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Fantasy Preview: 2018 The Players Championship

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The so-called “Fifth Major” gets underway this week, and it boasts one of the best fields of the year. One hundred and forty four players will do battle at TPC Sawgrass, a venue that is known for delivering drama. At less than 7,200 yards, the Stadium Course isn’t one of the longer courses on the PGA Tour. There is also no distinct advantage for longer hitters off the tee. The likes of Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson have never managed to get themselves into contention at TPC Sawgrass, and a lot of that has to do with the importance of placement off the tee as opposed to pure power.

The Stadium Course is a track for ball strikers, and that will be a key area to focus on this week along with Par-4 and Par-5 scoring. Changes were made to the course in 2017, most notably the 12th hole which is now a risk/reward driveable par 4. Last year, Si Woo Kim showed incredible poise to take the title, shooting a total of 10-under par to win by three strokes.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Jason Day 14/1
  • Rory McIlroy 14/1
  • Jordan Spieth 16/1
  • Justin Thomas 16/1
  • Dustin Johnson 18/1
  • Rickie Fowler 20/1
  • Jon Rahm 25/1

When discussing excellent ball strikers, Henrik Stenson (28/1, DK Price $8,800) is a name that is bound to come up. The Swede has always been a supreme ball striker, and it’s no surprise that in his last 50 rounds he ranks sixth in this field in that department, while over his previous eight rounds he ranks first. Stenson surprisingly missed the cut at the Valspar Championship earlier in the year, but since then his form has been excellent. He’s posted three consecutive top-10 finishes coming into this event.

None of his top-10 finishes was more impressive than his T-5 finish at The Masters. Augusta has never been a good course Stenson. In fact, he had failed to post a top-10 finish at Augusta in his previous 12 starts before 2018. This year was different, however, and his ability to perform at a course that is not suited to him shows how well he is currently playing.

Over his previous eight rounds, Stenson ranks both second in Strokes Gained-Approach and Strokes Gained-Tee to Green. For the season, he leads the field in Par-4 scoring average. All very positive signs. Stenson has also been playing the Par 5’s well this year, and he ranks T-16 in Par-5 scoring average.

With his game seemingly close to its peak, the arrival of The Players Championship will undoubtedly please the Swede, whose record at TPC Sawgrass is excellent. As well as winning the title here back in 2009, Stenson’s recent form is very solid, too. He has made five of his last six cuts, and he has finished in the top-20 on four occasions. Stenson has the course knowledge and the form to pose a considerable threat once again at Sawgrass this week.

Coming off the back of two mediocre results, you wouldn’t expect to see much enthusiasm for Tiger Woods (40/1,DK Price $8,600). Despite his modest finish at the Wells Fargo Championship, there was a lot of encouragement for Woods. His inability to get into contention last week can be attributed to his putting, which was his worst putting performance in years. Woods dropped a massive 5.8 strokes on the greens at Quail Hollow, and it’s not something you should expect to see again. Off the Tee, however, Woods had his best week since 2012, gaining 3 Strokes-Off the Tee. His iron game, which went missing at Augusta, was also back to its best.

Just like at the Valspar Championship, the shorter layout of the Stadium Course could help Woods this week, too. Woods ranks fourth in the field this week for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green over his last 12 rounds, and a golf course that demands less than driver off the tee for many of the holes could be a significant advantage for Woods.

Woods also plays Pete Dye-designed golf courses very well. In his previous 24 rounds on Pete Dye-designed courses, he ranks 8th in this field for Strokes Gained-Total. Woods has won this Championship twice in the past, and three events after he went off as one of the favorites for the Masters he looks undervalued to perform well here once again this week.

Bryson DeChambeau (50/1, DK Price $8,300) is getting closer and closer to winning in 2018. Last week, he finished solo 4th, which made it his third top-5 in his previous four events. DeChambeau’s iron play at the moment is imperious. Over his last 12 rounds, DeChambeau ranks first in Ball Striking and first in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green. The Californian is also putting great, and he sits seventh in this field for Strokes Gained-Putting over his last 12 rounds.

It will be DeChambeau’s first appearance at The Players, and that is of some concern. But the likes of Kevin Kisner and Si-Woo Kim have recently excelled here despite having little course experience, and DeChambeau is certainly playing well enough to do the same. Another reason I like him this week is his Par-5 scoring. DeChambeau is 2nd on Tour for Par-5 Scoring Average this year with an impressive 4.48 average. Just as I said last week, there is no reason to desert the man with the hot hand right now, and he looks to be a good value once again.

Despite missing the cut last week at the Wells Fargo, Kevin Kisner (80/1, DK Price $8,000) has played some excellent golf in 2018. Kisner was a runner-up at the WGC-Matchplay and then collected a top-10 finish at the RBC Heritage. He also performed very well alongside Scott Brown at the Zurich Classic, where the duo held the 54-hole lead. There are no Strokes Gained statistics recorded for the WGC-Matchplay or the Zurich Classic, which makes it difficult when trying to analyze Kisner.

Despite his last two disappointing performances at The Players, Sawgrass is undoubtedly an excellent fit for Kisner. He proved that in 2015 where he came agonizingly close to claiming the title. Over his previous 24 rounds on Pete Dye courses, Kisner is ranked 71st in the field for Strokes Gained-Total. Yet, when you factor in courses that are less than 7,200 yards and designed by Pete Dye, he makes a massive jump up to 14th.

Recommended Plays

  • Henrik Stenson 28/1, DK Price $8,800
  • Tiger Woods 40/1, DK Price $8,600
  • Bryson DeChambeau 50/1, DK Price $8,300
  • Kevin Kisner 80/1, DK Price $8,000
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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

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Unlocking Your Golfing Potential: How to train harder to make golf feel easy

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If you want to make playing golf easier, you need to take a look at how you train.

Dropping down unlimited golf balls on the range simply isn’t like what we face on the golf course. When you look at other sports, their practice and training is very difficult. They make the training physically exhausting and mentally challenging so that when it’s game time, it seems easy. Listen into this episode so you can learn how to do that for your golf game.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Club Building 101: Understanding epoxy

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There are three main components to a golf club: head, shaft, grip–but what keeps the head from flying off while traveling over 100 mph?  One of the most under appreciated pieces of every club, epoxy!

This video explains a few simple things to pay attention for when using, mixing, or adding things to epoxy as well, as a few tips for those looking to put a few clubs together.

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How well do you really know the Teeing Ground rules? Here’s a refresher…

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There are a few things you need to know 18 times every round if you want to stay on the right side of the law, and some of them are quirky. They all surround the Teeing Ground, a very specific area defined by the Rules which is different from the larger (undefined) flat area upon which the tee-markers are placed and rotated.

One might think that putting a peg in the ground to start your hole is stupid-simple, but let’s reserve that judgment for a while. I recently had a discussion about this with a friend, and crudely sketched out some scenarios.  Please look at Illustration No. 1, and hold off on looking at Illustration No. 2 further below for the moment.

In the first illustration, you will find the depiction of two haphazardly-placed (square) tee-markers; five golf balls; and a representation of the depth of two club-lengths. Which of the balls has been placed in a position to legally start the play of the hole?

Decide, then read on.

While it may seem simple, irregularly shaped tee-markers and tee-markers which “aim” you in an off direction relative to the fairway actually require careful analysis in order to accurately determine where the Teeing Ground begins and ends. Here is the explicit Definition:

The “teeing ground” is the starting place for the hole to be played. It is a rectangular area two club-lengths in depth, the front and the sides of which are defined by the outside limits of two tee-markers. A ball is outside the teeing ground when all of it lies outside the teeing ground.

When square tee-markers are positioned in such a way that their sides are not parallel to each other, the precise rectangular area of the Teeing Ground can have a surprising outline. And the fact that a ball may be partially outside the Teeing Ground and still considered technically within it can add to the possible confusion.  

Moving on to reviewing Illustration No. 2, you’ll see the rectangle of the Teeing Ground superimposed over the haphazardly placed tee-markers per the Definition. Ball A, C, and D are partially within the Teeing Ground and therefore legal to play, and Ball B and E are completely outside of it. So if you’re one of those players who wants to get every last inch closer to the hole when you tee it up (or on occasion want to be almost two full club-lengths away from the front of the Teeing Ground) take heed!

The exact place the tee-markers are positioned takes on critical importance in another way, too. Rule 11-2 forbids you from moving the tee-markers to assist you before you make your first stroke from the Teeing Ground. So unless you have already made a stroke (in which case the tee-markers have become movable obstructions which you may temporarily move) don’t intentionally move them — even to “straighten” them for groups behind you. Decision 11-2/2 gives you the fairly complicated details on when you may or may not touch them without penalty, but it’s way easier to just remember to leave them alone!

In wild contrast to the prohibitions against changing the position of the tee-markers, the Rules are downright liberal in terms of what you may do to the surface of the Teeing Ground before you play. While Rule 1-2 generally prohibits you from altering physical conditions with the intent of affecting the play of a hole, Rule 11-1 lets you go hog-wild in changing the surface of this particular area. You’re free to create or eliminate any irregularity of surface you wish: stamp on the ground with your foot, create a divot hole or tuft of turf with your club, pull out a hunk of grass or a weed — have at it if you’re so moved. In addition, Rule 13-2 allows you to remove dew, frost or water from the Teeing Ground. In all cases, make sure you’re doing this landscaping only to the ground within the two club-length deep official Teeing Ground. Do it to the surrounding area and you might be in trouble. (In particular, note that Decision 13-2/14 makes it clear that you may not break a branch off a tree near the Teeing Ground that might interfere with your swing.)

If you’ve got the nerve, there’s a way to sort of expand the Teeing Ground for yourself: Rule 11-1 assures us that a player’s stance may be outside the Teeing Ground when he or she plays a ball from within it. So if you’re looking to get a better angle to a dogleg fairway or to avoid some overhanging branches out there, feel free to tee it up anywhere you wish between the tee-markers and deal with your stance afterward. Just be sure your concentration skills allow you to ignore that tee-marker which may now be between your toe and the ball!

Finally, what do you do if you inadvertently tee off outside the Teeing Ground? Rule 11-4 covers this, and it’s dramatically different in Match Play vs. Stroke Play. In Match, you are fine unless your opponent immediately requires you to cancel your stroke and start again. There is no penalty in either case (other than the possible misfortune of having to cancel a good shot). In Stroke, teeing off outside the Teeing Ground is a critical mistake: You get a 2-stroke penalty for having teed off from an incorrect location and you must re-tee correctly and start again before you tee off on the next hole (or before you leave the 18th green without declaring your intention to re-play) or else you’ll be disqualified from the competition.

In either Match or Stroke Play, you may warn your opponent or fellow-competitor that he or she is about to play from outside the Teeing Ground. If you have the occasion, it’s a nice thing to do. Take care, play well!

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