It is the biggest regular event on the PGA Tour this week when the stars of golf come together for The Players Championship, the tournament commonly known as the ‘Fifth Major’ and the one which features the scariest hole in golf.
Not much scared Justin Thomas at TPC Sawgrass last year though as he came through to win one of the bigger prizes of his career. He is back to defend the title but he faces stiff challenges in the form of the golf course and those he is competing against.
2021 – Justin Thomas
2019 – Rory McIlroy
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
The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is the venue for this wonderful tournament once again this week. Golf fans will not need any description of this famous track, famous for the 17th hole which is a short par 3 island hole. This is one of the toughest tests of golf on tour where the pressure is on over almost every shot. Only the bravest golfers win around this track.
It goes without saying that with all the water around this course accuracy is paramount. This is a very tough course so scrambling is a key requirement as well which makes the bogey avoidance statistic another key one. Both tracks used in the Florida Swing to date have been firm and fast and the point of moving this tournament back from May to March was to keep conditions similar. TPC Sawgrass is a par 72 course which only measures 7,256 yards so it is not a long track and bombers don’t tend to get much advantage here.
This is an elite field where the best in the world are going to tee it up on a backdrop that is fitting of those who grace it. It isn’t quite a who’s who of golf this week because there are half a dozen qualifiers who aren’t teeing it up for whatever reason. They include Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods but the world number one Jon Rahm is here, as is the defending champion Justin Thomas and the FedExCup winner Patrick Cantlay. Two-time winner in the last month Scottie Scheffler is also here as well.
The new breed of golf star is also well represented this week with European Race to Dubai champion Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland both in the field while the British charge is led by Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood. Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry will be looking to take the title to Ireland while Louis Oosthuizen, Hideki Matsuyama, Sungjae Im and Cameron Smith are among those who are spearheading the international challenge in what is a loaded field.
Not for the first time in 2022 the world number one Jon Rahm is the favourite to win the tournament. He is an 11/1 shot to come in here. Recently I’ve been happy to oppose him because his putter just hasn’t cooperated. It still isn’t cooperating and I’m not going to hide from the fact that isn’t a concern but the numbers he is delivering in the long game department make him very hard to oppose. I still can’t get over his putting issues but I’m all too aware that he will come good with that eventually so while I still oppose him, I’m doing it a little more tentatively this time.
Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas are the 16/1 joint second favourites to win this tournament. Thomas is the defending champion and I hate going near them so as good a player as he is, he isn’t for me around here. Morikawa is in decent form, although his second at the Genesis a couple of weeks ago was the best he was positioned that week but this is only his second taste of TPC Sawgrass and history would suggest you need a few spins around here before you master this place.
Patrick Cantlay and Rory McIlroy are next in the betting at 20/1. McIlroy doesn’t do it for me on firm and fast courses and he admitted as much last week when he criticised the course setup when there was nothing wrong with it. He was the leader after the first round but faded fast and he definitely isn’t for me. Cantlay has a terrible record around here but you would think he is too good for that to remain the case for long. He is very much of interest.
Viktor Hovland is the only other player in the field shorter than 25/1. He is 22/1 to win this tournament which on the face of it looks fair given his form over the last five months or so where he has won three times and could easily have won twice more. He missed the cut on his only previous appearance here so that is definitely a concern. As I mentioned with Morikawa experience is often needed around here. I’m also a little concerned with how he faded down the back nine at Bay Hill last week so I’ll pass on him.
Cameron Smith has already done us a turn this season and this Ponte Vedra Beach habitant can go well on a course it is said he often practices at. He has been caught out in competition play around here in the past because his driver has been out of control but when he won the Tournament of Champions he drove it like Lewis Hamilton. Admittedly the fairways were wider there and most places but he wasn’t just finding the fairway, he was smoking it down the middle of them and getting it out there too. We know his iron game in is among the best in the world so if he has that level of driving with him on a course he is familiar with even if his record on it isn’t fantastic then he is a real chance here. Smith was T17 here two years ago and is a better player now so he should go a lot closer this time round.
I was on Sungjae Im at Bay Hill last week and I was left feeling a little annoyed with him because his play was a lot better than the top 20 he delivered. Nevertheless, he has all the tools to go well around here even if his record could be better. I took him last week based on his ball striking ability. He now sits seventh on the tour for ball striking despite not having his best long game last week and has been scrambling well for a while now. He picked up seven shots on the field on the greens last week so if he has put the long game back in the bag he is a good chance here. He has gone MC-17 in two goes here but the 17 consisted of a pair of 66s and he was nicely placed on -3 after 18 holes in 2020 when the pandemic ended the event there and then. His record here is better than it suggests and if he can find his usual strong ball striking then he’s a leading player here.
I’ll go with four outsiders this week. Two of them are previous winners here and then I’m throwing a couple of darts at two overpriced runners. The first former champion is Si-Woo Kim. I don’t think I’m breaking the realms of reality backing him. He has won around here and his Sedgefield record is up there with the best in the game and generally the two correlate. He’s also a Pete Dye monster who generally contends and comes alive whenever Pete Dye’s name is mentioned near the host course. This is his most famous creation and Kim has a win and a top 10 here. He’s an obvious horse for a course selection.
Jason Day is another. He won here in 2016 and has three top 10 finishes either side of that. He wasn’t as good here last year but his form was going nowhere then. He came alive at Torrey Pines earlier in the campaign and while his Pebble Beach numbers were nothing special he was competitive there until the final round caught him out. Whether being in contention the previous week was something to do with that I’m not sure but he hasn’t played since then for one reason or another so he comes here fresh. Obviously his fitness is always a concern but if the Day that went to the Farmers last month shows up here and he plays the 72 holes he will go very close.
Seamus Power feels a big price to me this week. The concern is that he has missed his last three cuts but I’ll come to why I’ll overlook that in a minute. Prior to that his previous nine starts yielded finishes of 21-12-11-MC-4-15-3-14-9 so not only did he show form but he had consistency too. Those missed cuts were at Phoenix, Genesis and at Bay Hill last week. At the Phoenix he missed the cut despite shooting one under and he was one under through the first 18 at Riviera before he had to chase a surprisingly low cut line and it caught him out. A first round 80 at Bay Hill last week was disappointing but everyone is allowed a bad day. In that consistent spell Power’s long game was great, so much so that he sits T11 for ball striking on tour this season. I think he’s a huge price.
The reigning Wyndham Championship winner Kevin Kisner is my final selection. He probably should have won around here in 2015 before he went down to Rickie Fowler. The negative of that is it was in May when it was a little softer but the firmness of this track should suit him without him being the longest in the world. He has an awesome record down at the WGC Matchplay so it might be that March conditions suit him too. That tournament tells us he can handle the wind which is never a bad thing in Florida. His record here since 2015 isn’t fantastic but he was eight under at halfway in 2019 before fading over the weekend. His recent form is nothing to write home about but Phoenix and Bay Hill are probably too long for him and he is never going to win a shootout without length so Pebble Beach is excused too. Prior to that he had started the year 8-3 in the two Hawaii events, the latter of which he ranked sixth in the all-round ranking, gaining over 6.6 shots from tee to green and smashing it with the putter. If that Kisner shows up here then he’s a monster price.
Back C.Smith to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 34.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back S.Im to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 41.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back S-W.Kim to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back K.Kisner to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 201.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back them here:
Back J.Day to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-11)
Back S.Power to win The Players Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 126.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-11)