Tiger Woods is the most notable absentee from this week’s Players Championship, known as the fifth major due to the quality of the field. Forty five players from the top 50 in the world rankings are competing at TPC Sawgrass in Florida in the most prestigious tournament of the season outside the four biggest prizes in golf.
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In the absence of Woods Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are vying for favouritism and some bookmakers cannot split them at the head of the market. McIlroy has yet to win the Players Championship so it would be a significant addition to their CV. Scott was the champion in 2004. However, other players have games more suited to this week’s host course.
The Players attracts the strongest field of any event in the calendar hence its title as the fifth major. It now has a regular slot in May, the only month between April and August that does not have a real major. If a fifth Grand Slam tournament was to be added to the schedule it would be the Players Championship, though Europe and Asia would also be appropriate venues for a fifth major. The Tour Championship in September means there is a run of six months with a major or prestigious regular event.
When the tournament was inaugurated it was played two weeks before the US Masters but since 2008 it has had a more convenient slot in May. The better players plan their schedule around the majors and the new date and its standing means this is also a tournament targeted by the game’s elite, but sadly due to injury not including Woods this year.
The TPC at Sawgrass is a stadium course that rewards accuracy as the rough can be penal and water is in play on several holes. That also means if the wind gets up in the afternoon the scores can rocket as the fairways and dry land become harder to find. Scrambling is another key skill as the Bermuda greens are amongst the smallest on tour.
The course is famed for its par 3 17th which has an island green. Although it offers the potential for high drama and good television historically it’s not even the most difficult of the par 3s. It’s actually the par 4 18th where players are more likely to drop a shot. There are three other par 3s and the relatively easy par 5s are the 2nd, 9th, 11th and 16th.
There is a definite pattern to former winners and an identikit for the champion though not so much in recent years. However, it is still a decent guide to consider players who have won a USPGA Tour event, made the cut in their last start, made the cut the previous year and played in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team. However in the last six years Woods is the only winner of a major to take the title at Sawgrass.
Players with good course form and current form should be considered allied to good stats for driving accuracy and greens in regulation. However, long hitting is not an advantage on this track as its more about course management, positional play and ball striking than long hitting. For those betting in running it should be noted that Sawgrass is a difficult course to play catch up golf. The back nine is more about protecting a score than coming from well off the pace with a bunch of birdies.
Since 2000 six winners have been from the United States and the others from the rest of the world. Over that spell Woods is the only multiple champion with his two wins spanning twelve years, in 2001 and 2013. The winning score in each of the last three years has been 13 under and the average since 2000 is 12 under. The range of winning scores goes from 5 under to 17 under which is influenced by the weather and any wind or lack of it.
Matt Kuchar was the champion in 2012 and he has all the credential to join Woods as a multiple champion. He has made the cut in the last six years and his last four tournaments, including in the US Masters in which he made the top ten. Kuchar is also in the top 40 for driving accuracy, greens in regulation and scrambling. Indeed he meets all the criteria of the identikit winner and is a leading contender this week.
Kuchar is one of the selections from the OnParProfits service. The other main tips are not the obvious players but still have the credentials to contend. We have also identified a player at 200/1 with an ideal skills’ profile, though he does not meet several of the other criteria of former winners. Three players have been tipped in 72 hole match bets based on their suitability to the course relative to their opponents.
The Players champion is always a worthy winner due to the quality of the field and nature of the course. Coming down stretch its about bogey avoidance rather than birdie conversion, especially on the last two holes. The winner is often an experienced professional as rookies have a poor record but in the absence of Woods its a wide open tournament, unlike the narrow fairways and demanding 17th green.
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