2023 Players Championship Preview
2023 PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW – Well, if you listened to the pod, you probably had a few guys in the hunt on Sunday. Truthfully, it was difficult to not have a guy up there, as at one point I counted four guys in the lead and another six or seven within a stroke or two.
Hatton couldn’t quite close the deal for me and Davis Riley’s 66 on Sunday wasn’t enough after three days of scrapping it around at even par.
The Players Championship is consistently one of the best events on Tour. The field is loaded with 44 of the top-50 in the world taking part.
Rory, Scottie, and Rahm continue to be excellent as we get to what is often called golf’s “fifth major.”
So, let’s take a look at what we should be expecting this week.
TPC Sawgrass has played host to this tournament since 1982. That means golf fans are pretty familiar with the layout. The signature hole is 17: a relatively short par-3, which features a treacherous island green.
TPC Sawgrass measures out to around 7,250 yards or so depending on the tee boxes, so it isn’t overly long. We’ve seen shorter hitters win here in the past, which means that this course is gettable for guys who don’t hit a mile, like Webb Simpson. (Don’t bet Webb Simpson.)
The real issue for players at TPC Sawgrass is that there is water on 17 of the 18 holes. The fairways are pretty narrow and the rough will be penal.
There’s a funky element to handicapping this tournament in that there have only been a couple iterations of the championship played in March. Typically, it was played in May when the wind was reliably strong and predictable. Now, it’s more unpredictable and holes like 18 that used to play much shorter downwind, are suddenly a little beefier without the wind advantage.
It’s a course that used to be wide-open in terms of who could win. Short and straight hitters won here and bombers did well too. That hasn’t been the case since the date moved. Since then it’s been won by basically golf’s elite in the last three times this event has been played (Rory, Justin Thomas, and Cam Smith).
The green complexes are difficult and there are runoff areas designed to funnel wayward shots off the greens into shaved collection areas.
Pete Dye-designed courses tend to have unique greens and strategy requirements, with precision being favored over power both off the tee and on approach shots. Players who do well on one of his course designs typically do well at all of them (Harbour Town, PGA West, Kiawah Island).
Once again, it’s a totally stacked leaderboard. Basically all of the elite players are here unless they’re injured or LIVing it up on the rival tour.
Rory (+900), Scottie (+1000), and Rahm (+1000) are clear and deserving favorites based on the absolutely elite play they’ve displayed up to this point in the season.
Those odds can’t quite entice me, so I’ll be staying away. If I had to choose one, Rory feels like the best play based on his excellent course history here including his win in 2019.
Jason Day (+2800) has seen his odds absolutely plummet on the strength of four consecutive top-10 finishes in addition to an excellent history at TPC Sawgrass. He’lll be a trendy pick and likely will be on my card just because I’ll hate myself if he wins and I don’t make money. Not necessarily because I think he’s got much value at those odds.
Putting It All Together
This is a course that has, historically, rewarded ballstriking excellence, not necessarily power. Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar have wins in recent memory here alongside elite power players like Rory and JT.
It remains to be seen whether or not the timing change of this event and the resultant changes to wind this time of year favor more power, but those are the early indications with JT and Rory having winds since then.
I’m not willing to give up on the narrative that precision beats power here, so that’s where my handicapping will be focused. Guys like Corey Conners (+6000) and Tom Kim (+4000) both have games that should work really well at TPC Sawgrass.
Check back tomorrow for some more specific picks and write ups for guys on my betting card.