Sawgrass stage all set for high drama: final round preview of THE PLAYERS Championship

It’s a case of deja vu at the top of the leaderboard this Sunday, with Bryson DeChambeau chasing Lee Westwood, and no-one’s complaining about this repeat.

The golfing Gods have done us proud.

One Titanic final round battle between Lee Westwood and Bryson DeChambeau last Sunday was not enough.

So they've lined up a rematch seven days later and what a delicious prospect it is - the conclusion of the 2021 PLAYERS Championship really does promise to be a special one.

In pure golfing terms, Westwood's advantage last week was one shot and this week it is two, whilst at Bay Hill length mattered more than it does at Sawgrass, where experience counts.

In human terms, yes, we're watching a contest, but it's one with more than a touch of goofy movie bromance about it.

DeChambeau, with his beefed-up physique, is like a heavyweight champion who packs a mean punch, but he's also the youthful enthusiast full of wacky ideas, occasionally prone to hot-headed nonsense.

Westwood is the veteran who's seen it all before, but is tickled by his new partner and having the time of his life.

Because he's seen it all before, Westwood insists that it's not a two-horse race and it's true that if they concentrate on each other they might be passed.

But the chasers have it as difficult as the leaders - Pete Dye's TPC Sawgrass is a final round tightrope.

The rewards require risks to be taken and the patient route can be just as fraught with danger.

Paddy Power's prices reflect the advantage the top two hold: Westwood is 9/4, DeChambeau 11/4, followed by Justin Thomas 9/2, Jon Rahm 8/1 and Paul Casey 14/1.

Let's take a closer look at the leaderboard and consider who the stats and trends suggest will win.

The contenders:

1st: Lee Westwood 13-under 203 (69-66-68)

The Englishman is bogey-free through his last 36 holes as he seeks to become the second-oldest winner of THE PLAYERS, but he also owns a 1-for-6 record at converting 54-hole leads on the PGA Tour.

Westwood's quality long game is reflected in him leading the Greens in Regulation rankings (46-of-54). Saturday's 68 was his first first weekend sub-70 lap at Sawgrass since his debut in 1998 and his final round record is poor: he's broken par just twice in ten efforts and six times has finished over-par.

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One thing we know is that trends are unlikely to bother him and he's having the time of his life. "Really looking forward to it," he said of the rematch. "I enjoy playing with (Bryson). It's like round two. I enjoyed last Sunday and I'm going to enjoy this Sunday."

Would this be your biggest win, he was asked. "Undoubtedly," was his answer.

2nd: Bryson DeChambeau 11-under 205 (69-69-67)

Although his record at Sawgrass looked modest ahead of this week (T37th-T20th) he has already maintained one very healthy trend: he's now broken par in 10 of his 11 circuits on the Pete Dye design.

He has also become, as we noted ahead of and after last week's win, a very fine performer heading into the final round on the shoulder of the leader. In each of the last four occasions he has been second with 18 holes to play he has caught and passed the pace-setter.

"This is a chance that I've wanted my entire life," he said. "I grew up watching THE PLAYERS. This opportunity is something special."

READ MORE: Bryson DeChambeau eyes back-to-back PGA TOUR wins and he's done it before

T3rd: Justin Thomas 10-under 206 (71-71-64)

He started round three seven strokes back of the lead and if he goes on to win that will equal the record weekend overhaul in the tournament history. Can he maintain the furious pace?

Thomas was in sensational form on Saturday.
Thomas was in sensational form on Saturday.

When he carded a Saturday 65 at Sawgrass on debut in 2015 he followed it with a 75. On the other hand, he has posted a 65 and a 66 in round four here. He also won the 2017 Sony Open with two weekend laps of 65 and his last triumph, the 2020 WGC St Jude, was closed out with 66-65.

"I wish all rounds were that easy," he said of Saturday's lap, before adding that he won't need to go as low Sunday, with tougher pins, firmer greens and added pressure likely to adversely affect scores.

T3rd Doug Ghim 10-under 206 (71-67-68)

He leads the field in SG Approach (gaining 7.675) which also helps him top the Tee to Green rankings, but he's only 59th for Putting. He's the former world amateur number one, but still fresh to the pro game. His tied fifth at the start of the year in The American Express, for example, was his first top ten on the PGA Tour.

He's also the forgotten element of deja vu because he was just four shots back of Lee Westwood last Sunday morning. He'll hope the echoes end there, however, because an 81 left him T36th.

Best of the rest:

Paul Casey, Jon Rahm and Brian Harman share fifth on 9-under and the first two will play together in a reunion of Arizona State Sun Devils alumni. Chris Kirk, Sergio Garcia and Matthew Fitzpatrick share eighth on 8-under after all three stalled in failing to break 70 in round three.

Sawgrass stats and trends

Three of the last four winners topped the Par-4 Scoring on their way to victory. Six the top seven currently rank top five in that category; Paul Casey leads, Justin Thomas is 18th.

Four of the last five winners ranked top five for Strokes Gained Tee to Green. At the moment five of that top seven rank eighth or better; Jon Rahm is outside the top ten, Harman outside the top 20.

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Of the last 15 winners, 14 had played the course before and all of those had a top 25 finish (13 had a top 16). Ghim is a debutant, DeChambeau's best is T20th, the rest fit the bill.

Sawgrass winners emerge from the contenders: 19 of the last 24 winners was T3rd or better at this stage and 23 were at least T6th.

Conclusion

The Tee to Green stat rules out Thomas and Harman, and inexperience rumbles Ghim. The numbers say Casey and Rahm can win, but need help from the leaders to do so.

Ultimately, the trends like a repeat head-to-head between Westwood, who Paddy Power rate 9/4, and DeChambeau, who is 11/4. Those after a good run from a bigger priced candidate might favour Casey at 14/1.