Pat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg preview the course and run through the odds while making their 2023 The Players Championship Picks. Plus, at 13:50, Tim Andercust join to give his CURSED picks, discuss the new PGA Schedule, and talk us through him thinking he was banned from McDonalds.
2023 THE PLAYERS Championship: Field
Field: 144 Players
Cut: Top 65 and Ties after 36 Holes
First Tee: Thursday, March. 9
Defending Champion: Cam Smith
With a combination of LIV poaching a ton of top talent and the new elevated events which force most vast majority of top PGA TOUR players to participate, no amount of CAPS LOCK can make THE PLAYERS Championship feel all that important anymore.
Calling itself the “Fifth Major” was always ridiculous. As you see, there are only four Majors. I was always more prone to the 34th Major, the John Deere Classic, anyway. As much as that moniker was rightfully mocked over the years, there actually was something more important about THE PLAYERS on the PGA TOUR schedule. It occupied the space between the Majors and every other tournament. Sawgrass gathered the best field of the year, at an amusement park course, and especially since its move to March provided an amazing tune up for what we could expect from the actual Majors.
Problem is, we’ve already seen essentially this same field three times in the past month. At least there was always the gigantic purse at THE PLAYERS. Not to say $25M isn’t still massive. But when the same players are competing for $20M seven days previous, there almost needs to be $50M in the prize pool to truly make it more consequential. If every event is elevated, none are. At least there’s still a cut line.
It’s not all doom however. Since THE PLAYERS, at its core, is a made for TV event, the viewing experience (outside of The Masters app) is the best we’re going to get all year. All of the internet quibbling about never getting to see shots isn’t an issue this week. There are cameras set up at every hole and following every group; through the ESPN+ app, you can MacGyver your own version of Green Zone where you can follow your bets, DraftKings lineups or favorite players. It’s easy. Also, I do a LIVE CUT SWEAT show on Friday’s of the big events (Sub here if you want to hang with us while the field is finishing Friday).
I understand the cost and complicated logistics associated with providing this sort of broadcast, but if the PGA TOUR was able to magically find almost a billion dollars to give to the players as de facto appearance fees, then excuses about trying to do this type of full coverage at other events falls short. While the ESPN+ coverage isn’t anything special, it’s been better than its predecessor for early round and morning coverage. And all they had to do was turn on three extra cameras.
The new schedule for 2024 is exclusively designed to retain causal viewers with the hopes of converting the audience who only watches Majors or just The Masters. And with an expansion of smaller, no cut tournaments, it’s not the worst idea they’ve ever come up with. Everything on TV outside of the NFL are a perpetual motion machine of ratings decline. How much bigger is the audience realistically going to get? Will the ratings tide lift all boats or will it merely take away from all non-Majors since those are now the only essential tournaments on the calendar?
Now, I hope this strategy works and viewership grows. That’s great for the game, which in turn is great for me, but it seems like a but of a pipe dream. Based on how the media landscape is currently constructed, there may be more of a premium in retaining the most rabid of viewers and selling more to them.
While that portion of the audience is obviously quite small, the path to creating new revenue off the already engrossed is actually pretty simple. How do you think podcasters, social influencers, and YouTube creators become millionaires? Create an infrastructure that actually allows the hardcores to engage with the product more — seeing every shot, alternative broadcast feeds, condensed rounds on demand, and integrating gambling as a smart part of the product instead of making it sound like the world’s worse mid-roll live read — and you can charge them 10x what they pay now. Golf is never going to be football. It’s never going to baseball. And you’ve already seen MLB lean more into a niche role, catering regionally instead of nationally in order to maximize profits from a smaller viewership pool.
This may sound like a huge spike in cost for this audience, but trust me, the golf audience is the Lindsey Naegle of the North American sports viewing community — their purses are overflowing with disposable income. Striving for a larger audience is a fantastic plan, until you realize it’s not going to work. With the NFL there are enough viewers to shill Budweiser and WHOPPER, WHOPPER, WHOPPERs and make billions through volume. Golf is already feeding its audience luxury cars, private jet time shares, and pricy heart medication ads, why not tailor more content and programming to the younger version of this audience and find new revenue sources with the section of the audience that will eventually age into your sport’s key demos?
Look, I’m no fancy moneyologist. If I was, I’d suggest paying Tiger Woods $5M a week to play in every tournament (or at least show up). Realistically, if ratings are going to go up for a casual audience, Tiger is the only thing getting them there. Which is bad news for THE PLAYERS, as Tiger will not be at Sawgrass this week. But he’s the only meaningful eligible name missing of this field at the 2023 PLAYERS Championship. The remainder of the best PGA TOUR players will be at Sawgrass.
There are a few injury concerns festering, though. Hideki Matsuyama has been been dealing with a lingering neck injury yet is expected to play. Byeong-Hun An withdrew from Bay Hill on Friday with a wrist problem. No word on his status at the moment. Daniel Berger hasn’t been seen since last year’s US Open; don’t expect him to play. And, Maverick McNealy has pulled out of his last two starts (Pebble Beach & Waste Management) with a shoulder injury. It’s truly questionable right now. Losing Hideki would be meaningful, to an extent. The rest? Nah.
2023 THE PLAYERS Championship: Key Stats
Strokes Gained: Approach
Par 4s Gained
Mayo’s Key Stats powered by FantasyNational.com
2023 THE PLAYERS Championship: Course
Course: TPC Sawgrass
Greens: TifEagle bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis/velvet bentgrass
Par 3s (4): Average distance (180.5 yards) but 3 of 4 are shorter than that
- All four played over par last season, with both the shortest (137 yards) and longest (237) being among the six toughest holes
Par 4s (10): Average distance (432.8 yards) with three under 400 and three of at least 470
- Each of the last three Par 4s on the course ranked among the seven toughest on the course last season (Holes 14, 15 and 18)
Par 5s (4): Average distance (549 yards) with the two shortest ones being the two easiest holes on the course
- All four had a birdie or better rate north of 30%, with those two short ones clearing 40% (sub 9% bogey rate)
Holes 11-16 might need a name from the fantasy community. Over that stretch, three of the four easiest holes pop up and only one truly tough hole
- 2022: Cam Smith was -8 on those holes with a pair of birdie streaks (-5 on all other holes)
- 2021: Justin Thomas was -7 on those holes (-7 on all other holes)
- 2019: Rory McIlroy was -9 on those holes (-7 on all other holes)
- 2018: Webb Simpson was -12 on those holes with a pair of birdie streaks (-6 on all other holes
2023 THE PLAYERS Championship: Past Winners
2022: Cameron Smith -13
2021: Justin Thomas -14
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
2022: Cam Smith (-13, 1 clear of Anirban Lahiri)
- Saved his best for Sunday (66), but was under par in all four rounds
- Nine players gained over 3.5 strokes on approach and picked up at least something with the putter. Eight of them cashed a top-13 paycheck and this was something all three podium finishers accomplished.
2021: Justin Thomas (-14, 1 clear of Lee Westwood)
- The top 5 on the Round 1 leaderboard all finished top 10 for the week, but Thomas was the exception: -2 through two rounds, -12 over the final two rounds (64 on moving day)
- Thirteen of the top-16 finishers on final leaderboard gained strokes off the tee (two of the three that did not do that made up for it by being a top-5 approach player for the week
2019: Rory McIlroy (-16, 1 clear of Jim Furyk)
- Rory led after the cut with a Friday 65 and did just enough on Sunday (he shot 70, the three guys under him were all at least 3 shots better)
- Each of the top-7 finishers gained proximity in either the 175-200 yard or the 200+ yard bucket (McIlory won by gaining in both)
2018: Webb Simpson (-18, 4 clear of Xander Schauffele/Charl Schwartzel/Jimmy Walker)
- After sharing the first round lead with 5 others, Webb distanced himself with a Friday 63, the round of the tournament.
- Webb was the best putter in the field. 20 of the top-22 finishers gained with the flatstick
2017: Si Woo Kim (-10, 3 clear of Louie Oosthuizen/Ian Poulter)
- He was the only golfer to post 3 rounds in the 60s. He was 5 strokes better than Poulter and 9 better than Oosthuizen over the weekend
- 8 of the top-9 finishers gained strokes putting in that 15-20 foot range. That range saved Si Woo … he lost strokes in the 5-10’, 10-15’ and 25’ ranges
2016: Jason Day (-15, 4 clear of Kevin Chappell)
- Day was 2 strokes better than anyone on Thursday, and it’s a good thing … Chappell was 4 strokes better than Day over the final 3 days, but it didn’t matter
- 6 of the top-8 putters for the week cashed top-10 paychecks
Players Championship Winner Lead In Form
2022: Cam Smith was top-15 in 4 of 6 events prior to the win
2021: Justin Thomas was top-15 in 8 of 9 events prior to the win
2019: Rory McIlroy was top-6 in 5 straight events prior to the win
2018: Webb Simpson was top-21 in 4 straight events prior to the win (he already had 3 top-5 finishes on his resume for the season)
2017: Si Woo Kim after WD’s and missed cuts cluttering his early season results, did post a T-22 finish in the lead in event
2016: Jason Day was top-10 in 3 of 4 events prior to the win
2023 THE PLAYERS Championship: Notes
There are millions of dollars for grabs this week on DraftKings. Far and away the most we’ve seen this year, and the most we’re going to see until The Masters. Since you’ll be partaking in the mayhem, it’s always smart to reinforce some of the rules THE PLAYERS has taught us since moving to March from May in 2019.
It’s apt this tournament is held just outside of Jacksonville, as these leaderboards scream FLORIDA MAN. They’re insane. With the 17 water hazards and 88 bunkers scattered across the course, there’s a higher degree of variance at TPC Sawgrass than almost anywhere. PGA National is really its only rival.
That’s not even factoring in the wind gusts or the lack of defined skill sets required to contend. A lot of courses are so long that a lack of distance off the tee ups the difficulty level for shorter smackers. Not TPC Sawgrass. Yes, distance is always an advantage on the Par 5s and the longer Par 4s … if you’re not in the water. Even then, we witnessed the game’s most prolific bomber, Bryson DeChambeau, nickel and dime his way off the tee in 2021, taking a course management method with irons off the tee to ensure he found the short grass. Since distance plays less of a factor at Sawgrass than most PGA TOUR courses, the entire field actually has an opportunity to contend.
2022: Four of the top-11 in DK pricing missed the cut, but on the bright side, three of those top 11 reached at least 94 DK points (including 121 from tournament winner, $9,400 Cam Smith)
2021: Paying up worked … or it completely killed you. JT and Bryson were top-6 on the pricing board and top-3 in DK points. Great. But … 6 of the other 9 golfers priced over $9,000 failed to play the weekend.
2019: McIlroy won as the 3rd most expensive golfer in a true stars and scrubs tournament: 3 of the top-8 DK scorers cost 5 figures while four of them cost no more than $7,100.
2018: All 7 golfers that scored north of 100 DK points were priced $7,3000 or cheaper (just 2 of the top-6 in pricing finished better than 20th in DK points)
2017: Each of the top-5 in DK scoring were priced $7,500 or cheaper (four of them were sub-$7,000)
The point is, 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 find a soft spot or two in the projections around those players and throw them in your lineups. It certainly won’t guarantee success, but it’s a way to give yourself a more direct path to victory in a large DraftKings tournament.
Here are the scoring leaders and their ownership in 2022 in the $25 DraftKings Millionaire Maker:
- $9,400 Cameron Smith 9.6%
- $6,100 Anirban Lahiri 0.05%
- $7,100 Kevin Kisner 1.5%
- $7,400 Paul Casey 6.9%
- $10,100 Viktor Hovland 13.7%
- $6,900 Keegan Bradley 7.2%
- $7,400 Russell Henley 13.3%
- $9,800 Dustin Johnson 5.9%
- $6,900 Patton Kizzire 0.88%
Here are the results of the highest owned players…
- $7,700 Matt Fitzpatrick 25.2% (Missed Cut)
- $8,800 Daniel Berger 24.1% (T13)
- $10,700 Collin Morikawa 24.1% (Missed Cut)
- $10,400 Justin Thomas 22.7% (T33)
- $9,200 Scottie Scheffler 20.6% (T55)
- $9,000 Patrick Cantlay 17.0% (Missed Cut)
- $11,100 Jon Rahm 16.8% (T55)
- $7,200 Talor Gooch 16.8% (Missed Cut)
- $8,100 Billy Horschel 16.1% (Missed Cut)
An aberration because of the winds, rains and lengthy delays? Not really. Here were the scoring leaders and their ownership in 2021 in the $20 DraftKings Millionaire Maker:
- $9,900 Justin Thomas 17.0%
- $7,200 Lee Westwood 3.3%
- $9,700 Bryson DeChambeau 13.3%
- $8,400 Paul Casey 10.4%
- $6,900 Brian Harman 4.5%
- $7,500 Sergio Garcia 6.8%
- $7,000 Talor Gooch 0.8%
- $7,400 Corey Conners 13.2%
- $6,800 Charley Hoffman 2.7%
- $8,200 Matthew Fitzpatrick 9.4%
Here are the results of the highest owned players…
- $9,100 Tony Finau 24.1% (Missed Cut)
- $9,500 Webb Simpson 22.2% (Missed Cut)
- $9,200 Patrick Cantlay 21.8% (Missed Cut)
- $7,700 Joaquin Niemann 19.8% (T29)
- $9,400 Collin Morikawa 19.5% (T41)
- $7,600 Will Zalatoris 19.3% (T21)
- $7,900 Tommy Fleetwood 17.6% (Missed Cut)
Obviously, going into the week, everyone, myself included, thought these were almost all excellent plays. If you knew who was definitely going to win and finish at the top of the leaderboard, you wouldn’t be reading this, and I wouldn’t be writing this. We’d own private islands with all our winnings.
Stacked fields like this, and major championships, require you to embrace game theory over your instincts as there’s such little difference between the players in each range. We can debate who is better between Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa (yes, it’s still Morkiawa, btw) all we want, but it’s probably smarter to admit they have about the same probability to actually win this week.
Take a gander at the $9,000 range from the 2021 PLAYERS Championship on DraftKings.
- $9,900 Justin Thomas 17.0%
- $9,700 Bryson DeChambeau 13.3%
- $9,500 Webb Simpson 22.2%
- $9,400 Collin Morikawa 19.5%
- $9,300 Viktor Hovland 16.6%
- $9,200 Patrick Cantlay 21.8%
- $9,100 Tony Finau 24.1%
- $9,000 Patrick Reed 6.4%
When you can identify the most popular plays, which we were pretty close to last year, it allows you to understand how others are building their rosters and what you need to do to be different when most of the options are so similar. It would be different at a weaker field tournament when the ranges of golfers are mixed and matched with long-term talent and the flavors du jour.
It’s simply not the case at these types of events. Something you’ll have to get used to with this new schedule. And, you can see, using this one isolated example, that it wasn’t necessary to blindly use Patrick Reed just because he was by far the lowest owned — although, it didn’t hurt to do that as he was the third-highest scoring player on this list. It was to notice Webb and Finau were standouts in terms of ownership, meaning they were very likely to be paired together in a lot of lineups (along with either Cantlay or Morikawa as a trio), which left far fewer teams building around Bryson and Thomas. It’s not like they were unowned. That’s usually the misconception about discussing ownership. You’re not looking for six players with zero ownership. What you want in giant field DraftKings tournaments is a unique path to the top where you have to duke it out with far fewer people.
If you had some combination Webb/Morikawa/Cantlay/Finau, along with the majority of other entries, even if those guys did well, you’re still battling with half of the other 119,000 lineups, and you need to have the perfect other four players on your roster. With a more unique build, you severely reduce your path to the top if you’re correct, and it will give you more leeway with your other four players since you’re competing with fewer lineups for the top prize. In smaller DraftKings tournaments, the fewer the amount of entries, the most mistakes you can make with your picks and still win money.
The tiny greens at TPC Sawgrass are a regular occurrence at Pete Dye-designed courses. It’s why Strokes Gained: Around The Green (0.35/round) has been just as important as Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (0.39/round) for the Top 10 finishers over the past six years. For reference, Strokes Gained: Approach has been almost three 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 since the beginning of the 2021 season, per round, have been…
Chun An Yu (Kevin Wu), Taylor Montgomery and Ben Griffin are products of a very small sample size.
Beyond Dye courses, success at the Wyndham Championship has proven to have a correlation. Henrik Stenson, Webb Simpson, Sergio Garcia, Davis Love III and Si WOO 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. Events like the Wyndham, Sony Open and Heritage (short, Bermuda grass course) are prime spots to identify sleepers from the bottom of the list as they generally do not see an influx for the top-tier talent. If you’re searching for higher-end events, TPC Southwind is similar, thanks to the amount of water lurking around the grounds. Justin Thomas won that event in 2020, while Will Zalatoris claimed victory a year ago.
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 the Nestea Plunge at Sawgrass.
Strokes Gained: Approach by THE PLAYERS Championship winner
- 2022: Smith +6.7 (5th)
- 2021: Thomas +6.5 (5th)
- 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 2023 season, over the past 24 rounds, per Fantasy National, Xander Schauffele leads the field in SG: Approach per round, followed by Tom Hoge, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Collin Morikawa, Gary Woodland, Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, and Tom Kim
If you have any familiarity with this tournament, you know not to invest too much money or finalize picks before getting the tee times and consulting the weather. I’ve been correct in predicting when the wind is going to hit recently. My implementation… NOT GREAT, BOB!!!
There was nothing like nailing THE PLAYERS weather a year ago, only to see them delay action and force all the guys I rostered into the worst conditions of the year. Fun stuff watching your picks yuck it up on the 17th tee box hitting ball after ball into the water.
There’s never going to be a definitive answer, and as we’ve seen, even when one wave appears to possess an advantage. Guys play poorly in good conditions and well in bad conditions all the time. You can decide what’s best for you, and I think that strategy is dependent on how many lineups you’re playing and the size of the contests. Generally, since I’ve seen the weather advantage flip so many times, lean harder into the wave which has the projected advantage, but don’t be afraid to commit a lesser percentage of your lineups to the opposite stack, either. If you’re wrong, which is probably the thing easiest to predict, then you’ll still have outs with a far more narrow path to the top since it’s the unpopular side.
DraftKings Showdown Trends
Streaking: Going back-to-front is a tough sell, with the 462-yard 18th hole being the toughest on the course (forget building a birdie streak, you just want to stay even … 33% bogey or worse rate). Hole 8 is tough, but if you take a look at the wrap-around of 9-10-11, we are talking about 2 of the 5 easiest holes on the course and a tougher Hole 10 that still gave up birdies at a 15.1% rate.
2023 THE PLAYERS Championship Picks
Tom Kim $8,100
The limiting factor with Kim’s game is driving distance. He’s not Brendon Todd short off the tee, but he’s well off the pace of the Rory’s and Rahm’s of the world. At places like Riviera and Torrey Pines, he’s at an inherent disadvantage, with so many of his approaches coming with longer irons. He has to be far more precise than his bomber brethren, which can be difficult to keep up over four rounds. That’s not the case at Sawgrass. It’s far more important to hit fairways this week; Kim sits 15th in the field in fairways gained in the 2023 season. He’s great with his wedges and can scramble, so it’s likely to hinge all on his putter. His putting stroke seems like a legit coin flip each week. He’s lost as much at 6.7 strokes, putting over two rounds at one point. He also gained 12.5 over four en route to a victory in the same stretch. There really seems to be no in-between.
Fortunately, that win and great putting week was at the Wyndham Championship. The course with the most crossover winners with THE PLAYERS. And if it’s narratives you want, the story writes itself. Sawgrass has been the spot for young star breakthrough wins over the years: Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Si WOOOO Kim. Why not Tom Kim next?
Shane Lowry $8,200
Sawgrass has been especially forgiving to bad putters. Great news Lowry, who has gained strokes on the greens just once in his last nine measured starts, dating back to last year’s Canadian Open. That was last June. The tee-to-green numbers have been fantastic, however. Over his last five starts, which includes a complete disaster where he lost 5 strokes T2G in Phoenix, the Irishman’s still averaging 5.0 T2G. Finishing in the Top 10 at the Rev and leading all players at the Honda will help out these numbers. His broken putting stroke is nothing new, it’s just been worse recently, yet at Sawgrass, he’s been proficient in his career. He’s gained on the greens in three of his past four starts and gained across all four main SG metrics two straight years resulting in T8/T13 finishes. Doesn’t hurt Lowry’s been the best player on Pete Dye courses over the last 24 rounds, either.
Put your knowledge to the test. Sign up for DraftKings and experience the game inside the game.
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 2023 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Podcast of the Year and was a finalist for three FSWA Awards in 2023 (Best Podcast, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 27 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are second-most all-time.
Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting), genre (Humor), and game formats (Sports Betting, Daily Fantasy, and Traditional Season Long Fantasy).
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 do not constitute a representation that any particular strategy will guarantee success. All customers should use their own skill and judgment in building lineups. 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.