5, 5th, T5. That is unreal. 6th SG: Off-the-Tee, 3rd SG: Approach, 2nd SG: Tee-to-Green, 2nd in Bogey Avoidance. Nobody has ever successfully defended a title at The Players Championship. He has a great chance to be the first to do so. 3 other top 10 finishes at TPC Sawgrass.

Other guys I like:

Justin Thomas: He has been all or nothing in his last 5 events. He has gone: Win, Cut, T3, Cut, T6. Going 5-5 in cuts made at Sawgrass is very difficult to find. One of those finishes was a top-10. Being 2nd on tour in birdie average, he will find a way to get some at Sawgrass. He just has to avoid the trouble to give himself a chance. 17th in SG: Off-the-Tee, 5th in SG: Tee-to-Green, 8th in SG: Approach, 11th in Bogey Avoidance.

Jon Rahm: Rahm had the lead after 54 holes last year and squandered it away in the final round. If he can find out a way to close out in big events, he will be tough to beat. His statistics say it was no mistake that he contended last year. He is 5th in SG: Off-the-Tee, 4th in SG: Putting, 7th in Sand Save %. 3 for 3 in cuts made at TPC Sawgrass. Has improved his finish each year.

Bryson DeChambeau: The Scientist has been on a tear as of late. 3 consecutive top 5 finishes. 2-2 in cuts made at The Players. 3rd in SG: Off-the-Tee, 9th in Bogey Avoidance, 8th in Sand Save %, 22nd in SG: Putting.

Others to consider: Tommy Fleetwood, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott

Mid-Tier Pick: Webb Simpson

6-10 in any regular tour event might be seen as just ok, but at TPC Sawgrass that is pretty impressive. 4 of his appearances resulted in top 25 finishes. Of course, he won this event in 2018. Simpson is just simply a steady player who isn’t flustered by pressure. He has the accuracy and short game to thrive on this demanding course. 7th in Proximity to Hole, 13th in SG: Putting, 1st in Bogey Avoidance, 11th in Sand Save %. Great season so far including 3rd at Sony Open and winner at Waste Management.

Other mid-tier guys I like:

Tyrrell Hatton: Ranks first in 3 some major categories: SG: Tee-to-Green, SG: Approach, SG: Total. Also 12th in SG: Off-the-Tee and SG: Around Green. 32nd in SG: Putting. 2nd in Bogey Avoidance. In his 4 appearances on the PGA Tour this season he has finished T6, T14, T6, Win. He is as hot an anyone and has the numbers to succeed again this week. The only reason I hesitated to pull the trigger on making him the best Mid-Tier pick is the fact that he has missed 2 cuts in 3 appearances at TPC Sawgrass. I don’t see him missing a cut this week. I expect him in the top 10 once again.

Marc Leishman: Is this starting to look like the leaderboard at The API? It’s for good reason. Leishman looked like a wizard on the slick greens at Bay Hill. He should shine again on similar surfaces this week. 6 for 10 at The Players with 3 top 25 finishes. A win and a second place highlight his 2019-2020 resume.

Others to Consider: Sergio Garcia, Hideki Matsuyama, Sung-Jae Im, Patrick Reed, Collin Morikawa, Matt Kuchar, Daniel Berger, Harris English

Value Play: Joel Dahmen

Dahmen has caught fire this season. His most recent 3 events resulted in a T14, and 2 T5s. All 3 of those events are played on difficult courses and have strong fields as well. Finished 12th in his Players debut in 2019. 24th in SG: Off-the-Tee, 22nd in SG: Approach, 17th in Proximity to hole, 11th in SG: Tee-to-Green, 25th in SG: Total.

Other guys I like:

Max Homa: Homa is famous for roasting golf swings on social media. He has proven this season that he knows a thing or two about playing golf. He is 10 for 11 in cuts made this season. He has 3 top 10s to show for it as well. Pretty solid all-around game. He is definitely one of the most promising first timers here at The Players.
Keegan Bradley: 6 for 9 at TPC Sawgrass. Finished 7th in 2018 and 16th in 2019. 38th in SG: Tee-to-Green and 27th in SG: Around the Green.

Others to Consider: Brandt Snedeker, Jhonattan Vegas, Sung Kang