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Horse For The Course: PGA DFS Course History - 2023 THE PLAYERS Championship

Hello folks, and welcome back to Horse For The Course! The PGA Tour's strong run with their "Designated Events" continued at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, as a star-studded leaderboard battled it out down the stretch Sunday on a difficult Bay Hill layout. While elite players like Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, and Jordan Spieth were all in the mix, it was journeyman Kurt Kitayama that emerged from the pack for the victory and the biggest payday of his career.

While basically any tournament would be a letdown following the excitement at the API, that isn't the case here, as the world's best golfers will compete against each other for one more week in one of the biggest events of the year...THE PLAYERS Championship!

Horse For The Course is an article that highlights players in this week's field with elite course history and is part of our free PGA DFS content here at RotoBaller. For my favorite DFS plays of the week check out my Core Four article here at RotoBaller every Wednesday. It's part of our excellent PGA Premium package that includes an all-new PGA Research Station, Lineup Builder & Optimizer, and some of the best articles in the PGA DFS industry! You can sign up now using Promo Code: NICE for an extra discount at checkout!

 

2023 THE PLAYERS Championship

Though hardcore golf fans were fighting mad about last week's announcement that the PGA Tour would make some of next year's "Designated Events" limited-field, no-cut affairs, it's hard to argue that the Tour isn't on a total heater at the moment. While many fans, myself included, feel that this year's schedule and format are terrific just the way they are - with the first few months of this year standing tall as a "proof of concept" - I suppose that's a discussion for another day, as THE PLAYERS Championship demands our full attention this week.

As the author of a weekly course history article, I'm about as firmly on Team #CourseHistoryMatters as anyone. That said, I also try my best to be objective. As a result, I'm unashamed to say that course history is perhaps at its least predictive at THE PLAYERS Championship. The annual host course of the event - TPC Sawgrass - has volatility seemingly built into the DNA of its design, as Pete Dye infamously laid the course out with a mission to prevent an advantage for any specific “style” of play. A quick look at course history confirms that Dye’s undertaking has been successful, as even golfers with good results in THE PLAYERS appear to be just as likely to struggle in any given year.

So, we'll enter this week with our eyes wide open to the erratic and unpredictable nature of this golf course and event, but will still perform our due diligence in digging into course history in search of an edge. One notable absence this week is defending PLAYERS champion Cameron Smith, who won last year's edition in what were some of the worst weather conditions in recent memory. Smith has moved on to LIV Golf for what was certainly a huge guaranteed sum of money, though it will cost him the chance to defend this week. While the LIV crew will be allowed to play in this year's major championships, they will not be in attendance this week at the PGA Tour's crown-jewel event. Who we do have teeing it up is basically everyone else, as all of the Tour's elite golfers will be chasing the "Fifth Major" this week.

You can also find out who the smart money is on by checking out Spencer Aguiar's PGA DFS: Vegas Report every week. And be sure to read all of our other top-notch weekly PGA DFS articles to help you win big!

 

The Course: TPC Sawgrass

Par 72 - 7,256 Yards, Greens: Bermuda (Poa & Bent Overseed), Designed By: Pete Dye

At just over 7,200 yards, the Stadium Course is much shorter than most other "major championship" courses these golfers will face, but what it lacks in length, it makes up for in bite. The Pete Dye design that opened in 1982 has endured as one of the trickiest courses in the world. In true Dye fashion, it's a second-shot golf course with danger lurking everywhere in the form of water hazards and bunkers.

This layout was specifically designed to not favor any one style of play, so we see holes of varying length in Par 3's, 4's, and 5's, doglegs that go both left and right, with no two consecutive holes playing in the same direction. THE PLAYERS' most iconic hole is, of course, the Par-3 17th 'Island Hole'. The 17th is short, but its psychological impact on players in key moments can certainly make it difficult. A recent update to TPC Sawgrass now has the 12th hole playing as a driveable Par-4 with water in play to raise the risk/reward stakes.

With TPC Sawgrass being such a balanced course, it's tough to give the edge to one type of player this week. While we can normally classify courses as a 'bomber' track or an 'accuracy' layout, we have no such luxury this week. I'm targeting ball strikers with strong approach games that are solid from tee to green. I will also consider a player's short game strength and ability to avoid bogeys, as big numbers are seemingly lurking everywhere at TPC Sawgrass. It's always hard to predict putting, but this week's winner will need to get hot with the flat stick on these fast Bermuda grass greens. I will also lean towards those in the field that have some PLAYERS experience, as this track can be brutal on first-timers.

 

Recent PLAYERS Winners & Scoring Info

  • 2022: Cameron Smith (-13)
  • 2021: Justin Thomas (-14)
  • 2020: Cancelled - COVID
  • 2019: Rory McIlroy (-16)
  • 2018: Webb Simpson (-18)
  • Average Winning Score Last Five Years: -15.25

 

The Horse

Justin Thomas

  • Event Scoring Average: 70.48 (Seven career starts)
  • Notable Course History: Win (2021), T11 ('18), T3 ('16)
  • DraftKings Price: $9,400 FanDuel Price: $11,600

As we touched on in the intro, strong and consistent course history at THE PLAYERS is very difficult to come by. While Justin Thomas has some underwhelming finishes on his TPC Sawgrass CV, he not only won the event in 2021 but has also made the cut in all seven of his career PLAYERS starts, which is certainly notable in this notoriously volatile environment.

JT's PLAYERS victory in 2021 stands as his biggest accomplishment in the "Fifth Major", but his T33 last year might be his most impressive performance at TPC Sawgrass. Playing on the wrong side of a nasty weather draw, Thomas persevered and a second-round 69 on Saturday in brutal conditions was one of the finest rounds of golf that I've ever seen. Although he failed to keep the momentum going over the last two rounds, it was a nice reminder that the two-time major champion has every shot needed to tame Pete Dye's diabolical Sawgrass layout, as well as the temperament for changing weather conditions like we often see in this event.

After bagging his second career major in last year's PGA Championship, Thomas closed out 2022 in solid, if unspectacular, fashion. The same can be said of his start to 2023, as he's logged top-25s in all five of his starts this calendar year, but - outside of a T4 at the WMPO - has appeared to be treading water for the most part, as he's failed to put four round together in the same week.

We all know what JT is capable of when everything does come together and statistically, that appears close, as he's gained an average of 4.6 strokes T2G over his five '23 outings. He offers a terrific combination of DFS floor and ceiling this week on a slate that will largely be marked by its volatility.

 

The Ponies

Jon Rahm

  • Event Scoring Average: 71.26 (Five career starts)
  • Notable Course History: T9 ('21), T12 ('19)
  • DraftKings Price: $11,800 FanDuel Price: $12,100

Following an opening-round 65 in last week's API, it looked as though we were in for another steamroll performance from Jon Rahm. However, the Spaniard actually appeared, gasp, human in subsequent rounds, and failed to break par in any of his last three rounds at Bay Hill.

We shouldn't let Rahm's letdown distract us from the fact that he is still on a torrid winning pace this year. He's already raised three trophies in 2023 and he must be highly motivated to add a PLAYERS title that he's not yet captured to his gauntlet full of infinity stones.

Like the aforementioned Thomas, Rahm's history at TPC Sawgrass doesn't blow us away at first glance with a T9 in 2021 standing as the highlight. However, he's shown the ability to navigate Sawgrass consistently enough to have made the cut in all five of his career PLAYERS starts.

While this Pete Dye design is many things, at its essence it's a second-shot golf course. We normally consider Rahm's excellence off the tee as his biggest strength, though it has actually been his superb iron play that's led to the floodgates opening this year. Including last week at API where he was actually +2.3 strokes with the irons, he's gained an average of 4.9 strokes on Approach over his last five tournaments. The Spaniard grades out first in this elite PLAYERS field of entrants in SG: Approach over his last 12 rounds. If the irons continue to cook for him this week, he'll be a tough player to handle.

 

Jason Day

  • Event Scoring Average: 70.94 (11 career starts)
  • Notable Course History: T8 ('19), T5 ('18), Win ('16), T6 ('11)
  • DraftKings Price: $8,000  FanDuel Price: $9,600

It's fair to say that this week's HFTC skews towards veterans, and I'm fine leaning on Jason Day's extensive PLAYERS Championship experience at his mid-tier DFS price points. The Aussie has 11 career PLAYERS starts under his belt and has performed at a high level on this tricky Sawgrass track.

His win in 2016 stands as the highlight, but Day has still managed to stay relevant in this event in his recent lean years. Despite not being at his best, he's made the cut in five of his last six PLAYERS starts, logging a pair of top-eight results in addition to the aforementioned win in '16.

Day comes into this year's edition in the midst of a career renaissance and playing his best golf in years. The 35-year-old heads to Ponte Vedra on the heels of a ridiculous four-straight top-10 finishes. He's gained an average of 4.4 strokes T2G over his last five tournaments while grading out third in this elite field in SG: Total over the last 24 rounds. As I'm sure my good friend and RotoBaller colleague Spencer Aguiar will be glad to tell you...WE ARE SO BACK!

 

Did you know RotoBaller has a Premium DFS PGA subscription? Like what you read today? You can show your support for Joe by using the discount code NICE when purchasing a PGA Premium Pass. You get 10% off and full access to all of our Premium PGA articles, DFS tools, and Lineup Optimizer! You also get access to weekly betting picks from Spencer Aguiar, one of the top betting minds in the industry.

 

Keegan Bradley

  • Event Scoring Average: 71.42 (11 career starts)
  • Notable Course History: 5th ('22), T29 ('21), T16 ('19), T7 ('18)
  • DraftKings Price: $7,500 FanDuel Price: $9,200

We have a bit of a "two negatives make a positive" here with Keegan Bradley and TPC Sawgrass. The notoriously erratic Bradley and the treacherous Pete Dye design would seem to be a recipe for disaster, but it's actually been quite the opposite, as the jumpy veteran has been remarkably consistent in recent PLAYERS appearances.

Bradley has amassed an impressive 71.42 scoring average across 11 career trips to Sawgrass, most recently carding a fifth-place result in the '22 edition. It marked his second top-seven result since 2018 and the vet has now run off six consecutive made cuts at THE PLAYERS.

In addition to his elite course history, Bradley also checks a couple of additional boxes that we're looking for, as he comes in both sharp recent form and very reasonable DFS price tags. He closed out 2022 with a win at the ZOZO Championship and has carried that momentum into 2023, scoring a runner-up finish at the Farmers Insurance Open, as well as a strong T10 last week at Bay Hill. Despite that form - and his PLAYERS record - Bradley feels puzzlingly underpriced on both DraftKings and FanDuel on this slate, which raises concerns that he'll be a very popular DFS option.

Corey Conners

  • Event Scoring Average: 70.50 (Three career starts)
  • Notable Course History: T26 ('22), T7 ('21), T41 ('19)
  • DraftKings Price: $7,400 FanDuel Price: $9,700

The steady Canadian hasn't opened 2023 in white-hot form, but three top-25 finishes across five starts this year is enough of a game log to enough to garner our attention. It's no surprise that Conners' ball striking has been, typically, on point. He's gained strokes T2G in four of his five '23 outings.

He comes in on the heels of gaining over three strokes both OTT and on Approach last week at Bay Hill. Conners' sharp iron play has led to success for him at TPC Sawgrass. His 70.50 career PLAYERS scoring average is the second-best mark among this week's entrants.

Perhaps the most notable thing about the Canadian this week is his eye-opening $7.4k price tag on DraftKings. We've seen Conners priced above $8k for major championships on DK in the past, and while his recent results haven't been quite as good as we've seen in some stretches of his career, he still feels drastically underpriced this week.

 

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