10-Fer Fantasy Golf Picks: PLAYERS

by: C.A. Schmidt Staff Writer

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Experience. It's kind of a big deal.

That's the truth at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, host of this week's PLAYERS Championship, perhaps more so than any regular Tour stop outside of Augusta National. Over the last decade, only one champion -- Craig Perks in 2002 -- could be considered unseasoned on Pete Dye's most famous of designs.

That being said, novices such as Perks DID win here… so that has to be taken into consideration. Was there any reason he won? Well, he'd made seven consecutive cuts to start the 2002 season, including a T5 two weeks prior. But that's about all we can say about Perks in what turned out to be a year absent of other notable accomplishments. Perks was off the Tour by 2007 when his exemption PLAYERS expired.

So it's hard to pick a player who isn't very familiar with the track. The Stadium Course requires everything: positional driving, precise irons to reach pins on tiered greens, a creative short game, and the ability to make 10-footers when they're presented. Despite being known as a gimmicky course with its island green at No. 17, it's truly a test worthy of the biggest purse on Tour. At the end of the day, the champ must do a couple of these things better than anyone else and most certainly make some key putts down the stretch… and it doesn't hurt to get a couple of lucky breaks.

All things being equal, give me a player who has played the event a few times and either makes a ton of birdies or makes very few mistakes. Onto the picks:

1. Adam Scott. In my opinion, the best bet on the planet right now in big events. The Masters champ won here in 2004 and has consistently been in the mix since. Including last year's PLAYERS (T15), Scott has had 11 top-15's in 19 starts and ranks at or near the top of the Tour in scoring average and birdie stats. 

2. Luke Donald. He has two top-4 finishes his last three events, and top-6 results at Sawgrass the last two years. What's troubling is his GIR%, but he's in the top 20 in scrambling and his putting has heated up in recent weeks. It's been 14 months since he last won on Tour; could be a good spot for Luke.

3. Matt Kuchar. The defending champ is about as steady as they come, and if anyone will repeat a title here it will be him. He's made 38 of his last 39 cuts on Tour and has three top-15 finishes here the last four times he's played (including a win), so he's about as safe of a pick as anyone.

4. Tiger Woods. This is about as far down as I could move him, but be warned: since his (lone) win here in 2001, his best finish was an 8th in 2009. So he's had more WD's (2) than top-10's over the last decade.

5. Lee Westwood. The Englishman falls into the 'doesn't make many mistakes' category, but he really doesn't have much of a history here (T4 in 2010 was by far his best result). He has three consecutive top 10's going right now, however, so he's rounding into form. 

6. Jason Day. In three attempts here, he's gone MC-T6-MC. If you believe in that kind of thing, he's should be good to go. That, and he's coming off a 3rd at The Masters and hasn't missed a cut since last year's PGA Championship. He's a top player and is due for a signature win. 

7. Billy Horschel. My exception on the list. Horschel is playing like Snedeker in January, so ride the hot hand while you can. His stats are pretty ridiculous, but most impressive to me are his birdie numbers: 1st in total birdies, 4th in conversion percentage, top 20 in birdies on par 3's, 4's and 5's, 40th in the bounce back category. He can recover if he makes an error or two.

8. Ian Poulter. His high mark at Sawgrass was in 2009, when he finished 2nd to Stenson. His accuracy stats are way off in 2013, yet he's managed two top-10's in seven events and is 17th on Tour in putting. He fits the profile of a player experienced on the Stadium Course who is entering his prime. He loves the stage, and I think he'll be there front and center come Sunday morning. I just don't know if he'll be there Sunday afternoon.

9. Jim Furyk. He's lived in Ponte Vedra for awhile now, knows the course better than anyone not named Vijay Singh, has the game that suits the layout, and a consistent track record at this event… but I'm sticking him down here because this is about where I expect him to finish. He only has three top-10's here over the last decade, and none since 2006. He'll be fine, but I just like the other guys above better.

10. Steve Stricker. He's an ATM machine, although he's been very average at TPC Sawgrass. His T12 in 2011 is a little misleading -- he entered the weather-delayed day one shot out of the lead and faltered with a final-round 73. He has three top-5's in five events so far in 2013, and he'll probably only play another five or six events this year. A decent spot to use him. 

Others I like: Boo Weekley, Charl Schwartzel, Graeme McDowell, Kevin Streelman. It's the best field in golf and arguments can be made for a lot of guys, but I have a feeling this is going to have an especially large quantity of Grade-A talent at the top come Sunday.

Player to avoid: Justin Rose. I don't think he'll miss the cut, but if you're expecting big things from Rose this week you might be as disappointed as Bulls fans about their ailing point guard with the same surname. Justin's record here just isn't good at all -- a best finish of T22 in 2009 -- so I'm erring on the side of historical performance. There are better weeks to pull the trigger on JRose.

 

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