We are damn lucky to be golf fans. If you’re reading this, you already know. It seems like 2021 has given us so many intriguing storylines, and we haven’t even had a major yet. In a jam-packed year of golf, this is the biggest event to date, and we should be in store for another entertaining week.
That’s a lot of opportunities to win some money on golf. Our Golf Digest betting panel went up more than 225 units last season, and we’re just starting to hit our stride—predicting three of the past five winners. We have an anonymous tour caddie reporting from the week’s tournament and three of the best data scientists in the industry (Pat Mayo; Rick Gehman and Brandon Gdula); plus expert handicapper Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports to help us make our picks.
Read on to see who our experts like this week.
Players 2021 expert picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions (Odds from William Hill)
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Jon Rahm (16-1) — This would be a statement win from the Spaniard. Do you remember 2019, when Rahm shot a third-round 64, held the 54-hole lead and was leading on the back nine? You know Rahm remembers. That was a chance for the biggest win of his career, and a poor decision to go for it in that tough spot in the bunker, with tree trouble caused him to go in the water at 11, rinsing his hopes. (Pssssst, he should’ve listened to his caddie, Adam Hayes). Rahm is a more complete player now two years later, and these odds are more attractive from the usual 10, 12-1’s I’m used to seeing on Rahm, who will seek redemption this week.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Patrick Cantlay (20-1) — The victories at Zozo, Memorial, and Shriners are great, but Cantlay is still looking for that next level win. TPC Sawgrass has been that place for a lot of rising stars the past 15 years—Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler—Cantlay would definitely fit that mold. Cantlay enters with the most total strokes gained of any player in the field the last 24 rounds, and has yet to finish outside the top 15 in any of his four starts this year.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Jon Rahm (16-1) — Rahm is a big-hitter, sure, but he’s also one of the most accurate drivers among those who nuke it, and that should benefit him at TPC Sawgrass. He’s also got elite adjusted tee-to-green data, per my database, and is a good putter. He’s also getting some nice odds because of the strength of the field, and so a breakthrough win for Rahm seems like a good bet this week.
Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Justin Thomas (18-1) — This week is rare: We have the No. 3 player in the world flying under the radar in one of the sport’s largest events. Thomas has indeed struggled at times this year by his standards, but it appears he’s back on the right track. He gained 9.50 strokes on approach at the WGC-Workday, second to only Collin Morikawa that week. His driver let him down that week, losing 5.90 strokes off the tee, his worst total in six years. It’s reasonable to think he will right the ship, and at these odds, it’s enticing to believe he will contend.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Tony Finau (25-1) — Go ahead, tell me you can get Patrick Cantlay for just about the same price. Or JT. I know, they have way more “win equity.” It’s true … but the Players will be Tony Finau’s coming-out party. I’m feeling it. His driving will be a separator at TPC Sawgrass, with those intimidating driving corridors requiring precision and power. That’s Tony Finau’s game. If this was a different player, without all the missed opportunities, and you just looked at the data, you’d pull the trigger. So I’m doing it, knowing he’ll likely break my heart once again.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Justin Thomas (18-1) — At the very tippy top of the board, Justin Thomas is the clear value play as you can find him north of 20-1 at other books. Of the players not named Collin Morikawa, JT is the best iron player in this field, which he showed by gaining nearly 10 strokes on approach at the WGC-Workday. People seem to think he hasn’t been all that great since the slip of the tongue at the TOC, but he was in contention in Phoenix before finishing T-13, and after shooting a front-nine 39 on Thursday at the Concession, Thomas played the final 63 holes in 11 under. I think he’s just fine, and kind of flying under the radar this week, if that’s possible as the World No. 3.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Dustin Johnson (12-1) — We’re finally back to normal numbers on DJ, so I’m back in. Per Fantasy National, Johnson comes into this event ranked fourth in the field for Opportunities Gained over the past two months. He also ranks 10th in strokes gained/total on similar courses and gains almost a half stroke on the field in SG/putting on fast, Bermuda greens. That’s a superb combo.
Results from last season: Golf Digest’s betting panel is HOT once again. After going up 225.30 units last season, we have now correctly predicted three of the past five winners! Pat Mayo nailed Collin Morikawa at the WGC-Workday two events ago at 33-1. A couple weeks earlier, Rick Gehman and Brandon Gdula each called Daniel Berger’s win at Pebble Beach. And Mayo and Christopher Powers nailed Brooks Koepka’s win in Phoenix. Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!
Players 2021 expert picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win (Odds from William Hill)
Caddie: Adam Scott (60-1) — This is just a value pick on Scott. He’s still one of the 25 best players in the world, and you’re finding him in the same range of players like Will Zalatoris and Christiaan Bezuidenhout? Nothing against them, but Scott is a future Hall of Famer whose ball-striking will always give him a chance to win at TPC Sawgrass.
Mayo: Abraham Ancer (60-1) — After a T-12 in his Players debut in 2019, Ancer has continued his upper-tier ball-striking, ranking top 10 in the field in fairways gained and beating the field in approach in each of his past seven starts. Additionally, the last five times he has teed it up on Pete Dye courses, he has four top-10 finishes and no result worse than worse than T-11.
Gdula: Abraham Ancer (60-1) — Ancer is a great ball-striker (ranking in the 80th percentile or better in adjusted strokes gained/off the tee and approach over the past year) and is an accurate driver. He has a 12th-place finish at TPC Sawgrass from 2019 when he gained 8.1 strokes tee to green.
Gehman: Will Zalatoris (60-1) — Another week, another top 20 for Zalatoris who has answered every question asked of him this season. He has played 12 events on the PGA Tour since the U.S. Open and finished in the top 20 eight times. Even more impressive, his success has come at a range of diverse courses including Winged Foot, TPC Summerlin, Torrey Pines and Bay Hill. It doesn’t seem to matter the setup or the field, Zalatoris’ name will appear on the first page or two of the leader board.
Powers, Golf Digest: Joaquin Niemann (50-1) — I’ve seen 66-1 in places for Niemann and 50-1 at William Hill. I’d bet both of those numbers, because they are both silly. It was only two months ago when he nearly won back-to-back starts, and he showed flashes of that same greatness at Riviera and at the WGC. He has zero experience at TPC Sawgrass, but it sure seems like a place he could thrive with his ability to shape shots and keep his ball-flight low in the wind if need be. Also, the last time he played a Pete Dye course was Harbour Town last June, and he tied for fifth.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Chris Kirk (100-1) — Kirk has been playing solid golf of late, ranking 17th in SG/tee to green over the past two months and 12th for Opportunities Gained. He seems to like it around here, ranking it 22nd in SG/total over the past five events.
Players 2021 expert picks: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Bryson DeChambeau (16-1) — It’s a lot tougher to bomb it over these tall palm trees and cut doglegs like it was for Bryson at Bay Hill. There’s too much trouble lurking for Bryson, who is still prone to the big number.
Mayo: Dustin Johnson (12-1) — His odds are still too short for my liking. Especially at a tournament as volatile as The Players.
Gdula: Jordan Spieth (28-1) — I’m fine rooting for Spieth without backing him. Accuracy rates out as a vital stat for this course, and that’s where Spieth struggles primarily, even during his resurgence. There are too many names to like at similar numbers.
Gehman: Paul Casey (45-1) — There’s no doubt that Casey is still one of the best ball-strikers on the planet, but his career results at TPC Sawgrass are concerning. In his 12 trips, he’s failed to make the cut six times and withdrew on two other occasions. Even more concerning, his best finish (T-10), came in his very first start back in 2004. For whatever reason, Casey hasn’t shown the ability to solve TPC Sawgrass, with one of the largest sample sizes of anyone teeing it up this week.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Dustin Johnson (12-1) — Let’s be real, DJ has one tournament in mind over the next couple months, and that’s the rare opportunity to go back-to-back at Augusta National. Would he love to win the $2.7-million first-place prize? Sure, but I don’t think DJ cares too much about being a Players champion.
Powers, Golf Digest: Rory McIlroy (16-1) — The man was talking in circles after another Sunday stumble at Bay Hill last week. First he needed the fans for a spark, then the fans come back and he’s saying he still needs a spark? It never ends with Rory, which is painful to say given his resume and obvious ability to still be the top player in the world. I’m begging him to prove me wrong, but it won’t be at TPC Sawgrass, where no one has ever gone back-to-back, and where winning twice is sneaky hard.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Xander Schauffele (20-1) — Of the entire top eight in the market, Schauffele is easily the worst putter on fast Bermuda greens. In this field he ranks 103rd in strokes gained/putting on this surface. He also ranks just 38th in FanShare’s course-suitability ranking.
Players 2021 expert picks: Matchups
Caddie: Jon Rahm (-120) over Bryson DeChambeau (PointsBet) — Another simple explanation: My pick to win over my fade pick. Book it.
Mayo: Branden Grace (+105) over Rickie Fowler (DraftKings) — Grace, a winner in the past month, and has continued to strike the hell out of the ball against poor, poor Rickie, king of the recent struggles. Give me Grace.
Gdula: Matthew Fitzpatrick (-126) over Cameron Smith (FanDuel) — Fitzpatrick holds an edge in virtually all of the key stats this week for me (approach, off-the-tee, and accuracy). Neither have particularly thrived at TPC Sawgrass, but Fitzpatrick has a better history between the two, as well.
Gehman: Lanto Griffin (-120) over Si Woo Kim (DraftKings) — Si Woo Kim is getting a lot of respect for being a past champion of this event, because his recent form doesn’t really dictate this price. Since winning the American Express, Kim has teed it up five times. He’s missed the cut in three, finished T-50 and withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week. Griffin hasn’t finished worse than T-26 in any of his last four starts and has proven that he can contend in any field.
Hennessey: Xander Schauffele (-120) over Justin Thomas (William Hill) — The betting industry seems to be unanimously all over this JT number (rightfully so). But in an outright bet, you don’t care about JT’s propensity for the blow-up, which we’ve seen in his past couple outings. With that possibility, I’ll go with one of the most consistent golfers in the world over JT. Even though I’m giving up win equity, I don’t care about that in a matchup.
Powers: Paul Casey (-112) over Will Zalatoris (FanDuel) — Two guys on absolute heaters with their irons. Two cut-making machines of late. I’ll roll with the old guy here, as he has a lot more experience at TPC Sawgrass. Of course, you could argue that doesn’t matter at such a volatile course, and you’d be right, but I’m going with it anyway.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Dustin Johnson (-125) over Bryson DeChambeau (Betway) — As you can see above, I really like DJ this week whereas DeChambeau doesn’t tally up too well to Sawgrass at all. FanShare ranks him just 91st in our course-suitability ranking this week and his form other than last week has been nothing compared to DJ’s.
Matchup results from the API: Gehman: 1 for 1 (Corey Conners (-126) over Ian Poulter); Mayo: no bet (Fitz over Oosthuizen, Oosthuizen WD’d); Caddie, Gdula, Hennessey, Powers, Alldrick: 0 for 1.
Matchup Results this season (Wins-Losses-Pushes): Alldrick: 14-6-1 (up 6.67 units); Hennessey: 11-8-1 (up 2.11 units); Gdula: 10-11-0 (down 1.86 units); Mayo: 9-10-1 (down 1.52 units); Powers: 7-10-4 (down 3.43 units); Gehman: 7-12-2 (down 4.39 units); Caddie: 5-14-2 (down 8.08 units).
Players 2021 expert picks: Top 10 (Odds from William Hill)
Caddie: Lanto Griffin (+900) — Lanto might be having one of the best, underrated stretches of golf right now. He has a seventh, 21st, 22nd and 26th in his past four starts—in great fields. Lanto thrives when the premium is on second shots.
Mayo: JT Poston (+2000) — Looking at JT Poston’s stats are terrifying, especially on approach, but there are certain types of courses where he’s consistently played well over the years. Primarily the two most correlated courses to Sawgrass: Harbour Town and Sedgefield Country Club. In two starts at the Heritage, Poston’s posted two top 10s, and while his history at the Wyndham is spotty, it is the site of his only career win. And five of the past Wyndham champions have also won at Sawgrass. Plus, if he can’t drive or hit irons this week, Poston can always bail himself out with a hot putter. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Gdula: Daniel Berger (+400) — Berger’s such a balanced golfer that he can succeed anywhere, but he’s particularly set up well for when courses value precision and iron play, which he has on lock. He finished his opening round four-under par last year before the postponement (for what that’s worth) and is in the 90th percentile or better in adjusted strokes gained off the tee and approach over the past year, via my database.
Gehman: Jason Day (+450) — Outside of his Sunday meltdown at Bay Hill (79) leading to a T-31, Day has been excellent. He earned a top 10 at Pebble Beach and backed it up with a T-18 at the WGC-Workday. Now he heads to TPC Sawgrass where he boasts a stellar record. He hoisted the trophy in 2016 and has earned three other top-10 finishes, including in each of his past two trips. He’s clearly not the caliber of player that he was five years ago, but he’s been able to find something at the Players on a regular basis.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Corey Conners (+650) — The Canadian’s ball-striking display was so impressive last week. You don’t need him to win to cash this bet, so you can shake off a missed putt or two.
Powers, Golf Digest: Carlos Ortiz (+1100) — MC’d in his only Players appearance in 2016, but that was a much different Carlos Ortiz. This version of Ortiz is playing some of the best golf of his career with a win, two top 10s and another pair of top 15s in five of his last eight starts.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Sam Burns (+1100) — At this point, Sam Burns finishing in the top 10 would surprise nobody. He has three top-10s in his past five starts, including a third-place when he lost the 54-hole lead at the Genesis Invitational, which featured the best field of the year so far. The former LSU golfer ranks second in Opportunities Gained, per Fantasy National, over the past two months and he’s third in strokes gained/total on similar courses, per FanShare.
Top-10 results from the API: Gdula: 1 for 1 (Corey Conners, +700); Everybody else: 0 for 1
Top-10 results from this season: Gehman: 6 for 21 (up 17.1 units); Powers: 2 for 21 (down 4 units); Mayo: 2 for 21 (down 6 units); Tour caddie: 3 for 21 (down 8.45 units); Gdula: 1 for 21 (down 13 units); Hennessey: 2 for 21 (down 13.5 units); Alldrick: 0 for 20 (down 20 units).
Gehman: Bryson DeChambeau — This is the largest purse in all of golf with $15,000,000 up for grabs and the winner taking home $2.7 million. There’s no need to wait any longer, you should be deploying one of your best options available. For me, that’s Bryson DeChambeau, who fits the mold of golfers who have had success at TPC Sawgrass over the years. The RickRunGood.com course model reveals SG/off the tee and birdie-or-better percentage as the two stats most closely correlated with success at this event. DeChambeau is, of course, the best player on tour in SG/off the tee and sixth in birdie-or-better percentage. He’s won three times in his last 15 starts and isn’t showing signs of slowing down.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Joel Dahmen; U.S. Open: Jon Rahm; Corales: Denny McCarthy. Sanderson: Sebastian Munoz. Shriners: Matthew Wolff. CJ Cup: Xander Schauffele. Zozo: Bubba Watson. Bermuda: Rasmus Hojgaard. Houston: Lanto Griffin. Masters: Rory McIlroy. RSM: Webb Simpson. Sentry TOC: Patrick Reed. Sony: Abraham Ancer. AMEX: Patrick Cantlay. Torrey: Jon Rahm. Waste Management: Webb Simpson. AT&T Pebble Beach: Jason Day. Genesis Invitational: Rory McIlroy. WGC-Workday: Tyrrell Hatton. Arnold Palmer Invit.: Sungjae Im.
Hennessey: Jordan Spieth — This would’ve been blasphemous a month ago. But this guy is on an absolute heater. Throw out the TPC Sawgrass record and ride this run of form. I think the pressure’s off Spieth right now—he knows his game is back, and he can just freewheel it into contention once again.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Phil Mickelson; U.S. Open: Hideki Matsuyama; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Harris English. CJ Cup: Kevin Na. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Doc Redman. Houston: Russell Henley. Masters: Tyrrell Hatton. RSM: Brian Harman. Sentry TOC: Justin Thomas. Sony: Ryan Palmer. AMEX: Scottie Scheffler. Torrey: Sungjae Im. Waste Management: Daniel Berger. AT&T Pebble Beach: Francesco Molinari. Genesis Invitational: Tony Finau. WGC-Workday: Xander Schauffele. Arnold Palmer Invit.: Tyrrell Hatton.
Powers: Tommy Fleetwood — Sneakily gone seventh and fifth in his two most recent Players starts and is coming off a T-10 at Bay Hill.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Brendan Steele; U.S. Open: Louis Oosthuizen; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Jason Kokrak. CJ Cup: Daniel Berger. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Denny McCarthy. Houston: Russell Henley. Masters: Bubba Watson. RSM: Brian Harman. Mayakoba: Corey Conners. Sentry TOC: Harris English. Sony: Zach Johnson. AMEX: Matthew Wolff. Torrey: Tony Finau. Waste Management: Sungjae Im. AT&T Pebble Beach: Jason Day. Genesis: Hideki Matsuyama. WGC-Workday: Tyrrell Hatton. Arnold Palmer Invit.: Billy Horschel.
Courtesy of Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com:
2 — The number of golfers who are gaining more than two strokes per round on average this season. They are Bryson DeChambeau (+2.42) and Xander Schauffele (+2.10).
17 — The number of starts for Charles Howell III at TPC Sawgrass without recording a top-10 finish. That’s the most of anyone in this field without at least one top 10.
1.95 — The average number of strokes gained per round for Adam Scott at The Players since 2015. That’s the most of anyone in this field with at least six rounds.
2.07 — The average number of SG/per round by Patrick Cantlay on Pete Dye-designed courses since 2015. That’s the most of anyone in this field, with at least six rounds (Cantlay has 42 rounds).
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, owner of the Mayo Media Network and host of The Pat Mayo Experience. (Subscribe for video or audio. Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.
Brandon Gdula, managing editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year *(congrats, Brandon!)*. Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a U.K.-based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.