THE PLAYERS: Golf’s unofficial fifth major gets underway this week, as one of the strongest field of the year will compete for the largest purse in the sport at one of the game’s most iconic venues, TPC Sawgrass, home of the famed island green par-3 17th.
Built by Pete Dye some 40 years ago for the express purpose of staging this tournament, TPC Sawgrass has often been regarded as Dye’s masterpiece, an unforgiving ball-striker’s layout that is visually intimidating and doesn’t favor any one particular shot shape, giving it a “democratic” feel that is perfect for an event of this nature. At 7,190 yards, the course isn’t particularly long by Tour standards, though the move back to March has made it play a bit longer than it did when the tournament was held in May and the ground was baked out.
Dye intended for TPC Sawgrass to not favor any particular type of player, and one look at the list of champions over the past 40 years tells you that he succeeded in his mission– you have bombers and short-knockers, experienced vets and up-and-comers, relative no-names like Craig Perks and Stephen Ames and legends of the sport like Woods, Mickelson, Norman, and Nicklaus. Legend-in-the-making Rory McIlroy hoisted the trophy last year, but he’ll have his work cut out for him to defend, as no player has ever won this tournament in back-to-back years, which both speaks to the quality of the field and the difficult, democratic nature of the course. The 17th gets all the publicity, but it’s only one part of a dramatic three-hole finish that has provided many exciting moments over the years– you have the reachable par-5 16th, a birdie hole that nevertheless can bite you if you aren’t careful, the white-knuckle 17th, and then the 18th, a bearish long par-4 that doglegs left around a large lake, leaving almost no room for error off the tee. It’s a finish that will test the nerves of even the steeliest competitors, and a testament to superior golf course architecture and design.
McIlroy may be looking to do something that has never been done before, but plenty like his chances, as he currently heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 9.2. This shouldn’t be surprising considering his current form– top-5 finishes in each of his last 7 PGA Tour starts, including a T5 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week– but with a field of this caliber, a price like 9.2 is a bit short for my liking. I think I’ll take my chances with these three instead:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Bryson DeChambeau (25.0)- DeChambeau’s much-publicized attempt at bulking up over the winter may not have had much effect on his driving distance yet, but it certainly isn’t hurting his overall game, as he’s off to a great start in 2020 and is riding a streak of three consecutive top-5 finishes into this week. The latest of these came at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he methodically plodded his way around the course for four days and ended up as one of only 4 players to finish the week under par. In his previous start he had finished runner-up at the WGC-Mexico after a Sunday 65, and prior to that he finished T5 at Riviera. In other words, DeChambeau is a threat whenever and wherever he tees it up right now, be it California, Mexico, or the Bermuda-covered courses of Florida. TPC Sawgrass seems like a perfect fit for a player like him– a consistent ball-striker who takes pride in the way he plans and prepares for a golf course. He’s made the cut both times he’s played in this tournament, finishing T20 last year, and I have a feeling that bigger and better things await him here. I’m happy to back him at a price like 25.0.
Abraham Ancer (110.0)- Though he won’t wow you with distance and may not look like the most fluid, natural player out there, Ancer has crafted a game that holds up on the biggest of stages, as he has proved repeatedly over the past couple of years by contending on multiple tours across multiple continents. Though he’s yet to break through with a PGA Tour victory, he’s logged seven top-5 finishes on Tour over the past 2+ seasons, including a runner-up at The Northern Trust last August and another second-place showing at The American Express back in January. He’s found the top-15 in 4 of his last 7 starts overall, so he’s playing well, and he was on track for another good finish at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational before a poor third round set him back. His play in this tournament last year, in what was his debut appearance, should give him plenty of confidence this week, as he finished 12th after shooting par or better in all four rounds and seemed very comfortable with his plan of attack for TPC Sawgrass. He’s one to watch this week and an absolute steal at a triple-digit price.
Joel Dahmen (178.0)- After a slow start to his professional career that included three largely unremarkable seasons on PGA Tour Canada, Dahmen started to find some traction in 2017-18, and then really came into his own in 2019, finishing 33rd on the Money List and nearly winning the Wells Fargo Championship, where he finished second to Max Homa. He’s kept the momentum rolling into 2020 and is now playing the best golf of his career, with his last three starts a T14 at the AT&T Pebble Beach, a T5 at the Genesis Invitational, and another T5 at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Golf is a strange game– sometimes we see players catch lightning in a bottle, and Dahmen is certainly rolling now… who knows where it’s going to take him. He made his Players Championship debut last year and fared extremely well, breaking par in all four rounds and going on to finish 12th, so there’s no reason to expect the momentum to be derailed this week. He’s a longshot, of course, but he’s a longshot who has some nice memories from TPC Sawgrass and is playing very well at the moment. All things considered, you could do a lot worse at a price like 178.0.