The Players Championship Betting Tips: Six each-way fancies for unofficial fifth major
It's a big week on the PGA Tour with The Players Championship from Sawgrass and our golf tipster Jamie Worsley is in red-hot form having made 132.6 pts profit from the three previews last week including 50/1 and 66/1 winners bringing his yearly P&L up to 168.2 pts profit and 93.7% ROI.
After a couple of frustrating weeks it was good to get back to winning ways last week. Ryan Brehm winning in Puerto Rico was the story of the weekend, picking up the trophy on his solo remaining medical exemption before he would’ve lost his tour card.
There was also proof of that old cliché with talented young golfers, that “Once they win one, the floodgates will open”, as Scottie Scheffler picked up his 2nd title in three starts at the treacherous Arnold Palmer Invitational. Denying us a 3rd winner of the week in the process, as Billy Horschel and Tyrell Hatton both finished tied for 2nd behind him.
Onto this week and it’s time for one of my absolute favourite events on the calendar, as we head to TPC Sawgrass for THE PLAYERS Championship. The flagship event of the PGA Tour and often referred to as “Golf’s 5th major”.
Though the event started in 1974, it has only been held here, at Pete Dye’s iconic venue, since 1982. With names adorning the highly coveted trophy some of the best players in the game. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy to name but three.
TPC Sawgrass is a water-laden 7256 yard par 72. The tree-lined fairways aren’t all that difficult to find, ranking higher than average for fairways hit on tour, which is fortunate as it’s hugely important that you hit your fair share around here. As though it also ranks similarly in terms of greens-in-regulation, that level of difficulty improves considerably when trying to find these predominantly small, speedy and sloped bermuda putting surfaces from off the fairways.
This is down to the huge amount of strategically placed bunkers around the course, not only on the fairways but around the greens, in addition to a plethora of run-off areas. These greens really do repel the ball if your approaches aren’t up to scratch. This bringing even more problems, as getting up and down around here is tougher than virtually any other course on tour. With only the Memorial Tournament of the current regular season events ranking a more difficult course at which to scramble your way around.
It’s a course that rewards good golf but possesses all manner of devilish difficulty if your long game isn’t completely on point. An average winning score of -13.7 over the previous ten renewals of the event showing a course that provides a strong but fair test of golf.
As mentioned, water plays a big part around here and no more so than down the closing stretch, particularly the closing three holes. The risk/reward par 5 16th can yield plenty of eagles but with water lurking behind the green and to the right, you can easily leave with bogey or worse.
The 17th is the course’s signature hole, an innocuous 137 yard par 3 on paper but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Playing to the famous island green changes the complexity of it and even if you do find the green you’re not safe, with big slopes in places, a two-putt is never a guarantee. We’ve seen superb birdies in highly pressured situations here over the years but more memorable are the disasters. Bob Tway making 12 there in 2005 is still the record but Sergio Garcia’s 7 in 2013 stands out to me, as he was tied for the lead at the time and I was on him. It cost him a shot at the trophy as he trailed home in 8th place.
Finally we come to the tough 462 yard par 4 18th hole. A tee-shot directly over the water that stretches all along the left side of the hole. Players often bail out right and find further trouble there in the trees. Finding the fairway eases the anxiety but not completely, with the water still well in your mind, a run-off area at the back and bunker at the front of this heavily undulating green. It’s a test right from 1st to 3rd/4th/5th+ shot.
There is no one way to get it done around here. The course isn’t too long, so doesn’t rule shorter hitters out of it, yet there’s still enough chances here for the big hitters to take advantage, particularly on the par 5s. Which are all scorable and where you really need to make your score.
In 2021 and 2019, we had Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy respectively, with successes very much engineered on the quality of their long game. Though both were also strong around-the-greens.
Webb Simpson in 2018 was all about the short-game, ranking 62nd in approach and 32nd off-the-tee, he produced wizardry on and around the greens, ranking 1st in putting and 3rd around-the-greens.
Siwoo Kim was excellent tee-to-green when winning in 2017, particularly excellent off-the-tee and around the greens. Though was plenty strong enough in approach.
Jason Day’s short-game was in fine form in 2016 but he also ranked high in approach. Which was the same case with Rickie Fowler in 2015, who won thanks to quality with his irons but was solid all-round, scrambling particularly well.
The Players Championship Tips
- Daniel Berger 33/1 – 1/5 9 places (Williamhill) – 2 pts ew
- Brooks Koepka 40/1 – 1/5 8 places (Betfair) – 1.5 pts ew
- Billy Horschel 50/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1 pt ew
- Louis Oosthuizen 60/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1 pt ew
- Siwoo Kim 80/1 – 1/5 9 places (Williamhill) – 1 pt ew
- Alex Noren 125/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1 pt ew
There are some obvious correlating courses here. One of Pete Dye’s other courses, Harbour Town, that hosts the RBC Heritage is one of the first that springs to mind. Narrow tree-lined corridors and bermuda greens. Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar have tasted success at both events. Si-woo Kim further enhances this correlation, winning here in 2017 and finishing 2nd at Harbour Town in 2018. Jim Furyk a two-time winner at Harbour Town has finished runner up here at Sawgrass twice and Kevin Kisner has finished runner-up at both events.
Another Pete Dye design, in TPC River Highlands, home of the Travelers Championship can offer more clues. Both courses rate of similar difficulty in terms of finding fairways and greens, and though it’s significantly harder getting it up and down around TPC Sawgrass, TPC River Highlands does indeed ask questions in this regard too. Plenty of crossover form here, with Webb Simpson, Kevin Kisner, Brian Harman and Kevin Streelman all possessing form at the two courses, amongst many more.
Further to this, there’s the Honda Classic. As we saw two weeks ago, a tough event in this part of the US. Both with speedy bermuda greens and though the host of the Honda, PGA National, is much more demanding in terms of finding the greens, they both rank similarly in driving accuracy and like the PLAYERS, the Honda Classic is one of the toughest courses on the schedule in getting up and down around the greens. Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott have all tasted victory at both events. Tommy Fleetwood, Daniel Berger, Sergio Garcia and Jhonny Vegas all adding further ties between the two courses.
Two more slightly left field correlations up next and I actually think the first of these could offer stronger clues than above. That’s Sheshan Golf Club, host of the WGC – HSBC Champions event in China. Both courses are of similar distance and with an abundance of water. Like TPC Sawgrass, Sheshan is incredibly difficult around-the-greens, ranking only a place behind Sawgrass in % of getting it up and down. Both are around average in fairways and greens found, whilst they possess similar levels of difficulty in finding the greens when you do miss the fairways.
Rory won the last renewal there in 2019, the same year he won here at Sawgrass. With Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer possessing victories in both events. Amongst the others to have form at the two events are Xander Schauffele, who’s not only won the HSBC but was runner-up there in 2019 behind Rory and has finished 2nd here at Sawgrass. Ian Poulter, who’s been runner-up at both events, as has Kevin Kisner. Whilst other past champions at Sheshan, such as Justin Rose and Hideki Matsuyama both have multiple top 10s at TPC Sawgrass.
Finally I liked El Camaleon, home of the Mayakoba Classic. It’s similar to Sawgrass in the sense it’s seen both short, steady types and more explosive, lengthier ball-strikers go well. Both courses ranking incredibly similarly in terms of GIR and fairways found. Matt Kuchar has won both events, whilst Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Jhonny Vegas and Siwoo Kim are amongst a bunch of players who go well at both venues.
Unfortunately, there’s the prospect of a stormy and wet week at TPC Sawgrass. It’s currently forecast to rain from Tuesday to Saturday in Ponte Vedra Beach, with strong winds arriving over the weekend. Hopefully the more severe part of that forecast doesn’t transpire and we get an un-delayed week, though it looks highly likely the course will be at the very least softened due to the rain that is forecast to arrive.
Very little to say about this field. It’s one of the strongest we get all year, with 47 of the world’s top 50 set to tee it up. Reduced by one owing to Bryson DeChambeau’s withdrawal.
I’m delighted to see Ryan Brehm get a start here, a week after winning the Puerto Rico Open for us. What a week it’s been for him as he’s gone from being one losing week away from losing his tour card, to getting a start on the tour’s flagship event the following week.
Finally we get to a week where Jon Rahm is no longer a single digit favourite! He shares joint honours here with Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa at 14/1.
It’s a tricky event to unpick, as we have the type of value here that we rarely see elsewhere. I looked long and hard at those at the top. Rahm was under much more consideration this week but something just seems off with him. Ball-striking is good but the short-game has been poor and if the worst of the weather arrives I can see him getting frustrated.
Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas were of much more appeal of that trio, Morikawa in particular. He’s the best ball-striker on tour right now and I think on a week where the weather was guaranteed to not play a huge part, I’d have been very keen but with the potential for all kinds of chaos this week I’ve avoided the very top of the market, instead I start with Florida’s own, Daniel Berger.
Compared to many, Daniel Berger has had a light start to 2022, though has impressed on virtually every start.
He opened his year finishing 5th in the Tournament of Champions, followed by 20th in the Farmers Insurance Open. A missed cut in the Phoenix Open came next but he bounced back at the Honda Classic two weeks ago, finishing 4th, which doesn’t quite tell the whole story. As Berger led by six late on Saturday in tough conditions, before struggling on the Sunday allowing Austria’s Sepp Straka to come through and pick up the victory.
He will need to forget about that here and I’m hoping Berger is looking for redemption. Though it failed him in the final round at PGA National, his game has looked in excellent shape for the best part of two years now. There’s very little he doesn’t do well.
Berger is a strong ball-striker and bar the off week in Phoenix, he’s been showing that this year. Currently ranking 3rd in approach and 40th off-the-tee this season. Also one of the most accurate off the tee, ranking 4th, similar to his stats last year.
His short-game is plenty solid, at home putting on these bermuda surfaces and though he was at his weakest around-the-greens last year, he’s stepped up markedly on that in the 2021/22 season so far, currently ranking 32nd on tour.
He’s played here six times, missing the cut on debut but has followed that with five made cuts on the bounce since. Also hitting the top ten on two occasions, in 2016 and 2021. The slight worry would be he’s yet to really fire on these greens and that’s something he’ll need to put right this week, but the course appears to really suit him tee-to-green.
His form at correlating courses adds further promise. He has two top 5s at TPC River Highlands on another Pete Dye setup at the Travelers Championship, including finishing 2nd in 2017. Also possessing three top 5s at the Honda, 2nd in 2015 his best.
A strong record at the RBC Heritage adds to the optimism, finishing 3rd in 2020 and Berger makes it a quartet of runner-up finishes at the correlating courses, as he finished 2nd in the HSBC Champions in 2017 at Sheshan.
Berger is a four time PGA Tour winner and has tasted victory on some of the most recognisable and historied courses the tour has to offer. He has the grit to handle the tough conditions that are set to befall TPC Sawgrass over the weekend here and pick up another win at an iconic venue. One that would be the biggest win of his career and put him firmly in the major picture as we get closer to major season.
Brooks Koepka has had a solid start to 2022. With his game showing positive signs once again in his latest start in the Honda Classic, I think he looks a big price to win here at a venue that has a history of winners dominated by major champions.
The best finish of Koepka’s year came three starts ago in the Phoenix Open, where he finished 3rd to Scottie Scheffler, with most parts of his game looking in good shape. A missed cut followed but he once again looked in decent nick in a tough Honda Classic in that most recent start, finishing 16th thanks to a particularly strong ball-striking week.
In truth, Koepka has been hitting the ball well, for the most part, for the last 12 months. Barring his sticky end to last year. At his best he’s a player who does pretty much everything well, not a surprise for a four time major champion.
His record here is solid if unspectacular, though he’s twice hit the top 20, with finishes of 11th and 16th. Most notable about his performances here is that he typically putts well.
He has plenty of form at correlating courses. The best of them are two runner-up finishes, one in the Honda Classic and the other in the HSBC Champions. Further to this he’s got two top 10s in the Travelers Championship, his best effort a 5th place finish last year and also has one top 10 in his only visit to Harbour Town, finishing 7th in 2020.
There are plenty of players here who arrive in better form than Koepka but there aren’t many that I’d be as confident about winning as him, if he gets into the mix. If he can continue the level of ball-striking he found at the Phoenix Open and then once again in the Honda Classic last time out, marrying it with the ability to putt these greens that he’s often shown, Koepka can cause some serious damage this week in Ponte Vedra.
After finishing 2nd for us last week at Bay Hill, I had to go back in on Billy Horschel. He’s hitting the ball superbly at the minute and I was impressed with the way he battled on yesterday, despite looking like playing himself out of the tournament.
It isn’t only the ball-striking that is on form at the moment for Billy, as he’s just playing excellent golf across the board. He gained strokes in all areas last week, something which he also achieved two starts prior at the Phoenix Open. With his short-game, which had previously been excellent this year, letting him down when his ball-striking shone in his 16th place finish at the Honda two weeks ago.
Horschel’s record here at THE PLAYERS is solid, teeing it up eight times and missing just two cuts, though a best of 13th is surprising. With the quality of his game right now he can put that right this week. He putts these greens excellently and for the most part likes the way the course sets up tee-to-green.
His correlating course form stacks up, with strong records and two top 10 finishes at each of the RBC Heritage, Honda Classic and Mayakoba Classic. Also recording an 11th place finish in the HSBC Champions. In addition to this he’s a two time winner of the Zurich Classic (once in a doubles event) at TPC Louisiana, another Pete Dye design.
At the start of the year, there was a sense that Horschel’s short-game was covering the cracks in the long game, helping him achieve finishes better than his overall play warranted. That has been firmly corrected in his most recent starts. He showed he can hold his own in tough conditions last week and I expect him to continue his hot form in Ponte Vedra this week, achieving his best finish to date in The Players Championship in the process.
If the conditions deteriorate this week, I really want solid ball-strikers with a quality short-game on side. Something which very much describes Louis Oosthuizen.
We haven’t seen a lot of Louis so far in 2022, with just the two starts to his name. Though he has performed well in both, finishing 14th in the Phoenix Open and then 30th in the Honda Classic last time out. Driving it well on both occasions, as well as showing that continued high class short-game, though has been a little hit and miss in approach. However, it is possible his figures from PGA National are slightly skewed.
This very much follows on the theme from last year for the South African, where Oosthuizen lit it up on and around-the-greens. Ranking 1st in putting and 10th around-the-greens on the PGA Tour for the 2020/21 season. He balanced this with quality approach play, that saw him rank 29th and unspectacular, yet solid displays off-the-tee.
Louis’ record here is a bit of a mixed bag. He’s played ten times, with a finish of 2nd in 2017 his best effort. Aside from that he’s missed four cuts and only recorded one other top 20 finish.
He does have a good record in the HSBC Champions, finishing 2nd there in 2020. A 7th place finish in the RBC Heritage offers more confidence and he has gone solidly a number of times in both the Travelers Championship and Honda Classic.
It’s well documented how many times Oosthuizen has gone close in major championships since winning that maiden major in the Open Championship in 2010. Finishing runner-up in majors on six occasions since, including twice last year. What this does show, other than sickening bad luck, is his affinity with tough, high-class golf tournaments. With his quality short-game a huge asset around TPC Sawgrass and his ball-striking also in a good place, I think Louis can finally break that duck of being without a victory stateside this week in Florida.
Siwoo Kim has been going through a good patch of form for around twelve months now, with any off period rarely lasting for longer than a few events. This has been particularly pertinent this season, where he’s missed just one cut in twelve starts. Finishing in the top 26 in eight of his appearances.
The reason for this sustained period of form is that he’s actually looking in pretty good nick in every aspect, though as always it’s with the driver where he stands out and ranks 21st on tour this season. I’m extra buoyed by the quality of his approach play in recent weeks, he’s often a little hit and miss in this regard, When he’s on form with his irons he can be as dialed in as anyone but doesn’t do it consistently. Though he has gained strokes in approach in four of his last five starts. Whilst the short-game is also looking generally solid, even if the putter, like the irons, is up and down.
Siwoo is a past champion here, which doesn’t always translate to an overall strong record at an event, however this isn’t the case for Kim. Outside of that victory he’s never missed a cut in five starts at Sawgrass and added another top 10 to his resume here last year, finishing 9th. That win here in 2017 was actually the highest scoring edition in the last ten years, so he should relish tough conditions if they arrive this week.
Further to this he has a 2nd place finish in the RBC Heritage and a 3rd place finish in the Mayakoba Classic, amongst other strong performances. An 11th place finish and generally strong record in the Travelers Championship enhances his chances.
With all areas of his game looking in good form this year, but particularly that ball-striking over recent starts, this former champion can continue his excellent record at TPC Sawgrass this week.
Non-US players have an excellent record here, picking up nine of the last fifteen renewals of the event. Showing some good form this year and possessing the type of game that should handle the potentially tough conditions, I think Alex Noren can follow Henrik Stenson in 2009 and become the 2nd Swedish winner of THE PLAYERS Championship.
Noren’s strong start to the year has seen him miss just one cut in five starts, hitting the top 6 in two of his last three events. He finished 6th in the Phoenix Open three starts ago thanks to a solid tee-to-green performance but excellence on the greens. Then finishing 5th last time out, two weeks ago in the Honda Classic, where he struck the ball well and putted well.
Noren’s always been fantastic on and around-the-greens but in his recent starts there’s been some really encouraging performances with the irons, which have been getting better in every start since the beginning of the year. This his most consistent run of positive approach numbers since 2020.
His record here is strong, starting with finishes of 10th and 17th on his first two visits, though has missed two cuts on his two most recent. Having said that he wasn’t playing as well before those two missed cuts than he is right now.
In addition to this, Noren has an excellent record in the Honda Classic, that 5th two weeks ago the most recent evidence of this. Also finishing 3rd in 2018. He also has two top 20s in the HSBC Champions and has finished top 30 on each of his three visits to Harbour Town for the RBC Heritage.
Noren has often shown a liking for tough courses throughout his career. Indeed of his ten DP World Tour victories, seven have been won with scores higher than -15, twice winning in single digits under par. His short-game should serve him well this week and with the improved approach play, he can add to those strong first two appearances.