The 2020-21 golf season(s) come full circle this weekend with what some people (the PGA Tour marketing department) would describe as the fifth major: The Players Championship.
It was one year ago this week when the golf world — and really, the entire world — changed as COVID-19 shut down just about everything. The PGA Tour was no different. The 2020 Players started but didn’t finish, as the Tour pulled the plug after one full round.
Now, the Tour returns home to its signature course in sensational shape. The golf has been wildly entertaining, especially since the calendar flipped to 2021. This week figures to be no different, and we’ve got our work cut out for us trying to make a buck on one of the biggest tournaments of the year.
Here’s a betting preview for this weekend’s Players Championship.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Rory McIlroy (16-under in 2019)
THE COURSE — TPC Sawgrass
Yardage: 7,189 yards
TPC Sawgrass might be the best-known stop on the entire Tour, in large part thanks to the island green at the par-3 17th hole. The Pete Dye-designed course was built for the PGA Tour, which makes its home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., a 5-iron away from the Tour’s headquarters.
It’s a shorter course for a par-72, and it favors solid ball-strikers, who typically are accurate off the tee. Water is in play on 17 holes, and there are 88 bunkers on the course. This marks the fourth year the tournament has been played in March after being moved from May as part of the Tour’s reshuffling of the schedule.
(Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook)
Dustin Johnson +1200
Rory McIlroy +1600
Bryson DeChambeau +1700
Jon Rahm +1700
Justin Thomas +1900
Collin Morikawa +2200
Webb Simpson +2200
Patrick Cantlay +2300
Xander Schauffele +2400
Viktor Hovland +2500
Jordan Speith +3000
— Despite not having won the tournament yet, Thomas unsurprisingly has been incredibly consistent at Sawgrass. He enters with a fifth-, 17th- and 12th-place finish in his last three trips.
— McIlroy also is a menace at Ponte Vedra. The defending champion has three top-10 finishes on his resume in addition to the 2019 win.
— Simpson is someone else who seems to feel at home for this tournament. He typically fares well at shorter courses that place a premium on accuracy, and he has four top-20 finishes here including a win in 2018. He also looked good his last time out playing the WGC at event at The Concession.
Before diving into the picks, let’s try to learn a little something from the past. Here are the pre-tournament odds for the last eight winners of The Players Championship.
2019: Rory McIlroy (12-1)
2018: Webb Simpson (80-1)
2017: Si-Woo Kim (400-1)
2016: Jason Day (11-1)
2015: Rickie Fowler (50-1)
2014: Martin Kaymer (80-1)
2013: Tiger Woods (7-1)
2012: Matt Kuchar (29-1)
With the exception of Kuchar, recent winners either have come from the very top of the board or down among the long shots. So it might be a bit of a dart throw this week.
That said, here’s what we’re targeting: Ball-strikers are important as they are pretty much every week, so strokes gained: approach is important. Recent winners (with the exception of Simpson) have been at or near the top of the weekly stats in SG: tee-to-green, which speaks to the importance of setting up yourself with a good tee shot and then hitting solid approach shots. Even with a premium on the approach, missing the Sawgrass’ small greens is in play, so it does help to be good around the green. We’ll also take a look at those who have played well at Pete Dye courses. Of course, with all the water, it just takes rinsing a ball or two to blow up a weekend. So again, dart throw.
Here are some of this week’s picks:
Colin Morikawa to win (+2200): He’s obviously in fine form, having won the WGC a couple of weeks ago with a dominant performance. Morikawa is great off the tee and arguably the best approach player in the world. Only Bryson DeChambeau has been better tee-to-green in the last 24 rounds. Very small sample size, but Morikawa did shoot a 4-under in the first round of last year’s tournament before it was called.
Chris Kirk to win (+15000): Since securing his place on tour with an unreal performance at the Sony Open, Kirk has been incredibly consistent. He has three top-20 performances in his last four stops, including an eighth-place finish last week at Bay Hill. He’s good with his wedges and doesn’t make big numbers.
Cameron Tringale top 10 (+1400): Tringale is on a bit of a roll lately, gaining nearly six strokes on the field over his last five tournaments. He’s averaging a top-20 finish over that run, including a seventh-place showing at the AT&T last month. He hasn’t finished worse than 31st in that time, and a solid approach game should have him in the mix again this week.
Here’s a sample lineup for DFS games.
Collin Morikawa — If you think he’s gonna win, you’ve gotta play him on DFS, right?
Patrick Cantlay — He’s gained more strokes per round than any other player since the new year, and he combines solid tee-to-green play with good around-the-green prowess.
Viktor Hovland — Maybe a bit of value here after a brutal third round in which he lost more than three strokes on the green blew up his tournament. Prior to last week, he had three consecutive top-five finishes.
Will Zalatoris — We’ll ignore the lack of Sawgrass experience and focus on a ridiculous run that has seen him post a top-22 in five of his last six tournaments.
Matt Kuchar — A bit of a gamble, but he’s a past winner, who typically plays well here despite recent form.
Chris Kirk — For the reasons mentioned above, he might be the best bargain this weekend, even if he is projected to be highly owned.
Strokes gained data courtesy of Fantasy National Golf