Making money from the Players Championship is often as precarious as finishing with two pars at TPC Sawgrass – but we do fancy our chances of bashing the bookies this week.
The “unofficial fifth major” is a tough one to win typically because it aligns the best players in the world, and the odds for this year’s renewal rightly reflect that.
Tiger Woods is the only tournament-winning favourite at TPC Sawgrass in the last 15 years, with victories in 2001 and 2013, and only two other winners in that period have started in the top-five of the betting market – so we are more than prepared to look for some decent value.
While this year’s jolly Rory McIlroy (8/1) looks tempting, as too recent Masters faller Jordan Spieth (10/1), world number one Jason Day (12/1) and defending champion Rickie Fowler (pictured; 18/1), our eyes are fixated further down the list.
We have investigated both past results and current form, and come up with two best bets and two sleepers who will likely give you a run for your money.
You would usually have to pay me to back Sergio Garcia, but I am more than prepared to select the Spaniard this week, writes Editor Andy Roberts.
Garcia is a past winner (2008) of the Players and has achieved a handful of solid finishes here, most recently when losing out to Fowler in a playoff last year.
He also finished third in 2014, and who will ever forget his dramatic collapse in 2013 when he fell from a share of the lead into tied eighth when playing the last two holes in 6-over.
An all-too-frequent shaky putting stroke does make me quiver slightly, but his course form and mini break from competitive golf should see him go very close this week. I also like the fact he ranks fourth in greens in regulation on the PGA Tour this season, and you can usually always rely on a solid driving performance.
His 2016 season form does leave something to be desired at 44th in the FedEx Cup rankings, but a second at the Honda Classic in February and third on home turf in his last start three weeks ago certainly appeals.
Recent form is not always an indicator for a W at the Players, but like Garcia, knowing the course usually proves telling, writes Equipment Editor Charlie Lemay.
Hideki Matsuyama has finished inside the top 25 in his two previous visits (T17 and T23 respectively), suggesting the layout fits his eye. Breaking his duck in a playoff at the Memorial in 2014, and then ousting fan-favourite Fowler in Phoenix again in extra holes earlier this year, shows the Japanese ace can compete in the pressure cooker.
I certainly get the sense a major gong is heading his way, and the Players would be the perfect stepping stone for that.
Length and accuracy are not always keys to success at TPC Sawgrass – just ask Matt Kuchar (2012), Tim Clark (2011), KJ Choi (2010) and Fred Funk (2005). Instead it’s on the green where players must excel and Matsuyama currently ranks third on the PGA Tour for birdie average (4.7) and sixth for scoring average (69.96).
REVIEW: TPC SAWGRASS
There is some serious value to be had at three-figure odds this week, and Marc Leishman looks the best of the bunch, writes Andy Roberts.
Leishman may only have one PGA Tour victory to his name at the 2012 Travelers, but he demolished the field by six shots at the Nedbank Challenge on the European Tour at the end of last year. He has also flirted for a major championship, notably finishing tied second in last year’s Open and tied fourth in the 2013 Masters.
The Australian has both TPC Sawgrass form with three top-25 finishes including a tie for eighth in 2014, and current form with five top-30 finishes in his last six starts.
Chris Kirk struggled with fleeting form at the start of the year, but has found his swing heading into the Players with four top-15 finishes in his last six starts, writes Charlie Lemay.
Furthermore, the American has finished tied 13th in his last two visits to the Players, and he even led the tournament after 54 holes last year.
With four wins on the PGA Tour, Kirk may just be about to capture his most illustrious victory.