The unofficial fifth major gets underway this week as the PGA Tour HQ at Ponte Vedra takes centre stage. There were rumours abound that Tiger Woods would begin his long awaited return at Sawgrass but he doesn't make the trip. All eyes then will be on the new era of superstar players and Rory McIlroy - 9.00 - leads the betting, closely followed by Jordan Spieth - 12.00. The young American gave a masterclass in scrambling ability en route to a T4 on his Sawgrass debut in 2014 and for me he's the man to beat this week.
Rory has been simmering in 2016 without hitting first gear but a superb final round at Quail Hollow last Sunday will leave him with a lot to look forward to this week. Jason Day - 11.00 - doesn't boast a very good record at the Stadium course but he's a better player now and will be looking to put that right. Tiger may not be back yet but local resident Jim Furyk has a good record here and made his return from injury at the Wells Fargo. Another local worth siding with this week is Billy Horschel - a ball striking powerhouse that spends time practicing at the course. Billy has recently refound some of the form that took him to his Fedex Cup title.
Course features and premiums
TPC Sawgrass (Stadium) Par 72, 7,215 yards
TPC Sawgrass is a Pete Dye design renowned for testing all aspects of a players game. Experience counts for plenty around here. Wind generally plays a part and there's a premium on ball striking and flight control. Tee shots require players to shape it both ways, and a number of doglegs feature. 2012 champ Matt Kuchar - 81.00 - mentioned people don't realise how firm the greens can be on the stadium course, and sub air systems are in operation, upping the stimp usually towards 13 feet.
Surfaces are small and some are raised so plenty of shot making is required, especially from sticky green-side Bermuda rough. The finish at Sawgrass is one of the best on tour with the infamous par three island green 17th sandwiched by the risk reward par 5 and the 18th which incorporates water all down the left and tree trouble in the bail out area to the right.
Top Betting Tips
Given Rickie Fowler's - 19.00 or 4.75 - most recent form, and having witnessed him finishing like a train in real time at Sawgrass last season, I'm quite happy to take his price this week. Rickie finished with 4 birdies and an eagle from #13 to post -12 and get into a three man playoff with Kevin Kisner and Sergio. He circled 20 birdies and an eagle in all for the four rounds. Fowler had a previous runner up finish to the aforementioned Kuchar back in 2012 and he comes here off a T4 finish at the wells Fargo where he held the 54 hole lead. Fowler ranks 19th in scrambling, 4th in ball striking and tops the all-around ranking charts in 2016.
Sergio Garcia - 34.00 or 7.50 - at Sawgrass seems to be one of the value plays of the season year in, year out. There's absolutely no reason why the course specialist and all time leading money winner at the The Players Championship, in reality, shouldn't be pushing strongly for favouritism here. This is Sergio's "favourite course" where he owns 2 runner up spots to go with his win (one in a playoff just last year). In fact the Spaniard's form here the last 3 years here reads 8-3-2, with the 8th in 2013 very misleading given he traded big odds on going down the 71st. You'd have made a small fortune trading Garcia here the last few years. The reason for Sergio's success at the venue is his ball striking and control (especially in the wind) together with his shot making skills around the green. He's 6th in strokes gained tee to green in 2016 and comes here off the back of a 3rd place at Valderrama.
I mentioned Billy Horschel - 71.00 or 14.00 - was born and resides in the vicinity of TPC Sawgrass and that it is indeed a course where he goes to practice. He's showing progressive 26-13 finishes the last 2 years at Sawgrass and as you can see from his tweet above he's looking forward to the week after recapturing close to top form. Horschel has a number of top 20s in his last handful of events with his best being a T4 at the Valero. Billy finished last season ranked 10th in ball striking and has the grinding mentality to go well in this Championship.