Welcome to Three Shots at the Green, where each week I’ll use my experience as a PGA Tour caddie and golf writer to identify the three best bets on the board.
Considered the PGA Tour’s crown jewel since TPC Sawgrass became the host in 1982, The Players doesn’t shine quite as bright this year because the best players have competed weekly for most of the last month and others have opted for LIV Golf.
The absence of defending champion Cam Smith is also conspicuous.
Regardless, golf fans are treated to yet another elite field on a demanding course, Pete Dye’s masterpiece, which delivers the game’s most exciting finishing stretch and routinely produces drama late on a Sunday afternoon.
Solving the par-72, 7,275-yard layout requires exquisite precision, strategy and patience. Players can’t overwhelm this course with power, although bombers have thrived here in the past. Dye’s design makes the best in the game uncomfortable, off the tee and into the greens. Ballstriking and a solid game plan are rewarded and the lightly overseeded Bermuda greens are pure.
As beautiful as it is treacherous. @TPCSawgrass 😍 pic.twitter.com/hvkksVSwQu
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 7, 2023
We looked for golfers who have thrived on similar positional courses – Harbour Town, Waialae and Sedgefield come to mind – who are accurate off the tee and among the best with their irons. Scrambling is important as is avoiding double bogeys with water lurking throughout the property. TPC-Sawgrass annually delivers some of the game’s most difficult par-4s as well.
It’s been a rough start to the season but we’ve made a tweak or two and feel certain profitable weeks lie ahead. Hang in there. Let’s take three shots at the green.
Corey Conners Top 20 +250
It’s been a quiet start to 2023 for the friendly Canadian but past performance reveals he usually heats up when March arrives and TPC Sawgrass is the ideal location for his precision-driven game. Conners is second in the field in SG: OTT on shorter courses and third in SG: Approach.
He gained at least three shots in both areas last week in a T-21 for at Bay Hill and arrives at a course where he’s finished 41st or better in all three starts, including a T-7 in 2021. Although the putter is the weakest club in Conners’ bag, he’s gained shots on the greens in this tournament two of the last three years.
Viktor Hovland Top 20 +130
The short game issues are real – he’s finished worse than the field average in SG: Around the Green in his last five starts – but we’re banking on impeccable ballstriking to keep Hovland hovering around the leaderboard through the weekend.
He tied for ninth in last year’s PLAYERS, despite losing three shots on the green and enters this week ranked in the top 20 over the last 36 rounds in three key categories – SG: Approach, SG Off-the-Tee and Par-4 scoring. He’s also third in Greens in Regulation on shorter courses and consistently finding the putting surface reduces stress around Dye’s diabolical design.
Patrick Cantlay Top 20 +105
Cantlay slotted top-3 in multiple models and also a simulation we use that predicts the field 1,000 times. He’s had a spotty career in Florida but put some of those concerns to rest with a closing 68 in difficult conditions at Bay Hill last week to land in the top-5.
He’s striking the ball as well as anybody in the world, gaining more than 22 shots Tee-to-Green in his last two starts, has the lowest scoring average on comparable course Harbour Town and the icy demeanor to handle the stress TPC-Sawgrass can create. There’s also value on Cantlay in the top-10 market if you’re interested in a higher return.
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