Gaining Strokes – 2019 The Players Championship DFS Preview

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One of the most iconic venues on the PGA Tour plays host to this week’s stop on the PGA Tour as we arrive at TPC Sawgrass for the 2019 edition of The Players Championship. The largest prize pool in professional golf draws one of the strongest fields we will see all year to Ponde Vedra Beach this week as everyone in the Top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings is scheduled to tee it up for their shot at the $2.25 million first prize paycheck. If you are looking for a more in depth breakdown of this event from a pure golf perspective, be sure to check out my article published earlier this week titled Fore Please! to get a better handle on some of the historical information you need to be completely ready for this week’s event. Our focus is DFS in this article, so let’s not waste any more time – after all, the island green at #17 is waiting! Let’s get into this week’s key stats and selections for the 2019 The Players Championship!

Key Stats

The Players is an event where we traditionally see a number of crazy things happen. Chalk players fall victim to the dozens of water hazards on this course and more high priced players seem to miss the cut here than at any other event. The best example of this is the optimal lineup from last year’s event, which would have left an astounding $7000 of salary on the table in a field that includes roughly the 50 best players in the world! So for that reason I’m keeping it simple with my stats this week and taking a more longer term approach to statistical analysis – focusing more on each players last 50 rounds of performance than the 24 rounds that I usually take in to account. Small greens and angled fairways really do require a complete arsenal of skills to be successful at Sawgrass, and when you do happen to miss these greens you better be able to get the ball up and down to avoid bogeys and stay in contention. For those reasons, here are the stats that I’m using this week in my stats model:

With those stats in mind here are the players I like the best to be around and in contention come Sunday afternoon at this year’s The Players Championship!

$10,000 Range

When the Top 50 players in the world show up for an event it should come as no surprise that the top end price range for this week is absolutely loaded, and this week certainly meets that expectation. The top 5 players in my stats model over the last 50 rounds are all in this price range, with Brooks Koepka being the only player not in that elite group (he ranks #15 for me in stats, for the record.) But with a softer pricing scale being implemented by DraftKings this week I think you can roster at least one, and possibly two, of the big boys up top if you want to and still make a respectable lineup from top to bottom. I know that Sundays have not been his thing so far this season, or for basically his entire career to be honest, but I’m going back to the well with Rory McIlroy ($10,800) as my favorite play up top this week. In the last six weeks he has played in three events and finished no worse that T6 in any of them and comes in gaining the third-most strokes at The Players over the last five years. Those five starts have netted him three Top 12 finishes, including two Top 10s in 2013 and 2014. He’s #1 in this field in Par 4 Scoring over his past 50 rounds and #2 in both SG: T2G and Bogey Avoidance. I’m going to keep riding the hot hand with McIlroy as my favorite play up top.

Always the two biggest stats monsters in the field when they play, I feel like many people will be avoiding each of the two highest priced players this week in Dustin Johnson ($11,400) and Justin Thomas ($11,100) for different reason. DJ has a terrible history at this event and there is speculation of a wrist injury that may be hindering Thomas’ performance as of late. But if you are planning on mass entering any GPPs this week and have the opportunity to be overweight on these two guys without getting in to insane percentages the risk may be worth taking. And those ownership numbers could be lower than ever considering the strength of this field and a certain Tiger lurking at roughly $700 cheaper than each of them. This might be the time to catch two of the best in the world at low ownership in those large field GPPs this week.

$9,000 Range

The 9K range offers a ton of options for those looking to pair up another high quality player with a big gun up top or start their balanced lineup with a proven winner. While there are many options in this range that I have a really hard time not playing (I see you Bryson!) I have to go with the guys this week that I trust long term to have the best chance at getting to Sunday, and this week that guy in this range is Sergio Garcia ($9,100). Two consecutive Top 10s in his last two starts, Garcia comes in 5th in this field in SG: APP, showing flashes of that great ball striking that he has been known for his whole career. And on top of that, Sergio flat out loves this course, going 10 for 10 in made cuts over the last 10 seasons here. His current form and course history is a perfect fit this week for Sergio to have a great showing at Sawgrass.

The guy in this range that doesn’t seem to be getting any buzz at all is Jon Rahm ($9,500), which might just make him the best GPP option in this range. While his two appearances here haven’t returned stellar results (T63 last year and T72 in ‘17) there is no denying that he is a world class player. He ranks #14 overall in my stats model and being sandwiched between super popular players like Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau only helps his chances of being a good leverage play based on ownership in GPPs.

I’m also going to subscribe to the theory of playing a guy when the rest of the industry was just scorned by the previous week and give Jason Day ($9,200) another shot this week. While his WD last week sparked a lot of discussion last week in the DFS Twitterverse I would have to believe that he wouldn’t even attempt to play this week if his healthy hadn’t improved – especially when dealing with a back issue. If he bails out again this week I’ll consider adding him to the “Never Again” list, but until then if I can get him at single-digit ownership on a course that is a perfect fit for his game I its worth the risk.

$8,000 Range

This is the range where we start to see the softness of the pricing this week really start to become evident as we find a number of players that we are used to paying almost $10,000 for on a weekly basis falling into this category. Tommy Fleetwood ($8,800) might be my strongest play of the week this week coming off of a 3rd place finish at the Arnold Palmer last week and a T7 last year here at TPC Sawgrass. He ranks #9 in my stats model, which includes a #4 ranking in Greens In Regulation Gained and #13 in SG: T2G, my most heavily-weighted stat. The Players is known for being the marquee breakout win for many players on Tour, and Fleetwood would certainly like adding his name to that list of players to get over the hump at Sawgrass – he is in great form to make it happen this week.

I’m completely buying in to the resurgence of Hideki Matsuyama ($8,300) as well and I’m going to keep taking advantage of these depressed prices on him as long as they last. Matsuyama is the only player in this field (outside of Dustin Johnson) to rank #1 in more than one of the stat categories in my model this week, leading the field in Proximity from over 200 yards SG: APP. He was horrific with the putter last week at the API – like all-time horrific in losing over 8 strokes to the field putting! – so if he can just be anything other than awful this week on the greens I really like his chances to contend as well.

It’s impossible to overlook Francesco Molinari ($8,600) and Matt Kuchar ($8,000) in this range also who have both had tremendous starts to their 2019 campaign. Molinari’s price is the beneficiary of the early pricing sent out by DraftKings this week, which hit the market prior to his final round 64 at Bay Hill that propelled him to a victory last week. In a normal week we could have expected his price to be almost $1000 higher, but I’ll take advantage of the discount like I’m sure many will this week on the Ryder Cup star from last year.

Kuchar continues to play great this year as well, and while he hasn’t kept up the pace from his torrid start in Hawaii this season he does have a really good course history here, finishing inside the Top 20 in 3 of the last 5 years. His scrambling and bogey avoidance numbers are also great amongst this field in the last 50 rounds, which will come in very handy here if he misses any of the small greens on his approaches. I’ll stay on Kuchar again this week until the form drops off.  

$7,000 Range

This range is another one where I had to initially give my head a shake and check twice to make sure some of the prices were correct. Gary Woodland ($7,600) is another guy that we have grown accustomed to paying something in the $9K range for this season, but get an amazing discount on this week for The Players. #6 in my stats model Woodland ranks inside the Top 15 in six of the eight stats I broke down this week and he has only lost strokes on approach in two events since last year’s Players, a stretch in which he hasn’t missed a single cut. At $7,600 this week he is the steal of the board in my opinion.

Paul Casey ($7,900) is another player that boasts a more-than-fair price tag this week considering his recent form and tournament history. With two Top 3 finishes in his last three starts and two Top 25 finishes in his last 2 starts at this event he appears to be set up nicely to play well here this week. And that doesn’t even begin to talk about his stats as of late. 5th, 2nd, 5th, 3rd – those are Casey’s rankings in my stats model over his last 24, 12, 8, and 4 rounds entering this event. I’m not sure how it gets much better than that! I’ll be penciling him in to my cash lineups this week for sure.

Two guys to consider in GPPs that may come in a little under the radar are Marc Leishman ($7,600) – who has made 4 of his last 5 cuts here – and Tyrrell Hatton ($7,300) – great Par 4 scorer and excellent short game stats as of late to go along with three Top 30 finishes in the last six weeks.

$6,000 Range

There is no disputing the run that Jason Kokrak ($6,700) is on lately – 15 consecutive made cuts including three Top 20s in the last six weeks and has gained strokes Tee To Green on the field in every event he has played in so far in 2019. If his putter can heat up I believe the #8 ranked player in my stats model has a real chance to contend this week. His course history is pretty bad here, which I’m hoping is something that will keep some people off of him because I’m going to continue backing him this week.

The Korean pair of Sungjae Im ($6,800) and Byeong Hun-An ($6,800) are also great plays in this range this week as both rank near the Top 25 in my stats model coming in (#24 for Im and #26 for An.) Both are Tee To Green monsters playing really well as of late are definite contenders in my eyes this week. Don’t sleep on Matt Wallace ($6,700) either. I loved what I saw out of him last week at the Arnold Palmers and he may be just the kind of grinder that can avoid the trouble at this course and be hanging around come Sunday afternoon.

Betting 6 Pack

Each week in this segment I will post 6 outright bets that I’ve placed on the event based on which numbers I think present the best value on the board for that week. They may or may not be guys that I talk about from a DFS perspective but guys that I think have a high enough potential upside to potentially come out victorious this week. I add plays all weekend, including matchup plays almost every round as the tournament moves on – you can find all of those plays on my Twitter page or Facebook page found through the links. Here are the 6 guys (alright, 7 this week, sorry!) that I’ve placed bets on this week so far!

As always, thank you very much for giving my article a glance this week as you prepare for The Players Championship. If you have any questions you would like to ask me about your lineup or about my article in general, join us on DPA Premium where you can get exclusive access to myself as well as the rest of our other experts for NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL. I’ll be available to answer questions about your lineups this week from 9PM to 10PM on Wednesday March 13th!

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Best of luck this week at The Players Championship! I look forward to sharing Green Screen Stories with all of you next week!!