Bay Hill really bared its teeth last week during the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The weekend was little more than a slog during which Tyrrell Hatton outlasted a classy chasing pack to earn his first PGA Tour win. Hatton and each of those who tried to stop him will remain in Florida this week as they head for the PGA Tour’s premier event, the Players Championship.
Some of the hype is a little over the top but there is no doubt that the Players Championship is one of the very best tournaments of the golfing year and deserves its status as the “fifth major”. The quality of golfers in the field is incredible and there is some very good betting value around with Dustin Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood particularly appealing at the prices.
The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is among the most iconic layouts on the PGA Tour. It’s been the home of the Players Championship since 1982 and is in the same town, Ponte Vedra Beach, as the headquarters of the PGA Tour.
Designed by Pete Dye, the idea for the Stadium Course was to create a layout that would challenge every aspect of the games of the best players in the world whilst allowing the fans in attendance the best possible vantage points. Whilst this is a typical Pete Dye design in that it forces players to hit uncomfortable shots and demands precision with almost every stroke, it was reworked a little in 2017 with Steve Wenzloff making the big decisions.
The layout remained largely the same apart from the 12th hole which was shortened to become a drivable par four. The big changes were technical though with every bunker being replaced and overseeding taking place on the greens and the fairways. Without boring anybody with the finer details, the result of the overseeding is that players are now much more confident they know how the turf will react when chipping and putting which helps provide better scores.
|The Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass||Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida||7,189 Yards||$15,000,000|
The Players Championship is often referred to as ‘the strongest field in golf’. Although it’s not sanctioned by any other body than the PGA Tour, it offers places to each of the top 50 golfers in the world and recent major champions so there is more of an international feel to the field than in your run of the mill PGA Tour event. That’s reflected in the list of recent winners with three of the last five (and six of the last 10) winners coming from outside of America.
It takes a truly special four days of golf to win the Players but Kim Si-woo (500/1) and Webb Simpson (100/1) prove that outsiders can get the job done against those at the top of the betting. The other thing you’ll notice from the five most recent winners is that players with all sorts of different styles and strengths can win the Players Championship, testament to the fairness of the course.
|Year||Winner||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2019||Rory McIlroy||-16||1 Stroke|
|2018||Webb Simpson||-18||4 Stokes|
|2017||Kim Si-woo||-10||3 Strokes|
|2016||Jason Day||-15||4 Strokes|
|2015||Rickie Fowler||-15||4 Stokes|
Analysis: Grit Required to Win
The PGA Tour pumps a huge amount of money into the Players Championship with the aim of ensuring it remains one of the biggest events in golf. The $12.5 million prize fund available for the 2020 renewal is greater than any other tournament and will add another level of pressure for any player in contention, especially if they’ve not won at the top level before.
That pressure will get to many, as will conditions. The general take away from the players from last year’s renewal is that the move to March has helped scoring as the Stadium Course is now softer and more receptive. However, the Stadium Course is arguably the most controllable golf course in the world and can be set up almost exactly as Tom Vlach, the superintendent, wishes.
Given the positive response to last week’s tournament, there is every chance Vlach and the powers that be will do what they can to make the course fast, firm and challenging. Therefore, the winner won’t only need to play some world class golf but they’ll need the mental fortitude to dig deep when things inevitably don’t go to plan.
Johnson Looks a Great Price
Dustin Johnson has nothing to prove when it comes to playing very good golf in difficult conditions. He’s won at the highest level and in very challenging conditions before, most notably when winning the U.S. Open in 2016.
Johnson is best known for the prodigious distance he hits the ball off the tee but there really isn’t a weakness in his game, which is well suited to TPC Sawgrass. He’s proven that by never missing the cut in the Players, even if last year’s tournament was the first in which he earned a top five finish.
Clearly, Johnson will have to get the better of an incredible field (47 of the world’s top 50 are in attendance) but he often comes alive when given the chance to prove his world class credentials and is surely overpriced at 28/1 with Ladbrokes
Fleetwood to Bounce Back From Missed Cut
After pushing Sungae Im all the way in the Honda Classic, Tommy Fleetwood ran out of gas last week. The Englishman finally relinquished the longest run on the PGA Tour without missing a cut and, in his own words, he did it in style. Almost nothing went to plan for Fleetwood over the first two days at Bay Hill but that missed cut may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Fleetwood will make the short trip to Ponte Vedra Beach from Bay Hill with his trusted caddie, Ian Finnis, fresher than usual and ready to get back to work. His Players Championship experience isn’t massive but the early signs are very good with two finishes of seventh or better in his three starts. He has every chance of contending again and claiming at least a place at odds of 25/1 with bet365.
Final Verdict: Dustin Johnson to Win
The Players Championship often goes the way of a world class player who heads into the tournament slightly under the radar. That’s very much the case with world number five Dustin Johnson, who has done very little wrong lately but is still very well priced at 28/1 with Ladbrokes to claim yet another top class victory. Tommy Fleetwood is another player who is available at a very good price (25/1 with Ladbrokes) given his class, ability to tough it out, and record at TPC Sawgrass.
About The Players Championship: The Fifth Major
The Players Championship is the flagship event that is hosted exclusively by the PGA Tour and is held every year on the tour. It’s commonly referred to as the 5th Major, such is the significance of the event and whilst not officially recognised as a major tournament, it pulls in prize money that could easily be up there with any of the majors.
As a flagship event, it highlights the best of what the PGA Tour can offer. It’s hosted TPC Sawgrass, which is also the headquarters and base for the PGA Tour. The course itself is one of the most distinctive in the world, which again adds to the popularity of this event.
Players Championship Format
The format of the event is that of standard strokeplay event, much like you would find within most weeks of the Tour. With it players are required to play 72 holes and after that 72 holes the player with the lowest score will be awarded the prize of winning.
It’s worth noting that after just 36 holes there will be a cut mark. This eliminates players that are outside the top 60 in scoring. But, this number can rise, as players are permitted into the weekend if they are within 10 strokes of the lead. If this is the case and the number of players is larger than it needs to be, a further cut will take place on the Saturday to make sure the field size is reduced for the final round.
The field itself is made up of 144 players in total, which is about average for a Tour event of this calibre. Players are able to gain entry through a number of routes, which includes all winners of PGA Tour events from the following season, top 125 on Fed Ex Cup points list, major champions from last 5 years, Players Championship winners form last 5 years, World Golf Championship winners from last 5 years and even Web.com Tour money leaders from the previous season.
For the first 30 years of its life, the tournament has been run in early March. It was seen as the perfect warm up to the first major of the year, in that of Masters. But, as the event grew, it was decided in 2007 that the dates be moved to the middle of May, in order to take advantage of the better weather in the local area. The final round almost always coincided with Mother’s Day in the US, with most players opting to wear pink as a mark of respect to the day.
However, a further decision in 2018 was made that the Players would move back to its original March date, as the PGA Championship would be moving to a new slot in May. This all comes on the back of the fact that the PGA were keen to move the Fed Ex Cup Playoffs forward one week as not to coincide with the start of the NFL season.
The TPC at Sawgrass Golf Course
TPC Sawgrass is one of the most recognisable courses in the world and has been hosting the Players Championships from 1982 until the current day. The course is based out of Florida, United States and with it often sees a luscious set up given the time of year, although it’s not uncommon for thunder storms to strike around the time it’s played.
The Stadium Course, which is the course that the tournament is played on, was heavily criticised throughout the eighties for not being up to standard to host one of the flagship PGA Tour events. Ben Crenshaw famously described it as “Star Wars golf, built by Darth Vadar”.
The course underwent many changes after the 2006 event, which allowed them to make the greens less severe and altering several of the bunkers. The changes were welcomed by all the players and now it was regarded as a popper golf course, instead of being one that was designed too tough, even for the best in the world.
The 17th Hole – Island Green
The most famous part of the course is that of the 17th, with its island green. The hole measures just 134 yards in length, but the inclusion of water if players are just a fraction off target, means that it’s often revered as one of the hardest. It’s been the scene of many a famous moment, none more so than in 1999 when Fred Couples put his first ball in the water. He decided to reload from the tee box instead of the drop zone and proceeded to make, what was technically his third shot on his way to make an unlikely par.
The design of the green actually came about by accident when designing the course. The original pans were to have a lake running along one side of the green, but after the soil was removed, it was then decided that it would be a great feature to have it as an island green, although not all parties were convinced. The Island Green at the 17th is now one of the most iconic holes anywhere in the world.
With a massive $15million up for grabs in prize money in 2020, the Players Championship is the most valuable golf tournament anywhere in the world. It dwarfs even the second most valuable tournament, the US Open, which has a prize pool of $12.5 million. It’s also larger than the PGA Championships, The Open and the Masters.
The 2019 winner, Rory McIlroy took home the largest winner’s cheque in the history of the event, with $2.25 million going into his bank account. Not bad for 4 days’ work! The 2020 winner will reportedly take home $2.7 million for their efforts.
One of the most interesting facts about the Players is that no single player has even defended their title from the previous year. In fact, no player has ever won it and finished as a runner-up either.
There have been multiple winners, such as Jack Nicklaus with 3 and Fred Couples, Steve Elkington, Hal Sutton, Davis Love II and Tiger Woods, all with 2 a piece.
Multiple Players Championship Winners: 1974 – 2019
|Player||No. of wins||Years|
|Jack Nicklaus||3||1974, 1976, 1978|
|Fred Couples||2||1984, 1996|
|Steve Elkington||2||1991, 1997|
|Hal Sutton||2||1983, 2000|
|Davis Love III||2||1992, 2003|
|Tiger Woods||2||2001, 2013|
The Players was first conceived by the then PGA Tour Commissioner, Deane Beman in 1974. It was originally played at the Atlanta County Club in Marietta, Georgia and would be seen as the season finale, running on Labor Day in the US in early September. The following year the event moved to Texas and was hosted by the Colonial Country club in Fort Worth, before then moving to South Florida in 1976 to be hosted by the Inverrary County Club in Lauderhill.
Sawgrass Country Club has been the host since 1977 and whilst originally, they played on the Oceanside Course, with a mixture of both the East and West courses, it moved across the road to the Stadium Course in 1982 and has been hosted there ever since.
The lowest 72-hole aggregate score came in 1994 when Greg Norman blitzed his way around the course shooting 24 under, winning by stroked over that of Fuzzy Zoeller. What’s amazing about that is, Zoeller’s score of 20 under would have won any other Players Championship held prior and even since the 1994 tournament.
The prizemoney for the event has grown quite considerably since it started. The first event had just $250,000 back in 1974, but now holds $15 million. Growth has been fairly gradual, although from the 10 years between 1998 and 2008, it more than doubled, going from $4million to $9.5million, highlighting the increasing importance of the event.
The most coveted player in the history of the Players is that of Jack Nicklaus. He managed to win 3 times, which is still a record today. His wins came in 1974, 1976 and 1978, twice beating J.C Snead and then once beating Lou Graham in his final win.
Whilst two wins of the Players Championship are impressive enough, the fact that Hal Sutton managed to achieve this feat 17 years apart from each other makes it even more remarkable. His victory at the age of 42 is widely regarded as one of the best in the history of the tournament, but it was as much that as the fact that he beat Tiger Woods by one stroke, in an era where Tiger was arguably at his best.