2021 The Players Championship: First Round Leader Picks

Sam Eaton brings us his predictions for First Round Leader at this week's The Players Championship.
Sam Eaton
Wed, March 10, 7:35 AM EST
  • First Round Leader specialist Sam Eaton has five selections for this week's Players Championship from TPC Sawgrass.
  • All of Sam's picks are based on statistics and models built on the course requirements.

Last week’s PGA Tour event was possibly one of the most enthralling four days of golf we’ve had for a while, the course demanded focus on every hole which led to some huge swings over the weekend. Unfortunately, my outright bet on Victor Perez was victim to one of those swings, when he managed to score 11 at one hole on Saturday.

Thankfully, the Players Championship is hosted at TPC Sawgrass, which like last week has plenty of water hazards. There will again be some monster scores on a few of these holes, and completely throw players out of contention.

The course demands top quality approach play, and also requires golfers to be very hand round the green. The greens are Bermuda grass, and are likely to be softer than usual given the time of year. Driving accuracy isn’t a must as Rory McIlroy showed when he won this event, but it will certainly help with approach being a requirement. There are a few holes which will benefit longer hitters, but given the length of the course smaller drivers aren’t limited. Players must take advantage of the par 4s which play under 400 yards.

There’s also a lot of cross-over with the Wyndham Championship, so worth paying attention to who has performed well at that event.

Webb Simpson @ +4000

Webb Simpson often gets overlooked in the betting in events like this, despite being among the best players in the world in terms of world rankings. Everyone’s aware of Webb Simpson’s approach play, and it was his irons and play around the green which propelled him to a 6th place finish at the WGC a couple of weeks ago.

Bermuda greens are Webb Simpon’s preference, and he’s a past winner of this event, plus he finished 3rd at the Wyndham this season.

He was the first rounder leader at the WGC, and has two other top 10 finishes after Thursday in his last six events.

Tony Finau @ +4500

Like Webb Simpson, I’ll be scoring no points for originality with Tony Finau in the first round leader market. Finau has gained over five shots on the field in terms of approach in two of his last four PGA Tour events. Bermuda greens are his weakest surface, but his putter has been performing over the last three events.

The number of fairways Tony Finau has been hitting is a little bit of a concern, but he’s amongst the best in the last three months in terms of par 4 scoring. His extra distance could be a huge asset on some of these shorter holes.

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Mark Hubbard @ +17500

It’s not the first time I’ve opted to bet Mark Hubbard in the first round leader market. It’s easy to ask why when looking at Hubbard’s stats as a whole, but when you filter out the opening rounds only, it becomes a totally different picture.

If you are looking for someone to hit the fairways, then Mark Hubbard is your man. He gained 2.8 shots on the field in the opening round in terms of approach at the Arnold Plamer, and 3.1 at the WMPO.

He was 6th after the first round at Pebble Beach, and was the first round leader at the WMPO. In the last year, he’s had two leads after the opening day, and four top ten placings. He’s also played well at the Wyndam Championship in recent years.

Tom Hoge @ +20000

Tom Hoge is another at a long price who has become a bit of an opening day bandit. Given the course, and given the quality of Tom Hoge, this tip could quite easily finish dead-last, but that’s the nature of 200/1 shots.

Hoge was the opening day leader at the Wyndham Championship, and has picked up four top 10 finishes after the first day since. Another one on paper, it’s easily to get confused why he might suit this course. But his opening day stats have been impressive in the last three months, gaining shots on the field in approach and par 4 scoring at the majority of events.

Keegan Bradley @ +10000

Keegan Bradley’s not going to win many events, but in terms of shooting the lowest round across the four days, he’s a bet at any PGA Tour event. Bradley has an uncanny nack of going really low, which he showed on Saturday last week. He also did it at the Players on day one in 2019, shooting a 65.

Bradley’s approach play has been impressive of late, gaining on average 2.4 shots on the field in the last five events. The putter is the obvious concern, and Bermuda grass isn’t his preferred. He gained shots on the field with his putter last week, but this was the first time since the Sanderson Farms. It was a pick of the bad putter for the last slot, and Keegan got the nod over Sergio Garcia.

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