This week, the best golfers in the world will compete once again for golf's unofficial "fifth major" at The Players Championship. The PGA Tour has invested a ton of money into TPC Sawgrass and making sure the field is elite as possible. It begs the question though, is the field at The Players the toughest in golf?
Recently, the guys over at Data Golf did an intensive analysis of the tournament field compared to the four majors. The results were pretty interesting and I'll try to summarize what they found without confusing you with deep statistical analysis!
Qualifying for The Players
The criteria to qualify for the tournament is pretty strict and is why most would assume it is the strongest field of any golf tournament in the world. Here are how players can make it into the 144-man field according to the PGA Tour:
- Win an official PGA TOUR event since the lasts Players
- Finish among the top 30 players on the previous full season’s FedExCup points list
- Be among the top 125 finishers from the previous full season’s official PGA TOUR money list
- Win a major championship (Masters, U.S. Open, The Open Championship, PGA Championship) or The Players Championship title within the previous five years
- Win the FedExCup as the overall PGA Tour champion during the previous three years
- Win a World Golf Championships event during the previous three years, provided you were a PGA TOUR member at the time of victory
- Finish among the top 50 players in the current season's world rankings or among the top 10 players from the current season’s FedExCup points list, as of a specified cut-off point.
- Win the previous year’s Senior Players Championship
- Finish as the leading money winner from the previous full season's Web.com Tour
- Be one of the players just outside the top 10 on the current season's FedExCup point list. If all the spots have not been filled through the other criteria, the 144-man field is completed with PGA TOUR members from the current season’s FedExCup points list starting with the 11th position and going in order (as of the cut-off point) until the field is full
The Strength of the Field
When Data Golf examined the stats, they broke it down into two separate categories - the quality of the golfers in the field and the actual difficulty of winning the tournament.
They examined the fields of The Players and all of the majors from 2011 - 2017.
The results were pretty interesting and slightly contradictory.
They found that on average, the quality of the field in The Players Championship is higher than any of the majors. This is particularly true of the bottom 25% of the field, which makes sense because the selection criteria are so stringent.
For example, you'll see many players at The Masters that have no realistic chance of winning the tournament, but they qualified because of past-champion status. So there's no question that The Players has the deepest field in comparison to the majors.
Is it Harder to Win The Players?
You might assume because the field is deeper, that The Players is actually the hardest tournament to win. However, they found that this is not the case. It turns out that The PGA Championship was clearly the most difficult tournament to win.
That might be difficult to wrap your head around, but here's why...
Despite the bottom 25% of the field being more elite at The Players, Data Golf found that those golfers still had a very small chance of winning the tournament. It was actually the golfers that ranked between 30th - 60th that seemed to make the difference, which is where The PGA Championship was slightly stronger.
Long Story Short
Based on the analysis, The Players Championship has the deepest field of any golf tournament. While it is incredibly difficult to win, it actually turns out that The PGA Championship can claim the distinction of the hardest tournament to win (by a slight margin).
If you are interested in seeing the complete analysis from Data Golf you can read the article here. It's a fascinating website that has plenty of other interesting studies and tools for fantasy golf enthusiasts.