2021 Players Championship Eliminator

‘Who is going to win The Players Championship, Will?’ is probably uttered more from folks this week than ‘hey, how’s it going?’ and it comes with the territory, but man is it a hard question to answer. Why? Because it’s the one major elite golf tournament, in my opinion, where the entire field – or at least the largest percentage – has a chance to win.

TPC Sawgrass is not a bombers course, but being long always helps. It rewards great iron shots, but not in a way that eliminates guys susceptible to shaky ballstriking. Tiger doesn’t own the place, and Fred Funk + Tim Clark have as many Players as the GOAT. But, you want an answer to that question, so let’s break it down by looking at the last 10 years of winners, and how they were playing leading into Sawgrass (previous month worth of play + SG: Total)…

2019 – Rory [T4, 2, T6 – +3.07]
2018 – Webb [T5, T21 – +1.88]
2017 – Si-Woo Kim [T22 – +1.33]
2016 – Day [T23, T5 – +2.37]
2015 – Fowler [T12, MC – +1.13]
2014 – Kaymer [T31, T23, T18 – +1.34]
2013 – Tiger [T4 – +3.05] – Also won previous two starts
2012 – Kuchar [T44, T13 – +1.34]
2011 – Choi [T3 – +3.73]

Over the last decade the recency SG: Total (**This is true strokes gained by @DataGolf) average of those winners is +2.03, with nobody lower than +1.03.

That latter number eliminates big names like Fleetwood, DJ and Sergio (a course history stud). If we take the top number and only focus on the guys north of +2 (That means two shots better than field average per round) over the last month, here is our list to start with…

Oosthuizen, Simpson, Finau, Cam Smith, Scheffler, Morikawa, Homa, Casey, Spieth, Berger, Fitzpatrick, Cantlay, Hovland, DeChambeau, Conners, Horschel, Kokrak, Kirk

So that is a list of 18 guys to work with, and if we go back to that decades-worth of information on past winners, we see that Rickie Fowler was the only one to miss a cut in that month leading in. 16/17 cuts made. Does that mean you can’t win if you have a MC? Of course not, but we have to start somewhere (this also eliminates my sleeper pick of Billy Ho)…

Oosthuizen, Simpson, Finau, Cam Smith, Scheffler, Morikawa, Homa, Casey, Spieth, Berger, Fitzpatrick, Cantlay, Hovland, DeChambeau, Conners, Horschel, Kokrak, Kirk

We know that experience matters here, and to steal the research from Ben Coley this past weekend:

Good case that experience is even more important at Sawgrass than it is at Augusta.

Start on which champion won (recent first):

10th
9th
2nd
6th
6th
6th
15th (Woods, had won 5th too)
8th
10th
8th
4th
9th
14th
8th
15th

1/15 (Si Woo Kim) had three or fewer previous starts.— Ben Coley (@BenColeyGolf) March 6, 2021

So… Winners of The Players have at least 8-10 competitive rounds at TPC Sawgrass prior to that win

Oosthuizen, Simpson, Finau, Cam Smith, Scheffler, Morikawa, Homa, Casey, Spieth, Berger, Fitzpatrick, Cantlay, Hovland, DeChambeau, Conners, Horschel, Kokrak, Kirk

Down to 10, and this is where we have to really stretch ourselves subjectively to figure out where we are going to lean. Sadly, I already have my “pick” for the week on this list, so now I am operating from a place of total bias, admittedly.
I believe complete driving of the golf ball is a massive edge at Sawgrass – the ability to work tee shots and keep them in play, avoiding foul balls – and if you look at the YTD and recent SG: Off The Tee numbers of the 10 remaining, I can wipe a few out.

Oosthuizen, Simpson, Finau, Cam Smith, Scheffler, Morikawa, Homa, Casey, Spieth, Berger, Fitzpatrick, Cantlay, Hovland, DeChambeau, Conners, Horschel, Kokrak, Kirk

Sorry, Spieth Legion, but I don’t like the fit this week. I also took Casey off the list, as he’s a 0.0 OTT guy right now, and almost a half shot worse OTT than his career arc of the last couple of years.

What’s next? How about the dreaded injury bug?

Oosthuizen, Simpson, Finau, Cam Smith, Scheffler, Morikawa, Homa, Casey, Spieth, Berger, Fitzpatrick, Cantlay, Hovland, DeChambeau, Conners, Horschel, Kokrak, Kirk

Admit it, you were kinda wondering how Louis was on this list in the first place, plus his course history isn’t great, so… OH YEAH, course history!! Let’s remove everybody remaining on the list whose SG: Total at TPC Sawgrass is lower than their career average. (Again, thanks to my guys @DataGolf)

Oosthuizen, Simpson, Finau, Cam Smith, Scheffler, Morikawa, Homa, Casey, Spieth, Berger, Fitzpatrick, Cantlay, Hovland, DeChambeau, Conners, Horschel, Kokrak, Kirk

Down to 4, and before you question the removal of Webb, if it weren’t for his runaway win here, we’d be wondering why his record was so spotty.
Time to pick some nits, because we’ve taken a bloated field down to four guys we expect to win, but I promised to answer the question (it’s Cantlay, Patrick – Yes, I know I cheated a bit on minimum rounds to keep him alive. Shhh!!)

Chris Kirk’s name keeps popping up, and I know he won on the KFT last year, but to break through with a PGA Tour win here is, well, unlikely.

Oosthuizen, Simpson, Finau, Cam Smith, Scheffler, Morikawa, Homa, Casey, Spieth, Berger, Fitzpatrick, Cantlay, Hovland, DeChambeau, Conners, Horschel, Kokrak, Kirk

The weather looks perfect this week, so the course will be fast, but it should also allow for a low round on Sunday to win it. You need to be a closer. Not somebody who is 194th on the PGA Tour this season in final round scoring.

Oosthuizen, Simpson, Finau, Cam Smith, Scheffler, Morikawa, Homa, Casey, Spieth, Berger, Fitzpatrick, Cantlay, Hovland, DeChambeau, Conners, Horschel, Kokrak, Kirk

So it’s down to two guys who went down the stretch at Pebble, and we know who is going to win (Cantlay), so… Daniel Berger is 187th this season in SG: Around the Green. Boom!! Consider yourself cherry picked, DB!!

Oosthuizen, Simpson, Finau, Cam Smith, Scheffler, Morikawa, Homa, Casey, Spieth, Berger, Fitzpatrick, Cantlay, Hovland, DeChambeau, Conners, Horschel, Kokrak, Kirk

PATRICK CANTLAY WILL WIN THE 2021 PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP

(Please avoid the all-you-can-eat seafood buffet)

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