The PLAYERS Championship ⏤ Expert's Picks & Analysis

Fantasy Golf

The Players Championship Hero

The championship season on the PGA TOUR begins this week with the contesting of the PLAYERS Championship at the famed Players Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass. This event—frequently described as the “fifth major”—boasts what many would describe as the toughest field in the game of golf. Unlike most of the actual major championships, the PLAYERS Championship field isn’t watered down by amateur contestants, open qualifiers or club professionals. The only participants are the best professional players on the PGA Tour.

Rory McIlroy will be defending his title this week—having won last year’s edition of the PLAYERS by a shot over local favorite Jim Furyk. The wily veteran shot a final round 67 and gave himself a chance to win with a clutch iron shot to three feet at the home hole. His 72-hole total of -15, however, proved to be one short as McIlroy closed with a pair of pars (and a final round 70) that was good enough to take the title. Jon Rahm, who lead the championship after 54 holes, shot a final round 76 that saw him plummet from the top spot all the way outside of the top ten. Tommy Fleetwood, who started the day one shot back alongside Rory, was the only other player who shot over par on Sunday among the top 20 finishers.

The only notable absence from the 2020 PLAYERS Championship will be Tiger Woods. A stiff back will keep the defending Masters Champion on the sidelines for at least another week—coming on the heels of his opting out of last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational as well. 

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Group A 

As always, Group A includes the marquee contenders in the PLAYERS Championship field. These six players are among the top seven in the world and their reputations alone should make any of them relatively strong picks. That having been said, Brooks Koepka in particular has given fantasy players a strong reason to sit him on the bench. He missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Honda Classic and followed that up with a T47 finish at Bay Hill that included a third-round 81. He’s admitted to struggling with his game the last few weeks and there are genuine concerns his knee is still an issue.

To our minds, the obvious choice in this group is Rory McIlroy. Not only is Rory the defending champion, but his season to-date has been awfully impressive. He is yet to finish outside the top five in his four starts this calendar year and his season is shaping up a lot like the one that lead up to his victory in this event last year. Last year, he didn’t finish outside the top six in his five starts leading up to the event but (like this year) was yet to bag a win prior to showing up at TPC Sawgrass. He’s first on the PGA TOUR in scoring average and the top-ranked player in the world—so he seems like a no-brainer choice to us in this group.  

Group B 

This grouping brings together the next six highest-ranked players in the world. The leader among them is sixth-ranked Patrick Cantlay and it would instinctively seem like this golf course would suit his precision game. He’s only played twice on the PGA TOUR so far this season and managed a pair of top-twenty finishes (T11 at Pebble Beach and T17 at Riviera) so there is reason to believe his game is in fine shape heading into this week. Tommy Fleetwood has shown some form early this year as well, but his 76-76 to miss the cut last week at Bay Hill is cause for concern. Webb Simpson (a past champion here) won earlier this year at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and finished 3rd at the Sony Open, but his last start (T61 in Mexico) is starting to make it appear that form is in the rear view mirror.

Our pick in this group came down to a choice between Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele. While Reed may have more upside (having won in Mexico), we’re going to go with Scauffele. He’s been a performer in the big events and has had a steady (if not unremarkable) run of finishes between 14th and 24th in his last four events. He may not have the ceiling that Reed has, but he certainly has a higher floor and we think he’s a safe choice among this group this week.

Group C 

This group of European Ryder Cup players is a tough one to pick from. No one of these six players is showing particularly exceptional form, but you can instantly eliminate two of them in our view. Francesco Molinari may not even play as he previously withdrew last week at Bay Hill with a bad back. Even if he does tee it up, we wouldn’t get anywhere near him. He missed three straight cuts leading into that withdrawal and has shown no signs of form since his collapse at the Masters last year. We’d also leave Stenson on the bench as he’s only played once this year on the PGA TOUR and missed the cut by a wide margin last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational after rounds of 77-72.

Among the remaining players, we’re going to go with Matthew Fitzpatrick as he is fresh off a solid performance last week at Bay Hill. He was the only player in the field who broke 70 on Sunday and jumped up the leaderboard to finish T9. He’s made most of his cuts and finished second at Abu Dhabi earlier in the year and we think he’s primed for a big finish on the PGA TOUR sooner rather than later.

Group D 

While there are some strong players in this group, the selection from Group D feels like an easy choice to us. While nearly every player in this group has at least one top-five finish this year, Bryson Dechambeau has been on an absolute heater of late. He finished T5 at Riviera then went south to Mexico and nearly won (finishing 2nd to Patrick Reed) before a fourth-place finish last week at Bay Hill. He’s made some changes in an effort to hit the ball longer and it looks like those changes are finally solidifying. We expect him to see him sniffing around the lead come Sunday.

Group E 

This is another tough group to pick from as it requires fantasy players to decide what to weight more heavily—the caliber of the player or the form he’s shown as of late. Clearly, Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Day are the two marquee names among these six International President’s Cup players. Both have spent plenty of time in the top ten in the world and there was a time when Jason Day was ranked first overall. That having been said, he’s been battling heath issues (what’s new?) and had to withdraw last week in the second round. Matsuyama has been a mixed bag of results—with the positive column including a T5 at Riviera and a T6 in Mexico but poor results in San Diego and last week at Bay Hill.

We’re going to sit out both of those giants and ride the hot hand with Sungjae Im. This potential emerging star burst onto the scene at the President’s Cup in Australia and his performance there led many to predict big things for him in 2020. Those predictions have panned out as Im won in tough conditions at the Honda Classic two weeks ago and then backed up his win the following week with a 3rd place finish at Bay Hill. His putter can be balky at times but if scoring isn’t too low we expect his ball striking to serve him in good stead this week.

Group F 

This an interesting group of American players all of whom have been spotty at best this year on the PGA TOUR. Phil Mickelson has perhaps the strangest year of them all—playing in six events and bagging two third-place finishes to go with four missed cuts. Two of those missed cuts are in his last two events (77-72 at Bay Hill and 72-74 at Riviera) and after picking him in a similar group last week we’re going to opt to fade Phil this week. While he may be the biggest name in the group, his form is just too inconsistent in a format that so harshly penalizes players who miss the cut.

We’re going to take a flyer instead on Jordan Spieth. This may be letting the wish be the father of the thought, but we think he’s just too talented a competitor for his struggles to continue and he’s shown some signs of progress with the top-ten he posted at Pebble Beach and the run of three straight cuts he’s made starting with that event. His only missed cut in his last nine events was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and while he may be a flyer as he hasn’t been great in the last two years, he does seem like a reliable cut maker.

Winning Projected Score: -15