The Players Championship has been running since 1974 and usually boasts the top 50 players in the world, but being an event owned by the PGA Tour and not an actual major, this year we will be missing the LIV golf players which is a shame. The most perfect example being current champion Cameron Smith who won last year with a total of -13, and who resides in the area and practises at the club. After moving to the LIV tour, he will not be able to defend his title, so the trophy will remain vacant and is up for grabs.
The winner will receive a five-year PGA Tour exemption and a three-year invitation to The Masters and the three other majors. Not only that, but world ranking points earned are the highest of any non-major tournament at the Players Championship. Lastly, we have the iconic venue of the stadium course at TPC Sawgrass to look forward to.
The course – The Players Championship Sawgrass
The PGA Tour’s headquarters at Ponte Vedra beach boast the magnificent stadium course venue of TPC Sawgrass. One of the classic parkland tracks on tour, players enjoy the familiarity of coming back season after season. The best thing about this shot maker’s paradise is that any player type can win. It’s interesting to note that, since the event moved to a March slot (earlier on the rotation), the scoring at the top of the board hasn’t changed too much with softer conditions underfoot. The three editions so far have averaged a winning total of around -14.
The course itself plays to a par 72 at 7,189 yards in length, where a driver is not necessarily required. Instead, this is a test of precision from the tips, with dog-legged fairways turning both ways. Wind is often up and can play a big part, but softer greens in March do make controlling approaches easier, not to mention putting. Like any Pete Dye design, it’s risk-reward and the four par 5s along with the short par 4 12th are key holes. We look forward to the strong finish incorporating the infamous island green 17th, and to the tough closing hole alongside the water which Cam Smith found with his second shot on the 72nd hole in 2022. The Aussie managed to get up and down (two strokes) for victory on that occasion with a superb pitch.
The ideal player profile we are looking for at Sawgrass is an all-rounder with ball striking skills and a good short game. A good, accurate driver that can shape it both ways is the type of player we are looking at here. Sawgrass is one of, if not the biggest, risk-reward type tracks on tour, with plenty of water hazards in play including the signature par 3 17th hole. Sub-Air systems are in play so the stimpmeter (to measure the speed of the greens) is regularly over 13’. Overseeded Bermuda greens await approaches, and a similar grass type surrounds the short stuff from tee to green.
Key Metrics and Premiums for the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass
- Driving accuracy
- Holing out
- Strong Wind play
- Par 5 performance
- Shot Shaping
Who are we targeting at TPC Sawgrass?
Several players who fit the bill are rounding into form at the perfect time to make an assault on the prestigious Players Championship title. Interestingly, it’s Greg Norman who holds the tournament record at the Players Championship! Checking out the 2022 Players Championship leaderboard gives us a bit of flavour for how the event might play out, and it was quite condensed, with a handful of shots covering the top 12. There was only one shot separating each of the top five places from -13 down to -9. We can see that the leaderboard consisted of a diverse group of nationalities and playing styles.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Martin Kaymer, Jason Day, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, and Rickie Fowler are all previous recent winners of the Players Championship. What do they have in common? They are all great ball strikers and shot makers. Shot making may be the buzzword of the week at the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. The Players Championship might be renowned as the best field in golf, but given the course set up and the test that awaits, it’s a fair examination and any type of golfer can win. It’s not too uncommon to find some winners at decent value odds.
The standout in the market might just be Sungjae Im who is coming into the Players Championship somewhat under the radar. Im excels in every department of the game and an all-round player is exactly what we are looking for at TPC Sawgrass. The Korean has form in Florida, having taken the title at a similar test of golf in the Honda Classic at PGA National back in 2020. He sits 17th in strokes gained total and 19th in scrambling in 2023. He’s simmering this year with a couple of top six finishes and could be set to peak at Sawgrass after a warmup at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Shane Lowry is a course specialist at Sawgrass and the stats may not fully show his prowess here. The bare figures portray three top 20 finishes for the Irishman on the track with his best being an 8th place spot in 2021, which was followed up by another good run last year, eventually finishing 13th. Good vibes for Shane too as he hit a hole in one on the infamous island green par three 17th hole, both to the delight of the crowd and himself in 2022! Lowry also aced the 16th at Augusta – maybe there’s something in the water! Again, the Irishman ticks all the boxes for TPC Sawgrass ranking 2nd in total driving and 16th in strokes gained tee to green. The short game department is where Lowry really excels: he was 3rd in scrambling in the 2022 PGA Tour season, and when it comes to shot making there are not many better. Shano is progressing nicely form wise with a T14 at the Genesis backed up by a T5 at the Honda Classic.
The Players Championship – Who else could contend?
Matt Fitzpatrick is another who should thrive at the type of test TPC Sawgrass offers, and a progressive course history form line of 46-41-9 portrays he may have been getting a handle on the track before a MC in 2022. Nevertheless, the Englishman had the best season of his career to date in 2022, winning the US Open and finishing fifth in the PGA Championship sandwiched in between a T14 and 21st place finish at the Masters and Open Championship, respectively. Fitzpatrick now believes he belongs amongst the world’s elite, and he sits 13th in the world golf rankings.
His namesake Matt Kuchar is a former winner of the Players Championship in 2012, and he recorded a 3rd place finish in 2016 and owns a handful of other top 20s here. Kuchar comes in at big odds and may be one to watch, it looks like he’s returning to form in 2023. Kuchar has had a couple of top eight finishes this year so far at the Sony Open and the Genesis Invitational.