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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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