The Players Championship: Picks & Betting Preview
Our golf expert Niall Lyons has six picks for Golf's 5th major; The Players Championship
Top billing this week goes in favour of Collin Morikawa. Less than a year ago when this guy gained PGA Tour status he was ranked outside the top 1000 in the world. Wind on 9 months and he is inside the world's top 50 sitting 44th in the world. This is as good a rise from a youngster we've seen and looks set to continue having not missed a cut on the tour to date.
He has performed impressively this year despite losing strokes to the field on the greens in every event bar one in 2020. His tee to green game has been in excellent nick though and that presents a positive on debut at Sawgrass. Proximity stats are important here and he ranks 5th in the field in feet gained proximity stats which measures how closer you get to the hole compared to the field. He gains strokes in all yardage categories bar 75-100. What is interesting at Sawgrass is that the approach shot distribution data shows that the majority of approaches come in from 200 yards plus here.
Morikawa gets better and better compared to the field average the further the approach shot and the category he falls down in (100-125 yards) will only occur a handful of times throughout the week unless laying up on par 5s. He topped the strokes gained approach stat last week by 3 shots on the field. Overall everything points towards this being a fair chance and the way he battled last week was impressive again.
Dechambeau and Fleetwood have lively chances towards the top of the market but a spot of value remains about Patrick Cantlay. The world no 6 has been treading softly with his schedule to date only playing two PGA Tour events since he finished 4th in Hawaii.
Although I'm backing a handful who played last week it's not beyond the realms of possibility that some feel some ill effects as Bayhill played more like Major last week. Cantlay is lightly raced and done nothing wrong this term finishing in the top 20 at pebble and Riviera after his top 5 in Hawaii. Two top 25 finishes at Sawgrass in three attempts is solid enough if unspectacular. He has gained ground on the field in all proximity stats in his last 6 events ranking 2nd in the field. With two top 3s at Harbour Town, another Dye layout, Cantlay looks the pick of the bunch towards the top.
He looked like he excelled in the heat of battle at the Presidents Cup in December and it'd be no surprise should he feature in a few of the bigger events this year. He doesn't quite hit the heights on some of the stats I've mentioned but has shown some great form on Dye tracks previously.
12th here at Sawgrass on debut last year has been backed up with rounds of 66 and 63 at the Stadium Course to finish 2nd at the AMEX earlier in the year as well as a top ten finish at the Travelers in 2019. He has produced some excellent strokes gained total numbers in the last few months and I think he's overpriced to produce a similar performance to see him contend over the weekend.
Woodland played awfully well upon finishing 8th at the Honda last time out and has drifted to a very backable price this week. Previous to that he hit it well to finish 12th in Mexico. 11th place here at Sawgrass is his best finish and there has been plenty of poor finishes also but the whole field is almost like that and we can't read too much into a handful of missed cuts.
Woodland has cemented his place among the top of the game, especially betting wise, but for a while there I thought the market was showing him a little too much respect. This week there's a change and we see 50/1 out there and I find it hard to leave him off the staking plan.
Scheffler topped the strokes gained tee to green stats last week and I can't have him a bigger price than last week despite the strength of field increasing a fair bit. He would have finished better off than 15th had he managed to hole a few more putts but given the fact he finished 3rd in the AMEX event a few months ago, he has more positives than plenty around him in the betting. It's a tall order but he coped well last week and going off a bigger price just doesn't quite add up to my eyes.
Hadwin is worthy of a speculative play. The Canadian is ranked world no 55 and hasn't done an awful lot wrong of late. 26th last time out at Riviera is more than respectable and is another who could benefit from being lightly raced before entering the Sawgrass cauldron. His last three appearances at the Desert event have resulted in two runner up finishes and a 3rd placed spot. He loves that event but relentless performances on that Stadium course suggest that more could be to come at Sawgrass at some point. Of the rest, Grillo was very interesting with some form here but last week was a bit of a shambles and was enough to put me off. Van Rooyen, Hoge, and Sam Burns were others at huge odds who enter the equation.