This article is part of our Betting on Golf series.
THE PLAYERS Championship Betting Strategy
THE PLAYERS is finally here!
Although we've had some notable tournaments already this year, THE PLAYERS Championship makes the season feel like it's officially in full gear. It's the third stop in the Florida Swing, with the Tour heading north to Ponte Vedra Beach for golf's most coveted non-major title. With the $15 million purse being the largest of any tournament, we will have about as prestigious a field as you can get on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down last year's tournament after the first round, leaving Rory McIlroy as the current defending champion following his one-shot victory over Jim Furyk in 2019 at 14-1 odds.
We all know TPC Sawgrass for the par-3 17th hole known as the "Island Green," and this hole alone has often played a major factor in determining the winner late in the final round. What exactly makes a player excel on the rest of the course, though? As a par-72 at around 7,200 yards, this track ranks in the bottom third of courses in terms of length, and water is in play on the majority of holes. As a result, driving accuracy will be of increased importance, and distance is less of a necessity. Sawgrass features penalizing rough around the greens that neutralizes the ability to get up-and-down, so accurate iron play will also be key.
All odds via DraftKings Sportsbook as of 11:35 AM ET Tuesday.
Birdies in the Hand
The following players, with a minimum of three appearances, averaged the most birdies per round at TPC Sawgrass from 2015-2019:
Thomas is the only player in the player in the field that averaged more than five birdies per round over the last five completed tournaments at TPC Sawgrass. He has not missed a cut in five appearances, and his best finish in this event was a T3 in 2016. Although he missed a pair of cuts over his last four events, Thomas (20-1 odds) seemed to find some of his usual form in his last start at The Concession, ranking second in SG: Approach. Meanwhile, it's difficult to find anyone that's been more reliable at THE PLAYERS than Garcia. A winner at this event back in 2008, Garcia (80-1 odds) has made the cut 16 times in a row while racking up five top-5 results in that stretch. He has played well this season and picked up a win at the Sanderson Farms Championship last October – his first win on Tour since The Masters in 2017.
Sunshine State Success
The following players, with a minimum of 12 rounds played, gained the most strokes from tee-to-green over the Florida Swing since 2019:
It's not easy to find someone that has played better golf in the state of Florida throughout his career than McIlroy. A Florida resident, he's feasted in the state, finishing top-10 in all five of his in-state events since 2019 while also winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando a year prior. McIlroy, looking to break a stretch of 24 consecutive starts without a win, enters as the fourth betting choice at 16-1. Another player who's saved some of his best golf for the Sunshine State is Matsuyama, who started with a nine-under first round last year before the tournament was cancelled. While it is hard to find a true horse for the course at TPC Sawgrass, Matsuyama has recorded five top-25 results in his six appearances here.
Patrick Cantlay (22-1)
It seems like Cantlay is in contention to win just about every time he tees it up, as he won the ZOZO Championship last fall and has followed that up with five consecutive top-20 results. His game is a good fit for Sawgrass considering he's solid in every aspect of the game, and he's reasonably long and accurate with the driver. Cantlay got off to a good start last year before the cancellation, shooting a five-under 67 in his first round.
Viktor Hovland (28-1)
Collin Morikawa gets the most attention of the young players on Tour due to having both a major championship and a WGC title on his resume, but Hovland may be the best of the under-25 crowd. Although they were smaller events, Hovland won twice in 2020, and he has played better more consistently. His only recorded round at THE PLAYERS was a four-under 68 in the first round last year, and his elite play off the tee and on approach makes him a legitimate contender this week.
Scottie Scheffler (50-1)
I'll continue riding with Scheffler any time I can get odds like this on him, as I feel the oddsmakers are undervaluing him because he has not won. The second-year player has been close recently, having a chance to win in the final round in two of his last three tournaments. He's also played well in big events, with top-5s at last year's PGA Championship and in the first playoff event.
Abraham Ancer (80-1)
Much like Scheffler, Ancer is another player still searching for his first Tour win, and he also provides plenty of value as a result. In his only PLAYERS appearance in 2019, he trailed by just three shots heading into the weekend before settling for a tie for 12th. He fits the mold of what you're looking for this week, as an accurate driver of the ball – he leads the Tour in driving accuracy – and a strong iron player. He has been close to finding the winner's circle, recording three runner-ups in the last year and a half.
Sleepers to Target
Kevin Na (100-1)
Na has historically struggled at the major venues throughout his career, but it has been a different story at Sawgrass, with three top-10s in his last 10 appearances. His lack of distance off the tee won't put him at much of a disadvantage this week, and he's played well this year. He won the Sony Open, which also doesn't prioritize length.
Emiliano Grillo (125-1)
It's not improbable to see a long-shot winner at THE PLAYERS, which we saw when Si Woo Kim won back in 2017. Grillo would certainly be an unlikely champion, but he's an intriguing option in DFS contests and could be worth a top-5 wager. He has made the cut three straight years at Sawgrass, with a best finish of 11th in 2017. He is coming off a solid week at Bay Hill in which he gained over 1.75 shots per round when combining SG: Off-the-Tee and Approach.
Entering the week 10-2 on my head-to-head picks this year, I'll look to keep the momentum going with Bradley, who gained 0.89 strokes per round with his approach play over his last six tournaments. Although Poulter has had success at THE PLAYERS, he's trending in the wrong direction, with only one top-10 result on the PGA Tour since the start of 2020.
I'm surprised to see Berger as a slight underdog to Finau, considering the latter hasn't recorded a top-20 in four appearances at THE PLAYERS with his driving distance being neutralized. It's a much better course fit for Berger, who played the opening round last year seven shots better than Finau. He's also is in good form, having won at Pebble Beach two starts ago.