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The First Tee at the Players Championship (TPC Sawgrass)
Continuing the trend of incredible finishes this year, James Hahn outlasted superstars Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy to win the Wells Fargo Championship. Hahn, of gang-em-style fame, notched his second career victory (2015 Riviera) and turned around his 2016 season. After surviving his first six cuts of the year, Hahn missed his next seven cuts, which made his victory even more unlikely. He is a talented young player on the rise, but inconsistency from week to week has plagued his career up until now. I mention this because players like Hahn are GPP bounties, players who seem so unlikely to win that you don't even consider them. In the big $3 event on DraftKings, Hahn was only .2% owned, and the top five teams did not haven them on their squad. This is important to pay attention to, as the winning teams from week to week are looking more and more different with each passing event. My best advice would be to think outside the box when building your GPP lineups, meaning look at the boom or bust players either miss the cut or notch top 10's. This isn't easy, and it is a highly volatile strategy, but if there is one constant sewed into GPP success (in all sports), it is that you have to have at least one player who is low owned in order to win. I've made a large majority of my profit by doing just the opposite, but the PGA landscape has shifted towards higher and tighter pricing at the top, which inhibits your ability to include multiple secondary options. This week, which plays like a mini-major, might be the exception to the rule with so many options in the 7-8k range, however this doesn't mean you can't delve into the players in the low 6K range.
As I mentioned, this week plays like a mini-major, with all the best players in the world in the field. World #1 Jason Day will look to stay at the top of the rankings, but he will have his hands full on a track where he has had less than stellar results. World #2, Jordan Spieth has had mixed results in his two appearances at TPC Sawgrass, a surprising missed cut last year, and a T4 in his first appearance in 2014. After the way the Masters played out, Spieth has something to prove, and if he brings a hot putter, he has the ability and the right skillset to win at Sawgrass. Then there is Rory McIlroy, world #3, who has played very well over the last month and seems on the verge of breaking through and winning a big tournament. Despite the world rankings, McIlroy is the top man this week with respect to pricing, followed by Spieth and Day, respectively
Following in salary order, next up is Rickie Fowler, the 2015 victor at the Players. Despite not winning in 2016, Fowler has had a helluva season, notching seven top 10s. Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Henrick Stenson and Bubba Watson are all fairly priced this week, and it makes sense to have a wide net of exposure in order to take advantage.
Veteran Phil Mickelson leads the next group, followed by Masters Winner Danny Willett, Patrick Reed, Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Billy Horschel. Horschel will be playing on his home turf, and will be doing the Gator Chop along with a crowd of well-wishers. Daniel Berger, a FSU alum will be on the opposite side of that chop, but will also have crowd support. Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker and Jimmy Walker find themselves in the low 8000's, and should be fairly highly owned, and with good reason.
TPC Sawgrass is Pete Dye's master creation, having been shaped and sculpted out of swamplands, it is a true testament to his ability as a course designer. His style of architecture puts the course layout in the player's hands, repeatedly offering risk-reward options and several different lines off the tee. I am looking at past success on Pete Dye tracks as an indicator for future success, but that is just to limit the field of options. As I mentioned above, I think you need to keep your core tight, but when it comes to options four through six, a wide net is optimal.
TPC Sawgrass is a par 72, and will be stretched to 7,215 yards this week. Dye created the course in 1980, and it was the first TPC course to be built. It is unique in that Dye made sure that not one hole played in the same direction as the previous hole. Aside from the layout, the main defense is the wind which swirls in every direction. This ensures that the players are on point, and even more so, the caddies. No player has ever repeated as champion at the Players, so Fowler will have his work cut out for him.
Dye is not called the mad genius of golf architecture for nothing. The most famous hole at TPC is the Par 3 17th, widely known for the island green that has caused so many heartbreaks over the years, with some good fortune along the way too. The most important aspect at Dye courses is course management. The risk-reward features are there, but in between those opportunities are holes that call for precise tee shots and tight approach shots. The players who are big hitters do not have an advantage this week, that skillset is equalized. The metric I am looking at this week is Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, which measures just that, tee shots and approach shots. The players leading that category currently are, in order: Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Hideki Matsuyama, Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy. That should be no surprise, but Scott, Rose, Stenson, Matsuyama and Garcia are priced very softly this week, and seem like the perfect core to put in place.
- 1.)Rickie Fowler: This was a tough choice between Fowler and McIlroy, but given Fowler's success and putting last year, I chose to go with him. No player has ever won back to back Players, so he will have his work cut out for him. In the end, he has the right temperament and skillset to succeed at TPC Sawgrass year in and year out.
- 2.)Rory McIlroy: Much like Rickie, Rory has yet to win a tournament this year but he is knocking on the door. He has a well-rounded skillset, which allows his game to travel well no matter what the course set up is. His price is high, but I think people are sleeping on Rory. If he wins this week, there will be plenty of people who are mad at second guessing the most obvious pick.
- 3.)Adam Scott: This is my personal preference, as it seems like Scott is falling under the radar this week. His putting failed him last week, which is cause for concern, but you cannot count him out when you consider his ballstriking. Consistently hitting greens at TPC Sawgrass is a recipe for success, and I expect Scott to lead the field in greens in regulation this week. His price is soft, and allows you to stack multiple studs alongside him.
- 4.)Sergio Garcia: He does have a win at the Players, which is why I placed him in my top five. He's at an interesting price point this week, as he is not priced as a #1 option. When you put that in perspective, who else would you count on for a top 10 in his price point? Garcia vs Scott is also an intriguing matchup, but I like Scott's ability to win the tournament versus Sergio. .
- 5.)Hideki Matsuyama: Jason Day or Justin Rose would also be good picks at this spot, but in the end I think Matsuyama provides a better return using PP$ projections. Matsuyama is a talented ball-striker who has no weaknesses. TPC Sawgrass is a course that will highlight your weaknesses, and in the end I think Matsuyama goes off as one of the last three groups on Sunday.