Dave Tindall arms you with the stats for a punt on the Top 5 and Top 10 Finish markets in The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass...
"Rahm had to settle for MC-63 in May but jumped up to T12 in the new March date, leading the way after 54 holes. He'd also opened with a 69 last year."
Dustin Johnson - DJ hoping to March on
The switch from March to May may not seem too important to some but DJ certainly felt the difference. After 11 straight appearances without a top 10, Johnson played the event for the first time in March and shot all four rounds in the 60s to finish in a tie for fifth. He said on Tuesday: "I like playing this time of year better, I think. The golf course plays a little better. Obviously the rough's a little thicker, it plays longer, but the greens are a little more receptive, you can actually hit some shots. So I think the course plays better overseeded and playing this time of year I definitely like it better." An opening 70 last year means he's 15-under for his five March rounds at Sawgrass. The doubt is his shocking performance in Florida two weeks ago when T54 (77-69-69-78) in the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession. DJ lost over 10 strokes on the greens so that will have to change. Of course, there's every chance everything could click back into gear and before that horror show he'd finished T8 at Riviera and won the Saudi International.
Last four events: 54-8-1-11
Course form: 5-17-12-28-69-59-WD-57-34-MC-MC
Florida form: 54-6-5-17-12-28-14-69-1-MC
Last 50 starts - Win: 14%, Top 5: 36%, Top 10: 50%
Jon Rahm - Top 10 machine relishing new Sawgrass slot
"Played good two years ago, played really good last year that first round, so hopefully I can keep that good play going, and as far as this year, as well, I've been playing really good (three top 10s in five 2021 events). Hopefully I can keep that going," said Rahm on Tuesday. That added to his quotes from 2020: "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," Rahm was the 54-hole leader in the last completed edition in 2019 thanks to a brilliant Saturday 64 while he'd opened up with a 69 last year before play was aborted. One thing to note that's particularly relevant to this preview: Rahm's top 10 strike-rate of 60% over his last 50 events is better than anyone else in the field.
Last four events: 32-5-13-7
Course form: 12-63-MC
Florida form: 32-6-12-63-MC
Last 50 starts - Win: 10%, Top 5: 32%, Top 10: 60%
Rory McIlroy - March date suits Rory
Rory won the most recent edition in 2019 and has four top 10s in his last seven visits which is one of the better records among the elite players. He's also posted 10-6 in the two recent Florida events although his Bay Hill performance left him frustrated. He said on Tuesday: "Just trying to get the bad golf a little better because the good golf is always there and the good shots will always be in there. It's just when you're not feeling quite 100 percent, that's when you need to just be able to manage it a little better, and I just haven't managed it well over the last few weeks." It's all relative though. McIlroy has five straight top 10s in Florida events and said last year that the switch from May to March helped him as the course plays longer at this time of year and he preferred the softer conditions.
Last four events: 10-6-MC-13
Course form: 1-MC-35-12-8-6-8-MC-MC-MC
Florida form: 10-6-5-1-6-MC-1-MC-59-35
Last 50 starts - Win: 8%, Top 5: 36%, Top 10: 58%
Justin Thomas - Doubts over JT
"This is a great golf course, a great tournament, I went out and played yesterday and it's the most pure I've ever seen the golf course," said Thomas on Tuesday. "The greens are so fast, the fairways were so pristine, so I think it's going to be a great week, and I'm hoping that we get the weather that we're expected to have. I'm so excited to be playing in front of a good amount of fans again and get some juices flowing and hopefully produce some good golf." But he also offered a hint that he perhaps preferred the May date. "I think as well as I was starting to learn it, it got switched to March, so I kind of had to re-learn it. I really, really love this place in May and how firm and fast it would play, and I felt like it was not very many drivers. I used a 2-iron at this event and I just would get it on the ground a lot and just really focus on hitting the ball in the fairway." He was third (2016) and T11 (2018) in May but in the new March slot it hasn't been so good: T35 in 2019 and T63 (after R1) last year before play was called off. With some off-the-course issues to deal with, JT has had a bumpy start to the year so looks a risky play.
Last four events: 15-MC-13-MC
Course form: 35-11-MC-3-24
Florida form: 15-35-30-11-1-MC-MC-MC-3-18
Last 50 starts - Win: 8%, Top 5: 30%, Top 10: 46%
Bryson DeChambeau - Bay Hill champ may have to compromise
"It's a very demanding golf course," said DeChambeau in Tuesday's press conference whilst still revelling in his brilliant win at Bay Hill. "You have to put the ball in play and there's a few holes where you can take advantage, from a length perspective, but for the most part, the par-4s you've got to hit it in play and you've got to have great iron play this week. So that's what I'm really focused on. If I can get my iron play down this week and my wedges down this week, I'll have a great chance to win with my putting." Whilst he was strong on the greens in round four, it was DeChambeau's SG: Off The Tee (7.042 - rank 1st) and SG: Tee To Green (12.446 - rank 2nd) numbers that were his standout stats for the week at Bay Hill. If he has to dial back with his driver, will they be as good? While he's broken par in seven of his eight rounds at Sawgrass, he's yet to feature on Sunday and, to this point, his only top 10s in Florida have come in Arnie's event.
Last four events: 1-22-MC-18
Course form: 20-37
Florida form: 1-22-4-20-46-37-2-WD-27-MC
Last 50 starts - Win: 10%, Top 5: 24%, Top 10: 44%
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? Not in 2019 when he missed the cut but he fired a 5-under 67 in the 18 holes he got to play last year and sat tied fifth on the leaderboard. In short, this is a course very much made for him. He's had three top 10s in his last five PGA Tour starts and all were top 5s (top 3s in fact) so Cantlay has plenty going for him.
Last four events: 15-3-2-13
Course form: MC-23-22
Florida form: MC-23-22-2
Last 50 starts - Win: 4%, Top 5: 20%, Top 10: 36%
Collin Morikawa - Concession champ seeks Florida double
Morikawa scored a superb win in Florida at the WGC-Workday Championship but this is officially his first start at Sawgrass. However, he does have some past experience, including a first-round 68 in last year's abandoned event. He revealed on Tuesday: "I played it as a junior player, as an AJGA, obviously I had the one round last year, but the course is looking amazing so far, past two days, Monday and Tuesday. It's going to be a really good test Thursday through Sunday. I would say I've probably had maybe eight to 10 rounds on this course so far. Playing two years of Junior Players, that means I got at least three rounds each year, so six rounds and then I played a bunch last year right before the tournament started or ultimately ended. So this is a great test, the rough is up, it's really thick, it's sticky, almost in a sense where you land it in the rough it's not going to come out so you got to keep the ball within the fairway and I'm looking to do that this week as well." He was sensational with his approach play at The Concession and this course looks right up his street.
Last four events: 1-43-68-7
Course form: -
Florida form: 1-9-64
Last 50 starts - Win: 9%, Top 5: 20%, Top 10: 36%
Xander Schauffele - American must deal with contrast
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 in 2019 and Schauffele missed the cut. He'd opened with a 70 in last year's cancelled event. The Californian talked about the different conditions on Tuesday. "It's interesting, this week compared to when we normally play this event, it's more grain. I'm used to it being a little more bone dry, the rough just seems to be sort of sweet sassy molassey. It's just a really weird difference for me when it comes to playing this week versus San Diego or even Vegas. Vegas has been bone dry and it's really sticky and sort of different here for sure." After a excellent West Coast Swing he had to settle for T39 on his last start: the WGC-Workday Championship in Florida two weeks ago.
Last four events: 39-15-2-2
Course form: MC-2
Florida form: 39-24-MC-2-MC
Last 50 starts - Win: 6%, Top 5: 28%, Top 10: 36%
Webb Simpson - Former champ in fine nick
"I love the feeling I have around this golf course. I'm a thinker. I like plotting my way around and you've really got to do that here. I just played nine holes and the course is in as good of shape as any course I've ever played. Really excited for this year's tournament and the conditions we're going to see," said Simpson on Tuesday. He played superbly to win the last May edition of this event in 2018 and was tied for 16th the following March when firing three 70s and a closing 68. He matched that 4-under lap in round one last year before play was halted so, on the early evidence, the March date is suiting him too. A solid tied sixth at the WGC in Florida a fortnight ago suggests everything is working well.
Last four events: 6-42-4-17
Course form: 16-1-16-66-MC-15-MC-69-MC-MC
Florida form: 6-MC-16-36-1-8-5-16-MC-41
Last 50 starts - Win: 4%, Top 5: 26%, Top 10: 42%
Viktor Hovland - Norwegian looking to bounce back
Hovland had been in fantastic form until a weekend slump at Bay Hill saw him go from challenging to only just finishing inside top 50. He also had to respond to a question that he wasn't really a fan of Florida venues. His reply: "I mean there's plenty of good golf courses, but no, just kind of a lot of them it just feels kind of the same, it's all very flat, it's just kind of water and bunker, it all kind of looks the same. But I think the more I play those golf courses during tournaments you kind of start to get into a little different mindset." However, he did shoot 68 in his first Sawgrass round last year so perhaps this particularly one does float boat.
Last four events: 49-2-5-6
Course form: -
Florida form: 49-2-42-MC-40
Last 50 starts - Win: 4%, Top 5: 20%, Top 10: 24%
There does seem a split between those who like Sawgrass best in March and those who prefer it in May.
So I'm going to keep this simple and play two from the March camp - Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy.
Rahm had to settle for MC-63 in May but jumped up to T12 in the new March date, leading the way after 54 holes.
He'd also opened with a 69 last year.
The second big plus is his fantastic record of finishing in the top 10 in any event. It's a whopping 60% in his last 50 events and it's even higher if taking a more recent sample: Rahm has made the top 10 in five of his last seven tournaments.
It's easy to get a bit spooked when McIlroy pours his heart out in great detail about the state of his game. It's all rather stream of consciousness and he doesn't hold back on the bad stuff.
But the numbers do their own talking. He's made the top 10 in his last five starts in Florida, extending that run with T6 and T10 in the last two weeks and won this event in its new March slot in 2019.
If either Rahm or McIlroy make the top 10, we're nicely in profit and hopefully both can end the week on page one of the leaderboard.