It’s Players Championship week, with the strongest field of the year teeing it at TPC Sawgrass. For the bettors at home, the field strength can make for a lot of mayhem and confusion about who to back with their hard-earned money. Rest easy, folks. Let’s go about this the smart way, letting the numbers guide us. Here are the big names we can reasonably expect to play well down in Ponte Vedra (and if you’re looking for a place get in on the action, check out our sister company Chirp Golf, where you can play risk-free — and win big-time prizes).
It all starts with Jon Rahm. The gang at DataGolf, one of the leading analytics services in golf, is higher on Rahm than any other player. And in a big way. Their model — which incorporates course fit and history for a given player — gives Rahm a 6.5% win percentage here early in the week. Without any balls struck yet, that’s a big number, as the second player behind Rahm is Dustin Johnson, who has just a 3.7% chance of winning. Data Golf gives Rahm a 78.4% chance of making the cut, almost a sure thing before any shots are hit. And to be fair, making cuts is all Rahm does. The No. 2 player in the world hasn’t missed a cut since the first event back from the pandemic shutdown.
No one will be shocked at this one, but Morikawa’s game is perfectly suited to stand up at TPC Sawgrass. The course favors accuracy over distance — and has for a long time — and no one on Tour is more accurate when he’s on than Morikawa. The 24-year-old is 13th on Tour this year in driving accuracy, and just below Tour average in distance. Add that to his Tour-leading 1.305 mark in Strokes Gained: Approaching the Green and you’ve got a player perfectly suited to hit the shots Pete Dye laid out at Sawgrass. And for what it’s worth, according to DataGolf, one of the courses that most similarly aligns to TPC Sawgrass is Muirfield Village, where Morikawa won the Workday Charity Open in June.
You won’t have to look back far to see why Webb Simpson’s game is great at Sawgrass. Back in 2018, his ball-striking was incredible — some of the best of his career — and his putter got really, really hot at the Players. He began with a smooth 66 and then ran away and hid after a second-round 63. No one else really got close, as Simpson won by four with a double bogey on the 72nd hole. Why do the models favor him? Well, he’s as consistent as anyone. Simpson hasn’t missed a cut since July and rarely gets himself into much trouble. He’s been plodding along, bagging top 10 finishes every few events. Don’t be surprised if he does it again this week.
I like to call Niemann The Little Ball-striker Who Could. The Chilean prodigy gets more accurate pop out of his body than just about anyone in his age bracket, Morikawa included. This year, Niemann started hot in Hawaii, finishing 2nd and T2 during that opening stretch to the calendar year. He may have cooled since then, but he’s still one of the best players in the world tee-to-green, and that could really show out again at Sawgrass.
The young Aussie’s game has been trending up since the fall, and it seems to travel well everywhere. He may not have great course history at Sawgrass (zero rounds in the 60s in 10 tries), he’s never played better than right now. His True Strokes Gained, via DataGolf, shows a positive rating in every facet of the game, with the least dependency on SG: Off the Tee. His putter has bolstered him throughout much of the last four months, and as we saw with Webb Simpson in 2018, a hot putter who is already very accurate is the kind of player who can make TPC Sawgrass look easy.