The Players Championship Top 5/10: DJ can hit right notes again

American Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson can thrive again in the new March date
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Dave Tindall arms you with the stats that matter for a punt on the Top 5 and Top 10 Finish markets ahead of the 2020 Players Championship...

"The change in date looks to be a help to the big hitters, reducing some of the randomness, and the two who have come out and said it helps them are Rory and DJ."

Back Dustin Johnson for Top 10 @ [4.2]

Rory McIlroy - March date suits champion

Rory owned a mixed record at TPC Sawgrass ahead of last year's victory, missing four of nine cuts but enjoying a solid run of 8-6-8 at Sawgrass from 2013-2015. He returns in similar form and admits the switch in date from May to March last year really helped him. Why? "Off the tee, the course plays a lot longer in March than it does in May, so I was able to hit driver a lot more. The fairways are a little softer, so the course plays a touch wider. And then I think the other thing is having the rough overseeded around the greens, that was a big thing for me because I've always been more comfortable chipping out of that sort of overseeded rough rather than a pure Bermuda." In other words, everything looks to be in Rory's favour as he bids to record an eighth straight top five, a run stretching back to late October.

Last four events: 5-5-5-3
Course form: 1-MC-35-12-8-6-8-MC-MC-MC
Florida form: 5-1-6-MC-1-MC-59-35-4-12-27-3
Last 50 starts - Win: 10%, Top 5: 42%, Top 10: 62%

Jon Rahm - Improving each year

Like other elite players, Rahm struggled on his first couple of visits to Sawgrass but he changed the script last year with a brilliant third-round 64 to lead after 54 holes. A Sunday 76 relegated him to T12 so it remains a learning process. Speaking on Tuesday, he noted: "Last year I proved that I can play properly here, at least for three rounds, hopefully four. It is something I like. It's a ball-striking golf course. You need to hit it really well off the tee no matter what you hit and you need to be accurate with the irons. On paper, it should play to my strengths. That's why I like it. You need to be good tee to green. I'm playing good, so hopefully I can play as good as I did last year." This is his first start since a top three in the WGC-Mexico.

Last four events: 3-17-9-2
Course form: 12-63-MC
Florida form: 6-12-63-MC
Last 50 starts - Win: 8%, Top 5: 36%, Top 10: 54%

Justin Thomas - JT can go low at Sawgrass

"It's a place I love. I love the golf course," said Thomas on Tuesday. "I think it's just a very well-designed course, tee to green, forces you to work it both ways off the tee and into the green, and obviously it's an extremely deep field with all the top players here, so it's a tournament that when I first came here, I felt like I could have some success at this place, and yeah, came out and practised yesterday. It seems to be in pristine shape as usual. If you get the ball in the fairway you have a lot of wedges and 9-irons into these greens, and I feel like that's a strength of my game." Thomas has two 65s and a 66 at Sawgrass and is fresh after missing the first two Florida events (T6 at the WGC-Mexico his last start).

Last four events: 6-MC-3-MC
Course form: 35-11-MC-3-24
Florida form: 35-30-11-1-MC-MC-MC-3-18-35-3
Last 50 starts - Win: 10%, Top 5: 26%, Top 10: 46%

Bryson DeChambeau - Scientist starting to see Sawgrass results

DeChambeau has had two looks at TPC Sawgrass and is making solid progress, building on an opening T37 with a T20 last year. Seven of his eight rounds have been under par. With players saying it was easier to hit driver last year following the switch from May to March, that will help the beefed up DeChambeau, who is blasting it miles these days. He's on a run of three straight top fives and said at Bay Hill last week: "I think I drove it pretty well this week. I've been working on my driving to get it right, and then iron play is getting slowly better. I'm going to take a lot of good positives away from this and go into the Players with some great momentum." He also gave this intriguing comment about his putting. "The putter, doing something pretty unique with the putter next week. Hopefully it will come in and we'll have it ready and that will get me up to another level." Hmmm.

Last four events: 4-2-5-52
Course form: 20-37
Florida form: 4-20-46-37-2-WD-27-MC-27
Last 50 starts - Win: 10%, Top 5: 26%, Top 10: 40%

Dustin Johnson - DJ hoping to March on

Up until last year it was a well-used fact that DJ had yet to have a top 10 at Sawgrass. However, it was 11th-time lucky as he shot all four rounds in the 60s to finish tied fifth. Again, as with McIlroy, the move in date was a reason. DJ noted: "For me playing in May in the last few years I've always struggled, I kind of struggled around here, never really could get it going, but you know, the course played really fast and firm, and now (March) it just seems like it's definitely a lot more receptive." While that's a plus, his current form is a little less convincing and he'll hope to have found something since his disappointing T48 in Mexico.

Last four events: 48-10-32-2
Course form: 5-17-12-28-69-59-WD-57-34-MC-MC
Florida form: 6-5-17-12-28-14-69-1-MC-59-4-WD
Last 50 starts - Win: 18%, Top 5: 36%, Top 10: 54%

Tommy Fleetwood - Englishman looking to find Honda groove

"I love the course. If you like golf, you should like this golf course really. It's just about as fair as you're going to get a test. If you hit it well, you're going to have chances and you can shoot a score. But you can also get it the other way, as soon as you start struggling and start going the other way, it can easily go against you." Fleetwood has made the top 10 the last two years, shooting five rounds out of eight in the 60s and, of course, he went close to victory at the Honda Classic two weeks ago. His missed cut at Bay Hill seemed to be a reaction to that although the putter seems to be hampering him a little.

Last four events: MC-3-18-11
Course form: 5-7-41
Florida form: MC-3-5-3-7-26-4-41-10
Last 50 starts - Win: 2%, Top 5: 22%, Top 10: 36%

Patrick Cantlay - Calm Californian likes this test

"I really like this golf course. I like how in control of your golf ball you have to be to be able to perform well, how scorable it is if you do that. I think it does a great job of demanding accuracy off the tee and benefits you. It doesn't take driver out of your hands, but you can lay back on certain holes to certain hole locations. It reminds me a lot of Hilton Head (another Pete Dye track), and I like that golf course, as well. So I feel really comfortable around here." Cantlay said that in 2018 in the May slot so did March suit him as much (MC) last year? Evidence is too minimal for now and, with his form looking solid, there's no reason why he shouldn't challenge.

Last four events: 17-11-34-4
Course form: MC-23-22
Florida form: MC-23-22-2
Last 50 starts - Win: 4%, Top 5: 20%, Top 10: 36%

Webb Simpson - Former champ in fine nick

"I told people before I won (2018), I loved coming here," said Simpson on Tuesday. "I loved the challenge of this golf course. I feel like this is one of the few golf courses we play throughout the year that, on any given day, somebody can shoot 7-under or 7-over. It's just that type of golf course. If you drive it well, you get rewarded, and there's birdie opportunities. May plays shorter so you can hit shorter clubs in, but chipping is a lot easier this time of year. You don't deal with that grainy Bermuda." Simpson has been working with Butch Harmon recently and seeing positive results, the highlight his victory in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Last four events: 61-1-3-2
Course form: 16-1-16-66-MC-15-MC-69-MC-MC
Florida form: MC-16-36-1-8-5-16-MC-41-68
Last 50 starts - Win: 4%, Top 5: 28%, Top 10: 38%

Xander Schauffele - American has already make a mark

First-timers tend to struggle at Sawgrass but Schauffele defied the stats in 2018 when finishing runner-up on debut. However, it wasn't such good news when the tournament switched to March last year when he missed the cut. There's no reason why he shouldn't thrive in the new date and his form looks to be bubbling under after four straight top 25s, the latest coming at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week. With a great record in the big events, this is an obvious place to spot him on the Sunday leaderboard.

Last four events: 24-14-23-16
Course form: MC-2
Florida form: 24-MC-2-MC
Last 50 starts - Win: 4%, Top 5: 20%, Top 10: 28%

Hideki Matsuyama - Japanese ace has consistent record

Matsuyama has nine top 16s so far this season. That includes five top tens, three of those doubling as top fives. As for Sawgrass, the Japanese star finished T8 in the new March date last year but was also T7 in 2016. Five of his six visits have ended in a top 25 which is one of the most consistent records going when looking at the form of the leading players. Any reason why? "Let's see, what do I like about this course? Oh, that's a tough question. I guess watching everybody else struggle, too, is comforting." Not your average answer but his results speak louder than words.

Last four events: 56-6-5-16
Course form: 8-MC-22-7-17-23
Florida form: 56-8-33-MC-49-22-45-7-6-35
Last 50 starts - Win: 0%, Top 5: 14%, Top 10: 26%

Conclusion

Given how Sawgrass has been a bit of a graveyard for the big names laying everyone in the top 10 has been a profitable strategy down the years.

However, last year we saw Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day and Justin Rose all crack the top 10 while Jon Rahm was T12 after starting Sunday in the lead.

The change in date looks to be a help to the big hitters, reducing some of the randomness, and the two who have come out and said it helps them are Rory and DJ.

Rory is in very similar form to what he was last year and although there's a tradition of defending champions not playing well, I'll ignore that and focus instead on his seven-tournament run of top fives.

He's [3.1] to extend it to eight and that's worth a play.

Johnson doesn't have that same level of form but just two starts ago he was T10 at Riviera so he's not far away.

Although last year was his first top 10, his two previous visits resulted in T17 and T12 so he was getting closer even in the May conditions which didn't suit him.

The [4.2] for a DJ top 10 looks good value for a player who has a 54% strike-rate in that market over his last 50 events.

Dave Tindall,

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