TPC Sawgrass is a tricky Pete Dye design, so we can look to comparable courses such as Harbour Town for an idea of what type of player might perform well. The course is a typical par-72 layout with four par 5s, but it doesn't really favor the bombers. Several par 5s will be reachable for most of the field, but the difficulties of the par 3s and par 4s will mitigate the length advantage of the bombers. Like most Pete Dye designs, the players will be navigating tricky doglegs, mounding, bunkers and water hazards, and will be forced to hit less then driver off many tees. Once in position, the players will hit approaches to very small greens (again, similar to Harbour Town), so proximity and scrambling should play major roles in targeting certain players this week. Experience is key. With the exception of journeymen winners like Craig Perks and Stephen "9&8" Ames, past winners here have had at least 5 years of experience playing the event. Each of the last ten winners at TPC Sawgrass has recorded at least one top-20 finish. You don't need to strictly avoid first timers here, but like we talked about at The Masters, experience does play a pivotal role.
Birdie or Better % (BoB%): There are really not many weeks where we aren't going to target birdie or better percentage, because that's what fantasy golf scoring is all about. There's going to be plenty of bogeys this week, so we need birdies to offset the damages. Guys like Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas,, Jon Rahm, Daniel Berger, and Hideki Matsuyama lead this week's field in birdie or better percentage. It's possible to have a player finish top-10 in fantasy points while not finishing anywhere close to the top-10 in the actual event.
Strokes Gained Approach (SG:APP): There's no doubt that ball-striking and GIR% are huge at this week, as usual with Pete Dye designs. The winds will be up all weekend, so keeping yourself out of trouble will be paramount to success at TPC Sawgrass. There are difficult, undulating greens, so keeping your ball on the right portions of greens will eliminate three putts. If a player sticks approach shots inside 10' consistently, he's going to shoot up the leaderboard and contend on Sunday. Some names that stand out in the field are Francesco Molinari, Dustin Johnson, Kevin Kisner, Webb Simpson, and Jon Rahm.
Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee (SG:OTT): I'm going to target elite drivers of the golf ball as well this week. You could look at good drive percentage, but I'm going to remain focused on strokes gained metrics. Driving the ball well (whether you're a bomber or not) will be key to scoring this week. The par-5s are reachable for most of the field, so any type of player can contend here. Names that stood out to me in this field were Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, and Tony Finau.
1. DUSTIN JOHNSON [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #1
DJ is a tough read this week. He's played here eight times, has missed three cuts, and has never finished higher than 28th. However, that 28th place finish was last year, so perhaps he's starting to figure out this course. In any event, he comes into this week scorching hot, finishing 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, and 3rd in his past five starts. After the back injury at Augusta, he came out rusty at Wells Fargo before vaulting up the leaderboard on Saturday and Sunday. I would be shocked if DJ wasn't in contention this weekend.
2. JON RAHM [YAHOO CLASS C] - WORLD RANKING: #13
Like Augusta National, TPC Sawgrass is a course that favors experience, and rarely produces high finishes for debutants. Like at Augusta National, we had this same debate about Jon Rahm, the Spanish phenom. He showed that he can play anywhere, and posted a near top-20 at Augusta with a horrible Sunday, so I'm confident that he can carry over his form this week. He drives it well, he hits deadly accurate iron shots, and he can scramble. There are no leaks in his game.
3. RORY MCILROY [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #2
McIlroy took his time acclimating to TPC Sawgrass, but he's finally found his groove. After MC in his first three tries, he's finished inside the top-12 the past four years. That's the kind of trend I'm looking for when predicting a winner this week. As long as his short game is sharp, Rory should contend this Sunday. He makes birdies, and should be able to dominate the par-5s and short par-4s with this massive length off the tee. I'm still waiting for Rory to make his move back towards world #1, and it could start this week.
4. JORDAN SPIETH [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #5
On paper, this should be the perfect course for Spieth. His inaccuracy off the tee hurts a bit, but he's solid with his wedges, and can scramble as well as anyone on Tour. He dazzled with his 4th place finish in his debut here in 2014, but then missed the past two cuts. Last year was a little bit of a strange season for Spieth, and he seems to have regained his form. He won earlier this year at Pebble Beach, and played really well in his last start at the Zurich Classic. Sign me up for all the Jordan Spieth this week.
5. SERGIO GARCIA [YAHOO CLASS C] - WORLD RANKING: #7
You can't come to TPC Sawgrass without mention of Sergio, who is a previous winner here. He's also posted very recent 2nd and 3rd place finishes at The Players. He comes back to the Tour after a four week layoff celebrating his Masters victory, so I'm not sure how much golf has been on his mind recently. If you can overlook the time off, and the emotional fatigue, there's nothing that should keep you off the Spaniard this week.
6. JUSTIN ROSE [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #8
After heartbreak at The Masters, Rose looks to bounce back at The Players Championship this week. Although he doesn't have a very good track record here, Rose's best two finishes have come in the past three season. He posted a 19th place finish last season, and finished 4th in 2014. He's been playing lights out the past year, riding high since his gold medal victory in Rio. Some players would take time to bounce back from the loss at Augusta, but I think Rose can overcome those demons this week.
7. HIDEKI MATSUYAMA [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #4
Hideki isn't much of a darkhorse, but I feel like he's going way overlooked this week. He's got the game to win an event like this, and his game should suit this course well. The issue with Hideki is always his putter, so hopefully he feels confident with his new, center-shafted mallet putter that he put in the bag. Hideki is an elite ball-striker and driver, who can overpower this course. He also has the trend that I'm looking for at TPC Sawgrass: 23rd, 17th, and 7th the past three seasons.
8. RICKIE FOWLER [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #9
Rickie should probably be ranked higher than 8th, but I'm just not feeling it this week. He's a past winner here, although that really came thanks to a 6-hole birdie barrage on Sunday. He wasn't even on the first page of the leaderboard until the final few holes, and I doubt he can repeat that performance. Fowler has played well this spring, including a win at the Honda Classic, one of the best comp courses to TPC Sawgrass. Although he's posted a 1st and 2nd here, he's missed the cut each of the other four seasons he's played here. Extremely boom-or-bust.
9. ADAM SCOTT [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #11
This is a crazy low price for Adam Scott, so I'll be buying a lot of the Aussie this week. Scott has made his last five cuts at The Players, including three top-20 finishes. He's also a previous winner of the event, albeit 13 years ago. He's an elite ball-striker who just needs to find his confidence with the flat stick. Scott should have contended at Augusta, but his putter failed him on the weekend.
10. MATT KUCHAR [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #17
Old reliable is back at a price tag where he's destined to be the chalk this week, especially in cash games. Kuchar should lock up another strong top-25 finish this week, but I'm not sure what upside he has beyond that. We've seen him win here before, but it's much more likely that he hovers around that top-20 line this week. In cash games, however, you need to lock him in as a Pete Dye specialist.