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A year ago, this event quickly came to a stop after the first rounded completed as the COVID-19 pandemic ran amuck across the world. Now, this week, we’ll finally get THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP back on the schedule and can crown the first champion of this event since 2019 when Rory McIlroy took home the title.
Like most years, the field this week for THE PLAYERS is stacked. While not technically a major, THE PLAYERS still possesses a major-caliber field and one of the biggest prize pools of the year. Unlike the four regular majors, the field here doesn’t contain much fluff. There are no amateur invites or over-the-hill past champions this week, only card-carrying PGA TOUR members and some select international players and qualifiers.
The top-three players in the world entering this week are all here with Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas all coming in with varying degrees of form. Then you have the likes of Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau who are ranked fourth and sixth in the OWGR and coming off wins in their last starts. Recent PLAYERS winners Rory McIlroy and Webb Simpson are also here, as are former champions Sergio Garcia, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler. This event is always a ton of fun and can see some serious drama and “ejections” unfold with TPC Sawgrass’ tricky layout and island 17th hole in play coming down the stretch.
TPC Sawgrass (Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida)
Par 72, 7200-7300 yards depending on setup; Greens: TifEagle Bermuda overseeded with Poa Trivialis/velvet bentgrass)
TPC Sawgrass is a stadium course that was designed and created specifically for this event in 1981. It was designed by Pete Dye (his wife Alice is responsible for the island green on 17), who has also designed a lot of courses in the TOUR rotation, including Hilton Head at the RBC Heritage and TPC Louisiana, host of the Zurich Classic. TPC Sawgrass features hard to hit, smaller than normal greens — quite a bit of water and quite a few doglegs, too, which will make accurate iron play essential this week. Accuracy here is generally at a premium, but it’s worth noting that bombers can and have excelled here, too.
In 2019, Rory McIlroy ranked 78th in Driving Accuracy but sixth in Driving Distance; his length and solid iron play did enough to overcome any misses off the tee. The fairways here are generally easier to hit than an average TOUR stop, but placement on certain sides is still key. Things do get harder as you approach the hole here, though, as GIR%’s and Scrambling percentages at Sawgrass both tend to trend lower than the TOUR averages in those areas most seasons.
The course itself is set up as a traditional par 72 (four par 5’s and four par 3’s), but each hole presents a unique challenge to players. While the 17th island green can be tricky on Sunday, it’s the the 18th hole that plays as one of hardest on the course every year and requires a pinpoint drive over water from players just to hit the fairway. The rest of the course is made up of risk-reward par 5’s and a couple treacherous, if less well known, par 3’s. As for the par 4’s, five of them come in at 450 yards or more and tend to stress long iron approaches, while three will play at under 400 for the week.
The move to March in 2019 saw scores stay quite low with McIlroy coming in at 16-under par and the greens playing softer, with the Bermuda grass here still somewhat dormant. The weather this year looks decent enough, as well, and softer conditions may again prevail so that an even lower score may take home the title in 2021.
2021 Outlook: The weather this year looks mostly uneventful. While March can be cold and windier than the May date THE PLAYERS used to occupy, the March winds looks pretty tame this year. Highs here are set to be in the mid-70’s for all four days with winds in the afternoon on Thursday and Friday picking up to the 10-12mph range. Thursday afternoon is now set for slightly higher winds than Friday, but the gap is too small right now to care. If it widens or there’s a clear gap between conditions in the first two afternoons, then stacking players could be a thing this week given how this course can play when the wind is up. Right now, though, the conditions aren’t likely to play a massive factor and should give way to solid scoring.
Last 5 winners
2020—COVID-19 (no event)
2019—Rory McIlroy -16 (over Jim Furyk -15)
2018—Webb Simpson -18 (over Charl Schwartzel and two others -14)
2017—Si Woo Kim -10 (over Ian Poulter and Louis Oosthuizen -7)
2016—Jason Day -15 (over Kevin Chappell -11)
2015—Rickie Fowler -12 (over Kevin Kisner playoff)
- Eight of the last 10 winners of THE PLAYERS had already bagged a T4 or better finish on TOUR in the year of their victory.
- The last 13 winners of this event had already achieved a finish of 23rd or better at THE PLAYERS in a previous year.
Winners Stats and Course Overview
2019 Winner: Rory McIlroy (16-under par)
2019 lead-in form (T4-T5-T4-2nd-T6)
· Since 2011, only one winner (Simpson 2018) has finished outside the top 10 for the week in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green.
· Players here have excelled in a variety of different ways, but good play around the green has been one of the biggest constants. Greens here are small, and GIR%’s are generally well below TOUR average for the event. The last four winners here have all gained +1.5 strokes or more around the greens for the week of their win.
· Three of the last seven winners didn’t crack the top twenty in Off the Tee stats for the week of their win, but all three were inside the top 10 in Strokes Gained: Approaches. Better to be accurate firing into the green than off the tee here, too, — Rory McIlroy ($10,600) finished 78th in DA last year but still won the event and finished +13.3 TTG for the week.
· From an approach perspective, Sawgrass requires a good blend of shorter (125-150 yards) and longer approaches (>200 yards). The dogleg setups and risk-reward Par 5’s mean good long iron players will have a big advantage here.
Finding Values (DraftKings Sportsbook)
Odds to win are one factor to think about when picking players (but not the only thing, so be careful putting too much weight on them). This section is going to detail a few of the players who have the best fantasy value comparative to their DraftKings Sportsbook odds of winning this week.
All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
HORSES FOR COURSES
1. Sergio Garcia ($7,500; best finishes: win-2008, playoff loss-2015): Garcia has made the cut in each of his last 16 starts at TPC Sawgrass. He has a win (2008) and two runner-up finishes to his credit here, as well — one being a playoff loss in 2015. Garcia has managed to tame a seemingly untamable venue and enters off a solid ball-striking week at the WGC-Workday. It all makes him a valuable DFS commodity this week.
2. Rory McIlroy ($10,600 best finishes: win-2019): McIlroy broke through at Sawgrass in 2019 and now has four top-10 finishes here over the past seven seasons. He’s also a bit of Dye-course wizard — he leads the field in Strokes Gained at Dye venues over the last 50 rounds. He’ll be gunning to become the first repeat champion of the event this week.
3. Webb Simpson ($9,500; best finishes: win-2018): Webb had an up-and-down start to his career at TPC Sawgrass, missing the cut three-times between 2010 and 2014, but he’s flashed massive upside since then. In his last three trips to Sawgrass, the veteran has a win and two T16 finishes. His elite iron play and putting make him a perfect fit for this week, and his recent form is solid coming off a T6 at the WGC-Workday.
4. Tommy Fleetwood ($7,900; best finishes: T5-2019, T7-2018): Despite only playing this event three times prior to this season, Fleetwood has flashed some dominate form at TPC Sawgrass, claiming finishes of T41, T7 and T5 (2019) already. In 2019, he entered Sunday in the final grouping. Fleetwood possesses the kind of all-around game which should allow him to flourish at this week’s venue long-term. Coming off a decent T10 last week, Fleetwood is a course horse to keep an eye on.
5. Adam Scott ($8,100; best finishes: win-2004, T6-2017): Scott has now made the cut at TPC Sawgrass in 12 straight running’s of this event. He won here when he was still just finding his way on TOUR way back in 2004 and has challenged here a couple times since. Scott got a great Florida record (wins at Doral and PGA National) and is a solid mid-tier target for those weighing course history heavily this week.
1. Collin Morikawa ($9,400, win-T42): Morikawa put in a dominate win against the most elite field of the season two weeks ago at the WGC-Workday. He’s gained over +7.50 strokes with his approaches in three straight starts and is striking it better than anyone in the world right now.
2. Bryson DeChambeau ($9,700, win-T22): DeChambeau picked up the pace last week with a win at the API. The big hitter gained an incredible +11.6 strokes on his ball-striking alone and looks primed to make a run at TPC Sawgrass in 2021, a venue where he finished T20 in 2019.
3. Jordan Spieth ($8,600, T4-T15): Spieth finished T4 last week, the third top-5 finish for him over his last four starts. The American has gained +4.0 or more strokes ball-striking in three of his last four events and has gained strokes ATG in nine straight events.
4. Tony Finau ($9,100, T14-2nd): Finau followed up his playoff loss at Riviera with a T14 at the WGC-Workday. He’s now gained strokes in every major category in three straight events and looks to be firing on all cylinders entering this week. He’s never finished better than T22 at TPC Sawgrass.
5. Charley Hoffman ($6,800, T10-T52-T7): Hoffman is on an impressive run which has seen him land two top-10 finishes over his last three starts. He’s gained +4.8 or more strokes on his approaches in two of his last three events. Hoff has never finished better than T30 at THE PLAYERS in eight career starts.
DRAFTKINGS DFS STRATEGY
Cash Games: Webb and Morikawa a tasty duo for HUs and 50/50’s
There’s no one striking the ball better than Collin Morikawa ($9,400) right now. The now four-time TOUR winner comes here ranked first in SG: APP stats over the last 50 rounds and sets up perfectly for a second-shot course like Sawgrass. At the same range, relying on the craftiness and course history of a vet like Webb Simpson is also fine. Simpson hasn’t missed a cut since last July and heated up his last time out at the WGC-Workday, where he finished T6. In the mid-range, both Tyrrell Hatton ($8,500) and Paul Casey ($8,400) have played incredibly solid to start the year, while Joaquin Niemann ($7,700) is simply too cheap for the kind of upside he provides. Niemann hasn’t missed a cut since last August and is trending well in ATG and APP stats. Other potential cash-game targets for this week include the likes of Sergio Garcia ($7,500) and Ian Poulter ($7,100).
Tournaments: Thomas set for a bounce-back
This year hasn’t been all roses for Justin Thomas ($9,900), and he definitely had a rough patch of play — which saw him miss the cut at the Genesis badly. Still, he bounced back nicely at the WGC-Workday, putting in a solid weekend and gaining +9.2 strokes on his approaches there with the T15 finish. He’s under-priced here at under $10K and may not get a ton of ownership with Bryson DeChambeau and other elites under him this week. Before withdrawing pre-event last week, Louis Oosthuizen ($7,800) was playing well and finished ahead of Thomas at the WGC-Workday with a T6. He’ll certainly be under-owned after burning people at the API. Cam Smith ($7,900) also deserves some love in this range as his irons have been hot and he could go overlooked given that his three starts at Sawgrass have resulted in T56-MC-MC. Other GPP targets here include the likes of Chris Kirk ($7,000-see below), Branden Grace ($7,000) and Richy Werenski ($6,400)
MY PICK: Paul Casey ($8,400)
I considered a couple of names for this spot this week. Patrick Cantlay ($9,200) has been lights out to start 2021 and has a nice track record at Pete Dye courses. He has skipped the last two events (illness then undisclosed reasons), so his prep is perhaps less than ideal. Tyrrell Hatton ($8,500) and Xander Schauffele ($10,300) are also both playing well and set up nicely for a challenging test. The man I settled on, though, is Casey, who I’ve been picking for at least three years now to breakthrough in events like these (with little success). But, Casey has started 2021 in great form; it’s perhaps his best start to a season since the early 2010’s. Already with an early-season win in his pocket from overseas in Dubai, Casey enters this event exuding confidence and displaying some of the best ball-striking on TOUR at the moment. He’s gained over a stroke on approach in each of his last four events and is coming off a T10 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he gained +5.0 strokes with his irons.
The rest of Casey’s game has looked sharp of late, too, gaining strokes around the green in each of his first four PGA starts of 2021 — a great sign he’s ready to take on a venue like Sawgrass where each of the last five winners gained +1.5 strokes or more around the green for the week. Casey also has a solid Pete Dye track record and comes in ranked fifth in SG: Tee to Green stats on Dye venues over the last 50 rounds. While he may not have the most sparkling record at Sawgrass — he’s gone WD and MC over his last two visits — he does have three top-25 finishes in six career starts here and finished T22 back in 2017. Riding high with confidence and at an attractive DFS price, he’s my pick to take down THE PLAYERS Championship and makes for a great mid-tier value play to build DraftKings lineups around this week.
MY SLEEPER: Chris Kirk ($7,000)
Kirk is a player who has shown a real spark in 2021 after nearly losing his TOUR card early in the year. While I also like the looks of Branden Grace ($7,000) and Alex Noren ($7,000) in this range, Kirk stands out a bit to me because of his recent form and course history. The American enters the week having recently posted a couple of great starts — a T16 at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and a T8 last week at the API. The 35-year-old has dealt with some off-the-course issues over the past two years but seems to be laser-focused on getting the most out of his game right now, and it’s showing in the results. While he’s never going to challenge the best with his off the tee game, his ball-striking in 2021 has been rock solid nearly the whole way through. He comes in ranked 24the in the field in SG: Tee to Green stats over the last 24 rounds and has gained strokes on Approach and around the greens in four of his last five starts.
Kirk definitely needs his entire game here to be in good shape if he’s going to challenge at events like this, but he seems up for the task right now and has only lost strokes putting once in his last six PGA events. While we don’t want to over-rely on around the green and putting stats, being sharp in that area has allowed players like Jason Day ($8,000) and Webb Simpson ($9,500) to dominate here in past iterations. Kirk also great course experience at TPC Sawgrass. He’s never missed the cut here in seven previous starts and even went off in the final group on Sunday back in 2015 — he faltered to a T13 finish. Perhaps it’s asking too much of him to win, but with the shape his game is in, seeing him challenge here and put up a big fantasy week for DraftKings purposes wouldn’t shock me in the slightest. He’s my favorite value target in the low $7K range this week.
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