Josh Culp

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THE PLAYERS Preview

Monday, May 7, 2018


The PGA TOUR season is in full bloom as we head to TPC Sawgrass for the "Fifth Major". 

One storyline to watch is the Official World Golf Rankings this week.

Five golfers have a chance to be World No. 1 by week's end. That includes the current No.1 Dustin Johnson as well as Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Rose.

Could that give them an extra boost this week or will it add extra pressure like we've seen recently with Rahm and Thomas as they near so close to the coveted 1 spot? 


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The Course


TPC Sawgrass is a Pete Dye Design that plays to a par of 72. It is the ORIGINAL TPC Course and it's known for its diabolical nature. 

Dye is known for his ability to mess with the heads of anyone who plays his courses. Sawgrass is a great example of that, and you'll often hear that this course doesn't favor one style of golf.

That is true for the most part. There are lots of hazards in play which caters to the accurate hitters. It requires you to consistency hit good golf shots throughout the round. You can't really escape from poor shots with elite scrambling (because you'll be in the water) which makes Phil Mickelson's victory here all that more impressive, as he will often point out. At the same time, there are four par 5s which generally benefits the big hitters.

Speaking of hazards, there were more than 350 penalties at this event last year. A whopping 179 of those came at the closing three holes where water is heavily in play. That's not the only place where water may gobble up your ball since water has been found on 17 of 18 holes on this layout, over the last 10 years.

Off the tee, golfers are often restricted around the 300-yard mark. The preferred drive on most holes falls into the 280-to-300-yard mark which is a driving iron or fairway metal for a lot of these guys. This is why many golfers will refer to this as a second-shot course, or a position-based course. 

On approach, golfers have to deal with plenty of hazards including greenside bunkers on every hole, similar to last week at Quail Hollow. 

For grass types, we have bermuda from tee-to-green and also have TifEagle Bermuda on the greens. Golfers that grew up in the South or have lived in the area for a while should have some added comfort this week of playing grasses they are familiar with. 

What should gamers expect for a scoring environment? Looking at the last five years of data, THE PLAYERS has ranked inside the top 20 of all events in terms of Eagle Rate and Birdie Rate. That falls in the top half of easiest courses to rack up birdies or better. However, it also ranks top 10 in Double Bogeys or Worse. Looking at courses that are used annually, only PGA National's Champion Course yields a higher rate of big numbers. That is another Florida course with water lurking everywhere. It will show up again in the Correlated Course section below. 

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the courses to see how they will play...
 
Patrick Reed: "This is an angle golf course. There’s a lot of double doglegs. You have to know where to position the golf ball, and that’s just one of those things I’ve gotten focused on, and hopefully at the end of the week, it works out."
 
Rory McIlroy: "Visually it’s awkward. You got tee boxes lining you up in wrong directions and you’re having to hit across a lot of fairways. The depth perception is hard with the way the trees are. It’s just, visually, it’s a typical Pete Dye golf course, it’s just visually very awkward."
 
Ben Martin: "Yeah, I think it’s a classic kind of Pete Dye design. I like most of his courses. I like Harbour Town a lot. This is probably the closest course we have to Harbour Town. So I like to think my way around the course, I think he makes you think your way around the course. So it’s a good track."
 
Jason Day: "I was just looking at Rory, Rory didn’t go to well his first three starts and the last three starts he’s been playing great. I think that the more times you come here, the more you know about the golf course, the better it is for you. It’s just taken me a little bit longer."

Patrick Cantlay: "I like golf courses where there’s a premium on hitting the ball in the fairway and playing smart shots into the greens."
 
Overview: I'm always amazed at the reputation that Pete Dye has established for himself. He is the course architect that generates the most golfer quotes on a yearly basis. Looking at performance on other Dye Designs should be a good idea this week. Day mentions the course experience factor, giving a slight boost to golfers that play here frequently. Of course, Cantlay adds the nugget that plenty of golfers have played here during Junior Golf. Even "first-timers" are pretty familiar with the over layout of TPC Sawgrass. 


Correlated Courses


Looking at over- and under-performance of individual golfers, these five courses show up as potential pointers: 

Bay Hill Club & Lodge
PGA National's Champion Course
Sheshan International
TPC Boston
Harbour Town Golf Links


The common connection this week is WATER. Bay Hill has water on 9 holes. Sheshan has water on 11 holes. PGA National is littered with water. Harbour Town is a Pete Dye design that puts an emphasis on approach play while TPC Boston is another TPC layout that rewards elite ball-striking. 

The Weather


Thursday: Sunny with a high near 84 degrees. 
Friday: Sunny with a high near 85 degrees. 

Weekend: More sun with highs in the mid-80s. A small chance of thunderstorms on Sunday. 

Looks like another great week for golf. Early wind forecasts don't look extreme and the chances of precipitation are very small. Check back on Wednesday for another look at the weather. 



Golfers to Watch

Rory McIlroy
After a string of missed cuts early in his Sawgrass career, McIlroy changed his approach to the course and has since posted top 15s in four of his last five visits. More recently he's posted a WIN, T5, and T16 in his last three starts. The Pacemaker has been inside the top 20 after 11 of those 12 rounds. I'd expect him to get right back in the mix this week. 

Dustin Johnson
Similar to Rory and Day, DJ has not had much success early in his PLAYERS career. In fact, he's yet to find himself inside the top 10 after any round at TPC Sawgrass (30 rounds). In his favor, he finally added Harbour Town back to his schedule this year and posted a T16 at that Pete Dye Design. With his World No. 1 Ranking up for grabs this week, I think DJ bucks his poor course history here and posts his first top 10 at THE PLAYERS. 


Tiger Woods

Rewind to the start of last week and it was clear to see that Tiger had THE PLAYERS on his mind. He mentioned that he was looking to peak for THIS week, not necessarily for the Wells Fargo. Putting new irons in his bag last week, Woods gained 3 strokes off-the-tee and 4.5 strokes on approach last week. Assuming his flat stick returns to normal, Woods could easily flirt with the top of the leaderboard this week. If my top 25 expanded to a top 30, Woods would have cracked the list. 

Francesco Molinari
Gave gamers a recent scare with a pre-tournament WD, citing a shoulder injury. Returned last week and proved a clean bill of health. He ranked 1st in the field last week at Quail Hollow (+6.5 SG Approach). Adding to his appeal, the Italian has posted top 10s in each of his last three visits to TPC Sawgrass. 


Bryson DeChambeau

From a recent-stat view, the Mad Scientist pops off the page in many areas. That's what happens when you post top 5s in three of your last four starts. If you want to ride the wave of form, Bryson might be the man for you. Didn't crack my top 25 in this strong field, based on a wider view of his results but if you value recent form heavily, give him a big boost. Would be No. 27 on my rankings if I expanded them. 


Adam Scott

FINALLY gained strokes with the putter last week but the rest of his game slipped in the process. Assuming his ball-striking returns to usual, Scott is very much on the radar for contention this week. As for his record at TPC Sawgrass, the Aussie won here back in 2004. More recently he's posted top 20s in four of his last six starts, earning paychecks in all six. Given the strength of field and wild variance of this event, Scott's steady record here is even more impressive. 


Alexander Levy

When researching some of Levy's European Tour wins I noticed that quite a few of them came on courses when lots of water in play. In that regard, the Frenchman deserves a look this week. He's also in elite form, posting top 15s in five of his last seven starts including a WIN at the Trophee Hassan II.   

Daniel Berger
The American version of Levy. If there is a course with lots of water, Berger immediately gets a boost for me. Boog grew up in Florida, went to school in Florida, and still lives in the Sunshine State. Putting on bermuda is second nature of him. Has gone MC-T9-T65 in three trips to THE PLAYERS. I would expect something closer to the T9 this week as Berger plays in his comfort zone. 

 
Ian Poulter
He's a two-time runner-up here at TPC Sawgrass. The Orlando resident added a recent win at the Houston Open and he was the 54-hole leader at the RBC Heritage (another Pete Dye Design). Everything lines up for another steady result here in Florida. 

Luke List
Bounced back nicely last week as we expected. His 2018 consistency is something to marvel at, especially when you compare it to year's past for the big hitter. List is contending on all types of courses this year which puts him right back on the radar this week. A lot of his value comes from fantasy scoring, so give him a boost in weekly formats that value birdies and eagles, despite him not quite cracking my top 25. 


 
 
Ranking the Field
Head over to Matt Cooper's Rocco Forte Open Preview for more information on that. Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our Expert Picks and Wednesday for the DFS Dish. 


Josh Culp joined Rotoworld in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.
Email :Josh Culp



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