The PLAYERS Championship Analysis & Predictions

by | Mar 11, 2020 | golf

Event: The PLAYERS Championship
When: March 12-15, 2020
Where: TPC Sawgrass - Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
TV: NBC

We are in the midst of one of the most exciting stretches on the PGA Tour, and the pace picks up, even more, this week with The PLAYERS Championship. PGA National and Bay Hill have been brutally tough over the last two weeks, and the pros will be looking for a little relief at TPC Sawgrass, but Pete Dye courses are rarely described as easy or fast-scoring. Rory McIlory is the defending champion, and a successful title defense would be the first at this event. Tiger Woods is still nursing a sore back and will not be teeing it up but former champs Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day are here. There really is no shortage of big-name talent at the unofficial “5th Major” of the season.

TPC Sawgrass is one of the most recognizable courses in the states, and this place has just about everything in its back of tricks. The 7,140 yards, par-72 track, is massively mounded throughout the property and has every manner of hazard. Dye saw fit to feature regular, greenside bunkers but also a volume of fairway traps and grass bunkers. There are little, tiny pothole traps and massive, yawing ones and even traps with trees growing inside. It’s Florida, so of course, there is water in play, and not just at the island green on the 17th. Players will also see waste areas and pine straw if they are wayward with the drives and the greens border on unfair if you are on the wrong side the massive undulations. Just about every kind of player has won here with Justin Leonard and K.J. Choi representing the short hitters while Tiger and Phil are among the power players to win a PLAYERS championship. Winning totals over the last ten years have been in the “10-under to 18-under” range, but single-digit totals as low at 3-under have been seen.

Each week, we take a look at the online betting sites and highlight the best values on the board. We make a short, middle, and long odds pick to win and breakdown a couple of head-to-head matches that you can find at just about every golf betting outlet. Odds to win and pairing for this week come courtesy of the board at Bovada. Here are our picks to win the 2020 PLAYERS Championship.

Jon Rahm (12 to 1 odds to win)

Playing well ahead of big-time events is a plus, and it doesn’t get much better than Rahm’s four top-ten finishes in just five PGA Tour events. He finished 2nd at the Farmers, 3rd in Mexico and comes to Sawgrass after finishing T12 last season. He is top-30 in driving distance and greens hit but is most impressively 4th in strokes gained putting which is sure to pay off at this course. He is 5th in off-the-tee performance, and 2nd in total strokes gained, nearly 2.5 strokes better than the PGA Tour baseline stats. That is a nuanced stat, but think of it as an equivalent to baseball’s value over replacement player metric, and when you consider that, it is clear how much better Rahm has been than the average Tour player in 2020. He rounds things out with a respectable top-40 scrambling rate, so he definitely checks all the boxes this week as a true betting favorite.

Hideki Matsuyama (28 to 1)

Dye designs are purposeful in their requirement to test all aspects of the golf game, and Hideki can handle just about anything, as evidenced by his T8 here last season and a complete stat sheet that features the 3rd best overall tee-to-green game on Tour. He had a tough weekend at Bay Hill but came into last week riding back-to-back top-ten finishes, giving him four on the young season. His putting has been Tour average in many regards, but Hideki hits so many greens that he is still 14th in birdies and 7th in scoring average. I think he is among the few that can get around Sawgrass without too much stress, and he has enough in the power categories to be aggressive where the course allows. He will need to putt a bit better to pull out a “W”, but he has plenty of Sawgrass experience under his belt to rely on.

Matt Kuchar (50 to 1)

The 2012 PLAYERS champion has been consistent in 2020 with five top-25 finishes in six cuts made, topping out at T2 at the Genesis just a few weeks ago. Since winning at Sawgrass, he has been a bit off the pace, but a T17 in 2018 and T26 last year show he is still in touch with the course enough to get to the weekends on a regular basis. I like his top-15 fairways hit percentage as a start, and Matt adds the 14th best putter in terms of strokes gained to produce a top-25 scoring average. He hasn’t been quite as sharp as you’d like to see in terms of greens hit, but he is a fantastic up-and-down player, so he isn’t losing strokes to the field when he does miss the putting surface. I think Kuchar’s window of top-level contention is closing over the next season or two, but he has the experience at Sawgrass, and he has the overall smarts to beat a Dye course.

Head-to-Head Matches

Picks to win based on the predicted score for all four rounds. Check with your favorite sportsbook for single round pairings and a variety of prop bets.

Brooks Koepka (-115) v. Rickie Fowler (-115) (pick to win: Fowler)

The books and betting sites must be driving themselves nuts with trying to accurately pair Koepka with anyone lately considering how poor Brooks has been playing. Koepka has played just five times this season, missing the cut twice, withdrawing once and generally finishing way back like he did last week with a T47. Fowler hasn’t played much more and has missed some cuts himself, but he does have a 5th place finish at the TOC and a runner-up at the AMEX to at least signal he still has his fastball. Koepka is outside the top-200 in fairways, greens, and scrambling, and while those numbers will undoubtedly improve through the season, he shouldn’t be trusted at a place like Sawgrass. Rickie hasn’t done much here over the last few seasons, but he did win this event in 2015 and owns some very solid edges over Brooks in putting birdies, and scoring this season. You got to make Brooks prove he is back before getting your money behind him.

Webb Simpson (-115) v. Xander Schauffele (-115) (pick to win: Simpson)

This pick was hard to make, considering I liked Xander to be one of the best on Tour in any circumstances this season, and he hasn’t disappointed with three top-tens, including two runner-up finishes. I am taking Simpson this week based on his four top-tens in just five total starts, one being a tournament win in Phoenix and he has beat Xander at Sawgrass in back-to-back seasons, including 2018 where Webb won this event. Many of the tee-to-green numbers are too close to call between these players so I looked at the putting stats and that is where Webb is seeing a significant advantage, ranking 13th in strokes gained with Xander back at 119th. I do see both players being relevant this week, but Simpson leads the Tour in birdies per round, and that isn’t some kind of fluke. He has been at the top of his game and should be able to hold off Schauffele, although I won’t be surprised to see both players inside the top-ten come Sunday.

Good luck and good golf!

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