For the third time in about ten weeks, a player priced at 350/1 or over won on the PGA Tour. James Hahn – who had missed his last eight cuts by the way – held his nerve in a play-off with another three-figure man, Roberto Castro, to lift the Wells Fargo Championship trophy at Quail Hollow on Sunday. If anything sums up the riches on offer to golf punters (if they can find the right selections!) it is that.
Those figures will surely whet the appetite for this week’s tournament the Players Championship, which although it doesn’t have major status will welcome most of the world’s best players to the outstanding TPC Sawgrass club. It certainly has that big event feel to it, anyway.Rickie Fowler is the defending champion here after a monumental Sunday in 2015; he was six shots off the pace at one point during the final round, but finished birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie to book his place in a three-man play-off with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner, in which he would go on to triumph.
Who We’re Not Backing
This might seem like an odd way of doing things, but we’re happy to eliminate a few players at the head of the market now to help us identify the value elsewhere. First up is Rory McIlroy: a best price of 8/1 for a player who hasn’t won on American soil now for 12 months? No thanks.
He endured a horror Sunday at The Masters, so we’re happy to gloss over Jordan Spieth too. This will be his first outing since Augusta, so have the nightmares of his Amen Corner meltdown diminished? At 9/1, we’re happy to take a watching brief on that.
No reigning champion has ever successfully defended their crown at Sawgrass, so that’s Fowler counted out, and Justin Rose has missed the cut in this event in two of his last three starts. Henrik Stenson missed the cut at Quail Hollow last time out; the first time he had failed to see the weekend of a tournament since March 2014.
That has whittled the field down somewhat.
How Does Sawgrass Play?
It’s a world-famous course, is Sawgrass, and players come from miles around to sample its unique set of conditions. The average winning score here is -13, and neatly sums up the challenge ahead: there are scoring opportunities here, as we saw with Fowler’s Sunday surge, but there are plenty of pitfalls too; witness Chris Kirk’s dive-bomb from first to thirteenth in the space of the final afternoon.
It is a Pete Dye design, and these bring with them the kind of conditions which reward postage stamp accuracy from tee to green and an ability to drain putts on the smaller-than-average greens. It is not all about the power game at Sawgrass; an ability to manoeuvre the ball around at will, avoiding the heavy rough, is essential. Bermuda Grass also throws up its own set of challenges, and certain players are up to the task more than others.
GIR is the key stat then, and an ability to scramble is helpful too should a wayward shot land in the thick stuff. Making the most of scoring opportunities is essential, and there is a feeling that the Par 5s here are exploitable. And of course this is a tough track and a quality field, so a hot putter could make all the difference.
The last five winners of this tournament were Fowler, Martin Kaymer, Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar and K.J Choi; all of whom are quality operators. So, we will be lurking towards the head of the field with our selections.
Jason Day (12/1)
You could argue he is the best player on the planet right now, and a form guide of 1-1-10-23-5 certainly backs up the argument. Day’s record at Sawgrass might be inconspicuous – 6-MC-19-N/A-MC is hardly the stuff of legend, but we’re happy to see two top-20s in there safe in the knowledge that the Aussie is playing the best golf of his life right now.
Day should putt well – he ranks 5th for Strokes Gained: Putting – and the fact that he is a major winner should help him come Sunday. Few will play the Par 5s as good as him either, and ultimately that could be the difference between success and failure.
Sergio Garcia (28/1)
A player that ranks 4th for Greens in Regulation, 12th for Ball Striking, 3rd for Scrambling inside 30m and 42nd for Par 5 Scoring Average is always going to pique our interest, and Garcia’s form at Sawgrass is indicative of how those stats manifest themselves: 12-56-8-3-2 shows a general upward curve in fortunes, and you will struggle to find a record on this stretch as convincing as that.
The Spaniard’s last American outing came at The Masters, where but for a third round of 81 he would have finished much higher than his eventual placing of 34th. Prior to that, four top-20s in seven starts is a reminder of how well Garcia can play.
His last outing came at April’s Open de Espana, and a third place finish there was outstanding given that a) conditions were horrendous, and b) he had the distractions associated with hosting the event.
Garcia is recognised as one of the leading exponents of Bermuda Grass play on the planet, and there is a feeling that no longer being an obvious favourite for these kinds of tournament will help the Spaniard to fly under the radar – just how he likes it.