This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP
Winner's Share: $2.25M
FedEx Cup Points: 600 to the Winner
Location: Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Course: TPC Sawgrass, Stadium Course
2019 champion: Rory McIlroy
We can debate whether THE PLAYERS is the fifth major, but in the eyes of the players, it is clearly the fifth biggest tournament in the world. A number of events have been hit hard by weaker fields the past two seasons – even WGC tournaments – but not THE PLAYERS. All 10 of the top-ranked golfers and 47 of the top 50 will be on hand for the second go-round since the tournament returned to March. Of course, one of those three missing players – the elephant not in the room – is Tiger Woods, who continues to be sidelined by a back injury of unknown severity. There is one other key absence this year: Pete Dye, the famed co-architect of the Stadium Course with perhaps the most famous hole in all of golf, passed away two months ago at age 94. Dye's wife and design partner, Alice, who reportedly first had the idea for the island green at No. 17, passed early last year.
The tournament originated in 1974 and moved to Sawgrass eight years later. It was actually played in March for the first 33 years, beginning with Jack Nicklaus winning that inaugural edition. Phil Mickelson won the first foray into May in 2007. Two players in this year's 144-man field have won THE PLAYERS in March, with Adam Scott doing so in 2004 and Rory McIlroy claiming the crown last year. McIlroy will be bidding to become the first player ever to win back-to-back PLAYERS Championships. It's a tough event twice to win twice, let alone in consecutive years. More on that in a minute.
With the move to March, the PGA Tour schedule now has a marquee event in five straight months – six, if you count the FedExCup Playoffs. In other words, seven months after theseason began, we are now getting to the meat of the schedule. One of the big questions last year was how the course would play differently moving from the middle of spring to late winter. It turned out, there was a change. The difference in the winning score – McIlroy at 16-under vs. Webb Simpson at 18-under the year before – was similar. And the track remained in the middle of the pack on the difficulty meter, 23rd last season and 29th the year before. But the golfers said the course played longer in the colder weather. Information provided by the PGA Tour before last year's tournament showed that from 1995 through 2018, scores were on average almost one shot lower in May as opposed to March (72.48 vs. 73.40). There were far more rounds under par in May, which makes sense in the warmer climate; but we also have to consider that since they last played in March, golf, golf equipment and the golfers themselves have changed exponentially.
Even though all that sends some mixed messages, the most confounding issue at hand really is figuring out who will play well this week. Sure, that's the case every week, but in the 38 years the tournament has been held at Sawgrass, there have only been five multi-time winners. Woods is one of them, but he has only five top-10s in 19 tries. Mickelson missed the cut six of the past seven years and owns only three top-10s in 26 visits. Since Rickie Fowler won in 2015, he has gone MC-T60-MC-T47. That's crazy. This doesn't happen often, maybe nowhere else on Tour, but it's really hard to label any of the 144 golfers as a true horse for the course. Scott and McIlroy come closest. Scott, who won 16 years ago, has top-12s the past four years but only one top-10 in the past decade. McIlroy, with his win, now has four top-10s in 10 tries. But he also missed the cut three times. In other words, guys who have played well here have been awful other times. That's probably due at least in part to the consistent strength of the fields. The majors and WGCs all let in secondary- or even tertiary-level players, be they aging ex-champs, amateurs, players from lesser Tours or even club pros. Not at THE PLAYERS. In fact, 110 players in this year's field have a victory somewhere, the most of any tournament in the FedExCup era, according to the Tour. Besides Woods, the only absent golfers currently ranked in the top 50 are No. 30 Lee Westwood and No. 39 Shugo Imahira.
Okay, now let's talk DFS lineup construction. Sawgrass, despite having its quirks here and there, tends to be a pretty standard tee-to-green golf course. Putting traditionally has not been paramount – though as we always say, great putting can cure just about all ails. There's water everywhere, but it truly comes into play on 14 of the 18 holes. No hole is more famous – perhaps anywhere in the world – than the 17th. It's a mere 137 yards, but it's all crystal blue water between the tee and green. Interestingly, it was rather tame last year, playing to par (actually, 3.002). Still, there were 45 balls in the water leading to 29 double bogeys or worse. There were 54 water balls in 2018 and 69 in 2017. The two hardest holes last year were on the front, the 471-yard 5th and the 237-yard 8th, exactly 100 yards longer than it's par-3 cousin. No. 18, always a bear, was the third-hardest hole a year ago.
Weather-wise, we're looking at pretty favorable conditions throughout. Highs will be in the mid- to upper-70s all four days, with some chance of rain, but not much. The wind is expected to blow into the teens, but nothing extreme is expected. Overnight lows should not dip below 60, so there shouldn't be any chilly early-morning tee times.
Fun PLAYERS factoids: The list of former champions reads like a wing in the Hall of Fame. Nicklaus, Woods, Mickelson, Scott, Day, Couples, Love, Duval, Norman, Trevino, Floyd, Lyle and Price. There have been only five two-time champions since the tournament moved to Sawgrass – Woods, Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Hal Sutton and Steve Elkington – and it has taken a long time to pick up win No. 2. Only Elkington – the 1991 and 1997 champion – won again within 10 years, and it took him six. Sutton's wins, 1983 and 2000, came 17 years apart.
Key Stats to Winning at TPC Sawgrass
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes gained: tee to green
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Scrambling/strokes gained: around the green
• Bogey avoidance/bogey average
There historically has been very little rough. But of course there is water almost everywhere. There were 204 double bogeys or worse last year, fourth most on Tour behind Bethpage, Pebble and PGA National. Last year, McIlroy played only six holes over par – five bogeys and one double. He played No. 17 in 2-under. Don't misunderstand – there are birdies to be had and this usually isn't single-digit tough like PGA National or last week at Bay Hill (though there were more single-digit winners years ago when the tournament was played in March). Two years ago, Simpson played it vanilla safe: He was dead-last in the field in driving distance but first in accuracy. And he won in a romp. The year before, Kim won at 10-under and had only six bogeys, none of them a double. That's asking a lot of anyone, but you get the picture. Simpson was also first in strokes gained: putting, but more times than not, the winners have ranked far outside the top-10. McIlroy ranked 45th, Kim was 37th, Fowler was 20th, Kaymer was 19th and Woods was 38th.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Rory McIlroy - $11,700 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 8-1)
The golf has been brutally hard the past two weeks, so we all should think twice about guys who played eight rounds at PGA National and Bay Hill. Of course, McIlroy skipped the Honda, so that doesn't apply to him. He continues to deliver top-5 after top-5. Do we think he'll win? Probably not. Do we think he'll finish top-5? Yes. On top of everything else, McIlroy is tied for second on Tour in bogey avoidance.
Jon Rahm - $11,000 (12-1)
Rahm may have been thinking about this week for a entire year. He went to the first tee Sunday a year ago with the lead and still had a share early on the back, only to walk off 18 with a 4-over 76 and a tie for 12th. It all came tumbling down on No. 11, where he found the water and had an exchange with his caddie. Since then, though, only Rahm can lay claim to fully challenging McIlroy for the top golfer in the world. He is tied with McIlroy for second on Tour in bogey avoidance.
Dustin Johnson - $10,000 (25-1)
Johnson had never done much at THE PLAYERS, never had so much as a top-10 – until last year, in the return to March. With the course playing longer in the cooler weather, it stands to reason that would give Johnson an edge. He surely has not been as dominating as when he was No. 1 – which is why he's now No. 5 – but we're not ready to dismiss him altogether.
Adam Scott - $9,600 (30-1)
The 2004 winner has been as good as anyone at Sawgrass over the years. As mentioned above, Scott has finished top-12 the past four years, though with only one top-10 over the past decade. But he's coming off a recent win at Riviera and is playing better now than he has in years, once again inside the top-10 in the world.
Tier 2 Values
Webb Simpson - $9,200 (30-1)
Simpson tied for 16th last year in his title defense. He also was T16 the year before he won. Simpson should be very fresh, as this will be only his fourth start in 2020. Two of them have been top-5s, including a win at Phoenix. There really is no weakness in his game, except maybe length off the tee (but he's certainly not short). Simpson is ranked seventh in strokes gained: approach and 16th in SG tee to green. He's also first in bogey avoidance.
Bryson DeChambeau - $9,100 (20-1)
His top-5 streak isn't as long as McIlroy's but it's not too shabby. DeChambeau has run off three in a row from Riviera to Mexico to Bay Hill. He is the absolute longest on Tour in driving distance, and ranks third in SG off the tee and 10th in SG tee to green. DeChambeau has played Sawgrass twice, improved from 37th in 2018 to T20 last year.
Hideki Matsuyama - $8,800 (30-1)
It's hard to imagine how good Matsuyama could be if only he were a bad putter instead of a horrible putter. He is ranked third in SG tee to green, 11th in SG approach and 13th in greens in regulation. But he's also nearly 200th in SG putting. Matsuyama tied for eighth last year, his second top-10 and fifth top-25 in six visits.
Jason Day - $8,400 (60-1)
(Yeah, I'm surprised I'm picking him, too.) It was one year ago when Day withdrew from Bay Hill and then finished T8 at Sawgrass a week later. Of course, he withdrew last week from Bay Hill. Day has not been playing well for some time now, but his only top-10 in the past nine months came just a few weeks ago at one of the track's in his wheelhouse – Pebble Beach, where he tied for fourth. Sawgrass is another Day wheelhouse: win in 2016, T5 in 2018, T8 last year.
Tier 3 Values
Collin Morikawa - $7,900 (50-1)
Sure, he's going to miss a cut at some point, but until then, let ir ride. Keep in mind that Morikawa has made the majority of these 20-plus cuts at courses he'd never played before, and now comes another. It's better to have Sawgrass experience, of course. But when you rank eighth in SG approach and fourth in SG tee to green, that means Morikawa is also a quick learner at unfamiliar courses.
Matt Kuchar - $7,800 (50-1)
Kuchar is the No. 17-ranked golfer in the world. How does he always end up sub-$8,000 in big tournaments? He's even won this tournament before, back in 2012. He was third in 2016. (If you believe in the every-four-years thing ... this is your year.) Kuchar was runner-up at Riviera. He has four other top-25s in 2020 alone. We joke about Kuchar and the backdoor top-10, but what do we care how he does it? He usually manages to get the job done, somehow.
Abraham Ancer - $7,200 (80-1)
Every so quietly, Ancer has moved to the brink of cracking the top-25 OWGR. He's a solid player, but doesn't do any one thing great (or poorly) so he sort of flies under the radar. But his all-course game landed him in a tie for 12th in his Sawgrass debut a year ago. Well, we take back what we said a minute ago – he's an outstanding scrambler, ranked seventh on Tour. Ancer also is top-20 in bogey avoidance. He already has four top-10s this season.
Daniel Berger - $7,200 (60-1)
Berger rides three straight top-10s into The PLAYERS, where he finished top-10 in 2016. Since then, with injuries affecting him, Berger has still made the cut all three years. He's ranked in the top-65 in all the strokes-gained categories, including 29th in tee to green. Berger also ranks 36th in bogey avoidance.
Harold Varner III - $6,900 (200-1)
Varner is an enigma, a golfer who plays better than he scores. He's ranked top-25 in SG off the tee, tee to green and total, yet somehow he has only three top-25s all season, and two of them were back in September. And it's not as if Varner has a horrid short game. Yes, he's 140th in SG putting, but there are many who are far worse. Varner improved from 57th to 35th to seventh in 2018 in his first three trips to Sawgrass before missing the cut last year. He's even top-70 in bogey avoidance. One of these weeks Varner's score will match his play.
Joel Dahmen - $6,600 (100-1)
Dahmen's price would've been a bit higher had DraftKings not released its board before Bay Hill ended. But how much higher could he have been? He'd still have been a bargain. Dahmen is riding top-5s at Riviera and Bay Hill into his second go-round at Sawgrass. Last year, he tied for 12th. Dahmen is ranked top-25 in four of the six strokes-gained categories, including 11th in tee to green. It's his short game – wedge and putter – that needs work.
Cameron Tringale - $6,600 (250-1)
If you're looking for a guy who makes a lot of cuts, Talor Gooch is a good choice, though probably a very popular one. Tringale might be the next-best thing, and cheaper. He's made 11-of-12 cuts this season, missing only at Phoenix. He came through three tough tracks in Pebble, Riviera and PGA National with two top-30s. Tringale is ranked 28th in SG tee to green and is top-25 in bogey avoidance. He's made his last three cuts at Sawgrass, though he hasn't played there since 2017.
Sebastian Munoz - $6,100 (200-1)
There's long-shot low, and then there's bottom-of-the-barrel low. $6,100 is pretty much scraping the bottom. And we're not sure why. Munoz has a win, a third and six top-25s in 15 starts this season. Really, we would've guessed around $6,700. Yes, Munoz has missed five cuts, but not two in a row and he missed last week at Bay Hill. He's 37th in SG tee to green and an even better 23rd in SG total. All we want is a made cut and anything after that is gravy.