The unofficial fifth major takes place in Florida this week when the stars of the PGA Tour head to TPC Sawgrass for The Players Championship and the most daunting hole in golf. The infamous 17th hole has wrecked many an event for a huge number of players in the past and it will do so again.
Si Woo Kim defends his title around the Pete Dye track but he’ll have to see off a stellar field including the very best of the best if he is to win the tournament for a second year in a row. Drama, excitement and tension is guaranteed this week with a huge first prize up for grabs.
2017 – Si Woo Kim
2016 – Jason Day
2015 – Rickie Fowler
2014 – Martin Kaymer
2013 – Tiger Woods
2012 – Matt Kuchar
2011 – KJ Choi
2010 – Tim Clark
2009 – Henrik Stenson
2008 – Sergio Garcia
Those who are mad golf fans won’t need me to describe TPC Sawgrass but for those who aren’t the course is a par 72 which measures 7,189 yards so it certainly isn’t a long course. It is synonymous with the water that is in play on a number of the holes not least that 17th one which is a short par 3 to an island green.
If you look at the previous winners here you don’t really need to do too much detective work to realise that it is a paradise for the ball strikers. You have to really play this course from the fairways to give you the best chances of holding the greens. In recent years putting has been more of a factor too as evidenced by the last three champions all being sensational putters. Players who keep it straight and get putts to the hole should come to the fore this week over the grip it, rip it and chase after it merchants.
We have an amazing field this year which is probably headed by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson given that they have been drawn to play alongside each other in the first two rounds. Dustin Johnson will be looking to retain his number one status while Justin Thomas will be looking to take it from him.
Last week’s winner Jason Day tees it up this week as do Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and The Masters champion Patrick Reed. Some of the best in Europe are here to attack the Americans for the title. Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Tyrrell Hatton, Alex Noren and Ian Poulter are all in what is an absolutely stacked field from top to bottom.
We have co-favourites of four this week at 16/1. Jason Day is shorter than that in most places and is generally the sole favourite with firms who have one. That is understandable after his win last week and the fact that he is a former champion here but by his own admission he won with his ‘C’ game last week and lost so many balls to the left in the final round that I can’t be taking him here.
Jordan Spieth has a modest record around this track since his debut and he hasn’t been firing on all cylinders this year. His strength lies with the short stick but that has begun to desert him in 2018 and that puts me off him. This course has never really played to the strengths of Rory McIlroy so he’s an easy enough swerve.
Justin Thomas is a potentially different proposition however. He doesn’t need to pound the ball to score and his putting has been exceptional for a while. If he wasn’t playing for the number one spot this week I may well have taken him at 16/1 but he is and in this company that is enough to put me off.
Rickie Fowler is 20/1 to continue his fine record around this course. I certainly wouldn’t put anyone off taking that price but I do wonder if he is hitting the ball as well now as he was two years ago when he won around here. I’m not convinced he is so I’ll swerve him and I’ll pass Dustin Johnson over at 20/1 too. His record around this track is bang ordinary.
Jon Rahm comes next in the betting at 25/1 but this doesn’t really appeal as his sort of track despite his run in the WGC Matchplay last year on what is another Pete Dye design. Henrik Stenson is 28/1 and as a former champion who is hitting the ball better than anyone this season statistically he should be right in the mix. He doesn’t hole enough for my liking however. His mate Justin Rose is the same 28/1 price but his record here is also indifferent so I’ll leave him alone. It is 33/1 bar.
I’ll go with two main bets this week with the first of them being the Masters champion Patrick Reed. To be fair to Reed he has been written off completely here with quotes of 33/1 despite now being a major champion. He is becoming a big tournament player with his performances in the Ryder Cup and his second placed outing in the USPGA last season. He arrived here with six top 10 finishes in a row including that win at Augusta and I see him as the man to beat if he can drive the ball as well as he did in The Masters last month. His wedge game, short game and putting is exemplary so if he keeps hit in play off the tee he’s entitled to be right there here.
My other main bet is on a man who looks perfect for this course in Patrick Cantlay. I’ve backed him enough this season to not have to run through his strengths again but he strikes the ball so well and he is beginning to get the putter going too. Cantlay has back to back top 10 finishes coming in here and was in the top five at Riviera too. Cantlay was right in the mix with 18 to play here last year and you get the feeling if he is in the same position here he’ll close it out this time. I think he’s a big runner.
I’m going to throw some darts at four bigger priced players who all fit the profile of hitting it straight, strike it cleanly and who have shown form with the putter and the first of those is Ian Poulter. Poulter has been in excellent form this season with his magical Medinah putter serving him very well in winning the Houston Open. He hasn’t exactly backed away since then and with two runner up finishes here, including last year, we know the course offers no demons to him. There’s still a very big title in Poulter yet. It could very well be this week.
Emiliano Grillo simply has to go well at this course throughout his career. He is wonderful from tee to green but as we’ve seen in events like the Honda Classic and Houston, he is starting to get the putter going on top of that. He has four top 10s in his last seven singles tournaments and with that putter complimenting a wonderful long game nicely I wouldn’t be surprised to see him right there after three rounds like he was 12 months ago. This time I wouldn’t expect him to fade either.
Whenever we are after a ball striking clinic it is hard to swerve away from Kyle Stanley and I’m definitely taking him this week. He is just beginning to get the putter heated up and this is certainly no bad time for that to happen. The only time he has been out of the top 25 in his last five outings was at The Masters but Augusta is too long for him anyway. He was bang there at halfway last year only to fade in the final round. He’s won since then though so I expect him to convert if he can get into the mix this time around.
I’ll also go for another player who has served me well this year in Chez Reavie. He is a wonderful striker of the ball and we’ve seen his short game work to our advantage when we was on him at a monster price in Phoenix when he lost out in a playoff to Gary Woodland. His PGA Tour record here is modest but he has form on this resort on the Web.com Tour. He’s always in the middle of the fairway so if that putter gets going he might not be far away.
Back P.Reed to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 34.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-7)
Back I.Poulter to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-7)
Back K.Stanley to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-7)
Back them here:
Back P.Cantlay to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with Coral (1/5 1-7)
Back E.Grillo to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Skybet (1/5 1-8)
Back C.Reavie to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 201.00 with Paddy Power (1/5 1-10)
Back him here: