As a golf fan, and also a gambler, there are very few dates in the calendar that whet the appetite more than ‘Sawgrass week’. Besides perhaps the odd Open Championship venue, I can’t think of any other course more likely to produce the dramatic leaderboard fluctuations that enthrall television viewers and in-running traders alike. There surely isn’t a better finish in golf, with any score from five up to 15 a plausible total from the brutal 17th and 18th holes. In fact, such is the fame of those two closing holes that the pivotal par-5 16th, with its reachable island green, is often forgotten.
Of course not everyone agrees with me, and not just traditionalists who reckon the tournament’s ‘fifth major’ tag is a travesty to the big four annual events. Several top players have repeatedly struggled over the years, not least Ernie Els who has admitted to ‘hating’ this stadium course. I’ve never heard him say anything derogatory about it, but I suspect Tiger Woods is no fan of Sawgrass either. By his own standards, Tiger’s record here is terrible. He did win in 2001, when at the absolute peak of his powers, but otherwise has only made the top-5 once. Incredibly, Woods has finished outside the top-10 in each of his last six attempts, with his last three positions just 37th, 22nd and 53rd.
Phil Mickelson’s record is similar. Lefty won this in 2007 but like Woods, has only one other top-5 finish to his name at Sawgrass. The conclusion I make from these results is that either player is capable of winning here, but they need to be at their absolute peak to do so, whereas both have won plenty of titles on far more suitable tracks without being at their best. Woods is very hard to back at just 4/1 anyway after a very disappointing weekend. OK, 4th was hardly a disaster, but it was about the worst imaginable outcome after grabbing an early two shot lead with an opening 65.
This must be good news for value seekers, as the next best priced candidate is 28/1. Moreover, because of the very distinct characteristics of Sawgrass, I always feel much more confident than usual about identifying that value. Not only are there numerous candidates besides the big two who can be confidently written off, but there are also several players who particularly thrive under these conditions.