If you’re looking for a golf drinking game this weekend (you might need to get some help), try taking a drink every time someone on the NBC telecast refers to The PLAYERS Championship as “the fifth major.”
You probably won’t last the weekend.
Much has been made, especially in recent years, about The Players being the fifth-most important tournament on the PGA Tour calendar.
And looking at the field that will take on TPC Sawgrass this weekend, it’s hard to argue, as arguably the best field of the season tees it up in Jacksonville. Forty-seven of the top 50 players in the world golf rankings are in the field, with the most notable absence being Tiger Woods, who had planned to play but won’t in order to rest his aching back.
Here’s what you need to know about The Players Championship and who might walk away with $2.7 million on Sunday afternoon.
TPC Sawgrass is one of golf’s iconic courses. The Pete Dye-designed track has been host to some of the sport’s most memorable moments, most of those coming at the par-3 17th. Whether it’s Tiger’s “better than most” moment in 2001 or Freddie Couples’ “hole-in-three,” there have been some unforgettable shots onto the infamous island green. The course is a par-72 with some getable par-5s. You better make the most of those opportunities; 2018 winner Webb Simpson played the par-5s at 11-under when he won. It’s far from the biggest course on tour, so you don’t have to necessarily hit it long to win here, although it doesn’t hurt as evidenced by Rory McIlroy winning last year.
A lot of it comes down to weather. If the wind is blowing like it did last week at Bay Hill, the greens will dry up, making it even harder to hold them. That would put a greater emphasis on playing around the green. Accuracy is key, too, with water and bunkers on just about every hole.
$15 million (winner’s share of $2.7 million)
Rory McIlroy 8-1
Jon Rahm 12-1
Justin Thomas 16-1
Patrick Cantlay 20-1
Bryson DeChambeau 20-1
Dustin Johnson 25-1
Tommy Fleetwood 25-1
Sungjae Im 25-1
(odds per the Westgate’s Jeff Sherman)
Justin Thomas (16-1): Weird year so far for Thomas, who has alternated between top-six finishes and missed cuts. He’ll have to buck that trend after finishing sixth last month in Mexico at the World Golf Championship event but he has the skillset to shine at Sawgrass. He’s one of the best iron players in the world and can put up birdies in a hurry, ranking in the top five in both par-4 and par-5 scoring. As long as the course doesn’t dry up too much, he’ll be pin seeking and in contention come Sunday.
Bryson DeChambeau (20-1): The mad scientist bulked up over the offseason and is seeing immediate benefits. The 26-year-old has finished no worse than fifth in his last three tournaments, including a 17-under showing in Mexico late last month. The driving distance is up, the ball-striking remains solid, and he’s good around the greens. One of these weeks he’s going to break through and win, so why not this week?
Webb Simpson (30-1): He’s a past winner (2018), so you know he’s comfortable here. Some of the more important stats entering this week are things like par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: approach and around the green. Simpson’s rankings in those categories? Seventh, first, 12th and fifth, respectively. He has finished top 10 in five of his last six starts, including a win at the Waste Management Open last month.
Collin Morikawa (50-1): Here’s a little secret: You can’t win a tournament unless you make the cut, and you can’t do any better than Morikawa in that regard. He’s made the cut in each of his 20 career tournaments. He has six top-10 finishes in those events. He enters the week ranked fourth in SG: Approach, so if his putting is even slightly above average, he’ll have a chance to contend.
Joel Dahmen (100-1): Dahmen doesn’t hit it long, entering the week ranked 112th in driving distance. Despite that, he’s fared pretty well lately at some courses that favor bigger hitters. He’s finished no worse than 14th in each of his last three tournaments and is coming off two consecutive fifth-place finishes. He’ll be on a more level playing field this week and he’s certainly worth a longshot look at that price.
Patrick Cantlay ($9,800) — Has the fourth-best odds to win this week and is making his first start since he underwent surgery to fix a deviated septum. Before the surgery, he finished no worse than 17th in three tournaments in 2020 and enters this weekend as an analytical darling.
Webb Simpson ($9,200) — He’s good, as mentioned in the picks section.
Hideki Matsuyama ($8,800) — Matsuyama has finished in the top 10 three of his last four trips to Sawgrass, which is no surprise given his distinction as one of the tour’s best ball-strikers. Just needs to get the putter going.
Tony Finau ($8,100) — It’s been a struggle for him lately, but it’s a good price for the world’s 16th-ranked player.
Byeong Hun An ($7,800) — Quietly, he has five top-10 finishes in his last 15 events and has two top-30 finishes at this tournament the last two seasons.
Zach Johnson ($6,000) — He clearly isn’t the player he once was, and he missed the cut here last year. But he’s literally tied for the cheapest DraftKings player this week, so if we have to round out our roster with one of the best golfers of his generation, we’ll gladly do it.
Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images