The Players Championship returned to this spot on the schedule 12 months ago, which gave a good run of events in Florida, with the Honda, Bay Hill and then the dubbed “fifth major” here all in succession.
Tiger Woods has already confirmed his decision to miss the event this week due to a back injury and Australia’s Jason Day is also suffering with a back injury. This same pair were slated to miss the week last year as well through injury as well, but both played and finished 30th and 8th respectively. So far Day is scheduled to play and his record isn’t bad coming off a withdrawal, so he’s one to keep an eye on.
Whilst Woods is undoubtedly the star attraction and a huge miss, the majority of the world’s top-50 will be pegging it up this week, making this essential viewing regardless.
Last year, the Players Championship got the champion the event desires as the now World No.1, Rory McIlroy won this event on his tenth start. McIlroy’s final round 70 was good enough to hold off an impressive charge from veteran, Jim Furyk and just a further shot back were Eddie Pepperell and Jhonattan Vegas. It was Jon Rahm however that started the day with a one-shot lead over Ryder Cup teammates, McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood, but a final-round 76 saw him fall into a tie for 12th.
Rahm bogeyed three of first four holes and made the turn at +1 but with a par at the 10th he still sat in a tie for the lead – then came one of the strangest decisions you will see. His caddie wanted Rahm to pitch out into the fairway after finding himself bunkered and staring trees and water right in the face. Instead Rahm decided to take on a high-risk shot to get close to the green and put it straight into the water. From there his race was run.
2019 – Rory McIlroy (-16)
2018 – Webb Simpson (-18)
2017 – Si Woo Kim (-10)
2016 – Jason Day (-15)
2015 – Rickie Fowler (-12)
Adam Scott 33/1 (Betfred 7 Places 1/5 odds) 1.5pts e/w:
Adam Scott has been the epitome of consistency at TPC Sawgrass, as he’s made his last eight straight cuts here, which is no mean feat in itself. He missed the cut in 2011, and that came two starts after just missing out on a Green Jacket and two starts before missing the cut at the U.S. Open, so it felt like a difficult time in the schedule for him.
Scott won here in 2004, becoming the youngest ever winner of the event at 23 years of age, a record that stood until Si Woo Kim’s victory in 2017. This event is notoriously difficult to defend, with no player ever retaining the title. Since its move to Sawgrass the shortest span between victories here was six years, as Steve Elkington won in 1991 and 1997. Despite this, Scott put up a brave defence in 2005, finishing in a tie for 8th, just four strokes behind which is the closest margin behind victory for a defending champion. There has also not been a defending champion since that’s finishes inside the top-10. It’s clear then, that this is an event Scott must circle every year as a chance to win.
His last three starts here have yielded results of 12-11-6, finishing just one shot shy of a top-10 in each of the last two years and the move to March looks advantageous in my opinion. The Aussie often talks of his intentions to peak for Augusta, so he should always round into his best form at this time of the season and his winning record confirms that. 8 of his 14 PGA Tour and 4 of his 11 European Tour victories have come between January and April, including each of his last three. He spoke again of the fact that he wishes Riviera was a little later in the schedule to give him a chance to be at his best, but he won that this year and his two victories in 2016 came back-to-back at the end of February and beginning of March, so this looks like the best time of year for him.
Aside from his victory at Riviera, Scott played three great rounds at the WGC-HSBC Champions, with a third-round 75 costing him a chance to win, as he finished 11th and it was a similar case in Mexico a week after his win at the Genesis. Scott opened with a round of 74 there, but shot a pair of 68’s and a 70 to close out the week to finish a respectable T26.
Scott played poorly at Bay Hill, opening with a round of 77 before improving by five shots in round two, but I won’t let one bad round deter me as I think Scott looks good value on a course he loves, at 33/1.
Daniel Berger 50/1 (PaddyPower 10 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
After a tough couple of seasons, it looks like Berger is back if not close to his brilliant best, which saw him receive the Rookie of the Year award in 2015 and win twice on the PGA Tour.
Both of those victories came at the FedEx St. Jude classic in back-to-back years (2016, 2017), however he has multiple top finishes on Tour, including 2nd and 5th place finishes at the Pete Dye designed TPC River Highlands, and a further three-runner up finishes across the schedule. A T2 finish at a WGC and top-10 finishes at both the U.S. Open (T6) and the Masters (T10 on debut) suggest he is a fantastic talent, and he’s returning to that form.
Within his impressive 2016 season, was a T9 finish on just his second start on this course. This was largely down to opening-round 66 but he also closed with an impressive round of 69 after a Friday 72 and moving day 73. He hasn’t managed to back that up here, but that’s not entirely surprising given his dip in form over the past two years, but he’s made every cut since missing the weekend on debut in 2015, so with his improved current form, he’s certainly worth chancing.
When T9 here in 2016, Berger was coming in off the back of five top-20 finishes in his past six starts, including a T10 at Augusta and he’s in similar form now. He’s missed just one cut this season and also since the turn of the year his form figures read T38-T29-T9-T5-T4, so he’s certainly been playing well, especially over his past three starts. The Florida native was expected to go well in a home event at the Honda Classic and he duly obliged with a T4 finish and he can carry that form over to another Florida event on Bermuda greens.
Berger put in a fantastic ball-striking effort last time out, ranking 6th in both SG: Approach and Driving Accuracy and his putting was also decent, ranking 17th in SG: Putting. If he puts in similar numbers and plays the Par 4’s well this week, I think Berger stands a great chance of succeeding here.
After bursting on to the scene with an impressive rookie and even better sophomore season, Berger was touted as a future major winner, and events such as these will be what he is targeting if he truly is back to his best golf. Although it takes a lot to win just once, Berger will be hoping to get a victory on a course that isn’t TPC Southwind, to really stake his name amongst the best in the world once again.
At 50/1 with 10 places, I think he is worth a bet, although there is some 70/1 and 66/1 about if you want to sacrifice a fair few places.
Matt Kuchar 50/1 (PaddyPower 10 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Is Kuchar still a crowd favourite at this point of his career? Probably not, but he is still supremely talented and it’s his lack of popularity that sees him fall to 50/1 with 10 places, more than his skill level.
A former winner of this event in 2012 and a 3rd place finish in 2016 highlight his suitability to this test, and he’s also won and finished runner-up at the RBC Heritage, another Pete Dye course to further vindicate his chances.
Since winning in Singapore in January, Kuchar has finished T16 in Phoenix (one shot behind T9), T38 at Pebble (final-round 76), T2 at Riviera and T16 in Mexico (opening-round 75). It’s clear that Kuchar is well in form, with a round a week seemingly costing him at times, but he’s got the bit between his teeth again and will be looking to contend again before major season.
At 50/1, Kuchar is great value to win here again, even if that is something not many players do.
Abraham Ancer 80/1 (PaddyPower 10 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Abraham Ancer is an improving player, particularly since last August. His best performance in his career to date, from an OWGR perspective came at the Northern Trust (2nd) last August and two of his next three best have been his T4 finish at the WGC-HSBC Champions (November) and 2nd at the American Express back in January.
It’s been a bit up and down since, but T6 and T12 finishes at the Saudi International and WGC-Mexico Championship give enough reason for optimism that he can go slightly better than his debut here 12 months ago.
Ancer finished T12 on his first start in this event last season, with a final-round 72 costing him the chance of a top-5 finish. He played well here last year when his game was largely out of sorts as his five most recent starts heading into this event resulted in three missed cuts, a T44 at Riviera and T39 finish in the 72-man WGC-Mexico field. He’s in better nick this time around and with his Presidents Cup teammates winning all around him, he will surely be hoping to elevate to the same level himself.
He’s not won on the Tour yet, but despite not standing out in any particular department, he is solid across the board and that is a recipe for success in itself.
The Mexican ranked 8th in the field last year in SG: Tee-to-Green, and currently ranks 7th in Scrambling and also averages under-par (3.99) on Par 4’s, so ticks that box also. Ancer was ranked 8th in Bogey Avoidance before a tough week at Bay Hill, but still sits T16 which is useful as this is a course where you sometimes have to take your medicine, and accept par as a good score. If he can match his ball striking from a year ago, he has every chance of contending here and at the very least finishing in the top-10.
80/1 with 10 places on offer was enough to peak my interest in the Mexican, who looks bound for a maiden victory.
Jimmy Walker 200/1 (SkyBet 8 places) 0.5pt e/w:
A speculative play for my final selection, Jimmy Walker has posted back-to-back top-25’s during this Florida Swing and although he’s virtually disappeared since being diagnosed with Lyme Disease, I think it is worth chancing him to put together four rounds here.
Walker has finished 6th and 2nd here in the past, the latter coming in 2018 and signs suggest he could be capable of doing something similar here.
He was T24 last week at Bay Hill but was going along really nicely after two rounds, with a third-round 80 a real stinger. He wasn’t alone in shooting such a high round that day however, as only one player on the course broke par and he bounced back in solid fashion with a solid round of 71 on Sunday. Walker was just four shots outside the top-10 last week and the same number the week before, and to shave a shot off each round, especially in an event he shot 80 is hardly inconceivable so he’s certainly close to some decent form once again.
His improved play over the past fortnight is mostly down to his improved iron play, as he ranked 4th in SG: Approach last week and 29th the week before at the Honda and if he can improve with the short stick on familiar greens this week, he has every chance of another top-finish.
When he was 6th here in 2014, he bounced back from an opening round 75, where 71 would have been enough to tie for the lead, so again he looks comfortable on this course as three other top-35 finishes outside of his two top-6 finishes suggests.
At 200/1 with eight places on offer, I thought he was worth chancing and again bigger odds are available (250/1) if you are happy to sacrifice a couple of places.
Total Points staked this week: 9
Profit/Loss for 2020: +49.3