PGA Tour golf best bets: The Players Championship

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After bombing his way to victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Bryson DeChambeau and the rest of the PGA Tour’s best head to TPC Sawgrass for The Players Championship.

Rory McIlroy, who faded over the weekend but still finished tied for 10th last week, is the defending champion.

Which players are the favorites this time around, who offers good odds and what props are worthwhile?

Betting analysts Chris “The Bear” Fallica, who correctly picked DeChambeau to win last week at 12-1 odds, and Joe Fortenbaugh, sports betting deputy editor David Bearman and fantasy analyst Anita Marks offer their best bets.

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill unless otherwise noted.


Bets to win

Collin Morikawa 20-1; Top-5 finish (+450), Top-10 finish (+220)

Marks: The Players Championship is one of the hardest to pick a winner, but my gut keeps telling me Morikawa has a great chance to win what many call the fifth major. He continues his hot Florida swing, fresh off a win at the WGC at The Concession. His short game is dialed in, and his new “saw” putting grip, courtesy of Mark O’Meara, will keep him near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday. He checks all the boxes needed to win on this track: first in strokes gained on approach, fourth in greens in regulation, third in strokes gained tee to green, 14th in par-4 scoring birdie or better and 13th in driving accuracy this season.

Webb Simpson 22-1; Top-10 finish (+225)

Bearman: Simpson isn’t going to wow you off the tee, coming in at 133rd on tour in driving distance (293.3 yards), but that is less important on this course, where your overall game separates you from the field. Simpson is one of the best ball-strikers on tour (12th in total shots gained, 12th around the green and 27th tee-to-green) and won this event in 2018, sandwiched around two T-16s. Recent form has been a big factor for eventual winners at Sawgrass, and Simpson finished T-6 two weeks ago at The Concession and T-4 two events earlier in Hawaii as part of his four top 10s in nine events this season. As shown last year in the FedEx Cup playoffs, Simpson knows how to manage his schedule; he took last week’s event off, so he will be good and rested for the tough challenge at Sawgrass.

Viktor Hovland 25-1; Top-10 finish (+275)

Fallica: Much like Patrick Reed and Daniel Berger earlier this year, sometimes you just need to get a couple of bad rounds out of the way prior to a win. And Hovland’s weekend at Bay Hill was certainly forgettable. Can he bounce back from a poor result and win the following week — just like Reed and Berger? His game suggests he can, as evidenced by a run of T-2, T-5 and T-2 in the previous three weeks and a top 10 rankings in shots gained tee-to-green. And you get just a smidge of a better price this week.

Hovland 25-1

Kezirian: Hovland unraveled last weekend by shooting 77 and 78 after holding the 36-hole lead. However, his game is right there and the 23-year-old will eventually have much lower odds on a weekly basis. The question is when will that start and whether we can beat the market. He’s one of the Tour’s biggest hitters off the tee and has solid measurables in approach shots. However, he’s fairly shaky around the green, and we recently saw that rear its ugly head with a snowman two weeks ago.

Scottie Scheffler 35-1; Top-10 finish (4-1)

Fallica: Another Players debutante — and one who is seeking his first PGA Tour win — but this event has a way of producing surprise winners at times, and Scheffler fits the bill for me this week. He played well at the WGC, finishing fifth, and during the FedEx Cup events, so you know his game is suited for the big time.

Tommy Fleetwood 35-1; Top-10 finish (4-1)

Bearman: In picking Fleetwood for a top 10/20 in this column last week, I wrote that despite mixed results in 2021, he has a great track record in Florida. He backed me up with another top-10 finish, now his sixth in 10 starts on Florida courses. That includes a T-5 and T-7 in 2019 and 2018, respectively, at TPC Sawgrass, where he ranks seventh in total shots gained and in strokes gained tee-to-green. Fleetwood’s recent issue seems to be one bad round per tourney, which continued last weekend with the final-round 77 on Sunday, but he still finished in the top 10. He’s on the cusp and comes with a 35-to-1 price that is hard to ignore. It’s the same price I took him at last week, and with a good week under his belt, he has a good shot to win this weekend.

Jason Day 45-1; Top-10 finish (+450)

Bearman: The 2016 champion here in Ponte Vedra also finished T-8 and T-5 in his two previous appearances here. Day has shot par or better in 13 of his last 16 rounds at TPC Sawgrass and is third in total shots gained at the event over the last 10 years. Day, looking for his first win since 2018, has had an up-and-down 2021, finishing in the top 10 in Houston and at Pebble, but missing the cut at the Masters, Torrey Pines and Phoenix. He was in contention each of the last two weeks before poor Sundays knocked him back.

Adam Scott 55-1; Top-20 finish (3-1); 1st round leader (70-1)

Bearman: Looking for a long shot? Scott has flat out owned Florida courses, tying for the most victories (three) in the Sunshine State since 2004. According to the PGA Tour, his 1.53 shots gained tee-to-green is best among all players with 50-plus rounds in Florida over the last decade. The Aussie has four top 10s at Sawgrass, including a win in 2004, and hasn’t finished lower than T-12th dating back to 2016. He’s the course leader in total shots gained and on approach, is second in strokes gained tee-to-green and has 22 rounds in the 60s at TPC Sawgrass. So why are we getting 55-1 for a former major winner who plays great here? Well, he hasn’t been heard from much since the pandemic break. Scott was among the few players who did not come back in June when the PGA Tour resumed play, waiting until the PGA Championship in August to tee it up. He has played in only 11 events in the past year with one top 10 (T-10 at Farmers Insurance). But for 55 times your money, you are getting a golfer with a 71.42 scoring average at Sawgrass — second all-time behind Tiger Woods.

Si Woo Kim 100-1

Kezirian: I probably back Kim more than I should, considering his poor putting. However, he won this tourney as a 500/1 longshot so I am not skipping him this weekend. Plus, he notched a win in January so it’s conceivable he pulls it off. However, there is some feast or famine in his game. He’s not afraid to blow up and miss the cut. Additionally, he’s been hampered by an injured back lately, which may have led to his withdrawal last weekend.

Keegan Bradley 125-1; 1st round leader 90-1

Kezirian: This price is ridiculous for a guy striking the ball as well as he is this year. Bradley ranks ninth in both shots gained tee to green and shots gained on approaches. His putting leaves a lot to be desired, ranking 258th in shots gained while putting, but that’s also a main reason why you can get such long odds. Well worth the risk to catch lightning in a bottle, especially for the first-round lead.


Other bets

Patrick Cantlay top-5 finish (+450); Cantlay (-103 at DraftKings) over DeChambeau

Marks: Cantlay has two top-25 finishes in three appearances at TPC Sawgrass, and he opened with a 67 last year before the tournament was shut down due to COVID-19. Cantlay comes into this year’s Florida swing with his game on point with the most total strokes gained in his last 24 rounds.

Cantlay top-10 finish (+225)

Bearman: I mentioned earlier that recent form has been a common trait for success at Sawgrass, and Cantlay comes in with nothing worse than a T-17 since October. He’s third on tour in total strokes gained and seventh in the all-important tee-to-green metric. I was very tempted to take him to win at 22-1, but he hasn’t played since pulling out with stomach issues at The Concession, giving me some pause. When on, he’s as good as anyone in the field, and +225 is a great price for a top 10 — something he has done four times in nine events this season. He was well on his way a year ago with a first-round 67 that was wiped out.

Xander Schauffele top-10 finish (2-1)

Fallica: He’ll be picked on top by more than a few people, I’m guessing, but I’ll stick with a top 10 play on Xander, who was the runner-up here to Simpson in 2018. It’s much the same approach I have recently taken with Tony Finau.

Daniel Berger top-10 finish (4-1); Top-20 finish (+188)

Bearman: Every time I go and look at Berger’s odds, they always surprise me. Sure, his course history here isn’t good with only one top-50 finish (T-9 in in 2016), but you would’ve said that for a lot of the courses Berger has dominated in the last year. Over the last 13 months, Berger has teed it up 20 times and has 10 top 10s, including two wins. Recent form? He won a few weeks ago at Pebble. Yet, he is +400 to get another top 10 and 35-1 to win the event.

Paul Casey top-10 finish (+450); Top English player (+450); Casey/Dustin Johnson finish 1-2 (225-1)

Marks: Casey has had success on the Florida swing, being a two time winner at the Valspar. He also excels on Pete Dye designed courses, which TPC Sawgrass is. Casey sports a top 10 ranking in strokes gained on approach in his last 24 rounds.

Corey Conners top-10 finish (+650)

Bearman: Conners delivered in a big way for me last week at Bay Hill, cashing as a first-round leader and hanging in as a 125-1 long shot until the end. I loved what I saw out of his ball-striking, finishing among the event leaders in strokes gained overall, tee-to-green and approach — all even more important this week at Sawgrass. It’s only his second appearance here after a T-41 in 2019. Last week might have jump-started his season, and at +650, I am aiming for another top 10 here.

Webb Simpson top-20 finish (+110)

Fortenbaugh: With the way the Wake Forest grad has been playing of late, I wouldn’t be surprised if he won this weekend. Dating back to the U.S. Open last September, Simpson has played in nine events, with four top 10s and seven top 20s highlighting his resume. The 35-year-old took a short break and then returned to the WGC two weeks ago to post a T-6 in his most recent tour start.

Hideki Matsuyama top-20 finish (+163)

Bearman: I’ve been burned enough times with Matsuyama as my guy to win that no part of me wants to pick him again. But it is very hard to ignore how well he plays here, and you only have to go back to the lone round played a year ago before COVID-19 canceled the event. Deki lapped the field, tying a course record with a 9-under 63 that was eventually wiped out. That followed his T-8 in 2019 and a T-7 in 2016. While not contending at all this calendar year, his last two finishes were T-15 and T-18 against stacked fields at The Concession and API. The safe play is almost 2-to-1 money on a top 20.

Fallica: Matsuyama’s game is showing signs of turning around. He comes off consecutive top-20 finishes at Bay Hill and the WGC and has shown a liking for this track as well, with a couple of top 10s and just missing the top 20 in two other years.

Will Zalatoris top-20 finish (+275)

Marks: Top-20 finishes are what we expect from this rookie sensation, and at almost 3-to-1, tee it up again! Golfers that win The Players come in hot, and few are more dialed in than Zalatoris.

Russell Henley top-20 finish (4-1); Henley (-129 at DK) over Kevin Kisner

Marks: Henley’s name keeps popping up when looking at the most important metrics needed to win on this track. He is ninth in greens in regulation and seventh in scrambling this season, and he excels on Bermuda greens.

Jason Kokrak top-30 finish (+125 at DK)

Marks: Kokrak is another golfer whose game comes in on point heading to Ponde Vedra, and that is what is needed, if looking at the previous winners. His metrics: third in strokes gained on approach and ball-striking in his last 24 rounds.

Fleetwood top-30 finish (+138 at DK)

Fortenbaugh: Fleetwood posted a T-5 at The Players in 2019 to go along with his T-7 from 2018. As for this season, the Southport, England native arrives at Sawgrass cooking with gas following last week’s T-10 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout top-40 finish (+110 at DK); Top South African (+188)

Marks: Bezuidenhout is ranked 34th in the world but isn’t a household name — yet. He has finished in the top 25 in three events so far this season. Bezuidenhout ranks first in strokes gained around the greens in his last 24 rounds, a huge metric to consider on this track.

Abraham Ancer top-40 finish (+125 at DK)

Marks: Ancer has finished in the top 20 in five of his last seven starts at TPC Sawgrass, so a top-40 finish should be a walk in the fairway. Pete Dye tracks fit his game extremely well. He is first in driving accuracy and 21st in par-4 scoring birdies or better this season.

Zalatoris top-40 finish (+125 at DK)

Fortenbaugh: One of the best in the business when we talk tee-to-green. He has finished in the top 40 in nine of his last 12 events, which includes five top 10s and eight top-20s. He posted a T-10 at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Matthew NeSmith top-40 finish (+275 at DK)

Marks: I’ve loved NeSmith the last several weeks, but unfortunately he missed the cut at Bay Hill last week. His iron game was still dialed in at Arnie’s place, and I anticipate NeSmith getting back on track this week to finish in the top 40, if not better.

Matthew Fitzpatrick (-103 at DK) over Tyrrell Hatton (-125)

Fallica: Fitzpatrick hasn’t been worse than 17th in any of his last four starts worldwide, and while he has never posted a top 40 here, one could argue his game has not been in this good of shape entering this event. On the flip side, Hatton has missed the cut each of the last two trips here and also is looking for his first top 40 here.

Fitzpatrick (-105) over Patrick Reed (-120)

Bearman: This is one is tough, as I religiously bet on both of these guys. But I think there is an edge here with Fitzpatrick. The kid has been great of late, with three consecutive top-11 finishes against stacked fields at the Genesis, Concession and API. Reed has also played well recently with the win at the Farmers and T-9 at Concession before missing the cut last week at Bay Hill. Neither have played this course well, with T-22 the best finish of the combined 10 appearances. With Fitz playing better last week and neither playing well at this course, I have this as a toss-up, so getting Fitzpatrick as a ‘dog gives us a little value.

Day (-109 at DK) over Ancer (-120)

Fortenbaugh: I like Ancer’s game, and he has two top 20s in his last four events, but he also has two missed cuts, which makes me believe there is an opportunity at this price to back Day. The 33-year-old Australian has gone T-31, T-18, T-7 over his last three tour starts and has performed remarkably well at Sawgrass over the years, winning this event in 2016 and posting three top 10s in his last four visits to The Players.

Zalatoris (-122 at DK) over Harris English (-107)

Fortenbaugh: English has missed the cut in each of his last six trips to The Players and enters this year’s iteration of the tournament having gone T-26, 66th, MC, MC in his last four tour starts. Zalatoris, meanwhile, has been an absolute beast since last September’s U.S. Open, posting five top 10s and eight top 20s in his last 12 starts. Two golfers trending in opposite directions, with a tasty price to boot.

Keegan Bradley (-125 at DK) over Ian Poulter (-103)

Fallica: Bradley’s T-10 last week could have been a lot better if not for a Sunday 78. But recent results show he’s trending up. He has also posted a top 20 each of the last two years here, while Poulter has played just two PGA Tour events since November, including a T-26 last week at Bay Hill.

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