Pat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg preview the course and run through the odds while making their 2021 THE PLAYERS Championship Picks. The guys give their fantasy golf picks, provide their one and done strategy for the event from TPC Sawgrass. Plus, Tim Anderson makes a cameo to give his 2021 PLAYERS Championship picks.
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2021 THE PLAYERS Championship: Field
Field: 154 Players
Cut: Top 65 and Ties after 36 Holes
First Tee: Thursday, March. 11
Defending Champion: Rory McIlroy
The globe has had a full rotation and we’ve now returned to the nexus of the golf shutdown. The night before the 2020 PLAYERS Championship (and yes, it is illegal to write PLAYERS without using ALL CAPS — this is the law) Rudy Gobert and Tom Hanks became the faces of COVID-19 in North America. The tournament proceeded as scheduled the next morning, but by the time everyone went to sleep that night, the remainder of the event had been canceled. Then the next few events were wiped out. We held out hope The Masters would still go down in April, but that soon, too, was shelved. Then golf, like all major sports wandered into the darkness for a few months.
The PGA TOUR returned to the links June 11 at Colonial and started a traveling bubble of talent-loaded fields which has strangely propelled golf to its best position in the post-Tiger Woods era; especially in terms of people actually going to courses and playing, since it was one of the only available activities in a lot of places during the summer months.
Excitement quelled once other sports resumed their seasons, then the NFL began and pushed everything else to the side. However, golf being isolated as one of the only sports on television for an extended period did a few things. It attracted a lot of new viewers who were searching for anything new to watch while they were stuck at home — it certainly helped that the first few events had conclusions so exciting it felt more scripted than WWE — and showcased how much entertainment is derived from wagering on golf with the legalized sports betting market in the United States burgeoning. Additionally, daily fantasy golf participation hit its apex. DraftKings was running Millionaire contests every week for tournaments, a large percentage of which users had simply never heard of before, and they didn’t have an issue filling.
From there, the PGA TOUR (also legally ALL CAPS) finally began putting all the pieces together and leaned into gambling as a part of its product. Odds have started to be integrated into some web broadcasts, sports gambling providers are getting advertising time on the main feeds and there are even alternate streams dedicated entirely to golf betting. Now, those all-gambling broadcasts are unwatchable, but like Hansel once said about Sting, “I don’t listen to any of his music, but I really respect that he’s making it.” The all-gambling broadcast currently tries to satisfy the non-gambler as a way to bring new people into the market without realizing the only people who even know it exists are those with money already down. I’m sure they’ll eventually figure that out. OK, I hope they figure it out.
Since most American bettors are most familiar with NFL wagering, the sell needs to be how much more fun it is to bet on golf. In football, you bet $100 on a side in the hopes of winning $90 back three hours later. With golf, someone can take that same $100, wager on a bunch of golfers, at varying degrees of far loftier odds, and instead of having a three-hour sweat, it lasts four days. And there’s no need to consult a physician. Golf is the best bang for your buck in the sports betting market from an entertainment perspective, and it’s not especially close.
The TOUR finally has some players who move the needle, too. Bryson DeChambeau, sporting a DraftKings logo on his jaunty chapeau, is the first golfer to elicit a spectrum of emotions in some time. It’s easy to say when he’s coming off another victory — this time at Bay Hill — but good or bad, even casual golf viewers are drawn to the screen to root for or against him. The Jordan Spieth resurgence has been tremendous, as well. Spieth being in the mix over the past month has boosted final-round ratings for almost every event. And the tease of him continuing to come close keeps sucking people back in. We may never get a great moment from Woods or Phil Mickelson ever again (I hope we do), and Dustin Johnson’s robotic domination isn’t overly appealing unless you truly love watching golf.
That brings us to the 2021 PLAYERS Championship. Calling yourself “the fifth major” does THE PLAYERS Championship a major disservice. Since we know the golf calendar only sports four majors, saying you’re the fifth doesn’t have the desired effect of elevating its status — it merely makes it seem lesser than. By this standard, I can’t wait for the year’s 21st major, the John Deere Classic, to return in 2021.
There is one key factor this week that can truly elevate THE PLAYERS’ status: The technology at the course. When THE PLAYERS was wiped out a year ago, we never got to experience the setup of being able to watch every shot of every player in real-time — something the golf betting and DraftKings community has been calling for years. If they can pull this off without any hiccups, the path to truly integrate betting into the sport will finally have a viable blueprint. And having almost every top player in the world on the course this week will only enhance it, as long as the technology is seamless.
Only a few top players will be sitting out this week. Brooks Koepka withdrew from the event Sunday afternoon with a knee injury, Matthew Wolff is still on the mend following his WD at the WGC-Workday Championship two weeks back. Obviously, after his devastating car crash, Tiger Woods won’t be in attendance. Zac Blair and Bud Cauley are also eligible to play but remain sidelined with injuries. No word yet on Justin Rose, who tweaked his back Saturday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational after depositing three consecutive tee shots into the water. He’s currently still listed in the field, but his status remains up in the air.
2021 THE PLAYERS Championship: Key Stats
Strokes Gained: Approach
Par 4s Gained
Strokes Gained: Around The Green
Mayo’s Key Stats powered by FantasyNational.com
2021 THE PLAYERS Championship: Course
Course: TPC Sawgrass
Greens: TifEagle bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis/velvet bentgrass
2021 THE PLAYERS Championship: Past Winners
2019: Rory McIlroy -16
2018: Webb Simpson -18
2017: Si Woo Kim -10
2016: Jason Day -15
2015: Rickie Fowler -12
2014: Martin Kaymer -13
2013: Tiger Woods -13
2021 THE PLAYERS Championship: Notes
With DraftKings offering a slew of massive prize pools this week, including a Millionaire Maker contest, it can’t hurt to reinforce some of the rules THE PLAYERS has taught us the past few years. The leaderboards are insane. With the 17 water hazards and 88 bunkers scattered across the course, there’s a high degree of variance year-over-year at TPC Sawgrass. That’s not even factoring in the wind picking up or the lack of distance required off the tee to compete, either. Since distance plays less of a factor at Sawgrass than most PGA TOUR courses, the entire field actually has an opportunity to compete. Yes, you see short smackers contend most weeks, but they tend to be the outlying skill-set amongst the leaders. Simply look at the staggering number of elite names who’ve been struggled the past two weeks in Florida. Then factor in that Sawgrass tends to be more random than Bay Hill, likely The Concession and PGA National too. In 2019, of the top-six DraftKings scorers, four were priced $7,100 and below: Jim Furyk ($7,100 in 2019), Jhonattan Vegas ($6,100 in 2019), Brandt Snedeker ($6,900 in 2019) and Eddie Pepperell ($6,800 in 2019). In 2018, each of the top-seven DraftKings scorers were priced at $7,300 and below. The point being, don’t fear discomfort in your DraftKings lineups this week.
Since picking a winner is more random than most weeks at The PLAYERS, lean on the one thing that is predictable for DraftKings lineups: Ownership Projections. See who the masses are gravitating toward and just pivot to a lower-owned option. It’s certainly not a way to guarantee success, but it’s a way to give yourself a path to victory in a large DraftKings tournament.
No player has ever defended his title at THE PLAYERS Championship.
Since the field has been expanded to 154 players from 144 for 2021, there are 31 first-time participants in the field: Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Max Homa, Scottie Scheffler, Joaquin Niemann, Will Zalatoris, Sam Burns, Lanto Griffin, Cameron Davis, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Sebastian Munoz, Mav McNealy, Victor Perez, Robert MacIntyre, Matthew NeSmith, Tom Lewis, Dylan Frittelli, Adam Schenk, Nate Lashley, Doc Redman, Doug Ghim, Robby Shelton, Harry Higgs, Xinjun Zhang, Tyler McCumber, Cameron Percy, Scott Harrington, Bo Hoag, Sepp Straka, KH Lee and Henrik Norlander.
Adam Scott has more rounds in the 60s at TPC Sawgrass than any other player in the field (23). The all-time event record is held by Davis Love III and Nick Price.
Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and Webb Simpson have the most Strokes Gained: Total in this event over the past five years. In a minimum of three starts over that five-year period, only Scott, Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Rory Sabbatini, Cameron Tringale, Jon Rahm, Graeme McDowell and Branden Grace have made the cut in every start. Bryson DeChambeau, Keith Mitchell, CT Pan and Andrew Landry have all made the cut in each of their two starts.
The tiny greens at TPC Sawgrass are a regular occurrence at Pete Dye-designed courses. It’s why Strokes Gained: Around The Green (0.43/round) has been just as important as Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (0.43/round) for the Top 10 finishers over the past six years. For reference, Strokes Gained: Approach has been over 2.5 times more important to the top-10 finishers.
- All Pete Dye Courses on the PGA TOUR
- TPC Sawgrass (THE PLAYERS Championship)
- Harbour Town Links (RBC Heritage)
- TPC River Highlands (Travelers Championship)
- TPC Louisiana (Zurich Classic)
- Austin Country Club (2016/2017/2018/2019 Match Play)
- TPC Stadium Course at La Quinta (American Express)
- Crooked Stick (2012/2016 BMW Championship)
- Whistling Straits (2015, 2010, 2005 PGA Championship)
- Kiawah Island (2012/2021 PGA Championship)
The best players on Dye courses over the past four seasons, per round, have been Tommy Fleetwood, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay, Jason Day, Webb Simpson, Cameron Davis and Abraham Ancer.
Beyond Dye courses, success at the Wyndham Championship has proven to have correlation. Henrik Stenson, Simpson, Garcia, Love III and Kim have all won at Sedgefield CC in the past decade, and those five have also claimed THE PLAYERS at one point in their careers.
As with most courses, Strokes Gained: Approach will likely be the deciding factor for the week. Generate that many birdie opportunities, and eventually you’ll start making some of them. Plus, a great approach game generally means you’re spending less time chipping or taking a rinse at Sawgrass.
Strokes Gained: Approach by THE PLAYERS Championship winner
2019: Rory +6.5 (6th)
2018: Simpson -0.7 (92nd)
2017 Si WOOOOO +4.1 (16th)
2016: Day +5.6 (9th)
2015: Fowler +6.3 (3rd)
2014: Kaymer +6.0 (4th)
2013: Woods +8.0 (2nd)
2012: Kuchar +4.8 (5th)
So far in the 2021 season, over the past 36 rounds, per Fantasy National, Collin Morikawa leads the field in SG: Approach, followed by Russell Henley, Keegan Bradley, Matthew NeSmith, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Will Zalatoris, Tony Finau, Lanto Griffin and Chez Reavie.
2021 THE PLAYERS Championship Picks
Patrick Cantlay ($9,200)
The victories at ZOZO, Memorial and Shriners are great, but Cantlay is still looking for that next-level win. TPC Sawgrass has been that place for a lot of rising stars over the past 15 years — Scott, Stenson, Garcia and Rickie Fowler — Cantlay would definitely fit that mold of being next. He enters with the most total strokes gained of any player in the field over the past 24 rounds and has yet to finish outside the top 15 in any of his four starts this year. But, what’s really changed for Cantlay since the last time he took on Sawgrass is his short game? Once a guaranteed bogey if he missed the green, he put in the work and enters the week fifth in the field in SG: Around-The-Green over the past 24 rounds — something that has been sustained over the past 18 months.
Abraham Ancer ($7,500)
Ancer hasn’t been a beacon of consistency in 2021, but Sawgrass is set up well for him — at least on paper. After a T12 in his debut in 2019, Ancer has continued his upper-level ball striking, ranking top 10 in the field in fairways gained and beating the field in approach in each of his past seven starts. Additionally, the past five times he’s teed it up on Dye courses, Ancer has four top-10 finishes and no result worse than T11. Plus, with the exposure Corey Conners received over the weekend at Bay Hill, expect far more clicks next to Conners’ name than Ancer’s.
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Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was a finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting), genre (Humor), and game formats (Daily Fantasy and Traditions Season Long). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at ThePatMayoExperience@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is ThePME) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.
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