Golf tips, best bets and player analysis for the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass on the PGA Tour as Steve Palmer tries to follow a 16-1 winner after Scottie Scheffler’s Arnold Palmer Invitational triumph.
where to watch
Live on Sky Sports Main Event & Golf from 11.45am on Thursday
2.5pts each way 45-1 bet365
Hideki Matsuyama (NOT RUNNER)
2.5pts each way 30-1 Hills
2pts each way 33-1 bet365, Betfred
1.5pts each way 45-1 Hills
1pt each way 60-1 bet365
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The Players Championship – traditionally one of the most exciting sporting events on the calendar – is full of vocal fans this week. The 2020 event had to be scrapped after one round when only a fifth of the usual number of spectators were allowed in last year, but Covid won’t spoil this week’s showpiece. The ‘Fifth Major’ is at full speed.
Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa are the betting headliners. Rahm missed a ten-inch putt at Bay Hill last week and desperately lacks confidence in his flat stick. No one has ever successfully defended at Sawgrass – and Thomas may not be good enough to buck the trend – so Morikawa is the most attractive of the trio.
Morikawa closed with a 66 in last year’s players, having carded a 68 in the discontinued 2020 edition, and the harsh conditions forecast plays to his strengths. Weather concerns, however, mean punters should be careful not to over invest at short prices. It may be best to avoid the market leaders as a stormy Thursday and Friday should be followed by a windy Saturday and a cold Sunday. Smaller stakes at higher odds are the recommended course of action.
Steve Palmer’s best advice
Shane Lowry 45-1
Last time out in the Honda Classic, Shane Lowry produced some of the best Golfs of his career, closing with three straight rounds of 67 at PGA National to finish second behind Sepp Straka.
This effort came on a tough Florida course with lots of water and lots of wind – and Lowry is tackling a similar mission at Sawgrass. It was extremely unfortunate to complete a stroke before Straka, who managed to blow up his drive on the par five 18th and birdie easily, before heavy rain made the hole much more difficult for Lowry.
The Irishman said the sudden opening of the skies at the Honda was the worst break he had ever had on a golf course, but he took the loss well, knowing he had found his best game at the time. ideal for being a threat to the Players Championship.
While Scottie Scheffler, Viktor Hovland and Rory McIlroy invested a lot of mental energy at Bay Hill last week, admitting their exhaustion in post-round talks, Lowry reasonably skipped the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It refreshed him for Sawgrass, where he had a strong weekend 12 months ago to finish eighth.
Last year’s performance came when Lowry was in poor shape – he had just missed the cut at Bay Hill and was feeling gloomy – but this time he arrived in top form. Honda’s near miss came after a solid round of golf in the Middle East and the 2019 Open champion looks set for Sawgrass.
Lowry is one of the most adaptable players in the world when it comes to changing weather, so the forecast for rain, wind and cold this week won’t cause him to worry. Clara’s Florida-based man will love this challenge.
Next best bet
Hideki Matsuyama 30-1 (NON RUNNER)
The last round 70 that Hideki Matsuyama patented at Bay Hill on Sunday was bettered by just two players on the court that day. He carried the Japanese ace up to 20th place – another solid effort from an increasingly reliable 30-year-old.
The Masters champion won the Zozo Championship by five strokes in October and then the Sony Open in the playoffs in January. He finished seventh at Sawgrass in 2016 and eighth in 2019 when he outclassed everyone this weekend. The Florida-based star opened with a 63 and led the 2020 event by two strokes before it was abandoned.
Last year’s rounds of 76 and 69 meant Matsuyama was one stroke short of the cut line, but he’s 19 under in his last five rounds at Sawgrass and has never been more confident.
Cameron Smith 33-1
Joaquin Niemann 45-1
Corey Conners 60-1
Cameron Smith lives in Ponte Vedra Beach and practices regularly at Sawgrass. That on-site comfort was on display last year when he shot a Saturday 65 en route to 17th place. Smith, perhaps sensing an opportunity to land the top $3.6 million Sawgrass prize, skipped the Honda Classic and the Arnold Palmer. The focus has been on the players and the preparation on the track has undoubtedly been extremely thorough.
Smith won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii earlier this year and then finished fourth on his Saudi international debut last month. The Aussie has impressed the rider this year and is ultra-comfortable in the wind.
The forecast of a windy Saturday will not worry Joaquin Niemann either. The Chilean’s low ball flight could come in handy on a course where he finished 29th last year. Niemann only played five rounds at Sawgrass (73, 73, 71, 70, 70) and that improvement should continue given the quality of his play this year.
Niemann finished sixth at Torrey Pines, eighth at Saudi International, then won the Genesis Invitational with a 19-under-par masterclass, beating a top-notch field. He had an understandable hangover after his victory, missing the cut by a shot in the Honda next time around, but he should be fresh and shoot for Sawgrass.
Complete a team of Florida residents with Corey Conners, who was in seventh place when the 2020 players were dropped and then finished seventh when he returned to Sawgrass last year. Conners topped greens stats in regulation time at Bay Hill last week, earning more than 11 shots from the field from tee to green. He rode badly and finished 11th, but the long game class gives the 30-year-old a great chance to make an impact this week.
Conners has finished tenth and eighth at the last two Masters – and 15th at the last Open – so the biggest arenas don’t seem to scare the lovable Canadian anymore.
Players to note
The Florida-based Swede hit his ball beautifully as he headed for fifth at the Honda Classic last time out, putting poorly. He can still threaten the place this week.
Moody Englishman played well at Bay Hill on Sunday in a tie for second place. His Sawgrass record is nowhere near as good as Bay Hill’s, but he’s coming in in good shape.
Sawgrass is a mission the in-form Sheffield man relishes – and he was ninth last year – but the rain forecast at the start of the tournament is not helping his chances.
Sawgrass isn’t a venue that has given the confident Californian much success, but he’s never played there before as a FedEx Cup champion. Dangerman in shape.
A share of second place was the least the in-form Floridian deserved of Sunday’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. He knows Sawgrass like the back of his hand and again needs to be respected.
A class act that has been run lightly in recent months – Johnson prefers March Sawgrass conditions over May. On the price alone, the former world number one is worth considering.
Sawgrass Course Guide
Course Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Prize money $20 million ($3.6 million to winner)
Length 7,256 yards
By 72 – four par fives; ten normal; four par three
Field 144 The cup Top 65 and ties advance to Round 3
Highest ranked players in the field (world ranking in parentheses) Jon Rahm (1), Collin Morikawa (2), Viktor Hovland (3), Patrick Cantlay (4), Scottie Scheffler (5)
Course files – 72 holes 264 Greg Norman (2004) 18 holes 63 Fred Couples (1992), Greg Norman (1994), Martin Kaymer (2014), Jason Day (2016), Colt Knost (2016), Webb Simpson (2018), Brooks Koepka (2018)
Participating course winners Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar, Jason Day, Si Woo Kim, Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas
When to bet Before 11:45 a.m. on Thursday
When to watch Live on Sky Sports Main Event & Golf from 11.45am on Thursday
Time difference Florida is five hours behind the UK and Ireland
Last Week – Arnold Palmer Invitational 1 S Scheffler (18-1), T2 T Hatton (35-1), V Hovland (16-1), B Horschel (50-1), T5 G Woodland (70-1), C Kirk (80-1) , T7 L Herbert (250-1), T Gooch (60-1)
Type of course Park
Course overview Pete Dye’s design has hosted this tournament since 1982. The championship has come to be known as the ‘fifth major’ due to the quality of the field – usually all the elite play. The dangerous holes, one of the best known in golf being the island’s 17th green, can see competitors playing big numbers. The par-fives – the second, ninth, 11th and 16th – offer relief. The track has a state-of-the-art drainage system, which allows officials to make the track firm and fast, but the change in 2019 from a May date in the calendar to a March date has had a dramatic effect on course conditions. It’s lusher in March, so the ball doesn’t roll to the same extent and it doesn’t fly as far in the colder air. In 2017, the 12th hole was redesigned to become a 302-yard driveable par four. The 2020 event was canceled after one round due to Covid
Last year story Justin Thomas fired his drive on the 72nd hole, but his ball just managed to avoid the lake to the left of the fairway and a closing par meant a one-shot win over Lee Westwood.
Weather forecast Four hours of rain is forecast on a stormy Thursday, then Friday seems like a similar story. A windy Saturday should be followed by a cold Sunday (a high of 13°C).
Type of player adapted to the challenge Plodders have traditionally been successful at this site when the event was staged in May, but the move to March and the lusher terrain effectively lengthened the track and played into the hands of the big hitters. Rain and cold air look set to help them further this week
key attribute Power
Spotlight overview The last ten Sawgrass champions have finished in the top 25 of their previous tournament
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FIRST POSTED AT 12:27 PM, MARCH 8, 2022