2023 Players Championship PGA DFS Preview: Can Patrick Cantlay Win the Big One?

The Players Championship represents the first big event on the calendar for the PGA Tour. Much like elevated events, the Players will see nearly all of the top players in the world compete. However, the field this week will be both elevated and expanded. 144 players will be teeing it this week with 43 of the world’s top 50 players in attendance. Last year’s champion Cam Smith has defected to LIV Golf and won’t be playing but there will be eight former Player’s champions in the field, including Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas — who have won two of the past three seasons. Tiger Woods (personal) has decided not to play this week and instead will be aiming at Augusta as his next PGA start.

This event will again take place in the great state of Florida and at a venue in TPC Sawgrass where wind and water reign supreme. The players will be tested with numerous tough approaches and of course the signature island green on the 17th hole coming in. For PGA DFS purposes, it is important to remember that the cut rates for top players at Sawgrass tend to be extremely volatile, and getting 6 of 6 through the cutline will be more difficult than usual. It is a good week to take a look at the Stokastic ownership projections this week prior to building lineups.

Do not forget to check out the Stokastic PGA DFS projections, which has both scoring data and PGA DFS ownership projections. Stokastic PGA DFS projections come out on Monday and will be updated throughout the week.

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PGA DFS Picks: 2023 Players Championship Preview

The Players is a unique event in some respects as it brings together all of the elite golfers on Tour for a week, but is played at a highly volatile course which truly gives every single player on the starting list a chance. There have been some massive surprises win this event, since its inception with names like Craig Perks and more recently Si Woo Kim pulling off huge long-shot wins. Two of the last three seasons have also seen the likes of Anirban Lahiri and Jim Furyk finish as solo runner-ups so, again, the variance this week is massive.

TPC Sawgrass is not overly long at just over 7,200 yards for a par 72. The golfers will be able to club down on several holes and length off the tee is helpful, but not a prerequisite to winning. The winner and runner-up at this event last season did not finish anywhere near the lead in driving distance. What will be important this week is accuracy, mainly on approach and especially from longer distances. TPC Sawgrass has plenty of forced doglegs built in and longer par 4s which means there will be plenty of approaches from 175 yards and out to navigate.

With the smaller greens, a solid short game will be needed as well but more important is a hot putter which can drain those 5-10 foot par saves.

TPC Sawgrass Betting Trends

Experience matters at Sawgrass as well. The last 15 winners of the Players had already achieved a finish of 23rd or better at TPC Sawgrass in a previous year.

As for recent form, 10 of the last 12 winners of the Players had already finished fourth or better at some point in the preceding five months.

The last six winners of the Players had all finished 33rd or better in their previous start (aka, the one directly prior to their Players win).

Below are some of the top players in the field to watch this week given their recent form and course history:

  1. Scottie Scheffler: Scheffler was in contention down the stretch at the Arnold Palmer, and within a shot on the final hole, before finishing in a tie for fourth. He has finished 12th or better in his last four starts, a run that includes a win at TPC Scottsdale.
  2. Jason Day: Day produced yet another solid result, finishing 10th at Bay Hill last week. He is second in strokes gained total stats over the last six events and has gained over 2.5 strokes putting in four straight starts.
  3. Patrick Cantlay: Cantlay is starting to heat up. He has finished top 5 in each of his last two starts and gained over 8.8 strokes ball striking alone at Bay Hill.
  4. Tyrrell Hatton: Hatton had a great run at Bay Hill, and was even in the lead briefly on the back nine. He gained over 3.8 strokes on approach last week and has finished top 10 in two of his last three starts.
  5. Keith Mitchell: Mitchell continued to impress last week. He finished 24th and led the field in strokes gained off the tee stats. He has scored two top-5 finishes in 2023 already.

Field Notes: The field will be very similar to last week’s, with a few additions. Both winners from last week Kurt Kitayama (Arnold Palmer) and Nico Echavarria (Puerto Rico) will be in the field thanks to their respective wins… Some notable players who missed the cut last year at TPC Sawgrass include Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, Cameron Young, Sahith Theegala and Tony Finau… Some notable players who missed the cut last week at Bay Hill include Hideki Matsuyama and Billy Horschel.


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2023 Players Championship Past Winners and Winners Stats

2022: Cameron Smith

  • Lead-in: T33/T4/MC, (Smith skipped the Honda and Arnold Palmer Invitational – the Players was his first start in FL for the season)
  • Stats for week of win: SG:OTT -5.2/SG:APP 6.7/SG:ATG 1.4/SG:PUTT 11.5/SG:TTG 2.9
  • Smith had wild splits for the week of his win, gaining over 11 strokes on the greens while losing over 5-strokes off the tee
  • He was able to consistently save par with great recovery shots (short irons) and putts
  • Overall, his approach game numbers are in line with past winners, but generally players with that kind of negative off-tee splits do not win events

2021: Justin Thomas

  • Lead in: 15/MC/13 (was off the week prior, and was making his first start in FL for the season)
  • Stats for week of win: SG:OTT 3.5/SG:APP 6.5/SG:ATG 2.9/SG:PUTT 1.6/SG:TTG 12.9
  • He gained over 10 strokes ball striking for the week and, like Smith, was massively positive on approach.
  • Thomas had played decent golf coming in and like Smith had already posted a top-5 finish on the season — at the first event of the year in the Hawaii Tournament of Champions event — where he was third.

2019 (No Event in 2020): Rory McIlroy

  • Lead-in: 6/2/4, (McIlroy has played in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill the week prior and finished inside the top 10)
  • Stats for week of win: SG:OTT 5.3/SG:APP 6.5/SG:ATG 1.5/SG:PUTT 0.7/SG:TTG 13.3
  • Played the best tee-to-green golf for the week and hung on at the end.
  • Didn’t sink a ton of putts but was positive around the green. Like the past three winners, he was massively positive on approaches.

Want to see who is trending as a strong play early? Check out Stokastic’s PGA DFS projections, which will be updated on Monday and throughout the week.

2023 Players Championship Course Preview

TPC Sawgrass: Par 72, 7,256 yards

Greens: TifEagle Bermuda overseeded with poa trivialis

Designer: Pete and Alice Dye 1980

Similar Courses: Harbour Town Golf Links, TPC Stadium, PGA National

TPC Sawgrass is the prototypical stadium course. It was built specifically to host this event and has several holes where the range of outcomes is severe. It sets up as a typical 72 at just over 7,200 yards, with four par 5s and four par 3s, but Sawgrass is anything but lowkey. The venue has lots of winding holes that trapeses through water traps, long fairway bunkers and small Bermuda greens. There are longer tough par 4s where par is the main goal, but also lots of risk-reward holes down the stretch where scoring can fluctuate in a hurry.

In a lot of ways, Sawgrass profiles very similar to the last two weeks at PGA National and Bay Hill, but with even less emphasis on off-the-tee play Small greens mean that good long iron play is essential, and, just like last week, the most common approaches the players will face are from over 200 yards. Winners at Sawgrass have run the gamut of style and type but top finishers typically gain most of their strokes on approach. Since the event moved to March, this trend has been even more severe with the last three winners all gaining over six strokes on approach against the field.

Because the venue is so technical, and the average driving distance for the week can often hover under 280 yards, this is an event where anyone who gets hot with their irons and putter can compete. It’s a good week to get creative with lineup building in DFS and to card a couple of long shots in the betting markets.

Key Stats: Strokes Gained on Approach / Approach Proximity Greater Than 200 yards / Approach Proximity 125-150 yards

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2023 Players Championship Recent Form Watch

Top Approach Proximity greater than 200 yards (Last 50 Rounds)

  • Xander Schauffele
  • Sungjae Im
  • Gary Woodland
  • Collin Morikawa
  • Justin Suh

Strokes Gained Approach (Last 50 Rounds)

  • Xander Schauffele
  • Tony Finau
  • Tom Hoge
  • Collin Morikawa
  • Rory McIlroy

Top Strokes Gained Around the Greens (Last 50 Rounds)

  • Justin Thomas
  • Danny Willett
  • Tommy Fleetwood
  • Robby Shelton
  • Max Homa

Top Strokes Gained Tee to Green – Pete Dye Venues (Last 50 Rounds)

  • Webb Simpson
  • Patrick Cantlay
  • Brian Harman
  • Adam Scott
  • Keegan Bradley
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2023 Players Championship Weather Forecast

Thursday a.m.: 62-65 F, winds 6-8 mph/0% chance of precipitation

Thursday p.m.: 70 F, winds 9-10 mph/0% chance of precipitation

Friday a.m.: 68-70 F, winds 5-10 mph/0% chance of precipitation

Friday p.m.: 75-78 F, winds 10-12 mph/0% chance of precipitation

As of now, there does not seem to be a ton to worry about with the weather. It is Florida, so there will certainly be some wind, but as of Monday morning, there are no days where the gusts are expected to get much over 15 mph. It will likely be on the cool side for March, with highs on the first day topping out around the 70-degree mark. That should mean fairly receptive greens, and it is likely there will be decent scoring conditions. This event moved to March in 2019, and since then the winning score has hovered between 13 to 16 under par. Expect similar scoring conditions this season. For DFS and betting, it will certainly be good to look at the conditions prior to the event teeing off on Wednesday; however, it doesn’t appear that huge wave splits will be in the cards for 2023.

2023 Players Championship DFS Picks and Early Betting Targets

Patrick Cantlay | BetMGM Outright

Cantlay comes in off two top-10 finishes in a row and looks primed for a run at a big title. He has never really challenged at TPC Sawgrass but two top-25 finishes at this event from early in his career certainly speak to the fact that this course isn’t a terrible fit. He has done extremely well at Pete Dye tracks in other parts of the country, landing four top-5 finishes at Harbour Town over five career stops, and has blitzed TPC Stadium — home of the American Express and sister course to Sawgrass. Cantlay has been trending well in his approaches the last two weeks and ranks sixth in long-term proximity from greater than 200 yards. He has the kind of all-around game you crave at a technical course like Sawgrass and has been trending towards his ceiling in ball striking. At +2000 or better, it’s a good time to look to him in the outright market.

Adam Svensson | BetMGM Outright

What Svensson lacks in experience at this week’s event he makes for in pure statistical appeal. He is a premier iron player who has had some of his best success on the PGA Tour come at other more technical courses where great iron play can trump pure power. He ranks second in proximity from greater than 200 yards and has also flashed a much solid around the green game over the past six months — and comes in ranked 25th in that stat over the last 50 rounds. Svensson showed some serious form at the Genesis, where he grabbed a share of ninth and then backed that up with a solid effort at the Arnold Palmer, where he gained 3.6 strokes on approach and finished in 23rd. Svensson’s game has matured a lot over the past year and should be ready for Sawgrass. He is an ideal value to chase in DFS and a great target in matchup bets, as well as the top-40 and top-20 betting markets.

Geoff Ulrich
Author

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