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The Players Championship preview


The Players Championship, often referred to as “the fifth major” due to its large prize fund, and prestige,  is still one of the most highly anticipated events on the PGA Tour schedule, and a win here is certainly a massive boost to any player’s résumé.

This event is held at the Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. The course is well-known for its signature hole, the par-3 17th, also known as “The Island Green”. The hole itself is only 137 yards, with a 78ft green and normally requires no more than a pitching wedge, but it’s the water surrounding the landing area, that puts doubt into even the best player’s head.

The 17th hole is not the only thing these players need to focus on, and the players should not allow it to distract them from navigating their way around this, 7,215 yard, Par 72 course. Good accurate players, who can plot their way around the course, rather than bombing it round, should fair better.  Those who rank highly is Greens in Regulation, plus have some course experience should feature here, and a good week with the putter will be as important as ever.

Course form on paper looks imperative this week, and despite the fact we have some really talented younger players in the field, experience at TPC Sawgrass tends to pay off. Of the last nine winners, eight of them have played at Sawgrass at least seven times, before getting their win, the exception? Henrik Stenson.

Stenson won in 2009, on his fourth start, and had form figures of 10-23-3, prior to that win. He missed his next two cuts, following the win, but was once again back in form in 2012, when he finished 15th and went on to finish 5th in 2013.

All of the last nine winners have had a top-20 finish at Sawgrass before getting their win here, so if a player has not played here a vast amount of times, but has already posted a top-20 in the past, there is no reason why they cannot feature.

It is easy to get caught up in statistics, and we all know that the younger players on Tour at the moment can definitely get the job done at various courses, a la Jordan Spieth at Augusta, so there is still a case to be made for those who may not of played here in the past, or have little experience.

David Lingmerth, who had a very good shot at winning here in 2013, came 2nd in his very first Players appearance, and Roberto Castro led after Round 1, before finishing 19th on Sunday. My point is, if you like someone’s chances that strongly, do not be completely put off by past statistics, as the PGA Tour is throwing up plenty of surprises this season, but in general experience talks, when it comes to TPC Sawgrass.

Tiger Woods won here for the second time in his career in 2013, in what was arguably his best win last season. For most players, two wins at the Players Championship would be a fantastic return, and many would be delighted to win one, but for Woods, The Players Championship has not been one of his better events. He has had his struggles around this course in the past, and the win last year would no doubt of put his mind at rest somewhat. He is not playing this year, as he is still not fit enough to return.

Market Leaders: Without Woods in the field, it will be a bit more open at the head of the betting, but those familiar faces will still remain. Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott will come in at 14/1, Matt Kuchar 18/1, whilst Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia all come in at 25/1. It’s 28/1 and bigger the rest of the field, and there is definitely some value to be had further down the list.

Here are my picks for the 2014 Players Championship.

Henrik Stenson 28/1 (Betfred, PaddyPower (6 places), Coral, Sportingbet) 2.5pts e/w: I tipped Henrik Stenson here last year, at a much more generous 66/1, and he duly delivered. He came 5th, and continued his fine form at TPC Sawgrass, and I don’t expect that to change this week.

Despite only being 28/1 this time around, I still strongly rate Stenson’s chances, and we all know what the Swede has done between last year’s Players and now. He won the final Race to Dubai event, at the DP World Tour Championship in November, which meant he won the money list on both sides of the Atlantic, as he had already pipped Tiger Woods to the FedEx Cup back in September.

Stenson’s 2nd place at The Open Championship, 3rd place at the PGA Championship,  two wins in the FedEx Cup play-offs, and his win in Dubai saw him return to the top-5 of the Official World Golf Rankings, for first time since winning this event back in 2009.

So that is why Stenson is 28/1 this week, rather than 66/1 last year, and I am still more than happy to include him at the reduced price. His form has been pretty strong of late, despite all the added pressure and I see no reason why he won’t play well, on a course he often performs well at.

Stenson finished 5th on his last start, at the Volvo China Open, after finishing a career-best 14th at the Masters, so his last two starts have been positive. Add those last two starts to his 5th place finish in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and his 16th at the WGC-Cadillac, where he made more birdies than the rest of the field, and it’s clear that Stenson is still playing extremely good golf.

Despite all this, it hasn’t been all plain sailing, as he missed a cut at the Honda Classic, and finished 54th at the Houston Open, as well as missing the cut in Abu Dhabi earlier in the year, on the European Tour. He was due to have a slight dip of form, and even the players at the top of the game miss a weekend eventually, so those finishes do not effect my thinking here.

As aforementioned Stenson’s form figures at TPC Sawgrass are superb with one win, two top-5s, a 10th, a 15th and a 23rd in eight starts. That leaves the two missed cuts, back in 2010 and 2011, but he wasn’t playing good golf back then, especially in 2011, when he had arguably his worst year as a pro.

All in all, Stenson looks the pick of the bunch for me, at the head of the betting and I am more than happy to have him on board for a second year running. He has never finished worse than 23rd here, after making the cut and I strongly believe he will be at the races once again.

Zach Johnson 40/1 (General) 2pts e/w: Zach Johnson, like Stenson went through a purple patch of form at the end of 2013, and start of 2014, and he looks a good pick this week.

As expected, Johnson’s form did dip, but he has still only missed the cut on one occasion this season, and that was at the Masters, where I didn’t expect him to play particularly well. He did finish 61st at the Heritage the week after, and it looked as though he may start to struggle, but he’s already bounced back.

With a 14th place finish at the Wells Fargo last weekend, he reminded us that he is still playing some great golf, and that was a great way to prepare for TPC Sawgrass this week.

Johnson has finished in the top-10 three times in his nine starts here, the best of those finishes coming in 2012, when he finished in a tie for 2nd, and two shots adrift of eventual winner Matt Kuchar. He finished 12th in 2011 and 19th in 2013, so that’s three straight top-20 finishes here, and he really does appeal this week.

Even on his debut, he posted his next-best finish of 8th, in 2005, so he looks very comfortable with this layout. Not many players can boast just one missed cut at this course, especially over nine starts, so he looks a solid pick for this event.

He currently ranks 7th in Driving Accuracy and 40th in Greens in Regulation, which sees him rank 31st in Ball Striking, so he’s striking the ball very well indeed, as he is well known for. Other than that, he ranks 14th in Proximity to the hole, and 38th in Strokes Gained-Putting, so his all-round game is in great shape, and he should be full of confidence, coming off the back of a good finish.

I fully expect Johnson to go well here, and his course experience, coupled with his current form, should serve him very well, as he looks for a second win this season, third if you include Tiger’s tournament.

Had he of missed the cut last week, of finished in a low position on the leaderboard, I may well of left him out this week, but with yet another good finish under his belt, he looks a good price at 40/1.

Martin Laird 125/1 (SpreadEx) or 100/1 (Betfair Fixed Odds 6 places) 1pt e/w: Martin Laird has not by any means, had his best season on the PGA Tour, but the three-time winner has a habit of producing a good result, even when he’s not in the best form, and he is a good price to do just that this week.

It wouldn’t much of a surprise if he was to perform well this week, you only have to look at his course form to see why he stands a chance this week. In five starts here, Laird missed his first two cuts, then came 69th in 2011, before seemingly getting to grips with Sawgrass.

In his last two starts at this course, Laird has finished 2nd in 2012 and 5th last year, and for that reason alone I am happy to have him on board, at three-figure odds. Had it of been just one good finish here, I may not be as tempted, but to finish in the top-5 twice in as many years takes more than just luck, and I am happy to chance that it’s third-time lucky for the Scotsman.

In his last five starts, prior to the Wells Fargo Championship, he had finished 65th, 76th and then missed three straight cuts, so it’s fair to say that he has been out of form. What he did do though, is bounce back with a 3oth place finish last week, despite shooting over par on both days over the weekend, and hopefully he can put four rounds together this week.

Laird has real, Ryder Cup aspirations, and whilst he’s hardly in pole position to make the team at the moment, if he can get a win at a big event, such as the one here this week, plus perform consistently through the summer, he may well come into the reckoning. I am sure Paul McGinley has half an eye on his results, and a win this week would be one way of putting himself at the forefront of the captain’s mind.

I like Laird as a player, and at 100/1 I am happy to see if he can replicate his form that he’s shown here, over the last two seasons.

Matt Every 125/1 (Betfair Fixed odds (6 places),Coral, WilliamHill) 1pt e/w: Matt Every doesn’t fit the mould this week, if you’re basing your picks around course experience, or a previous top-20 finish, but he does know the course better than you may think.

Every gets plenty of practice in at TPC Sawgrass, according to this recent interview with Bud Cauley http://voidlive.com/community/watch-bud-cauley/ and that’s not a total surprise, given the fact he was born, educated and now resides in Florida.

He is 1 for 2 at Sawgrass, missing the cut on his debut back in 2012, but following it up with a 26th place finish last time out, and I really believe he can better that this time around.

Last year who couldn’t get anything going, he was steady, but every time he took a step in the right direction, he would fall bacl pretty quick, but now, with two visits here, and a Tour win under his belt, he could well be ready to contend here.

Not only does he have a win, an 8th and a 12th in his last five starts, but stastically his game looks in fantastic shape, and that can only help his chances. He is currently ranked 1st in Strokes Gained-Putting, 11th in Proximity to the hole, and 43rd in Greens in Regulation, so that all bodes well for the Jacksonville resident

He still ranks low in Driving Accuracy (110th) but he has managed to deal with that so far this season, and I am happy to let that bit the only real negative against him, statistically.

Of course it’s less than ideal, that he has only two previous visits to this course, but we know he’s having the best year of his career, and both Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson won here with similar experience, having two and three previous starts here respectively, prior to their win.

Although Every is not in the same class as either Scott or Stenson, he has proven he has a ton of ability this season, and he may well continue to impress, in his home state.

Total points staked this week: 13

Profit/Loss for 2014: + 109.91

The Players Championship is one of the most coveted events of the year, and also one of the most exciting (if your pick doesn’t go in the water) to watch. There are some huge prices about this week, due to a strong field, and the fact it is considered “the fifth major”.  It is incredibly difficult not to pull the trigger on some of those players who look overpriced, but you’ve got to decide whether their chances are realistic here.

I could have made a case for about twenty players, so to narrow that down to five wasn’t the easiest of tasks, and I will not be at all surprised if I am left gutted on Sunday, after leaving a player out. That is golf betting, and that is why it is so hard to get right, as proved in recent weeks.

The European Tour will be back at it’s best next week, with four good events leading up to the U.S Open. I am attending the BMW PGA Championship, at Wentworth in three weeks time and will be hoping to pick the winner, as I did last year, so that event will be at the forefront of my mind.

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