The first truly big golf tournament of 2019 takes place this week as The Players Championship returns to its March slot in the calendar. This is often dubbed the fifth major and with the field assembled here it is not hard to see why.
Webb Simpson lapped the field last year and he is here to defend the title but there are a whole bunch of top drawer players looking to begin their build up for Augusta with the biggest prize of the year thus far.
2018 – Webb Simpson
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
If you are a golf fan you will know all about TPC Sawgrass and to be fair if you are only a part-time follower of the spot you will undoubtedly have heard of it because of the par 3 17th hole – the feared island hole. The rest of the course can catch players out though on this 7,189 yard par 72 track, although with the heavy conditions in Florida in recent times the course could play longer than that yardage.
Depending on where you read you will get the impression that the greens are going to be more receptive. I’m not convinced with the sub-air systems installed recently. They certainly won’t be as slow as the last time the tournament was in a March slot. The rough isn’t massively penal this week but it could be juicy in places so I’d rather have my players playing from the fairways. Par 4 scoring is often a stat to look out for here while ensuring you’re on players with big kahunas is a must.
It is without a doubt the best field of the year so far with all three current major champions in it as well as the leading money earners from USA and Europe from last season. The field is headlined by Tiger Woods and all eyes will be on him to see if there are any lingering effects of his neck problem that forced him out of Bay Hill last week.
Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose are all here while last week’s winner Francesco Molinari tees it up as well. Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Adam Scott are all relatively recent major champions who are here while defending champion Webb Simpson also tees it up.
It must be said that the market leaders have a pretty poor record around here which might be an instant turn off in terms of the favourite Dustin Johnson. He is a 12/1 poke to land the title this week but the course doesn’t play to his strengths although he might be better suited to it in March than when it is truly fiery in May. I’m not convinced he’s tip top in terms of form and if you are not at your best this place catches you out whoever you are.
Rory McIlroy probably should have won the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week but his final round last group hoodoo came back to haunt him once again. That is becoming a major concern now and this isn’t really a track you want to be pushing the boat out on to come from behind on the Sunday so at 14/1 he’s a pretty easy swerve at the present time it must be said.
Justin Thomas is a 16/1 poke this week. If I was taking a market leader it would be him. There is so much to like about his game at the present time and he is in the mood to win the big titles. He may well have won at Riviera if JB Holmes hadn’t bored him into submission and had chances in Hawaii and in Phoenix. Winning big titles is becoming his forte and I expect him to go well but I can’t back a 16/1 shot around here.
Justin Rose begins the week as the only other man who is shorter than 25/1. He is 22/1 to win the tournament and while he has the ball striking credentials to win around here the fact he has just one top-15 finish in 15 starts on this track has to be much more than a minor concern. He still isn’t alongside Fooch either so this is a week I’m happy to pass on Rose, particularly with Augusta likely to be on his mind already. It is 25/1 bar.
Having backed winners in the last two weeks I’m going to take three main bets here as I expect something of a European charge to things this week. Tommy Fleetwood is the first of them. He finished in the top 10 on debut here last year and warmed up for the week with a solid tilt at Bay Hill where he hit the ball incredibly well. He has been quite buoyant about his chances this week with him believing that this is a course that suits his strengths. I agree with him and am happy to back him as a result.
Sergio Garcia has won around here when it is tough and he probably should have won a few years ago too when he lost out to Rickie Fowler in a play-off so there is something about the course that he likes. He comes here in decent form too with top 10s in his last two outings. That suggests he is hitting his irons well but most importantly he is putting nicely too which is important. 2018 didn’t really go to plan for him but the Spaniard can kick off the big 2019 events with a big run.
Ian Poulter is another one who has a decent enough record around here and being based in Florida the conditions certainly shouldn’t be alien to him. He has an excellent record this term and having backed him last week where he could only make the top 25 I feel obliged to take him again. He came to life around this time a couple of years ago when he had to win to get into The Masters. He isn’t in that position here but I do expect a big run from someone who is flushing his irons and is always dangerous on the greens.
I’ll play three at the bigger prices too with Gary Woodland almost a must bet at 66/1 given the way he has been hitting the ball this year. His record around here could be a lot better than it is but the softer conditions will help him and I think he is worth a punt for a big week. Woodland has been second twice this season and has eight top 10s on the campaign in total. That is consistent form and if he can get going early this week he is hitting it enough to be right there.
I remain convinced that I’m going to get a monster return out of Jim Furyk at some point this season and it could well be here with his tee to green prowess. He hasn’t putted very well this year but he will know these greens inside out which should be a massive advantage. I would be surprised if he doesn’t give himself a lot of chances and if the putter works early he has everything you need for a big run. There isn’t as much pressure on him at this stage of his career which will help on the tough holes. I’ll chance him again at three figures.
Ryan Palmer is high up in the par 4 scoring statistic on the PGA Tour this season and that usualy translates into a good week here. He has a good mix in his game with length when he needs it and good iron play. When his putter gets hot he usually goes very well as shown with three top 10s this season, including last time out at The Honda Classic. He has carded rounds of 62 and 63 this term as well as a pair of 65s. If he can put a couple of those together this week he should run well. He is eighth in greens in regulation, sixth in par 4 scoring and seventh in birdies. He ticks enough boxes to go into the staking plan.
PLACED – Back T.Fleetwood to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 29.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-8)
PLACED – Back J.Furyk to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 126.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-8)
Back them here:
Back S.Garcia to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 34.00 with Betway (1/5 1-7)
Back I.Poulter to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with Betfred (1/5 1-7)
Back him here:
Back G.Woodland to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Coral (1/5 1-7)
Back R.Palmer to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 201.00 with 888sport (1/5 1-7)