Golf is a crazy game at times as typically, hot players stay hot and cold players stay cold which is usually a big factor in trying to predict tournament winners. Last week was a complete aberration as James Hahn, who had missed the cut in eight straight tournaments, defeated Roberto Castro in a playoff to win the Wells Fargo Championship. He was such an underdog that he was one of six players that had no odds listed next to him at some shops.
The PGA Tour heads back to Florida this week for THE PLAYERS Championship from TPC Sawgrass (Stadium Course). This is the 35th year that Sawgrass has hosted and it is a true test of all parts of the game. Rickie Fowler is the defending champion as he made a miraculous comeback by closing -6 over the last six holes to catch Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner to join the three-hole aggregate playoff where he was tied with Kisner and then birdied No. 17 to win in sudden death.
While a lot of the current regular stops on tour value experience, TPC Sawgrass and Augusta National are arguably the two biggest venues where experience matters the most. Check out this stat from the PGA Tour. The average number of starts before a victory here is just over seven so just like Augusta National, it takes a few years to win here, not including the 2002 win by Craig Perks. Last year for instance, this was the sixth start at Sawgrass for Fowler.
Four years ago Sawgrass played to a 72.47 which was fifth highest among the 20 par 72's. Three years ago it was close to the same at +0.323 strokes to par while two years ago it came in very slightly easier at +0.155 strokes to par. Last year saw very similar results. If you are looking for a bomber to win, do not even bother. The last time a winner was ranked in the top ten in driving distance was 2004 with Adam Scott. Conversely, five of the past 11 champions have been ranked in the top ten in driving accuracy.
When you think of TPC Sawgrass, you think of the 17th island par three, arguably the scariest 130-something shot in golf. It is definitely a risk-reward hole and getting out of there with a par is huge going into 18. Why? The 18th at Sawgrass is the second-toughest closing hole on tour going back to 1983. We have seen many PLAYERS won and lost on these final two holes and that is what it should all be about. Fowler proved that point last year.
With this being such a prestigious tournament, the field is full of big names with 46 of the top 50 in the OWGR in play this week with Lee Westwood and Charl Schwartzel being two of the notable absences. Additionally, 11 past PLAYERS champions are here along with 30 Major winners in attendance. The last time a winner won by more than two strokes was 2009 when Henrik Stenson won by four strokes over Ian Poulter. We should once again see a great Sunday finish.
The three big favorites are Rory McIlroy at +735, Jordan Spieth at +890 and Jason Day at +1090 but all bring in unfavorable vibes. McIlroy has not won on the PGA Tour since the 2015 Wells Fargo, Spieth is teeing it up for the first time since his Masters meltdown so who knows how he will be mentally and Day has not fared well here with only two top 20s in five starts with three missed cuts. Defending champion Fowler is +1,600 and it is a big drop off after that so there is a ton of value past the top four.