The Players Championship Picks: Who Can Derail Scottie Scheffler?

Scheffler is the clear favorite given how well he's playing


Mar 12, 2024

The Players Championship no longer can claim it is the fifth major or the toughest field in golf, but the PGA Tour’s signature event remains one of the best tournaments on the calendar.

LIV Golf has taken a large bite out of the Players’ general standing. This week’s tournament has an OWGR rating of 454.4. When Rory McIlroy won the tournament in 2019, the field rating was 882. Even if you don’t completely understand the intricacies of those rankings (guilty), it’s still a huge difference.

The purse size is gigantic — the biggest in the sport still. The winner takes home $4.5 million of the $25 million pot with 144 players in the field. Just make the cut and you’re guaranteed at least $40,000. Pretty good payday.

Let’s get into our picks for The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass (betting odds via FanDuel Sportsbook).

TPC Sawgrass
Defending champion: Scottie Scheffler
Favorites: Scheffler (+550), Rory McIlroy (+1200)
Notes: Despite Sawgrass’ standing as one of the most recognizable and familiar courses on the Tour, there’s not a ton of predictability from past performance. Based on Data Golf’s Course History Tool, there are at least 10 places where course history is more predictive. ? A big reason for that is there’s trouble just about everywhere with 92 total bunkers and water in play on literally every single hole, meaning that even if you know the course like the back of your hand, there’s always a big number looming that can completely wreck your day. ? That being said, driving accuracy is more important here than just about every Tour stop. … There has never been a repeat winner at The Players.

First-round leader: Sam Burns (+5000)
After a couple of close-ish calls last week, let’s go with a bit of a dart throw that makes sense. The morning wave has produced a lower average score in eight of the last nine Players tournaments, and Burns goes off Thursday at 8:24 a.m. ET. Completely ignoring what we’ve already said about course history, Burns did shoot a first-round 68 in 2022 and 2023 at Sawgrass. He’s been hot with the putter just about everywhere, but he always rolls it better in Florida. He’s got four top-10 finishes in his last five starts, so he comes in with really good overall form, too.

Top 20: Nick Novak (+550)
The recent form is impossible to ignore. Granted, Novak hasn’t been doing it against great fields, but he has three straight top-10 finishes dating back to Phoenix. Our model loves him, too, as someone who is really, really good on approach and around the green. He’s a little dicey off the tee, but he typically does well to avoid major trouble. The recent run has coincided with some spike putting weeks, but he also finished eighth at Mexico despite losing more than three strokes putting.

Top 10: Hideki Matsuyama (+360)
Matsuyama appears all the way back. He won a star-studded event at the Genesis where he was an absolute wizard around the green. Last week, he lost to the field around the green but was sensational on approach and putted well enough to get a 12th-place finish. He’s gained on approach in four of six starts since Sony. He’s the perfect encapsulation of the Players volatility, with three top-10s and two missed cuts in six starts since 2016. In a very much “for what it’s worth” situation, he was also leading the 2020 tournament before it was canceled for COVID-19.

Winner: Shane Lowry (+4000)
Before getting into Lowry, let’s get it on record that Scheffler might very well win this thing in a runaway given how well he’s playing right now. If he doesn’t, though, let’s get a little value on the hefty Irishman at 40-1. He’s been really good dating back to the Farmers in late January, gaining on approach in each start with top-five finishes the last two weeks. It’s similar to how he was playing entering last year before a disappointing tie for 35th. Here’s the thing about that one, though: Only 12 players were worse in the first round where he shot a 77 before playing the next three rounds at 9-under. Just shooting even in the first round would have had him at 14-under for the tourney in second place. Oh, and are you really betting against the Irishman for a St. Patrick’s Day finish on Sunday?

Other winner picks likely to make the card: Justin Thomas (22-1), Will Zalatoris (33-1), Ludvig Aberg (33-1) Tom Hoge (70-1)

Thumbnail photo via Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

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