THE PLAYERS Championship 2024 Tips: JT to win again at Sawgrass

 | March 11 | 

21 mins read

jamie worsley pga tour

Golf expert Jamie Worsley is back with one of his long-form previews and each-way predictions for victory for the upcoming THE PLAYERS Championship. The tournament is fondly referred to as the fifth major and draws one of the best fields in the world. 

THE PLAYERS Championship Betting Tips

  • 2.5 pts Justin Thomas each-way (1/5 - 8 places) - 18/1 
  • 2 pts Max Homa each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 25/1
  • 1.25 pts Russell Henley each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 40/1 
  • 1 pt Sungjae Im each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 66/1
  • 1 pt Nick Taylor each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 100/1

For most players, gaining a victory around twelve months after their last wouldn’t feel like much of a big deal, but such has been the unmatchable standard of Scottie Scheffler’s tee-to-green game over that period, twelve months must have felt like a lifetime.

His struggles with the putter have been obsessively well-covered, and it is this what has stopped Scheffler turning a swathe of top 5s/10s in the last fifty-four weeks into victories.

Though that all changed last week at Bay Hill, as a putter replacement brought about considerable improvements - ranking 5th on the greens - and with another field-leading tee-to-green display, it was no surprise to see him emphatically regain the Arnold Palmer Invitational trophy by five strokes.

This confident-putting version of Scottie Scheffler is going to be a major problem for the rest moving forward this year if he maintains it and maybe no more so than at this week’s event; returning to the iconic TPC Sawgrass as the defending champion of the PGA Tour’s Flagship Event, THE PLAYERS Championship – celebrating its 50th edition this year.

TOURNAMENT HISTORY

THE PLAYERS Championship debuted on the PGA Tour in 1974 and barring 2020 – when it was cancelled due to covid – it has taken place every year since.

It is difficult to imagine this event being staged anywhere other than the celebrated TPC Sawgrass, however, over the course of the first seven years it moved across several venues before settling here in 1982.

This means that Jack Nicklaus, who is the most successful player in the history of THE PLAYERS Championship – winning three times including the inaugural 1974 edition, as well as further wins in 1976/78 – has never won at this host course with which the event is now synonymous.

In contrast, the elite list of two-time winners of the event all recorded wins at TPC Sawgrass. A list that includes Fred Couples (1984, 1996), Davis Love III (1992, 2003) and Tiger Woods (2001, 2013).

Often referred to as the “fifth major” due to the high-quality field it typically gathers, there is an appealing international feel to the event, with ten of the last seventeen renewals going the way of golfers from outside the US.

Last five winners:

  • 2023 – Winner: Scottie Scheffler (-17); runner-up: Tyrrell Hatton (-12)
  • 2022 – Winner: Cameron Smith (-13); runner-up: Anirban Lahiri (-12)
  • 2021 – Winner: Justin Thomas (-14); runner-up: Lee Westwood (-13)
  • 2019 – Winner: Rory McIlroy (-16); runner-up: Jim Furyk (-15)
  • 2018 – Winner: Webb Simpson (-18); runners-up: Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Jimmy Walker (-14)

Scottie Scheffler produced the most dominant PLAYERS Championship performance in recent memory as he ran out a five-stroke winner over Tyrrell Hatton in last year’s renewal. Back in winning form he will be a formidable opponent to beat this week as he looks to become the first player to successfully defend the title.

THE COURSE

The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass was designed by Pete and Alice Dye in 1980, as the PGA Tour sought to find a permanent home for this event. It has been tweaked with several times since, most recently in 2016, where they relayed the greens and rebuilt the 12th hole.

This par 72 will again play to 7275 yards; possessing 10x par 4s (369-481 yards), 4x par 5s (523-602 yards) and 4x par 3s (137-237 yards).

The course is all about fine margins. There are birdie chances littered throughout but most holes are well protected and can punish you severely if just a fraction out. It provides a fair but penalizing test, displaying an average winning score of -14.1 over the last ten renewals.

The Dyes took a flat, uninteresting piece of land and turned it into a pristine, strategic masterpiece; making it one of the most exciting and memorable venues on the schedule.

There is movement on most fairways, which start off narrow but become a little more generous as the players make their way around the course. Most are framed by tall pine/oak/palm trees, waste areas and manmade mounds.

Water – a feature on most holes but only heavily in-play on twelve – is a constant threat, as is the plethora of bunkers. In addition, the rough was grown out to 3.5 inches last year, rather than 2.5 in previous years, which resulted in a much lower percentage of greens-in-regulation when missing fairways; turning it into one of the most penal driving courses on tour.

Mastering small and speedy poa trivialis overseeded greens – which are bermudagrass at the base - and their surrounds has been a key factor, with them ranking as some of the toughest to scramble around and putt on. Many of these undulating surfaces are long and narrow in shape, to make those landing spots appear smaller, and with several multi-tiered, there are some slippery downhill putts.

False fronts and run-offs are plentiful - leading to some tightly-mown chipping areas - as are hazardous pot bunkers. Whilst more of that water and thick rough means that virtually every approach shot comes with the possibility of disaster attached to it.

TPC Sawgrass’ final three

Such is the attention the event receives, we are all familiar with most holes around TPC Sawgrass, and while several stand out, it’s those closing three that draw the most excitement.

All three of these holes feature water prominently, starting with the 523-yard par 5 16th. Though reachable for most in the field, you have to get your ball in position off the tee to do so, with trees blocking out the left-hand side of the right-to-left doglegging fairway. Water perilously hugs the right of the layup area in the fairway and the long, sloping green, which is protected by a bounty of bunkers and run-offs.

Make a birdie/eagle there and you can stride to the most famous hole on the property, the 137-yard par 3 17th and its island green encircled by water. The wide, sloping putting surface would be easy enough to hit in normal circumstances but you’re not afforded that comfort here.

Surrounded by unsympathetic fans on all sides, the hole has an amphitheatre-like atmosphere which has caused players to crumble to a watery end, especially if the wind blows and makes this exposed hole more unforgiving.

Finally, the 462-yard par 4 18th gives the players a nerve-jangling final hole to overcome. You must drive directly over water into a relatively narrow and right-to-left doglegging fairway. Taking the tighter line will leave you with an easier approach into the final green – also protected by water to the left – but you’re then bringing water further into the equation off-the-tee. However, a bail-out to the right leaves you in no better a position, with a chip-out sideways from the trees again bringing water into play.

Two solid shots may be all that is required for victory; if only things were that simple on a closing hole that is sure to give us drama over the course of the week.

THE WEATHER

The forecast is predicting dry and sunny conditions in the build up to this week’s PLAYERS Championship and continuing over the first three days of the event. Some thunderstorms are currently stated to appear on Sunday but it’s hard to read too much into that at this point.

Wind should be a feature but not an overly problematic one. With a regular breeze of around 10mph and gusts of 17mph on the cards.

KEY STATS

This is a course that will test every facet of the game but what you do into and on/around the small, tricky putting surfaces holds most importance.

That isn’t to say driver isn’t important, Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy have each driven the ball excellently in their victories over the last four years but they are golfers in that elite bracket; with the driver showing little importance statistically on each of those leaderboards outside of the winner.

  • SG: Approach
  • Greens-in-Regulation

That same thing can’t be said about those who excel in approach play, with leaderboards littered with quality iron players.

Scheffler was 4th in approach when winning last year and led the field in greens-in-regulation; his three closest challengers ranked top 5 in approach.

Cameron Smith drove the ball poorly in 2022 but made up for it with a high-class approach display, ranking 5th, with Paul Casey in 3rd ranking 4th.

Thomas was 5th in approach when winning in 2021; Rory was 3rd in GIR and 6th in approach in 2019; Webb Simpson ranked 6th in GIR when winning in 2018 and Rickie Fowler was the fifth-best approach player in his 2015 victory.

  • SG: Around-the-Greens
  • SG: Putting (poa trivialis)

With greens that are tough to putt on and extremely difficult to get up and down around, it’s no surprise to see a quality short game carry many in THE PLAYERS Championship.

Scottie Scheffler was superb around-the-greens last year, ranking 4th and whilst Cameron Smith was also strong in this area in 2022, he relied heavier on the putter, ranking 1st; Kevin Kisner in 4th ranked 1st ATG and 7th in putting behind Smith.

JT was sharp ATG in 2021, followed home by Lee Westwood, who ranked 3rd on the greens; Brian Harman in 3rd was the leading putter.

Webb Simpson was 1st in putting and 5th ATG when winning in 2018; Si Woo Kim was 4th ATG in 2017 and Jason Day ranked 9th in putting and 15th ATG on the way to his 2016 success.

  • Par 5 Scoring

Finally, the par 5s are the key to scoring at TPC Sawgrass. Excluding the 602-yard 9th, the other three are short, with two at around the 530 yard mark. Though they all come with danger and many big scores will be made, we’ll also see buckets of birdies/eagles.

CORRELATING EVENTS (COURSES)

RBC Heritage (Harbour Town Golf Links)

Harbour Town is always one of the first stops when searching for crossover form with the PLAYERS Championship. This strategic, tree-lined course is another characteristically Dye design with small poa trivialis overseeded greens; ranking closely to TPC Sawgrass in driving accuracy and greens-in-regulation percentages.

Notable correlating form:

Webb Simpson:

PLAYERS (1st) / Heritage (1st)

Matt Kuchar:

PLAYERS (1st) / Heritage (1st)

Si Woo Kim:

PLAYERS (1st) / Heritage (2nd)

Jim Furyk:

PLAYERS (2nd, 2nd) / Heritage (1st, 1st)

Stephen Ames:

PLAYERS (1st, 5th) / Heritage (6th, 7th)

Kevin Kisner:

PLAYERS (2nd, 4th) / Heritage (2nd)

Kevin Streelman:

PLAYERS (2nd) / Heritage (3rd, 6th, 7th)

Harold Varner III:

PLAYERS (6th, 7th) / Heritage (2nd, 3rd)

Colt Knost:

PLAYERS (3rd) / Heritage (3rd)

Ben Martin:

PLAYERS (4th) / Heritage (3rd)

Bo Van Pelt:

PLAYERS (4th) / Heritage (3rd)

Kevin Na:

PLAYERS (3rd, 6th, 7th) / Heritage (4th, 4th, 8th)

Brian Davis:

PLAYERS (5th) / Heritage (2nd)

Valspar Championship (Innisbrook Resort – Copperhead Course)

I’m going to stay in Florida with Innisbrook Resort’s tree-lined Copperhead Course. This Valspar Championship host has similarly speedy and small greens, and features the same grasses in-play as here at Sawgrass.

Well bunkered with a decent amount of water in-play, its comparable ball-striking test – particularly in approach - makes it a great comp for this week.

Notable correlating form:

KJ Choi:

PLAYERS (1st) / Valspar (1st, 2nd)

Webb Simpson:

PLAYERS (1st) / Valspar (2nd)

Jim Furyk:

PLAYERS (2nd, 2nd) / Valspar (1st)

Kevin Streelman:

PLAYERS (2nd) / Valspar (1st)

Charl Schwartzel:

PLAYERS (2nd) / Valspar (1st)

Martin Laird:

PLAYERS (2nd, 5th) / Valspar (5th)

Kevin Na:

PLAYERS (3rd, 6th, 7th) / Valspar (2nd)

Heath Slocum:

PLAYERS (4th) / Valspar (2nd)

Viktor Hovland:

PLAYERS (3rd) / Valspar (3rd)

Keegan Bradley:

PLAYERS (5th, 7th) / Valspar (2nd)

Travelers Championship (TPC River Highlands)

Back to Pete Dye designs and another course that is part of the TPC portfolio, TPC River Highlands. Though more generous off-the-tee, the course is penal if you start missing fairways with thick rough and strategic bunkering.

The bentgrass greens are small and speedy, whilst it also features risk/reward par 4s and 5s, and par 3s heavily protected by water, in much the same way as at Sawgrass.

Notable correlating form:

KJ Choi:

PLAYERS (1st) / Travelers (2nd)

Tim Clark:

PLAYERS (1st) / Travelers (4th)

Webb Simpson:

PLAYERS (1st) / Travelers (5th)

Kevin Streelman:

PLAYERS (2nd) / Travelers (1st, 2nd)

Paul Goydos:

PLAYERS (2nd, 3rd) / Travelers (2nd)

Ben Curtis:

PLAYERS (2nd) / Travelers (4th, 4th)

Kevin Kisner:

PLAYERS (2nd, 4th) / Travelers (5th, 6th)

Brian Harman:

PLAYERS (3rd) / Travelers (2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th)

Brian Davis:

PLAYERS (5th) / Travelers (4th)

Heath Slocum:

PLAYERS (4th) / Travelers (4th)

Wyndham Championship (Sedgefield Country Club)

The tree-lined Sedgefield Country Club has always been a happy hunting ground for strategically-minded players. It offers up one of the most difficult short-game tests on the PGA Tour on/around the speedy greens and is not too dissimilar off-the-tee.

Notable correlating form:

Webb Simpson:

PLAYERS (1st) / Wyndham (1st, 2nd, 2nd)

Si Woo Kim:

PLAYERS (1st) / Wyndham (1st, 2nd)

Henrik Stenson:

PLAYERS (1st) / Wyndham (1st)

Tim Clark:

PLAYERS (1st) / Wyndham (2nd)

Kevin Kisner:

PLAYERS (2nd, 4th) / Wyndham (1st, 3rd)

Charl Schwartzel:

PLAYERS (2nd) / Wyndham (3rd)

Martin Laird:

PLAYERS (2nd, 5th) / Wyndham (4th)

Kevin Streelman:

PLAYERS (2nd) / Wyndham (6th, 7th)

Kevin Na:

PLAYERS (3rd, 6th, 7th) / Wyndham (2nd, 4th)

Brian Harman:

PLAYERS (3rd) / Wyndham (3rd, 6th)

Sony Open (Waialae Country Club)

There is a huge amount of correlating form between the Sony Open and PLAYERS Championship, due to Waialae Country Club ranking closely to TPC Sawgrass in driving accuracy and putting percentages.

Notable correlating form:

Cameron Smith:

PLAYERS (1st) / Sony (1st)

Si Woo Kim:

PLAYERS (1st) / Sony (1st)

Matt Kuchar:

PLAYERS (1st) / Sony (1st)

KJ Choi:

PLAYERS (1st) / Sony (1st)

Tim Clark:

PLAYERS (1st) / Sony (2nd, 2nd)

Webb Simpson:

PLAYERS (1st) / Sony (3rd, 4th, 4th)

Jimmy Walker:

PLAYERS (2nd) / Sony (1st, 1st)

Paul Goydos:

PLAYERS (2nd, 3rd) / Sony (1st)

Kevin Na:

PLAYERS (3rd, 6th, 7th) / Sony (1st)

Robert Allenby:

PLAYERS (2nd) / Sony (2nd)

Tom Hoge:

PLAYERS (3rd) / Sony (3rd)

Kevin Kisner:

PLAYERS (2nd, 4th) / Sony (3rd, 4th, 4th)

Charles Schwab Challenge (Colonial Country Club)

Colonial CC is a former host of this event. With its tightly tree-lined fairways and small, quick greens, this strategic challenge offers up a ball-striking test that is closely matched to the Stadium Course. Which has enabled the two events to develop strong form-ties.

Notable correlating form:

Tim Clark:

PLAYERS (1st) / Colonial (2nd, 2nd)

Matt Kuchar:

PLAYERS (1st) / Colonial (2nd)

Webb Simpson:

PLAYERS (1st) / Colonial (3rd, 5th)

Stephen Ames:

PLAYERS (1st, 5th) / Colonial (4th)

Kevin Kisner:

PLAYERS (2nd, 4th) / Colonial (1st)

Ian Poulter:

PLAYERS (2nd, 2nd) / Colonial (3rd, 5th)

Anirban Lahiri:

PLAYERS (2nd) / Colonial (6th)

Kevin Na:

PLAYERS (3rd, 6th, 7th) / Colonial (1st)

Brian Davis:

PLAYERS (5th) / Colonial (2nd)

Ben Crane:

PLAYERS (4th, 5th, 6th) / Colonial (3rd, 4th, 5th)

THE FIELD

Though the PGA Tour has lost players to LIV over recent years, THE PLAYERS Championship field remains one of the strongest of the year outside of the majors. This is represented by forty-seven of the world’s top 50 being in attendance this week, headed by world #1 and defending champion, Scottie Scheffler.

Scheffler is one of nine former winners in the field, joined by: Justin Thomas (2021), Rory McIlroy (2019), Webb Simpson (2018), Si Woo Kim (2017), Jason Day (2016), Rickie Fowler (2015), Matt Kuchar (2012) and Adam Scott (2004).

Away from the winners and there are twenty-one debutants heading to Sawgrass. New world #10, Ludvig Aberg is the top-ranked of these and it also includes Kevin Yu – who won the Junior PLAYERS Championship here in 2015 - along with first-time PGA Tour winners in 2024: Nick Dunlap, Matthieu Pavon, Jake Knapp and Austin Eckroat.

SELECTIONS

Market leaders: Scottie Scheffler 11/2, Rory McIlroy 12/1, Xander Schauffele 18/1, Justin Thomas 20/1, Viktor Hovland 20/1, Patrick Cantlay 22/1, Will Zalatoris 22/1

Scottie Scheffler is a strong favourite and it feels that whoever finishes a place or two in front of him this week may well have the event won.

Rory McIlroy is moved out to 12/1 following another underwhelming display at Bay Hill and whilst it is much more appealing than some recent prices, it still doesn’t do enough at a place where he has a sketchy record, despite winning in 2019.

There are a couple up there who I was tempted by but none more so than the 2021 winner, Justin Thomas and he goes in as the headline selection this week.

2.5 pts Justin Thomas each-way (1/5 - 8 places) - 18/1 

JT began 2024 in much the same way he ended 2023, as he has maintained his return to form. Three closing top 5s at the end of last year have been followed by finishes of 3rd in The AmEx, 6th at Pebble Beach, 13th in Phoenix and 12th in last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational; a missed cut at Riviera representing the only blot on his record this year.

He was good across the board at Bay Hill, which has largely been the story of this year but he has excelled around-the-greens, ranking 21st and in approach, ranking 30th; an area in which he’s only lost strokes in three individual rounds in 2024. A ranking of 16th in par 5 scoring should also see him make the most of those scoring opportunities here.

Thomas’ superb approach play and short game has seen him amass an excellent record in THE PLAYERS. He finished 24th on debut in 2015 and followed with an excellent top 5 on return, finishing 3rd in 2016 - his previous best result before winning in 2021. With zero missed cuts in the event and generally looking good on these greens, he always looks comfortable here.

A win in the Sony Open, along with 3rd-place finishes in the Valspar and Travelers Championships only confirm his suitability to this challenge and he can finally stamp his return to form fully this week, with a second victory in Ponte Vedra.

2 pts Max Homa each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 25/1

Max Homa has produced eye-catching performances on his two most recent visits to TPC Sawgrass and after showing up positively in last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, he can gain the biggest win of his career in Florida this week.

Homa was in electric form at the end of 2023, recording a first win overseas in the Nedbank Challenge on the DP World Tour in his final official start of the year. He had been solid enough at the start of 2024, recording three top 20s in his first five starts but achieved his best finish of the year last week, finishing 8th at Bay Hill.

The Californian is gaining strokes in all areas, ranking 8th in strokes-gained total over his last fifty starts but I’ve been especially taken with his ATG play; ranking 28th on tour and looking sharper than ever in this area. This portion of improvement can see him turn those close efforts in recent years to a real contending performance at Sawgrass this week.

He missed the cut on his debut here in 2021, though was far from disgraced, falling just two strokes short. Considerable progress was made on his second attempt in 2022, signing off with a 6-under 66 to finish 13th and ranking 5th in ball-striking. He again improved his finish last year, firing 8-under-par over the weekend to move from 41st position to 6th.

Top-10 finishes in the Valspar, Charles Schwab Challenge and Sony Open indicate his suitability on similar setups and developing into one of the most prolific and gutsy winners around over recent years, this looks the ideal next step for Homa before looking at major championship breakthroughs.

1.25 pts Russell Henley each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 40/1 

Russell Henley has been putting like the Russell Henley of old at the start of 2024. If able to combine that with the high-class approach play that has defined his last few years on tour, he’d look a likely contender this week.

Henley has had a light start to the year but has impressed when teeing it up, recording two top 5s and zero missed cuts. The first of those top 5s came when he finished 4th in the Sony Open on his second start of the year and he equalled that performance at Bay Hill, sitting no worse than 4th at the end of any of the four rounds.

Emerging as an excellent ball-striker in recent years, he has again been reliable in this area but it’s the short game that has impressed most. He comes into this week after ranking 2nd on the greens last week and ranks top 25 both ATG and in putting over the last twenty rounds.

As mentioned, the ball-striking has been solid, gaining strokes in four of those six starts in approach but it has so far been down on his performances of last year, where he ranked 18th. He was the eighth-best approach player at the Genesis Invitational three starts ago and if able to reproduce that whilst keeping up the sharp short-game displays, his game would look readymade for TPC Sawgrass.

Henley missed the cut here on debut in 2013 but has since gone on to record four top 25s, including in each of the last two years. With a strong book of correlating form, that includes a win in the Sony Open; finishes of 2nd and 5th in the Wyndham Championship; and top 10s across the Valspar Championship, Travelers Championship and RBC Heritage, I’m certain he’s capable of going even better and I expect him to be in the mix this week.

1 pt Sungjae Im each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 66/1

Sungjae Im had been struggling for form over the previous six weeks but after bursting back into life with a top 20 in last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational – where each area of his game showed promise – he has suddenly become an interesting candidate at this suitable setup.

Sungjae looked in good shape on his opening start of the year, finishing 5th in The Sentry and backed that up with a 25th-place finish in The AmEx. However, a run of MC-66-66-44-MC over his following five starts were worrying, with his iron play looking a particular concern. Although, he put those concerns to bed last week.

He finished 18th at Bay Hill, shooting three rounds under par and sitting inside the top 25 at the end of each day. He gained strokes in all areas, looking particularly good in approach and ATG; much more like it for a quality all-rounder who ranks 20th on tour in strokes-gained total over the last twelve months.

This instantly makes Sungjae of interest at a course where he’s given us plenty of reasons for optimism in the past. Though missing the cut on debut in 2019, he only missed by one and looked good tee-to-green; a difficult couple of days on the greens ultimately ruining his chances.

He has looked much more comfortable on the greens since then, which has helped him to finishes of 17th in 2021 and 55th in 2022; before producing his best effort at TPC Sawgrass last year, finishing 6th after a sluggish 3-over-par start saw him sitting in 110th position after round one.

If Im can carry over the momentum from his return to form last week and get off to a better start, he’ll be a major player at a course that suits; a belief strengthened by a runner-up finish in the Wyndham, a 4th-place finish in the Valspar and top 10s at Harbour Town and Colonial.

1 pt Nick Taylor each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 100/1

Nick Taylor has won two events against strong opposition inside the last twelve months and looking better than ever in approach this year, he has the skillset to trouble those more fancied contenders again; looking a big price to do so.

Taylor recorded a memorable victory at home in the Canadian Open last year and retained a good level of form after that, managing five top 25s in his last seven starts of 2023.

After beginning 2024 with a subdued 52nd-place finish in The Sentry, he picked up a first top 10 of the year with a 7th in the Sony Open. Though looking off it in The AmEx and Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he gained a hugely impressive victory on his next start against a star-studded field in the Phoenix Open, where he defeated Charley Hoffman in a playoff. A result that was achieved by a combination of ranking 1st in putting and 2nd in GIR; a deadly combination anywhere.

The Canadian has followed that with finishes of 39th in the Genesis Invitational and 12th in the Arnold Palmer last week, where he’s continued to shine on the greens and with his irons; coming into this week ranking 7th in putting and 8th in approach over the last twenty rounds. As a player who is usually solid ATG and steady off-the-tee, he has an appealing all-round profile for TPC Sawgrass.

Taylor doesn’t have an outstanding record here, though he did finish 16th in 2019; a week in which he ranked 3rd in approach. Now in the best form of his career, Taylor can improve on that this week, with several top 10s across the Wyndham Championship and Sony Open working to strengthening the case for him to have a good week at TPC Sawgrass. 

You can find all Jamie's latest Golf Betting Tips over on our dedicated golf Insights hub.

Share Article

(Visited 2,975 times, 1 visits today)