Our golf expert Niall Lyons is siding with two Spaniards within his five golfers ranging from 25/1 to 125/1.
The Players Championship
The excitement level is ramped up a notch on the PGA Tour this week as we reach Florida and the iconic Sawgrass course. A fans favourite no doubt and although quite rightly not a 5th Major, certainly plays like one. This is one of the toughest events to win of the season. You'll need nerves of steel and a ton of luck if you want to lift that Crystal on Sunday evening. We've had licquorice allsorts of winners here down the years and there is no way of telling which type of golfer really suits the place. We will drill down into some of the more important stats later but there's no doubting it's one of the harder events to pick a winner in also as we've had guys like Ames and Perks win to the likes of Phil and Tiger. Very few can be dismissed and that's what makes it one of the most exciting weeks of the season.
Hitting fairways around here has always been important and that will never change. With perfect weather the past number of weeks I'd expect the rough to be tangly enough and holding greens won't be easy from the fairways never mind the tall grass. As ever when studying this event I'll be looking to proximity to the hole stats as getting close to pins and on the right level remains one of the crucial characteristics of winners here down the years. Day rightly takes favouritism and it was mildly frustrating to see him do the business last week having punted him at Augusta. I knew he was putting as good as he ever has, and he showed that last week down the stretch to manage the victory despite not having his 'A' game. On a track where he has already won he must hold every chance but back to back wins are tough mentally, and this is one of the toughest mental challenges so I'm happy to leave him out. I always thought this place would suit Spieth and after a 4th place on debut in 2014 it looked that way but three missed cuts on the trot mean he is a risky play. I do think he will win here in his career, but maybe not yet with a bit of rust to shake off after Augusta. McIlroy finds it tough to get over the line and performances without wins are becoming a major habit of his down the last few years. The Arnold Palmer win was somewhat miraculous but he needs to find a way to win without the heroics, that is lacking right now and has been for a few years. He hasn't done a whole pile wrong this season however, and he continues to impress despite a lack of killer instinct nearing the weekends.
First up this week for me is Jon Rahm. He doesn't rank as high in some of the stats that I think are important around here but he hits a consistent number of greens and if he is sensible enough to hit some irons off a handful of tees I think he could contend here. On his debut here last year he was right in the thick of it on 4 under par before falling to a miserable Saturday 82 and missing the second cut. There's always the potential for Rahm to blow up due to his aggressive style and sometimes fiery temper. However on first look at Sawgrass that's an impressive enough performance. I always look to another Pete Dye design, the TPC Stadium Course in La Quinta used for the CareerBuilder challenge. That seems to be a good pointer to potential similar performances and none was better than Rahm earlier in the year shooting 22 under par and more importantly 7 under on that Stadium course over the weekend. Scott, Garcia and Stenson all won this as their career was blossoming and this looks prime time for the Spaniard to gain his biggest win to date. With three wins in his last ten events he is the most prolific golfer right now and at 25/1 looks the tastiest bet in the field to me.
My Spanish Armada is backed up by Rafa Cabrera Bello. Having missed the cut here on his first appearance in 2016 he bounced right back to finish 4th last year and I don't think a victory in one of the bigger events of the season is far away for this lad. He has bundles of talent and it's only a matter of time before it clicks for him on the bigger stage. His last two strokeplay outings in WGS's have resulted in a 5th and a 3rd so naturally these big events are the next step. He certainly finds it difficult to win and some recent performances haven't been all to inspiring. However, he tops the ranking in proximity to the hole, and ranks 9th in Green in Regulation which spell a super along game which could compete here for a number of years. At 3 figures I am prepared to take the chance.
One who ranks high in GIR but not so good in proximity is Adam Hadwin. Nevertheless I think he possesses the tools to compete here this week and is another I am adding at the three figure mark. Having missed the cut here on debut three years ago he has improved year on year with 39th and 30th his last two outings at Sawgrass. He boasts an impressive run of recent form also with sixteen made cuts on the trot and not finishing out of the top 25 in his last six events. He can also make scores around a Dye track as was evident earlier in the year when he shot a total of 9 under on the Stadium Course at La Quinta finishing in a tie for 3rd. Everything points towards a big performance for the Canadian this week and the 100/1 on offer looks well nourished to my eyes.
Having fallen down into the bowels of the golfing world and outside the worlds top 500 Nick Watney is back on the rise again and is one solid week away from getting back into the top 100. He has now made ten cuts on the trot having gone through the worst period in his career to date. It has been a long time between drinks for Watney as his last win came back in 2012 but there are signs that he isn't far away. Second last week to Jason Day was mighty impressive especially after recovering after some wobbles during the weekend. He fought well and coming to a course where he has a top 5 and top 20 posted in his pomp he may just pull off a performance similar to what Poulter did last year. He opened with a 7 under par round in La Quinta earlier in the year and I think he is worthy of a small bet in the first round leader market also given his form this past while. Ranks 15th in proximity this season and he is another who I like the chances of at 3 figures.
I want to include a more experienced type in my staking plan this week also and that nod goes to Webb Simpson. Simpson hasn't uprooted any trees here down the years but with four made cuts and two top 20s has shown enough on a tough layout that he can score around here. Two 69s on the Dye course at La Quinta earlier in the year is a positive also. He ranks just outside the top 30 in proximity to the hole and given he has two top 5s in his last seven starts and hasn't finished outside the top 40 in those events he looks to be a man in form and on the verge of gaining his first victory since 2013. Ranked 41st in the world Simpson is getting back to the heights he reached those years ago and I think a win is only around the corner. This looks a likely spot given his solid long game.