The PGA Tour heads North for The Players Championship following Bryson DeChambeau‘s victory at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Fla. Last year’s tournament was canceled after Round 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Rory McIlroy will defend his 2019 title against one of the strongest fields in golf. McIlroy surged out to a share of the first-round lead last week but was 3-over par in his final three rounds to finish T-10. Below, we’ll break down TPC Sawgrass and all the key stats you need to know this week, before offering picks and DFS lineup advice for the 2021 Players Championship at DraftKings.
Forty-eight of the top-50 golfers in the Official World Golf Ranking, as of March 6, are in attendance. World No. 12 Brooks Koepka withdrew Sunday due to a knee injury. Matthew Wolff and Tiger Woods are the other notable absentees. Anirban Lahiri replaced Koepka in the field of 154.
The likes of Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm return to play this week after passing on the Arnold Palmer Invitational. This busy early-year stretch of the PGA Tour schedule will see the Honda Classic played next week, followed by the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The 2021 Masters Tournament is less than a month away.
The course: TPC Sawgrass
One of the PGA Tour’s most famous venues, the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course measures 7,189 yards and plays to a par of 72. It has served as host of The Players Championship since 1982 but has undergone several renovations to be lengthened from 6,857 yards. It was designed by renowned architects Pete and Alice Dye specifically for this event. The 2021 Players Championship is expected to allow up to 20 percent capacity of fans for each round.
TPC Sawgrass is best known for a design not favoring any one particular style of golf. The longest hitters hold little advantage. Precision off the tee and sharp iron play are the most important traits. The putting surfaces are again Bermudagrass, as seen each of the last two weeks on the Florida Swing. Water is in play – and a major threat to scorecards – on 12-15 holes.
The 137-yard, par-3 17th and its island green is the best-known hole in golf. It saw one ace and 96 birdies against 31 bogeys, 24 doubles, and 5 others in 2019 while playing to a scoring average of 2.998. It was the only par 3 to play below par two years ago. The easiest hole was the 302-yard, par-4 12th at an average of 3.538 required strokes. The 471-yard, par-4 5th played as the most difficult at 0.235 strokes over par. All four par 5s played below par in 2019 with three of the four carding at least 10 eagles in the tournament.
Other Dye courses similar to TPC Sawgrass to consider in your DFS research are TPC River Highlands and Harbour Town Golf Links. They host the Travelers Championship and RBC Heritage, respectively.
Key stats to consider for your Players Championship DFS picks
There hasn’t been a Players champion finish worse than 10-under par since Sergio Garcia in 2008 (minus-5). There have been five 1-stroke victories since 2010, including two playoffs. Webb Simpson and Jason Day each won by 4 strokes in 2018 and 2016, respectively. There has never been a back-to-back winner of The Players Championship. Woods was the last to win this event twice, doing so in 2001 and 2013.
There are 112 PGA Tour winners in attendance following Koepka’s withdrawal. The field includes 10 past Players champions. Prior to the loss of four-time major champion Koepka, the field accounted for 24 of last 25 major winners, but that number now drops to 20 of 25.
Driving Accuracy is far more important than usual. The rough isn’t overly penal, but TPC Sawgrass requires players to hit certain landing areas to have the best angles into the greens. Strokes Gained: Approach and SG: Around-the-Green are other crucial stats for the foundation of research this week. Look to Bogey Avoidance instead of Birdie or Better Percentage. Scoring opportunities are readily available and avoiding trouble is more important.
Players Championship DFS lineup-building strategies
The strength of the field at The Players Championship, much like in the four majors, allows for a natural dispersion of DFS ownership. Everyone has their favorite golfer they regularly like to back and with all of them in attendance (except for Koepka, Wolff and Tiger) few will be owned at an inflated number. Still, ownership pivots are essential in the middle and value tiers when competing against 148,297 entries for the $1 million first-place prize. FanShare Sports is a great resource to help leverage ownership.
DeChambeau, who is second by the betting odds at DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook following last week’s victory, is just seventh by DFS salary. A perceived value, this is sure to make him a popular play, despite his added distance over the last calendar year not translating to a direct advantage at TPC Sawgrass. Targeting those who didn’t play last week or at the WGC-Workday Championship can be a profitable play in avoiding recency bias. Likewise, those who missed the cut or had a disappointing finish last week can make for strong targets.
As noted above, course history, at least pertaining to winning, hasn’t been as relevant at TPC Sawgrass and The Players Championship as at most other tournaments. Though it hasn’t been much of a factor since the PGA Tour’s mid-June restart last year, the decreased fan attendance could play a role at the Stadium Course. First-time participants and lower-ranked golfers could find success in the star-studded field in 2021.
2021 Players Championship DFS picks
Top tier: $11.2K – $9K
Jon Rahm $10,900
Rahm comes into The Players Championship ranked second in the OWGR. A two-time winner in 2020, he has three top-10 finishes in five events played early this year but is coming off a T-32 finish at the WGC event. World No. 1 Johnson is likely to be the more popular play, despite being $1,300 more expensive. DeChambeau and WGC champion Collin Morikawa could also be more popular plays at lower salaries.
Rahm’s putter has been a weakness early in the 2020-21 PGA Tour season, but he’s gaining 2.13 strokes per round from tee-to-green and 0.82 strokes per round on approach to the green. The Spaniard has played 12 career rounds at TPC Sawgrass with an average of 1.32 strokes gained per round. He tied for 12th in 2019 and performed well on these greens.
Webb Simpson $9,500
Simpson’s minus-18 finishing score in a 4-stroke victory in 2018 was the lowest number posted since Greg Norman’s record minus-24 in 1994. He has slipped from No. 6 to No. 10 in the OWGR from the end of 2020 despite recording two top-10 finishes and not missing a cut in four events this year. He’s coming off a strong T-6 showing in the top-heavy field of the WGC-Workday Championship. He tied for 16th in this event while defending his title in 2019.
The former US Open champion is ninth by the betting odds at DraftKings Sportsbook but seventh by DFS salary, representing a potential contrarian play. He’s sandwiched between the two most recent PGA Tour winners in DeChambeau and Morikawa and makes for a strong pivot near the top of the board. He’s third on Tour in Bogey Avoidance and fourth in Driving Accuracy this season.
Patrick Cantlay $9,200
Cantlay is another pivot from DeChambeau and Morikawa following his withdrawal from the WGC-Workday Championship. His illness two weeks ago doesn’t carry the same lingering concern as an injury. The winner of the 2020 Zozo Championship finished no worse than T-15 in each of his four events this year but will be playing in the strongest field since his T-17 finish at the Masters.
He missed the cut in 2019, but he gained 0.85 strokes per round on approach to the green and was undone by his driver and putter. Both of those have been strengths early this season and his 1.14 expected wins rank second on Tour, according to Data Golf.
Patrick Reed $9,000
Reed moved from ninth to eighth in the latest OWGR update despite a missed cut last week at Bay Hill Club & Lodge. The Farmers Insurance Open champion held off most of this week’s biggest names at Torrey Pines in late January and finished T-9 at the WGC event. He has a poor history at The Players with a top finish of 22nd in 2017 and two missed cuts in six career appearances. He’s still a strong fit for this course with an excellent short game and accurate driver. He lost 0.86 strokes per round on the greens in 2019 but is averaging 0.88 SG: Putting this season.
Middle tier: $8.9K – $7.1K
Tyrrell Hatton $8,500
Hatton shot the second-best round of the day Friday and fourth-best round Saturday in his defense of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Opening and closing rounds of plus-5, 77 resulted in a T-21 finish at just minus-1 for the week. The Englishman averaged 1.22 strokes lost putting for the tournament. He gained 2.52 strokes per round from tee-to-green and 0.96 strokes per round around the greens. He’s still averaging 0.33 SG: Putting for the 2020-21 season.
He missed the cut here in both 2018 and 2019 but has since picked up his first PGA Tour win and has three other victories against quality fields on the European Tour. He’s not the same golfer who teed it up here two years, and he flashed his top form over 36 holes last week.
Louis Oosthuizen $7,800
Oosthuizen is one of this week’s top values from both an ownership and salary perspective. He’s still 22nd in the OWGR following a Thursday morning withdrawal from the Arnold Palmer Invitational on the heels of a T-6 finish at the star-studded WGC. He’s 22nd by this week’s betting odds but is 25th by DFS salary. His undisclosed reason for last week’s withdrawal doesn’t carry the same injury concern as Justin Rose‘s back injury for his mid-Round 3 exit.
The former major champion was a co-runner-up here in 2017. He tied for 56th in 2019 following a missed cut in 2018. His 1.16 SG: Putting through 24 measured rounds on the 2020-21 season are the most among anyone with at least 10 rounds played.
Harris English $7,500
English is a discount by both the betting odds (+10000) and DFS salaries. He’s 18th in the OWGR following missed cuts at the Farmers Insurance Open and Waste Management Open, a 66th-place finish at the WGC, and a T-26 last week. He opened the 2021 schedule with a victory against an elite field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
He will be faded far too heavily after missing the cut in each of his last six appearances at this event. His strong overall form of 2020 and 2021 victory makes for a contrarian play. He’s gaining strokes on approach and around the greens. and he’s T-38 on Tour in Bogey Avoidance and 45th in Driving Accuracy.
Russell Henley $7,400
Henley is second on Tour in Bogey Avoidance and 19th in Driving Accuracy. He’s averaging 1.11 SG: Approach per round. He has missed the cut in four of seven career appearances in this event but finished T-17 in 2014. He gained 1.70 SG: Putting that year. His flat stick has been a weakness in recent years at TPC Sawgrass, but he’s averaging 0.23 SG: Putting per round on the 2020-21 season.
Value tier: $7K and lower
Alex Noren $7,000
Noren is coming off a T-49 finish last week with 1.12 SG: Putting per round on the Bermuda greens of Bay Hill; he was minus-3 through 54 holes but fired a closing round of plus-7, 79. His driver won’t be nearly as much of a weakness at the shorter venue this week. He missed the cut in 2019 but was 10th in his 2017 debut and T-17 in 2018. He’s fourth in this field among those with a minimum of 10 rounds played at TPC Sawgrass with 1.94 strokes gained on the field per round.
Kevin Streelman $6,800
Streelman was the runner-up here in 2013 and also finished second at last summer’s Travelers Championship for his best result of 2020. He missed the cut in four of his last six appearances at this event but has just one MC in his last seven PGA Tour events. His strength is his iron play, and he’s averaging 0.44 SG: Approach through 36 measured rounds on the season.
Henrik Stenson $6,700
Stenson missed the cut on the number in his 2021 PGA Tour debut last week at plus-4 through 36 holes. He struggled on approach and with the driver but has averaged 1.72 strokes gained on the field per round over 49 career rounds at TPC Sawgrass. He won here in 2009 and was fifth in 2013 with three other top-20 finishes since 2012.
Andrew Putnam $6,300
Putnam is this week’s top DFS value play. He’s sixth on Tour this season with a bogey percentage of just 12.37 through 53 rounds. He has moved up from 198th in the OWGR at the end of 2020 to 123rd entering this week with three top-10 finishes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational (T-4), Puerto Rico Open (T-5) and Waste Management Phoenix Open (T-7).